MARCH 14th, The FOURTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York. Who was JOSEPH CHATOYER / CHATUYE / SATUYE?

 

Black Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer.

Black Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer.

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St. Vincent Island, Eastern Caribbean — MARCH 14th is the FOURTH Day of GARIFUNA American Heritage Month in New York.  This posting will discuss Joseph Chatoyer, National Hero of St. Vincent and The Grenadines and Paramount Chief Of The Garifuna People.

Joseph Chatoyer was a Garifuna man who led the resistance against British colonialism on the island of St. Vincent (the ancestral land of the Garifuna people) in the 1770s and 1790s.  The Garifunas (or Black Caribs as they were known then) tended to be led by various individuals of various tribes EXCEPT in the time of war, where one leader was designated as the spokesman of the people.  Referred to as the Paramount Chief, or the Chief of Chiefs, this is the role that Joseph Chatoyer played in the dynamic drama of the Black Caribs in the second half of the 1700s.

Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, of the Garifuna people (a.k.a. "The Black Caribs") of St. Vincent.  Illustration from lennoxhonychurch.com

Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, of the Garifuna people (a.k.a. “The Black Caribs”) of St. Vincent. Illustration from lennoxhonychurch.com

Both the British and the French had made some progress in settling parts of St. Vincent Island. In fact, in 1768, In fact, an incident took place that hints at what a badass Joseph Chatoyer was. In short, British terms for claiming Black Carib Land not only included sale of the lands at rates that weren’t negotiated, but also included the Black Caribs swearing loyalty to the King.  Well, after Land Commissioners had their plans approved in London and proclaimed in French and English throughout the land, representatives went to Grand Sable–the principal settlement of the Black Caribs–where they found Chatoyer at the head of a mass of Black Caribs.  When told of the plans, he sternly replied “Quel roi?” (“What King was this?–of Great Britain).

In 1769, the British began a military survey of St. Vincent Island.  Repeated demands by the British for the Caribs to sell their lands to members of the British colonial government were made.

That set the stage for the First Black Carib War, where Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer led the Black Carib forces in defense of St. Vincent Island. Effective Black Carib warfare as well as British ignorance of the land, and some opposition in London to the war led to that war ending with the Black Caribs signing a Peace Treaty in 1773.  This Peace Treaty called for a ceasefire, and among other things, a sworn allegiance to the British government, and a re-bordering of the British and Carib areas of St. Vincent Island.

Painting of Black Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer by Vincentian artist Peter Providence from toproadliveradio.com

Painting of Black Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer by Vincentian artist Peter Providence from toproadliveradio.com

Increased encroachment on land on St. Vincent Island by the British, French Revolutionary Governor of Guadaloupe Victor Hugues plotting to forment revolt amongst those under British rule in several Caribbean islands, along with Black Caribs rebelling to British rule of St. Vincent Island led to the Second Black Carib War in March of 1795.

A force of French settlers and Black Caribs under the command of DuValle, who was Chatoyer’s brother; had just captured the Dorsetshire Hill (which overlooked Kingstown, a port area, main commercial center and capital of St. Vincent Island) and were poised to capture the capitol and drive out the English.  However, in the middle of the night, a small party of British forces made a diversionary attack on one side of Dorsetshire Hill.  With Black Carib and French forces distracted, the main British forces stormed Dorsetshire Hill at one o’clock in the morning, killing a number of Frenchmen and Twenty-One Black Caribs.  Among those dead was Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer.

Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer was killed on March 14th 1795.  Accounts vary as to the precise cause of death.  Most accounts say Chatoyer died in single battle against Major Alexander Leith on Dorsetshire Hill.  Another account has Chatoyer being killed amongst haphazard fighting atop Dorsetshire Hill.   1

Painting by William Linzee Prescott of the Battle between Major Alexander Leith and Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer on Dorsetshire Hill on St. Vincent Island.  Photo of painting courtesy of James Sweeney.

Painting by William Linzee Prescott of the Battle between Major Alexander Leith and Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer on Dorsetshire Hill on St. Vincent Island. Photo of painting courtesy of James Sweeney.

Whatever the cause, Chatoyer was killed and the impact of the loss of his considerable leadership was felt.  While fighting continued for over a year, in the end, the Black Caribs were defeated in 1796 and the process of moving the Black Caribs to Baliceaux began in July of 1796.

Monument Dedicated to Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer on Dorsetshire Hill on St. Vincent Island.  Photo from Facebook.

Monument Dedicated to Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer on Dorsetshire Hill on St. Vincent Island. Photo from Facebook.

Immortalized on St. Vincent Island, In 2002, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer was named the First National Hero of St. Vincent.  March 14th is a public holiday on St. Vincent Island and there’s a monument devoted to Chatoyer at the site of his death on Dorsetshire Hill.

Members of the Contingent of Garifuna Americans laying a wreath of flowers at the Monument to Black Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer on Dorsetshire Hill on St. Vincent Island in 2009.  Photo via Facebook.

Members of the Contingent of Garifuna Americans laying a wreath of flowers at the Monument to Black Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer on Dorsetshire Hill on St. Vincent Island in 2009. Photo via Facebook.

 

While we don’t know the age (or his birthday) of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer when he was killed, we can speculate that he was a middle aged man, as he was a prominent figure on St. Vincent Island for at least 25 years. According to paintings, he had a number of wives (was Garifuna society a polygamous society?) and perhaps, a number of children. In any event, Chatoyer’s leadership definitely made an impression as his likeness was included on paintings of Black Caribs by prominent artists of the day.

Painting Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer by Italian Artist Agostino Brunias.  Photo from catrachosnews.com

Painting Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer (on the right with the headwrap) by Italian Artist Agostino Brunias. Photo from catrachosnews.com

 

In the 1760s, Italian Artist Agostino Brunias traveled with William Young as his personal artist when William Young was appointed President of the Commission for the Sale of Lands in the Ceded Islands, which included St. Vincent.  His art served as a visual representation of Caribbean Life and Society on those Eastern Caribbean Islands.  Agostino Brunias paintings provide us with a suggestion of life as it was lived back then.  Being that the Black Caribs were a pre-literate society, what we know of them is through the eyes (and pens) of others who may not have had their best interests at heart.   2

Agostino Brunias Painting of Paramount  Chief Joseph Chatoyer and his Wives on St. Vincent.   From historum.com

Agostino Brunias Painting of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer (on the right with the Orange Head Wrap) and his Wives on St. Vincent. From historum.com

 

You usually see the headwrap, the pipe and scepter (sword) in the existing iconography of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer.  These paintings are a sort of proof that Chatoyer was a living, breathing REAL person, not a myth, even if most of his background is shrouded in mystery.

Logo for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month.  Logo by Ivan Moreira.

Logo for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month. Logo by Ivan Moreira.

About Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York

March 11th through April 12th is designated Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York.  This period of time marks the date the Garifunas were removed from the St. Vincent area, traveled in a convoy of mostly British ships across the Caribbean Sea and the date the Garifunas reached Central America.  Specifically, Roatan, Honduras on April 12th 1797.  When in Roatan, the Garifunas petitioned the Spanish government to be allowed to move to the mainland of Honduras.  From there the Garifunas migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.

Garifuna American Heritage Month is designed to reflect on and observe the forced removal of the Garifuna people (then known as Black Caribs) from their ancestral land of the island of St. Vincent on March 11th 1797 to their arrival in Central America on April 12th 1797.

According to a press release from the non-profit organization the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc, Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York also,

“celebrates the great contributions of Garífuna-Americans to the fabric of New York City and New York State, and pays tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Garífuna’s countries of origin (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and St Vincent and the Grenadines.)”.

The Garifuna Coalition adds, “New York City is home to the largest Garífuna Community outside of Central America!  However, although Garífunas have been migrating here in search of a better life since the 1930s; the community was virtually obscured until the Happy Land Social Club fire on March 25th, 1990.”

Most of the victims of that tragedy were Honduran, many were of Garifuna descent. 3  Overall, the idea is to pay tribute to the survival and resiliency of the Garifuna people and also highlight the contributions made by Garifunas to the state of New York and the United States of America.

Overall, the idea is to pay tribute to the survival and resiliency of the Garifuna people and also highlight the contributions made by Garifunas to the state of New York and the United States of America.  Also, this as well as other activities taking place in New York during Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York are designed to further visibility of the Garifuna ethnic group to the general populace of New York City.

Statue of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer at 2010 International Honduran and Central American Parade Festival in the Bronx.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Statue of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer at 2010 International Honduran and Central American Parade Festival in the Bronx. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

ABOUT The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. From this fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.  They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.

After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men,  1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically, off the coast of St. Vincent.  This took place from July 1796 through February/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.  4

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In early March 1797, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships.  Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.

Finding much of Roatan unliveable, the Garifuna people petitioned officials representing Spain and it’s government (which controlled much of Central America at the time) to be allowed to move to the Honduran mainland.  Upon being allowed to move to the Honduran mainland, namely the port town of Trujillo, Honduras in May 1797; the Garifunas subsequently settled many towns and villages along the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.  Finally, Garifuna People have also migrated to the United States of America where generations have settled in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

 

Notes:

  1. Christopher Taylor, “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival and the Making of the Garifuna”. pg, 121-122. (2012)
  2. Lennox Edward Honychurch (of Dominica). http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/brunias.cfm
  3. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy An Awakening for Garifuna”. New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  4. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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