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Sweet and sour: our SKN heritage

With a large proportion of Bermudians being able to trace their lineage back to the islands of St Kitts (St Christopher), Nevis and Anguilla, it is important for them and others to have some background on the history of those islands.

So let's look at some of the timelines:

St Kitts & Nevis: Commonly known as SKB, Sugar City or SKN

Location: 1,036 miles south of Bermuda

Settlement: First settled by the Ciboney peoples in 3000BC, then the Arawak and Tiano peoples; later on by the Caribs

1493: Sighted by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, he then went on to name the island after himself

1623: Englishman Thomas Warner brought European settlers to the island

1626: Caribs plotted to rid their island of the Europeans, so the French and English worked together to ambush and massacre the Carib Indians at Bloody Point

1627: After eliminating the Caribs, the French and English decided to split the island between themselves

Numerous wars for the control of St Kitts ensued between the European powers of Spain, France and England, with the latter prevailing. Hence why we speak English.

Enslaved Africans were transported to St Kitts from the west coast of Africa. Thousands of these enslaved Africans were then purchased by slave owners and taken to sugar plantations around St Kitts & Nevis

Thousands of others were purchased by slave owners from neighboring islands and then shipped to other British colonies such as Antigua, Barbuda, Bermuda, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Saba. This led to many in the Eastern Caribbean islands being biologically related.

Sugar City

Equally as important, would be the timelines showing the development of St Kitts & Nevis as the sugar capital of the Eastern Caribbean:

1640: The first planting of sugarcane

1641: First slave rebellion

1643: Sugar production rapidly increased, using slave labour

1642: A representative assembly, based on the British Parliament, was organised

1723: Proposed union of St Kitts & Nevis

1727: Basseterre, the capital city of St Kitts, became an important centre for trade and commerce for England

1747: Two violent hurricanes

1772: Destruction caused by another hurricane

1776: St Kitts was the richest British Colony known as “Sugar City”

1776: Damage by fire

1783: Treaty signed between the British and the French, with the French relinquishing claim to St Kitts

1792: Great flood

1807: Slave trading abolished in the British colonies

1819: Hurricanes on September 21 and 23

1834: Emancipation in all British colonies, yet it was another four years before “freedom” became official. Those previously enslaved were forced to continue to work as “apprentices” to “earn” their freedom

Why did they leave St Kitts & Nevis?

It was under harsh circumstances, coupled with never before known opportunities, to freely travel outside of their islands, that served as the catalyst for migration out of St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla.

Again, let's look at the relevant timeline:

1843: A major earthquake

1846: British Parliament passed the Sugar Duties Act, which placed higher taxes on the cost of sugar imported from their own colonies. This then resulted in cheaper sugar production in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Cuba. The result was that many persons then migrated to the Dominican Republic, in particular.

1867: Fire of Basseterre

1880: Another flood

1896: Strikes on estates near Challengers on February 16, 1896. Cane fields were set ablaze in both St Kitts and Nevis. Economic pressure exploded owing to unemployment frustration

1897: Kittitians and Nevisians emigrated from St Kitts to find work

1901: A labour force needed to upgrade Bermuda's naval forts, which resulted in the modernising of the Royal Naval Dockyard and the expansion of the docks in Hamilton

1901-1904: Hundreds left St Kitts & Nevis to find work

1923: Disease destroys crops and animals

1924 and 1928: Major destruction from hurricanes

As there were no visa restrictions between the British colonies, many persons used ships, known affectionately as “Lady Boats”, to migrate from the Caribbean to Bermuda then on to Canada.

These boats collected provisions from the islands, and distributed mail and goods as they made their circuit between the Caribbean and Newfoundland, Canada.

It is important to understand that before the migration of persons from St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, post-1834, thousands were brought to Bermuda as enslaved persons from the Caribbean.

Many of those migrating from St Kitts came here and found both long-lost and not so long-lost relatives or descendants of relatives, who were brought here before 1834.

In essence, Bermuda has the distinction of being home to the largest grouping of descendants of Kittitians and Nevisians, outside of St Kitts & Nevis.

Sources: Louise Tannock, Honorary Consul of St Kitts & Nevis; Caribbean Migrants — Environment and Human Survival on St Kitts and Nevis (1983) by Bonham C. Richardson; National Museum of Bermuda; St Kitts National Museum

Christopher Famous is the MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). Contact him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at cfamous@plp.bm

Lady Boats served as one of the main vehicles of migration from the Caribbean to Bermuda during the  early 1900s

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Published March 14, 2020 at 10:10 pm (Updated March 14, 2020 at 10:10 pm)

Sweet and sour: our SKN heritage

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