Sunday, February 9, 2014

History and Heritage Month

The month of February is a special month for St. Kitts as it’s the National History and Heritage Month. With a degree in history, St. Kitts past always fascinates me. St. Kitts and Nevis seem to have been at the center of many historical events and connected somehow to many others, at least since the “discovery” of the new world by Christopher Columbus. If you have seen the movie Forrest Gump then you might understand how I liken St. Kitts place in history to Forrest in the movie.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not referring to Forrest's personal characteristics, only the events the movie tied together and how he appeared to be at so many. The theme seems to be one of being in the right or wrong place at the right/wrong time and the events have seemingly simple yet profound effects on history that shaped the world we live in today.

Just as in Forrest Gump, many of these moments are tragic and heartbreaking moments but all are ones that residents of the islands should never forget because every historical event teaches us a lesson and allows us to reflect on what went right or what went wrong.

Old St. Christopher or St. Kitts Map.. Available for sale in The National Museum downtown. Courtesy:
As a guest resident here for around a year and a half I found it difficult to obtain any historical knowledge about the twin islands. The best information I’ve found has come through books, some written by nonresidents.

The book I’ve found to be most closely relevant from a resident’s perspective is Sir Probyn Inniss’s Historic Basseterre: The Story of a West Indian Town. This is a fantastic book that’s full of facts and connections between the past and present day Basseterre and beyond. I was ecstatic to find a book written by a local resident because just as an American writes American history from a certain perspective that’s more connected than say a German writes American history, Inniss writes with that closeness to his country.

Enough babble though! I want to share some interesting facts from the book.

For instance, Did you know?

1.    The channel between St. Kitts and St. Eustatius or Statia is 6 miles wide.

2.    The Southeastern Peninsula receives an average of 40 inches of rain per year, while the rest of St. Kitts receives an average of 60 inches.

1.    Famous explorers SirFrancis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh both visited St. Kitts and Nevis but didn't stay and went on to become famous elsewhere. Drake became the second man to circumnavigate the world and was a hero for the British Navy. Raleigh of course went on to settle Roanoke in The U.S.

2.    Sir Thomas Warner was a captain of the King of England’s Bodyguard and he landed at Old Road Bay in 1624, built a fort, log houses and in one year grew enough tobacco to take 9,500 pounds back to England with him. (Tobacco was worth a fortune in Europe at the time.) His grave is in Middle Island, St. Kitts and here is what it looks like: Link.

3.    Warner left his 13 year old son on St. Kitts as a leader and during the father’s trip to England a French sailer (Belain D’ Esnambuc) came ashore because his ship was beat up with an encounter with a Spanish Fleet. E'snambuc claimed Martinique later for France, but died in St. Kitts.

4.    The two unlikely friendly countries decided to join forces because they had a common and powerful enemy: The Spanish.

5.    Dieppe was named after the port in the Normandy area of France that D’Esnambuc left from on his second voyage back to St. Kitts and Nevis after receiving personal permission to be the French Governor from King Louis III, in St. Kitts.

1.    Tobacco was the cash crop in St. Kitts for at least 15 years when in the 1640s Sugar started to become the main crop.

2.    After D’Esnambu’s death a new governor was sent to become the French Governor. Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy ruled the French portion of St. Kitts for 21 years. He was a strong leader and a Knight of Malta. The Knights proclaimed St. Kitts, St. Barts and St. Croix their own and made France purchase the islands from them. St. Kitt’s French portion thrived under De Poincy.

A sugar mill belonging to Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy, from: Charles de Rochefort. Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l'Amérique. A Roterdam: chez Arnould Leers, 1665 [FCO Historical Collection] Photo Courtesy: King's College London.
3.    Basseterre literally means low land in French and Capisterre means head land in French which both coincide with the areas the French controlled during the time in which they shared the island with England.

4.     During De Poincy’s rule the Capuchin Monks built a Roman Catholic church somewhat to the west of the present Anglican Church.

5.     The Capuchin Monks were later banished from St. Kitts and replaced by Jesuit Monks who built their own Church of Notre Dame.

6.    The Jesuit Monks built a college a mile north of town in what is today Douglas Estate. This college was destroyed in an earthquake in 1689. This is where the street College Street got its name.

7.     De Poincy built a town hall and hospital on what is now Church Street.

8.     De Poincy is thought to have been buried in what is St. George’s churchyard.

9.     The peace England and France had agreed upon didn’t last too long. By the early 1700s they were in full scale war and the English completely burnt Basseterre to the ground. What a shame.

1By 1713 the English completely ousted the French (Mostly in unrelated wars in Europe.) and St. Kitts became an English holding, but not before the French also burned  and destroyed Basseterre and parts of Nevis to the ground in 1706.

   That's enough heavy history for one post. I'll start up again from this point in a subsequent post.

Watercolor painted by Lt. William Mason Inglis in 1846. Lt. Inglis was the station engineer at Brimstone Hill from April 1845 to no later than October 1846.
Photo courtesy: Todd Ahlman and Old Liamuiga and Oualie Photographs.

   Even if you're not interested in St. Kitt's History it should interest you because much of the new world's history started here in the Caribbean because all of America at some point was a large collection of colonies. 
   You can find this book and many other great books at the National Museum in downtown Basseterre and at  some of the local bookstores. You can also buy it on Amazon.

    There are also a few great websites about St. Kitts and Nevis and their rich pasts. One is Kittivisian Life. Another that has great photos is Old Liamuiga and Oualie in Photographs. Finally there are The St. Kitts National Archives  and The St. Christopher National Trust.

    Keep reading Island Babble for more History and Heritage Month in February.