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How Carriacou Escapees Made History By Risking Their Lives To Flee Slavery Across The Caribbean Sea

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

When the Spanish Crown decreed in 1680 that an enslaved person would be freed if they accepted the Catholic faith, many slaves hoped to escape to the Spanish colonies. It didn’t matter what the cost or risk was; all that mattered was that they embrace the air of freedom.

This was reinforced by a similar declaration made in Venezuela in 1704. It left the Spanish Crown with no choice but to give its royal decree life by boldly declaring that slaves who escaped from protestant-ruled states would be legally free as Catholic converts.

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According to Clements Library, the news spread quickly on many Caribbean plantations, sparking intense planning among slaves on how to flee their owners.

Even those enslaved people confined to remote plantations learned about the news from traders, rebels, deserters, sailors, and anyone else interested in the Spanish Crown’s overtures.

Slaveholders and plantation owners were deeply concerned about the serious implications for their business’s economy and the subtle opposition it would breed. It was nearly impossible to stifle the spread of the royal decree’s fast-moving information, much like trying to slow the speed of the ships transporting slaves to the plantations.

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The transatlantic slave trade’s naval routes were not spared, as they were flooded with the reality, creating a sense of anxiety among sailors and smugglers about possible slave escape attempts.

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The most daring of these runaways, however, was carried out in 1770 by escapees from the then-British Caribbean colony, Carriacou, an island in the southeastern Caribbean a few meters away from Grenada.

According to a report written in 1773 by the governor of the British Windward Islands, William Leybourne, freed slaves made their way to the Spanish colonies in boats from the plantations. They were unsure how they learned about the royal decree issued by the Spanish Crown.

Governor Leybourne admitted that his pleas to the Spanish authorities to reverse their stance were futile, and he put intense pressure on them to figure out how to keep the slaves from fleeing. According to historical records, the Carriacou slaves were among 2,700 enslaved people on a cotton plantation under the watchful eye of about 100 white settlers.

The Carriacou fugitives, however, undertook one of the most dangerous attempts at freedom, braving all odds. On the Caribbean islands, how they managed to escape through dangerous waters in a boat has become a mystery and folklore.

According to historical accounts preserved in the Henry Strachey papers, the slaves were able to flee due to ample information provided to them by unknown agents. The Governor stated that he was convinced that the fugitives did not escape on their own but relied heavily on intelligence provided by these unidentified agents. Despite their clever tactics, he admitted that they failed to control the flow of information to the enslaved people on the plantations.

The British authorities were also concerned about the spread of subversive information and the competing interests of the various colonial powers. The Governor noted that the unknown agents who aided the fugitives had ulterior motives, thus the decision to support the Carriacou escapees with their knowledge of the territories’ geography.

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Written by How Africa News

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