How a Saint Lucian woman led an army to defeat and expel the British in the 1700s

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson Feb 14, 2019 at 04:00pm

February 14, 2019 at 04:00 pm | History

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

February 14, 2019 at 04:00 pm | History

Photo ;Stephen McDermott, Daily Extra.

This is how a Saint Lucian woman led an army to defeat and expel the British. By the late 17th century, the Caribbean had become a favourable place for colonist for several reasons. For one, the weather conditions were similar to that in Africa making captured Africans adapt easily when they are brought in to work.

The most interesting reason was that, at the time, sugar was a very scarce commodity which was exported from India, however, after the discovery that sugar cane grew very well in the Caribbean, many plantation owners moved into its cultivation and became very rich forcing the French, Spanish and British battle over territories.

For several years, St Lucia was tossed between the French and the British until the British finally took possession in 1778 during the American Revolutionary War. By the 18th century, several enslaved Africans had been brought in from Africa to work on sugar plantations to increase productivity to the benefit of the plantation owners who in turn treated the workers poorly.

Flore Bois Gaillard was an enslaved mulatto who worked tirelessly for Master Bellac, her owner, for several years on his plantation and later in his home as a maidservant when she was a little older. There are no found records about her early childhood, however, it is safe to say that being a mulatto, she was born on the islands to an enslaved black mother who was impregnated by a white man.

Depiction of slaves demonstration

In 1791, enslaved Africans teamed up with the Maroons in Soufrière, a town on the West Coast of Saint Lucia which served as the capital at the time to march and request their freedom from British slave owners. The march was immediately reported to the British officials who ordered the leaders to be captured.

The leaders and several others who were involved in the march were successfully captured and tortured to death with their heads cut off and placed on spikes and displayed around town to serve as a warning. For several years, this horrid event lingered in the minds of the blacks who planned and hoped for a revenge.

In 1793, after having enough of the harsh treatment and several rape incidents with her owner, Flore Bois managed to escape from the plantation and took refuge in the woods where she met several Maroons and lived with them. Flore quickly rose as the military leader for the French Army of the Woods, the name of the rebel group made up of Maroons and slaves who met secretly to plan a rebellion and declare St Lucia a free country after getting rid of the British.

In April 1795, Flore declared the army ready to strike and sought revenge for the 1791 event after a tip had been sent to the army that the British were on their way to attack her army on April 11, 1795. Flore and her army went to Soufrière to attack slave owners in what is now known as the Battle of Rabot.

The army was successful in killing several British slave owners, burning down plantations and freeing several slaves who later joined the army which became known as the Brigands. Flore went on to kill her former master and burn down his plantation. The surviving British fled to Castries which is now the Capital of St Lucia.

St Lucia stamp in honor of the 1797 Battle of Rabot

The Battle of Rabot drew the attention of the British army and the French. With the support of Jean-Baptiste Victor Hugues, Flore and her army joined the First Brigands War which saw the total defeat of the British on June 19, 1795, and led to them completely leaving the island marking the year of liberation (l’Année de la Liberté) for all blacks on the island.

Nothing is said or recorded about Flore after the war and it is hard to trace if she died in battle or escaped. The mystery of her life has led to her story not being told or celebrated, however, a book written by Robert Devaux They Called Us Brigands: The Saga of St. Lucia’s Freedom Fighters tells the story of Flore Bois Gaillard.

Several accounts narrate that in 1796, the British invaded the island again leading to the Second Brigands War which lasted until November 1797 after the Brigands came to an agreement with the British to not re-enslave the people but send them back to Africa. The Brigands and other blacks were immediately recruited into the 1st West India Regiment, which was stationed in Sierra Leone.

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