A history of Buxton Village on the East Coast Demerara. Guyana

A history of Buxton Village on the East Coast Demerara. Guyana

By: Murphy Browne  ©  April 19-2018

In April 1840 Buxton Village was established on the East Coast, Demerara, British Guiana by 128 Africans who had been freed from chattel slavery on August 1st, 1838. The Africans pooled their money and bought a 500-acre plantation, New Orange Nassau from its owner James Archibald Holmes, for $50,000. They named the village Buxton in honour of abolitionist Thomas Fowell Buxton. Buxton was the second village established by Africans in British Guiana. Victoria Village, also on the East Coast of Demerara was purchased in November 1839, by a group of 83 formerly enslaved Africans.    

This was an extraordinary achievement for Africans who had been enslaved in British Guiana for centuries (by Dutch and British colonizers.) Slavery in British Guiana ended on August 1st 1834, then a system of “apprenticeship” was instituted for another four years (until August 1st, 1838.) During their “apprenticeship” the Africans were forced to remain on the plantations and work without pay for 40 hours every week and then they were grudgingly paid a pittance for any work they did over 40 hours.

The White slave holders and plantation owners were compensated for the loss of their property (by the British crown and government) while the Africans were forced to continue working on the plantations where they had been enslaved. The accumulation of wealth from those extra four years of unpaid work helped to bankroll the millions that were paid to the slaveholders as compensation for losing their human “property.”

Not satisfied with exploiting the labour of the Africans for centuries before August 1st, 1838, the British further marginalized the Africans by inviting European workers to increase the population of White people in British Guiana. In 1835, small groups of English and German farmers were recruited. In 1836, 44 Irish and 47 English labourers immigrated to Guyana and 43 Scottish labourers arrived from Glasgow in 1837. This population of European workers apparently did not survive working in the tropical climate.

Realising that the Africans would not continue working for a pittance after their freedom from chattel slavery, the British put in place a system to undercut the Africans’ access to fair compensation for their labour by importing larger numbers of labourers from Asia and Portugal. On May 3, 1835, 40 indentured labourers arrived from Madeira on the ship “Louisa Baillie” on a two to four year indentureship contract and by the end of 1835, 553 other Madeirans had arrived in British Guiana as indentured labourers contracted to work on various plantations.

These labourers were recruited using public money (gained from the unpaid labour of enslaved Africans) made available by the British Government and was used to pay the planters for each immigrant transported to British Guiana. On May 5, 1838 a group of 396 labourers arrived in British Guiana from the Indian subcontinent aboard the “Whitby” and the “Hesperus.”

The Indian labourers were encouraged to exchange their return passage to India after their 5 year contracts had expired, for a plot of land and a cow. The indentured labourers from India were encouraged to retain their language and culture unlike the Africans who had been prevented under pain of death from speaking their language, retaining their names or practicing their culture.

In 1853 three ships (the Glentanner, the Lord Elgin and the Samuel Boddington) left Amoy in the Fujian Province of China with 1,549 labourers bound for British Guiana.

It is under these conditions that villages were bought, owned and administrated by Africans in various parts of Guyana. It is a testament to the perseverance under very oppressive conditions that these villages survived and even managed to flourish. In 1841, another group of 168 formerly enslaved Africans pooled their money and purchased Friendship, a 500-acre plantation east of Buxton for $80,000 and the two communities merged to form Buxton-Friendship village. The founders laid out housing lots at the front of the village and corresponding farm lands at the back. The villagers built roads, dug drainage trenches and established farms. They also created an administrative body, the Buxton-Friendship Village Council to manage maintenance of the village’s infrastructure and collect property taxes.

In Guyana, Buxtonians are known as proudly independent and courageous people This reputation was gained early in the history of British Guiana soon after Buxton Village was established. With the establishment of Buxton Village the White people who had formerly dictated every area of the lives of Africans tried every underhanded trick to continue doing so including sabotaging the growth of the recently established village. The Buxtonians survived the deliberate flooding of their farms and other attempts to dislodge them from their homes bought with blood, sweat and tears. The final straw was an unfair taxation of their land by the colonial government. Several attempts to dialogue with the British governor were rebuffed.

When news reached the villagers that the governor would be passing by their village as he inspected the recently laid train tracks it was an ideal opportunity to engage the governor in conversation. As the train approached Buxton, the women of Buxton strode onto the train tracks putting their lives on the line. The men followed when the train was forced to stop. The protestors immobilized the train by applying chains and locks to its wheels which forced the Governor to meet with the villagers. The villagers demanded that the governor listen to their genuine concerns about the exorbitant, unfair taxing of their land and repeal the tax law.

Following that impromptu meeting at the train line, surprisingly the governor did repeal the tax. The story of the brave men and women of Buxton is hardly known outside of Guyana. However from the time of the Buxtonians stopping the “Governor’s train” to now they are known as a proud, fiercely independent and courageous people. In 2018 the people of Buxton, East Coast, Demerara, Guyana can be justly proud of their 178 years of history.

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Comments

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On April 21, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing this brief history of Buxton Village. It’s a reminder of the vital role the freed African slaves played in community-building outside of the British colonial capital.

  • Hilary Serrao DeAbreu  On April 21, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    Beautiful history of Buxton. My grandfather (From Portugal ) lived in Buxton where my father was born. My mother was also from Portugal. Beautiful history of Buxton/Friendship

  • Clyde Duncan  On April 23, 2018 at 11:59 am

    We have a white Guyanese from Buxton in my neighbourhood – up here in Canada named ‘de Jesus’ – my cousin told me that there is no such Portuguese name – he probably don’t know it but he is a Jew. Don’t ask me to introduce him further, he wants nothing to do with the politics of his birthplace. The whole family moved from the village ….

  • malcolm cliffe  On April 25, 2018 at 9:12 am

    No mention is made of the Christian church in Buxton. My ancestor, Rev. Dempster, headed the parish church there, where he is buried. He was white from U.K. but this is forgotten, at least unmentioned in the brief history. ‘Just saying’.

  • Ron Saywack  On April 25, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    I wish to thank Messrs Cyril Bryan and Murphy Browne for sharing this fascinating story. It is not only informative, it is demonstrative of the indomitable spirit of the recently-freed slaves, and a testament to their great courage and their dream to plan a future where they could, for the first time, dictate their own destinies.

    “The Buxtonians survived the deliberate flooding of their farms and other attempts to dislodge them from their homes bought with blood, sweat and tears.”

    Shame on the now-former cowardly ‘White’ slave masters for committing such evil, despicable acts (after centuries of cruelty and criminality) against a hapless people. The colonizers (British et al) owe much more than mere reparations to the descendants of the slaves, they owe a public apology – because the passage of time cannot erase the centuries of brutality against an unfortunate people.

  • guyaneseonline  On April 26, 2018 at 1:07 am

    THE VILLAGE MOVEMENT IN BRITISH GUIANA now GUYANA

    Immediately after Emancipation the European planters and the Government took a decision not to sell land to the free Africans. The general aim was to ensure that the Africans continued to be a source of labour on the plantations.
    But economic circumstances forced the planters, shortly after, to change their position. Many cotton plantations in particular became unprofitable by 1838 because Britain began to purchase cheaper cotton from the United States where there were very large cotton plantations which used African slave labour. The smaller cotton plantations in Guyana could not survive in such a situation and some of them were abandoned. The owner of Plantation Northbrook, a cotton plantation on the East Coast Demerara, decided to sell it to a group of 83 Africans for 30,000 guilders, equivalent to 2000 British pounds or $10,000. These Africans, like many others, had saved money that they had earned from over-time work over the years. They were mainly headmen and mechanics from Grove, Paradise, Hope and Enmore; and since much of the money they had saved was in the form of coins, they had to transport the payment in wheel-barrows to the seller.
    Shortly after, Queen Victoria agreed to a request from the new owners to rename the plantation Victoria, in her honour.
    By 1839, Africans purchased plantations of Lichfield, Golden Grove, St. John and Providence in West Berbice. Lichfield was bought by one person, Cudjoe Mc Pherson for $3000, and he later divided the plantation into 12 sections which he sold to other Africans for a profit.
    By this time the planters realised that many Africans had accumulated much savings, so they immediately raised land prices. When 61 Africans bought Beterverwagting, a plantation smaller than Northbrook, they had to pay $22,000 for it. New Orange Nassau, a plantation of 800 acres, was purchased by 128 persons for $50,000 in 1840 and it was renamed Buxton in honour of Thomas Buxton who championed the cause of Emancipation in the British Parliament. In 1841, another group paid $80,000 for Plantation Friendship, located next to Buxton.
    Some planters used other methods to make quick money by selling portions of their estates to African labourers. On the Essequibo Coast, for instance, the owners of Dageraad, Mocha and Westfield divided the front lands into lots and sold them for $100 to $200 each. Soon, a thriving “proprietary” village of Africans developed in that area and was named Queenstown in honour of Queen Victoria. In the same manner, the front lands of Plantation Aberdeen were divided and sold to Africans who established the village of Williamstown. In a very short time, other “proprietary” villages were established throughout the coast of Guyana.
    In 1840, the White sugar plantation owners decided to reduce the wages for African field and factory labourers. They claimed that they had to do so because the export price per ton of sugar had dropped below the cost of production. The owners also discontinued the allowances of food and medicine to the workers, most of whom had continued to live on the plantations. To deprive the workers of other forms of subsistence and to force them to accept the lower wages, they also prevented them from fishing in the canals, and destroyed their pigs and chopped down the fruit trees growing on their small cultivation plots. If the African labourers did not comply meekly to this new situation, they were expelled from estates.
    In response to these developments, the African workers on the Demerara and Essequibo estates went on strike from January to March. This strike greatly affected sugar production, since the indentured Indian, Portuguese and other imported African labourers were still insufficient to handle all the work.
    The Africans were of the view that they had no economic future if they continued to reside on the sugar plantations. They were seeing other Africans buying up the abandoned cotton plantations, and they felt that they too must acquire their own land. During the period of the strike, 65 of them pooled their savings and purchased Plaisance for $39,000. The estates of Peter’s Hall, Farm and Garden of Eden on the East Bank Demerara, and Danielstown and Bush Lot on the Essequibo Coast were also acquired in 1840 by groups of Africans.
    Another strike in December 1847 to protest another cut in wages, forced more Africans to abandon the sugar estates. Some of them moved to the existing villages while others who had no savings squatted on Crown lands.
    The moving away of Africans from the estates placed added pressures on sugar production and the planters used devious means to force them to return to work there. One of these means was to let loose water from the estate canals to flood the nearby African villages. The planters, no doubt, felt that if the Africans’ farms were damaged, they would return to the estates to work.
    The African villages also faced administrative problems during the 1840s. The shareholders, or proprietors, possessed no experience in cooperative management, and since they used up their savings to purchase land, they had nothing left for maintaining the roads, bridges, sluice gates, and drainage canals. As a result, the conditions of the villages and the communal plantations deteriorated.
    The land buying by Africans continued until 1852. There were at this period over 82,000 Africans of working age and roughly half of them lived in villages and worked from time to time on the estates. By that time, too, Africans had established 25 villages on lands that they purchased for over one million dollars. Africans also owned over 2000 freehold properties.

    https://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/history-the-guyana-story-dr-odeen-ishmael/

  • guyaneseonline  On April 26, 2018 at 1:08 am

    RESISTANCE TO TAXATION AT FRIENDSHIP – East Coat Demerara

    FRIENDSHIP is the “sister village” of Buxton, located on the eastern side of Buxton.

    In 1862 when Sir Francis Hincks arrived as Governor, he observed that the East Coast Demerara area was suffering from a serious drainage problem. He decided that a steam-powered drainage pump should be set up in that location, and to defray the cost of $24,000 for the pump, he imposed a levy on the villages of Buxton, Friendship and Beterverwagting.
    Buxton and Beterverwagting accepted this taxation but Friendship refused to pay. The village Board called a meeting to discuss the issue with the proprietors who expressed strong opposition to paying for the pump. Some of them used abusive language in expressing their opposition and they were eventually charged by the police with disorderly behaviour. Those who led this opposition to Hincks’ levy were James Jupiter, Blucher Dorset, Hector John, Webster Ogle, Chance Bacchus and James Rodney (Snr).
    After the villagers refused to pay, Hincks sent a marshal to serve notices on the proprietors whose levy ranged between 59 cents and $2.55. Despite the small size of these payments the proprietors stated that they would not pay on the grounds that the Governor was breaching a principle by which the villagers were being denied the right to decide on the payment instead of it being imposed on them.
    On the 24 October 1862, the marshal returned with 50 soldiers, 50 armed policemen and a number of unarmed policemen to force the villagers to pay. As the villagers again refused to pay, the Governor ordered that their homes should be sold, and the Chief Engineer of the colonial Government was authorised to sell them at a public auction. This was eventually done but the proprietors, who were still living in their houses, were told that their properties would be returned to them if they paid up the levy within one week. It was later found out that a small group of property owners quietly broke ranks and decided to pay the levy, thus managing to regain their homes.
    But the majority refused on principle to pay, and when they were finally dispossessed of their homes, they decided to push their case further for the return of their properties. They subscribed money and chartered a schooner to send Hector John, Webster Ogle and Chance Bacchus to England to present their petition to Queen Victoria. The schooner stopped in Barbados where the three men met the Governor of that island. But after they explained their mission, the Governor advised them to abandon their mission to England and return home.
    On their return to Guyana, the proprietors of Friendship sent numerous petitions to Hincks and the Court of Policy demanding the return of their homes. This continued for about five years but both the Governor and the Court of Policy refused to accede to their requests. Some of the proprietors finally decided to take back their homes by force, but they were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. They were shortly after convicted by a magistrate; however, an appeal which was heard by Chief Justice Beaumont acquitted them.
    After this acquittal, the dispossessed proprietors planned to make another attempt to regain their homes. The six leaders tried to quietly re-enter their homes, but a fight broke out between their supporters and the friends of the new owners. Police reinforcements had to be called in from Georgetown to put down the riot. The aftermath of these events was that the original proprietors never regained their properties.

    https://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/history-the-guyana-story-dr-odeen-ishmael/

  • guyaneseonline  On April 26, 2018 at 1:31 am

    The Legend: Post-Emancipation Villages in Guyana: Making World HistoryPaperback – 2016
    by Eusi Kwayana (Author), David Hinds (Author)

    Available from Amazon:
    https://www.amazon.com/Legend-Post-Emancipation-Villages-Guyana-History/dp/0988498715

    Also in:
    https://guyaneseonline.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/book-the-legend-post-emancipation-villages-in-guyana-eusi-kwayana/

    • Albert  On April 26, 2018 at 4:38 pm

      A cousin of mine, Dr. Rawle Farley, did his PhD dissertation in England, and maybe a book, on this very topic. He may have written about villages in Berbice (Fyrish,Courtland etc). Rawle died in 2010 at the age of 88 as Chairman of the Dept of Economic of SUNY, Brockport.

  • Ron Saywack  On April 26, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Thank you, Cyril.

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