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Fri, 10.24.1738

Joseph Chatoyer, Caribbean Abolitionist, born

Joseph Chatoyer

*The birth of Joseph Chatoyer is celebrated on this date in 1738. Also known as Satuye, Chatoyer was a Garifuna (Carib) chief and abolitionist. Very little is known of his early formative years. 

In 1772, the population rebelled. Led by Chatoyer, the First Carib War forced the British to sign a treaty with them in 1773. This was Britain's first time to sign an accord with non-white people in the Caribbean since the Maroon Treaty of Jamaica in 1739. By 1795, it became apparent that Britain had no intention of obeying the treaty. The people of the Caribbean then rose in rebellion. They were joined by French radicals, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, who saw Britain as a traditional enemy of France. In the Second Carib War, Chatoyer divided the island with his brother Duvalle, another chieftain.

Duvalle had a Guadeloupean lieutenant by the name of Massoteau. While working his way along the coast, Chatoyer met his French supporters at Chateaubelair; the forces worked to Dorsetshire Hill, where they would launch their attack on the capital city, Kingstown. In the spring, a battalion of British soldiers marched toward Dorsetshire Hill. That night, Chatoyer was killed on March 14, 1795. Though the rebellion continued until October 1796 under the leadership of Duvalle, Chatoyer's death led to the desertion of French supporters. Without their aid, the tide of the war turned in favor of the British.

Legacy

Although Chatoyer died before the remainder of the rebels were deported to Roatan in Honduras, from where they spread along the Caribbean coast of Central America and became known as the Garifuna people, he is considered to have been a Garifuna warrior. As a national hero of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Chatoyer is recognized with a monument on Dorsetshire Hill. A play based on his life, The Drama of King Shotaway, was written by William Alexander Brown, an African American from the West Indies and Director of the African Theatre.

It was the first play written in the United States by a black man. The play was produced by the African Company at the African Grove Theatre in New York City in 1823, but no manuscript survived. After a major push led by the National Youth Council of St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and other groups, Chatoyer became the nation's first National Hero on March 14, 2002. Since then, March 14th has been celebrated as National Heroes Day, when many remember the struggle against British and French colonialism. Vincentian politician Camillo Gonsalves described him in 2011 as his country's "sole national hero."

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