How Carriacou escapees made history by risking their lives to flee slavery through Caribbean sea waters

Stephen Nartey November 11, 2022
Image via Wikimedia Commons

When the Spanish Crown decreed in 1680 that an enslaved person would acquire their freedom when they accept the Catholic faith, many slaves dreamed of making it to its colonies. It did not matter the cost or risk involved, all that mattered was for them to embrace the air of freedom.

This was firmed up by a related declaration made in Venezuela in 1704. It left the Spanish Crown no other alternative but to give its royal decree oxygen by making a bold statement that slaves who managed to run away from protestant-governed states will be legally free as Catholic converts. 

The news made rounds on many plantations in the Caribbean, sparking intense scheming among slaves on how to escape from their owners, according to Clements Library. 

Even those enslaved people confined to hard-to-reach plantations became aware of the news through traders, rebels, deserters, sailors, and anyone interested in these overtures made by the Spanish Crown. 

Slaveholders and plantation owners were deeply concerned by the grave implications it had on the economy of their business and the subtle opposition it will breed. It almost proved impossible to suppress the spread of the fast-moving information of the royal decree like seeking to slow the pace of the very ships that were transporting the slaves to the plantations. 

The naval routes of the transatlantic slave trade were not left out as they were flooded with the reality creating a sense of anxiety among sailors and smugglers of possible attempts to escape by the slaves. 

The most daring of these runaways however was carried out in 1770 by escapees from the then-British Caribbean colony, Carriacou, an island few meters away from Grenada in the southeastern Caribbean through the turbulent waves. 

According to a report by the British Windward Islands’ governor William Leybourne in 1773, the freed slaves made it to the Spanish colonies in boats from the plantations. They were however at loss as to how they learned about the royal decree granted by the Spanish Crown.

Governor Leybourne conceded that pleas to the Spanish authorities to reverse their stance proved fruitless placing intense pressure on them on how to prevent the slaves from escaping. Historical records indicate that the Carriacou slaves were part of some 2,700 enslaved people on a cotton plantation under the watchful eye of about 100 white settlers. 

But, with determination and bracing against all odds, the Carriacou fugitives undertook one of the most dangerous attempts at freedom. How they managed to escape through dangerous waters in a boat has become a mystery and folklore on the Caribbean islands.

Historical accounts captured in the Henry Strachey papers indicated that the slaves managed to escape because of ample information provided to them by unknown agents. The Governor said he was convinced that the fugitives did not escape on their own efforts but relied heavily on intelligence from these unknown agents. He admitted that they failed in their attempts to control the seepage of information to the enslaved people on the plantations despite the keen tactics they employed. 

The British authorities were also worried about the subversive information that were making rounds and the competing interest among the various colonial powers. The Governor noted that these unknown agents who aided the fugitives had ulterior interests, hence, the decision to back the Carriacou escapees with their knowledge of the geography of the territories.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 11, 2022


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