By Anatol Leopold Scott
In a recent iWN article dealing with the opening ceremonies of the new airport, our Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, opined that the name of a plantation, specifically Argyle, because of its importance to the history of the nation, speaks against the renaming of the massive creation which has been ‘tentatively’ nicknamed Argyle International Airport.
By willfully harking back to such disparate historical topics as the woeful progenitors of Vincentians, the Kalinago and Garifuna peoples, British colonialism and, quite facetiously, the East Indian labour revolt, Dr. Gonsalves succinctly puts forward an astute political argument that panders to the simplistic emotional weaknesses, based on sad ignorance, of the vast majority of the uneducated Vincentian populace. For their benefit, I shall attempt here to briefly highlight some of the unknown, but important, aspects of the largely unknown history of Argyle Estate.
The history of the plantation proper, which became known as Argyle Estate, did not begin in 1764 as propounded by Dr. Gonsalves. In that year, John Byers did begin the unenviable task of surveying the relatively huge chunk of land, which was taken away, usurped, from the Caribs (the Kalinago and Garifuna peoples). Most of that land was quickly auctioned away and eventually became, through the creation of sugar and rum plantations, the effective exploitative engine that harnessed the fertile land and, in less than two generations, almost broke the soul of the imported and enslaved African peoples. Significantly and carelessly, perhaps importantly, Gonsalves minimizes the painful experiences and journeys of those abused Africans, the forebears of the present day vast majority of Vincentians, by describing their plight as “daily troubles”.
The grant to Robert Monckton of 4,000 acres was from unsold land and it was not made in 1764. Monckton’s exploits had begun in 1741, at age 15. Through the years, he showed himself to be an outstanding soldier in Germany and Belgium, but his subsequent military involvements in North America — the massacre and harsh expulsion of the Acadian people from all of Eastern Canada and the subsequent conquest of Quebec and French Canada — had earned for him a prominent place in the annals of British imperial history. Next, he moved on to become governor and commander of the British army around New York and lastly, he played a decisive role in the conquest of French Martinique and the ceded West Indian islands, including St. Vincent. The grant was made years after Monckton had decided to end his 30-year North American and Caribbean imperial exploits. During that time, he had resettled in England, was elected to Parliament, and subsequently experienced severe financial losses as a result of unwise investments in colonial India. As was then the accepted norm, the British government, with the King’s blessing, gratuitously made the offer of a land grant to him as a justifiable reward for the heroic performances of a patriotic son. At the time of the grant, 1774, ten years had passed since his West Indian conquests. During those years, with the influx of planters and their slaves, the sugar and rum industries began booming on St. Vincent; smaller estates had been bought up by those planters who had the means or could raise the capital to increase their land and slave holdings. It was, therefore, quite practical for Robert Moncton, then in need of financial resuscitation and imbued with proven negotiating skills, to immediately sell his huge acreage holding for the seemingly exorbitant price of £30,000.
The fleeting passage of Robert Monckton through our history was quite unlike that of the Scotsman who would set up and exploit what was to become known as Argyle Estate. Duncan Campbell was the son of William Campbell of Ormsary, South Knapdale, Argyllshire, a maritime county in the west of Scotland where, for centuries, the Campbell family lines had been known successively as Dukes of Argyll; in earlier times, they and their cohorts had absolute and sovereign authority over their enthralled county vassals. It would seem that Argyle Estate could possibly have been named after the much larger Scottish land conglomeration –Argyllshire. But, the name of the dukedom, Argyll, was much celebrated and, during the period, it was transfigured and immortalised, as displayed by Alexander Pope in the words: “”Argyle, the state’s whole thunder born to wield, And shake alike the senate and the field.” For a descendant with Duncan’s social and historical background, the names, Argyll or Argyle, connoted; it might have signaled in Duncan the hyperbolic thought of celebrating the rebirth/birth, in a new environment, of the concept of Duke/Lord/Master over his unfortunate, soon to become, vassals/slaves.
We do not know precisely how and when Duncan Campbell acquired full ownership of the lands he eventually owned. We do know that, in 1775, he purchased a total of 135 acres from Nicholas Auguste Michel, Toussaints Teteron, and Minette, his wife, Renette Michel, and Hulaly. His name also appears pertaining to land grants in 1787 but whether or how any of these lands became a part of Argyle Estate has not been determined as yet. Based on his 1797 proven will, we know that he was the first acknowledged owner of a portion of land (365 acres) which, thenceforth, became known as Argyle Estate. However, true to the Campbell background and history, Duncan was not satisfied with ownership of simply one plantation; during his lifetime, he also created and owned two other plantations on St. Vincent, Calder (350 acres) and Calder Ridge (194 acres), naming them after the Calder areas of Scotland.
We know nothing about Duncan’s mother since there is no mention of her in his father’s will. We do know that, apart from Duncan, she bore one daughter, Mary Campbell, with her husband, William. That daughter is referred to in Duncan’s will as “sister of the whole blood,” a term that differentiates her from eight other children fathered by William. In his will, Duncan acknowledged the existence of five half-brothers (Farquhar, James, Alexander, Donald and Dugald) and three half-sisters (Catherine, Helena and Mary Ann), all fathered by William. At the time of his death, Duncan generously awarded each of these individuals the princely sum of £1,000. Apparently, Duncan himself had no children in Scotland (or elsewhere as far as can be determined). His sister, Mary, had married another Duncan Campbell, this one of Ardnave, Argyllshire, and was the mother of two girls – Jane (d. 1860) and Barbara (d. 1819). In turn, Mary’s elder daughter, Jane, married Hon. Archibald MacDonald, 3rd son of Lord MacDonald of Slate, while Barbara married a French ultra-loyalist, Prince Auguste Jules Armand Marie de Polignac. According to his 1797 will, Duncan Campbell ensured that he kept his estates entirely locked into the family; he left the three Estates (Argyle, Calder, and Calder Ridge) equally, as trust beneficiaries, to Jane and Hon. Archibald MacDonald and to Barbara and Prince de Polignac.
By 1834, at the time of Enumeration for Compensation, there were, in total, 609 slaves on the three plantations: Argyle – 264 (136 female) (128 male); Calder – 267 (13 F) (131 M); Calder Ridge 78 (35 F) (43 M). Surprisingly, over the pre-compensation life of the three plantations, the record shows that only two slaves were manumitted by the owners and they were living in Britain, not St. Vincent. In 1834, three of the Trust Beneficiaries were still alive: Jane MacDonald (d. 1860), Hon. Archibald MacDonald (d. 1860) and Prince de Polignac (d. 1847). As slave owners, their shared, compensation awards, broke down as follows: Argyle — £6,767; Calder — £6,773; Calder Ridge — £2,225 (Total: £15,765 — EC$197,504). It must be remembered, however, that, after collecting their compensation for no longer “owning” their slaves, these absentee owners, despite apparently never having put foot on St. Vincent, remained in possession of the plantations and still controlled almost every aspect of the lives of the freed slaves through their long term agent, Alexander Black, and their attorneys, John Dalzell, Speaker of the St. Vincent House of Assembly, and Christopher Punnet. All of this suggests that, in order to fully understand and awaken the formative history and docile culture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it is absolutely necessary that, like other Caribbean countries such as Barbados and Jamaica, the her/history of the 139 plantations (estates) and their owners must be uncovered and told to present-day and future Vincentian generations.
In his ceremonial speech, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said Argyle is “an archaeological source of tremendous importance”. The history agrees with that condescending statement but, the estate had nothing to do with the native creations of the archaeological works and, now that the archaeological works have been removed from their sacred location and thereby somewhat despoiled, we should be asking what will eventually become of them. How will they be preserved, where placed, how displayed, and how presented? Dr. Gonsalves said Argyle is “soaked with the sweat and blood of our ancestral pains, travails and joys”. The history partially agrees with that statement when it is applied to our displaced native people and uncompensated slave ancestors but, I must clearly state that the word “joys” should not be used, especially when speaking of the slaves who were virtually “imprisoned” on Argyle or elsewhere. Dr. Gonsalves said Argyle was “once broken, shattered and compromised”. This statement really rankles. Is the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines saying he would have preferred that Argyle, the estate, had never been broken up, that it should have continued to exist as an un-shattered unit, that the later ascendancy by Vincentians, of all races and classes to ownership of pieces of the once mighty imperial pie, compromised the historical integrity of Argyle Estate?
I would like to believe that the prime minister does not harbour such harmful, colonial thoughts, that emotions got the upper hand as he transmigrated to ecstatic heights of doublespeak at the moment of his undoubted personal and political victory. In my mind, his demonic shout of “Argyle, majestic Argyle” should not have been applied to or uttered with regard to the imperial Argyle Estate for, in terms of the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there was nothing about Argyle that was, or now is, majestic; he is, therefore, so right, when he referred to the estate as “their Argyle”. True to form, I will be so bold as to state that “the fever of history,” true history, does not allow him or US to create a new Argyle out of the poisonous ashes of the old imperial Argyle; rather it cries out, from the unexplored depths of the Vincentian soul, to not ascribe the name of any plantation to what should always have been recognized and discussed as a significant, timely, national project. The opening of the new airport should be celebrated; it is the largest, most ambitious, expensive, and hopeful project Vincentians have ever undertaken. It is, truly, a national project, though sadly, so haphazardly executed, politically tainted, and socially maligned.
Indeed, as I quietly continue this self-imposed, lonely task of uncovering aspects of the histories of those 139 plantations, I have become convinced that none of them should be raised to the national heights that the prime minister has attempted to raise Argyle. On St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there were 13 plantations with a greater number of slaves than Argyle. Altogether and singly they were a more socially destructive power than Argyle; Grand Sable (696 slaves) and North and South Union (557 slaves) top the numerical list, but the formative history of Argyle pales, in comparison to the social and cultural perversity of most of these estates and their owners. To add insult to injury, it should be pointed out that there is nothing new about the name “Argyle Airport”. Since 1974, that name has been attributed to a fully operational, FAA approved, airport located two miles northeast of Argyle, New York. In addition, Argyle estates existed on other Caribbean islands; there were two in Jamaica — Argyle Estate and Argyle Pen — and one in Tobago. As such, we owe it to ourselves to be more innovative, to select a new, more appropriate, more distinctive, name for OUR airport; a name that is of the native history and culture, that carries no colonial or political baggage, that is acceptable to the majority of Vincentians, and that would inspire us to accept and respect the past while, at the same time, help us to imagine and build, together, a more far seeing, united, and productive nation.
Toward that end, I humbly suggest a name: YURUMEIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]
The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].