The British monarchy's involvement in slavery

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The British monarchy's involvement in slavery

SHALMAN SCOTT

Sunday, March 25, 2018

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It is bad enough for the Church of England (Anglicans) to have played an abominable role in the African slave trade including bishops who owned slaves, but worst when Queen Elizabeth I turned out to be one that sponsored pirate John Hawkins.

Elizabeth I partnered with John Hawkins by renting him for use as a slave ship the huge old 700 tons navy ship Jesus Of Lubeck (Lubeck being a town in Germany where the ship was made). And the song, We will wait till Jesus come to carry our loved ones home, referred to Hawkins' slave ship. The original meaning of that song to the slaves was literally going back home to Africa, as when they were sold by Hawkins, he promised them he would have returned to collect the slaves. They believed him, hence they put music to their expectation of going back home. Many sacred English hymns had verses and lines which also resonated with our ancestors' dream of return to their homeland.

Listen closely to the Negro spirituals songs used by our people both as diversion for the masters who may be listening, while subtly consolidating and galvanising defiance to the slave system: “Steal away, steal away home to glory. I don't have long to stay here”. The slaves subliminally understood “here” to mean on this plantation! I am always fascinated by our ancestors' sophistication and sense of humour even in their oppression and dehumanisation, always playing the fool to catch the wise and the powerful. But it has been a truism that 'Tom drunk but Tom nuh fool.'

Pirate John Hawkins was not the first Englishman to trade in slaves, but he was the first to run the triangular trade from Africa to the Americas and back to England, making a profit from every stop. For over 150 years the British Royal Family not only owned but monopolised the slave trade. The story is told that when Queen Elizabeth I heard that England was trading in slaves, she cried. Then she was shown the products sugar, salt, cocoa, coffee, gold, pearls, etc, being brought to England and immediately became a partner in the trade. The so-called Elizabethan period was financed with money from slavery and the slave trade.

The Queen, who wished to preserve the Renaissance atmosphere of her reign directly sent pirate John Hawkins to get slaves by any means necessary. She knew that her country's weak economy could not support the artistic pursuit she enjoyed and wished to see it continued, and the slave trade apparently was an irresistible, open market. Ironically, her favourite motto was the Latin saying: Video Et Taceo or “I see and keep silent”.

So even after the slave trade was abolished in 1807 the British “gracious” queens and kings involvement in the barbaric system of slavery remained unabated. Over 1,600 ships and 150,000 slaves were seized by the British patrol after 1807 as the monarchs who signed the law to abolish the slave trade were breaking the very law they enacted. By 1632 the British monarch Charles I (King James of the Holy Bible's second son) gave a monopoly licence to a private company to trade in slaves from Africa. His father, King James I, had earlier done the same thing which led in bitter blood between the parliamentarians and the monarchy and resulted in the abolition of that arrangement by Parliament in 1618.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the restoration of the deal by King Charles I was the major part of the reasons for the start of the English series of civil wars which saw Oliver Cromwell beheading the King in 1649, thereby abolishing the British monarchy and becoming 'Lord Protector of England'. What this means is that when Jamaica was invaded by the Penn and Veneable forces in 1655, no Queen nor King was on the British throne having been usurped by Cromwell.

Chief Justice John Bradshaw, who sentenced the King to death, is buried here in Jamaica at Gun Hill in the parish of Trelawny. It may be listed as the parish of St James in some record. Both are correct as that eastern part of St James was cut off and joined with the western part of St Ann to create the parish of Trelawny in 1770. It was immediately after the restoration of the monarchy that John Bradshaw's body was removed from Westminister Abbey by his son and reburied in Jamaica.

This period when the British monarchy was abolished is known in English history as the Interregnum. In 1660 after the death of Cromwell, the monarchy was restored with Charles II ascending the throne. Charles II was the grandson of King James I. The English slave trade was still fully monopolised by the British royal family. The Royal Gambia Company, the Royal Adventurers Company and the Royal African Company were all owned by the British Royal Family. England became so rich through the exploitation of slaves, gold and ivory from the Guinea Coast that a coin called the “Guinea”, in salute to the vast resources — human and physical — was ordered by the monarchy to be minted. The guinea was the largest denomination of English currency, valuing 21 shillings — a favourite of lawyers whose fees on average amounted to five guineas.

The careless lies that were recorded for future African generation consumption, with the English perpetrators and their domestic allies, they did so clearly believing that there would never come a time when this whole corpus of nonsense would be exposed by the children of the slaves yet unborn.

We are here now in the flesh and people like Professors Rex Nettleford, Orlando Patterson, Kamau Braithwaite, along with Richard Hart, Carey Robinson, et al, had begun to dismantle brick by brick the false edifices upon which the “Chakka-Chakka” story masquerading as orthodox Jamaican history was built. We must mash down the lies; even as the “pretenders” trafficking “kakanabu” stories tremble in their boots out of fear that, as the truth about our history unfolds, shortly and quickly across the country they will be exposed for misleading people with such gusto about our story which they knew little or nothing about, but thought they did.

The broader context of Europeans hijacking of black history explained why the enslavement of our ancestors, even here in Jamaica, of necessity ... have been filled with so much brinksmanship, disconnectedness and confusion in the reportage of the truth about what transpired. There is absolutely no doubt that the idea of Africa's “darkness” and lack of any trace of civilised history was carefully contrived by the European intellectual community. The negative attitude towards Africa's past was crystallised and set in motion by the well-known German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). In his Philosophy of History he stated categorically: “Africa is no historical part of the world because it has no movement or development to exhibit.”Also that blacks are incapable of education and culture “as we see them at this day, such have they always been”.

He further demonstrated his racist ignorance by trying to separate Egypt from the rest of Africa when he stated that Egypt does not belong to the African spirit. It should be noted that during the 19th century and the better part of the 20th, a flurry of similar denigrative statements about black Africa resonated throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Thus, we were told by Richard Burton, (1821-90) a founding member of the London Anthropological Society and a seasoned traveller in Africa, that “the Negro will not improve beyond a certain point” and that “mentally he remains a child”. Others like Professor A P Newton, a European historian, stated explicitly in 1923: “Africa had no history before the coming of the Europeans...' But no remark was more derisive than that of Professor Hugh Trevor Roper of Oxford University and he declared in 1963: “Perhaps in the future, they will be some of African history to teach. But at present there is none. There is only the history of the European in Africa. The rest is darkness and darkness is not a subject of history!' He then said it serves no useful purpose to “amuse ourselves with the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe”.

In view of this arrogant European collective attitude, it is small wonder that the people of colonial Africa and all people of African ancestry throughout the world were denied access to their past. Additionally, it is easily explained the reason that our history is riddled with so much inexactitude, opaqueness and obfuscation. However, there are enough of us, children of the slaves, who are capable of cleaning up the mess handed to us as Jamaican history.

Such a shame, though, but the counteroffensive has already begun as seriously knowledgeable people across the island and overseas are coming together. We can do this. We must do this. In the meantime, the Maroons, chief henchmen of the planters for 126 years, starting in 1739 and culminating with the Peace Treaty of the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, must collectively and publicly confess and apologise for the paid cruelty, by the white masters, meted out to the rest of the Negro population whose freedom was delayed by Maroon activism of a most heinous type.

The “Cage” where black people were tortured at the whipping post in the third and inner chamber of the jail which is still standing here in Montego Bay across from the Sam Sharpe monument. It serves as a memorial to the Klu Klux Klan type of oppression. It has since 1983, been converted to the Sam Sharpe Monument as a symbol of liberation — locked in an eternal drama of the collision of opposite forces, but with the foundation of the mounument elevated above that of the foundation of the “Cage” (ponder the name deeply) building; erected from a carbon copy of the building plan of a torturing house on the island of Antigua.

Black people could not be found walking on the streets of Montego Bay after 6:00 pm without being picked up by the police patrol and charged with vagrancy then caged.

As fate would have it, mine was the duty as the first mayor of the city of Montego Bay, to make the call for where and how the Sam Sharpe Monument was to be mounted. The likes of me as I journeyed emotionally and metaphysically through the travail and pain of the “Bus boila Race” of people to make a weighty call providing illumination, clarity and hope to generations yet unborn; and as they pass through Sam Sharpe Square along those two countervailing monuments in terms of intent and objectives, they will call to mind the sacrifices that were made on their behalf.

I was left humbled by the act of then vice-president of United States Of America.George Bush Snr and his wife Barbara unveiling the Sam Sharpe Monument in the presence of then Prime Minister of Jamaica Eddie Seaga and Kay O'Sullivan, the sculptor who created the monument. This imagery must never be wasted or ever be taken for granted. Even as it imports the need for us to turn to each other rather than on each other through confession and forgiveness, where required. So that all of God's children, Jews and Gentiles, will be able to sit at the table of brotherhood and peace. Yes! Brother Martin Luther King I shared that dream from my childhood. And I will meet you in the morning when my duties, like yours, shall have come to an end. But until then, my heart will keep on singing Amazing Grace, a sacred song of many, written by John Newton — once a captain of slave ships, but who turned his life over to the Lord, becoming a priest in his Church.

The Maroons may not have been worse than John Newton. So there is hope, especially now that some of what was hidden has been revealed. And the light of truth has daringly and decisively displaced the darkness of contrived deception. Amazing Grace … I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see.

Welcome my brothers and sisters and all of God's children to the dawn of a new day, historically.

Shalman Scott, a historian and political commentator, served as the first mayor of the city of Montego Bay.


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