Freeing the slaves in Belize, 1798, a lil history

Posted By: Marty

Freeing the slaves in Belize, 1798, a lil history - 08/20/05 05:37 PM

Once Upon a Time (excerpted with Mr. King's permission)

by Emory King

By the end of July, 1798 there was no doubt that the Spaniards from Yucatan were coming to invade the Settlement.

Defense works were proceeding and men were thinking seriously about the possibility of death.

On the 29th July Edward Hughes, who owned 4,000 acres on the Placencia Peninsula, (today called Blair Athol), went to the Courthouse. "I want to free the people on this list," he told George Thompson, the Clerk. Thompson drew up the papers and in the afternoon Hughes signed it. He freed his slaves, Billy and Phyllis and his slave children, Moreland Hughes, Sammy Hughes, Bute Hughes, and Fanny Hughes and their mother Hannah.

Other men were examining their consciences as the month ended, but on the 31st July Hughes had another thought. Suppose he was not killed in the war. He had freed all his people and legally they could leave him alone. He went back to the Courthouse and asked George Thompson to draw up a labour contract for each of the manumized people. He wanted the contract to run for twenty-one years.

On the 6th of August Allan Courtenay went to the Courthouse and freed his infant son, George, "begotten the body of my Negro woman slave Harriet."

Three days later on the 9th while the houses at St. George's Caye were burning, Allan Courtenay went back to the Courthouse and freed "my Coloured child John, my Coloured child William, my Coloured child Thomas, begotten by me upon the body of a Negro woman named Harriet, my property." Then he freed Harriet, but bound her to a contract of work for him for five years in exchange for "good and Sufficient Meat, Drink and Cloathing Suitable for her Station."

Lastly, he made his will and gave it to Thomas Paslow to keep safe.

Many other men and women, looking at the prospect of death in the near future, were making wills, freeing slaves, filing papers which should have been filed months and even years before, and generally putting their lives, spiritual and temporal, in order.

For several years Gerald Fitz Gibbon had employed his slave daughter, Tinah, to run his tavern on the Southside of the Town. In fact, the Tavern's liquor license was in Tinah's names with her father and Edward Hughes as her bondsmen. On the 14th August "Gerald Fitz Gibbon freed Tinah Fitzgibbon."

John Smith, a Free Black man, freed his two children, "Diane and Kate" on the 20th but kept their mother, "a Sambo named Mary" in slavery.

John Wagner, on the 25th August, made his will and paid a few debts and went to the Courthouse. He told the Clerk he wanted to take care of a matter of long standing. "You know Nancy, my cook. Well, she was "freed in Jamaica in 1775" and when she came to the Mosquito Shore she indentured herself to "Lucy Partridge for seven years." That should have ended in 1786 but you know Lucy died and I took Nancy and then we came here and what with one thing and another I guess I just forgot to file the paper releasing her from further obligation. Is it too late?"

The Clerk smiled to himself. There were lots of old debts and obligations being settled these days. Maybe we ought to have a war scare every few years. It might make people more honest. He took the paper Wagner handed over and wrote: "Filed on 25th August, 1798" and he signed it.

It was almost dark on the evening of the 31st August when two men paddled a dory almost rammed the wooden dock at Potts Point, (the site of St. Mary's Church today). They ran to Headquarters. A few minutes later they ran to the Alarm Bell and began pulling frantically.

"The Spaniards are coming", they yelled. "The Spaniards are coming.

CHeck out Emory King's writings if you aren't familiar with his work. He has some really excellent books....
Posted By: Tagenrog

Re: Freeing the slaves in Belize, 1798, a lil history - 08/30/05 12:15 AM

I love Mr. King's books. He is a masterful storyteller. His stories of early Belize are illustrative of how "regular" early Belizians were as opposed to the sanitized, Puritan image promoted by Americans, of Americans, of the same era. (They were probably as wild as the Belizians but kept it under a rug.) With a heritage and openess like this, you can see why Belizians are so cool today.
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