History Revisited: Severed heads of slaves in Dominica stuck on poles
By Thomson Fontaine
January 06, 2015 7:10 P.M
Roseau, Dominica (TDN) It is January 1814 in Dominica and slaves on that island are in open revolt against their masters. Many had started to flee from the plantations and make their way into the thick forests scattered across the island.
Just seven years earlier the British Parliament had moved to ban the importation of slaves into its colonies through the passage of the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807.
Dominica’s population numbered just around 12 000 made up largely of slaves and whites from France and Great Britain.
The British public particularly those pushing for an end to the slave trade had hoped that the ban on new slave imports would lead to better treatment of the remaining slaves but that was not to be. Court records from Dominica detailing punishment for sixteen hapless slaves in January 1814 would eventually make their way to England.
These would show severe capital punishment for slaves attempting to escape including cutting their necks and planting their heads on sticks to serve as a warning to others.
It was those shocking records of the barbaric and inhumane treatment of slaves that would capture the imagination and interest of the British public and push the abolitionists to work even harder to eradicate slavery in the West Indies.
However, it would be 19 more years of pure hell before slavery was halted in the colonies.
Below is the court records of the horrendous punishment meted out to the slaves in Dominica, which is now preserved in the United Kingdom National Archives.
January 15, 1814 John Pierre a slave belonging to Mr. Grano was “court martialed for atempting to return to the Runaways with provisions and having been runaway 2 months.”
His sentence “to be hanged.” Just one day later John Pierre was “hanged, his head cut off and put on a pole…. His body hanged on a Gibbet.”
January 15-16, 1814 Peter a slave on the Hillsborough Estate was “court martialed for exiting a mutiny among 20 Negroes of the estate and harvesting them with provisions and while a runaway.”
Like Jean Pierre from the previous day he was sentenced to hang, which was duly carried out on January 18, 2014. After being hanged, “his head was cut off and put on a pole…. His body hanged on a Gibbet.”
January 16, 1814 Hector a slave belonging to Mr. Lionne was court martialed for being a runaway. He was sentenced “to receive 100 lashes and to be worked in chains for 6 months.” He received a 100 lashes that same day and was sold on April 21, 1814.
January 16, 1814 Rachal a slave belonging to Mr. Granno was court martialed for being a runaway. She was sentenced “to receive 30 lashes and to be worked in chains for 3 months.” She received 30 lashes that same day and was delivered to her owner on April 16, 1814.
January 22, 1814 Dick and Daniel slaves belonging to the Hillsbro Estate were court martialed for being a runaways. They were sentenced “to receive 100 lashes each.” Both received a 100 lashes that same day and were turned over to their owners.
January 22, 1814 Sarah a slave belonging to Hillsbro Estate was court martialed for being a runaway. She was sentenced “to receive 50 lashes.” She was however pardoned and released.
January 22, 1814 Hetty, Penny & Placide slaves belonging to the Hillsbro Estate were court martialed for being runaways. They were sentenced “to receive 40 lashes each.” They all received 40 lashes that same day and were turned over to their owners.
On January 28, 1814 Pierre a slave belonging to Mr. Polus Estate was court martialed for “encouraging the Negroes upon that estates who had absconded to stay away.”
He was sentenced “to receive 100 lashes and to be worked in chains for 6 months.” Pierre would later die in jail after receiving the 100 lashes.
Slaves freed from a captured ship enroute to the West Indies.
As if to ease their naked blood thirst on that same day the court masters would find another slave Joseph not guilty for supplying runaways with salt and with provisions.