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History
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‘Slave Ship Mutiny’: The lost chapter of slave trade

Written by Bobbi Booker Tribune Staff Writer
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Pictured here is an archival image of the slave trade depicting East African slaves taken aboard HMS Daphne. — PHOTO/NATIONAL ARCHIVES UK

 

On July 1, 1839, the Amistad, a Spanish slave ship, was taken over by African captives led by Joseph Cinqué about 20 miles off the coast of Cuba. The ensuing legal story left a legacy that has been documented in history books and on both the big and small screen.

 Yet, 77 years earlier a similar battle had occurred off the waters of Africa’s southernmost coast where slaves were able to overpower their captors on the slave ship Meermin. The fascinating mutiny is reenacted in the PBS film “Slave Ship Mutiny.” The Meermin’s final voyage tells a lost chapter in the history of the slave trade and one of South Africa’s first freedom fighters: Massavana. 

The story began nearly 250 years ago in late January 1766, when the Meermin set sail from Madagascar carrying slaves to South Africa. Chained and crammed so tightly below deck they almost could not move was a human cargo bound for the Cape Town colony of Dutch East India Company (VOC).

 

In a twist of fate, the ship never made it to its final destination. Instead, one man, who refused to become a slave, led his fellow prisoners in a mutiny and took over the ship.

 

They then ordered the Dutch crew to sail them back home to freedom. But the experienced Dutch sailors deceived the slaves and steered the boat towards Cape Town anyway.

 

When the slaves realized what had happened, a bloody battle with militia on shore left the surviving slaves captives again and the Meermin a sinking wreck.

 

The final chapter of this affair took place in the Dutch court in Cape Town and it is the record of that trial that allows this story to be told today.

 The extraordinary outcome saw 26-year-old mutiny leader Massavana spared execution for lack of evidence although he was effectively imprisoned on Robben Island for life.The two top officers were order dismissed for incompetence. Based on survivor accounts, “Slave Ship Mutiny” re-enacts the incredible events that led to Meermin’s mutiny and shipwreck. “Slave Ship Mutiny is a powerful film capturing one man’s struggle for human rights before the concept of human rights existed,” says William R. Grant, series Executive Producer. “It is also a window into the slave trade in which captive Africans were carried into slavery in the New World and even to other parts of Africa itself.”

An additional interview with South Africa’s leading human rights advocate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu adds context to the story.

 “It says something about human beings that there is something in us that refuses to be regarded as less than human,” said Tutu. “We are created for freedom. That’s why slavery is going to fail ultimately. That is why injustice fails, ultimately. Oppression fails, ultimately.”“Slave Ship Mutiny,” narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, debuts as part of THIRTEEN’s Secrets of the Dead airing nationally Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).    The 200th Anniversary of the 1808 Slave Uprising in the Cape   In 2008 we will celebrated the 200th anniversary of an exceptional event, the 1808 slave rebellion involving over 350 participants at the Cape of Good Hope, which ended in tragedy for the brave ‘rainbow’ leadership group, made up of a Mauritian Slave, two Irishmen, a Batavian Slave, two Cape born slaves, an Indian Slave and two indigenous Khoi participants. The story has all the hallmarks of intrigue, innovation, passion, foolhardiness, bravery, comedy, revolutionarism, and tragedy. It could make a gripping movie by any standard. Unfortunately it is an event not commemorated in Cape Town and unknown by the average person. No markers exist to keep the memory alive. Appeals to the City council to show some regard for this event have fallen on deaf ears. It is typical of the disdain in which Coloured history and heritage is held by those who still ensure a colonial mantle cloaks Cape Town.color_slave.jpg

The uprising was born in a time when stories arrived in the Cape about uprisings in America and the Caribbean, and of the revolution in Haiti and the United irishmen’s rebellion in Ireland. Progressive anti-slavery legislation had also been passed by the British in 1807 and the British power foothold was strengthening in the Cape Colony. It was under these circumstances that fate brought together a slave tailor by the name of Louis of Mauritius and two Irishmen, James Hooper and Michael Kelly. As it happens the first dicussions took place in a tavern. They were joined by Jeptha of Batavia, an important connection made by Louis, in that he was based at the farm in Malmesbury which became the starting point of the march on Cape Town. Later they were joined by two more slaves Abraham of the Cape and Adonis of Ceylon. Another slave, probably Indian or Chinese discribed as a ‘Coolie’ and two Khoi men joined the leadership party. The plan developed by this ‘rainbow party’ of conspirators was to march from the rural districts gathering slaves on the way and then to enter Cape Town, seize the Amsterdam Battery, turn the guns on the Castle and then negotiate a peace which would involve establishing a free state.  Louis of Mauritius was an interesting character. He was brought to the Cape, around 1780, as a slave at the tender age of 3 years. He was owned by a German, William Kirsten. When Williams marriage to Maria Grove ended in divorce, Louis became the property of Maria Grove who did an unusual thing. She hired Louis out at a sum of 12 Rixdollars per month, to Louis’ Free Black wife Anna. Thus, although a slave, Louis lived the life of a Free Black and lived in a communal setting of Free Blacks. Louis and his wife Anna lived beneath the balcony of Stadslers House, near Windell’s livery stables at 18 Strand Street in Cape Town. In addition to tailoring, Louis also assisted his brother-in-law Abraham Anthonissen in his wine house next to their home. It is here at this tavern known as a pachthuis, that the early discussions about revolt took place. Louis befriended James Hooper, an Irish servant of a ship’s captain. Jimmy Hooper had been stranded at the Cape and lodged with Anna and Louis. As Louis was not able to speak English, another slave Abraham of the Cape facilitated the friends as an interpretor. Through Jimmy Hooper, Louis heard many stories from abroad which carried a liberatory message. Jimmy introduced Louis to another Irish labourer, Michael Kelly. Louis proposed and took charge of the plan to liberate slavers in the Cape and convinced Jimmy and Mick to play an integral part.  On 27 October 1808 the long march began on the farm of Gerhardus Louw,Vogelgezang, just north of Malmesbury where two more slave co-conspirators awaited their arrival. Louis dressed as a visiting ‘Spanish’ sea Captain, dressed in elaborate uniform on horseback (like Toussaint l’Overture), flanked by two ‘British’ officers, namely Jimmy Hooper and Mick Kelly in disguise, managed to convince the absentee farmer’s wife to hand over all their slaves into the hands of the ‘military’ party. The party even managed to get the farmer’s wife to entertain them with a good meal and rest overnight. They had arrived at the farm with a great deal of showmanship - their wagon was drawn by six black horses and accompanied by servants. Their plan was quite elaborate. Their legend of this charade was that they had been sent by the fiscal at the Castle of Good Hope, to bring all Christian slaves to Cape Town, where they were to be sent overseas to be freed. A fake document was produced to this effect.  From Vogelgezang the liberator party went farm to farm and persuaded the slaves and Khoi servants to join them. This was quite a feat if one takes into consideration the obstacles of the time. Only on one farm did they meet any serious resistance. The group then split into two columns taking different routes and a rondevous point was established in Salt River where they would muster for the final push on the town. There was little violence throughout the entire episode other than some vandalising of property.  The news however reached the Governor of the Cape, Lord Caledon. Infantry and Cavalry lay in wait and ambushed the March at Salt River where the participants scattered. The leadership group were all rounded up when the dragoons captured 326 of the marchers and took them to internment sites at the Castle and Tygerberg hills. Louis was picked up in Wynberg and Hooper and Kelly were captured in Saldana Bay. Of these 47 were put on trial including Hooper, Kelly, Louis, Abraham, Adonis and the two Khoi leaders. Nine were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged. Another 11 were sentenced to death as well, for ‘active particpation’. Many others were given lessor sentences including imprisonment on Robben Island. Most of the death sentences were carried out after confirmation by Governor Caledon, including that of Louis of Mauritius and James Hooper. Michael Kelly however was sent to prison in England. At one stage in his internment Louis managed to escape but was recaptured. Anna his wife died during the trial as a result of illness brought about by distress.  During the trial when evidence was lead, it was asserted that one of the leaders, Abraham of the Cape, a locally born slave, encouraged slaves to in future address their owners as “YOU” rather than “THOU” (in old Dutch “JIJ” rather than “U”) Abraham was stated to have said, “tomorrow the troop (of slave resisters) will hoist a red flag and fight itself free, and then the slave women will all be able to say “Jij” (modern Afrikaans “Jy”) to their mistresses.”  The judge said that to address a slave owner in this manner was disrespectful and could only be used in the context of revolt and resistance. The 42 farmers of the farms involverd by the revolt, congratulated and thanked the governor for putting down the rebellion. They considered themselves benevolent slave owners who gave not just cause for such a rebellion.  In recalling and remebering this momentous event of 1808 it is apt to remember these words of Abraham of the Cape and how affronted the judge was at this expression of equality made by slaves. Thus we can remember the 1808 Rebellion as the “Jij Rebellion”. It is a more meaningful form of rememberance than simply using the date.  Many of the accounts of this remarkable event downplay its significance and fail to follow the many questions that it begs to be answered by enquiry. Some accounts even ridicule the event and downplay slave resistance at the Cape. This bias can be attributed to the fact that most of those writing about the event worked from a colonial paradigm as record keepers of the courts. Research is also rooted in the hegemony of the colonial narrative. As more people who themselves have gone through the passage of struggle and rebellion, now do research and write the story with a fresh eye, we may learn more and experience new perspectives. As new generations stake a claim to celebrating these events, pride may grow and identities find affirmation through a slavery heritage that speaks of the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity.  Preferable References: Time longer than Rope - Edward Roux (1972) Univ Winsconsin press (first pub 1948) pg18-20
Breaking the Chains - Nigel Worden (pg 118)
Echoes of Slavery - Jackie Loos (2004); David Philip (pg 69-73)
Cape Town: Making of a City - Worden, van Heyningen & Bickford-Smith (g 105)
Unsung Heritage: Perspectives on Slavery - Alan Mountain (2004); David Philip (pg 59-62)
New history of South Africa - Gillomee & Mbenga (pg 81)
                 Founders of the Niagara Movement, 1905The Niagara Movement was a black civil rights organization founded in 1905 by a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter. It was named for the "mighty current" of change the group wanted to effect and Niagara Falls, which was near where the first meeting took place in July 1905.[1] The Niagara Movement was a call for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement as well as policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington.[2]
 

 History

  In July 1905 a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois, John Hope, Fredrick L. McGhee, and William Monroe Trotter met in Fort Erie (at the Fort Erie Hotel), opposite Buffalo, New York on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, to discuss full civil liberties, an end to racial discrimination, and recognition of human brotherhood. Differing opinions exist on why the group met in Canada. One story, which cannot be substantiated with primary sources, is that they had originally planned to meet in Buffalo but they were refused accommodation.[2][3] And the other, which is substantiated with primary sources, states that the original plan was to find a quiet, out of the way location for the event.[4] The philosophies of the group were in direct contrast to more conciliatory philosophies that proposed patience over militancy. Fifty-nine men were invited to this first meeting but only 29 attended. The Niagara Movement eventually split into separate committees and divided among the states, establishing chapters in twenty one states by mid-September and reaching 170 members by year’s end. By 1910 however, due to weak finances and internal dissension the group was disbanded.[5]Niagara Movement leaders W. E. B. Du Bois (seated), and (left to right) J. R. Clifford, L. M. Hershaw, and F. H. M. Murray at Harpers Ferry.  Their second meeting, the first to be held on U.S. soil, took place at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown's raid. The three-day gathering, starting on August 15, 1906 at the campus of Storer College (now part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park), discussed how to secure civil rights for African Americans and was later described by Du Bois as "one of the greatest meetings that American Negroes ever held." Attendees walked from Storer College to the nearby Murphy Family farm, relocation site of the historic fort where John Brown's quest to free four million enslaved blacks reached its bloody climax. Once there they removed their shoes and socks to honor the hallowed ground and participated in a ceremony of remembrance.[3]  

End of the Niagara Movement

  The Niagara Movement suffered from a number of organizational flaws including a lack of funding and central leadership. Additionally, Booker T. Washington's opposition drew support away from the group.[2] Following the Springfield Race Riot of 1908, the Niagara Movement admitted their first white member, Mary White Ovington, a settlement worker and socialist.[1] In 1911, the remaining membership of the Niagara Movement joined with a number of White liberals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).[2]

Declaration of Principles

Women at the 1906 Niagara Movement Conference at Harpers Ferry: Mrs. Gertrude Wright Morgan (seated) and (left to right) Mrs. O.M. Waller, Mrs. H.F.M. Murray, Mrs. Mollie Lewis Kelan, Mrs. Ida D. Bailey, Miss Sadie Shorter, and Mrs. Charlotte Hershaw.  The Niagara movement published their Declaration of Principles in 1905. The document was largely written by Du Bois[6] In it the organization recognizes the progress made by Negros and listed several concerns. First among these concerns were suffrage for women, civil liberty, equal economic opportunities, decent housing and neighborhoods, and equal access to education. The movement also made demands for equal justice in the American court system including removing discrimination from jury selection, equal punishments and equal efforts at reformation. The group also called for facilities for dependent children and juvenile delinquents and the abolition of the convict lease system.  Employers were challenged to provide Negro-Americans with permanent employment. Labor unions were similarly challenged to stop boycotting Black laborers. The declaration also called for the nation to treat Black soldiers fairly by rewarding them for their service with promotions and to stop barring Blacks from military academies. The nation was also called upon to enforce the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  The Declaration of Principles also made clear that any practice of segregation and discrimination was intolerable whether it was from the government, businesses, or even the Christian church. The document condemns any impression of assent to inferiority and submissiveness and indicated an absolute refusal to apologize for complaining loudly and insistently stating that "Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty". In closing the document thanks those who have provided support for equal opportunity and promised to continue to demand the rights listed and to carry out the following duties: voting, respecting the rights of others, working, obeying the laws, being clean and orderly, sending their children to school, and self respect.[7]

THE NIAGARA MOVEMENT’S POWERFUL FRUIT – 100 YEARS OF PROTEST
BY JULIANNE MALVEAUX

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History was founded 90 years ago, on September 9, 1915.  It’s founder, Carter G. Woodson, author of the scathing masterpiece, The Miseducation of the Negro (1933), was also the founder of Negro History Week (1926) the forerunner to the contemporary Black History Month.  Each year, the association develops a theme for Black History Month.  This year, it has highlighted The Niagara Movement:  Black Protest Reborn, 1905-2005.

 

     The Niagara Movement lasted a decade, at best.  At its heyday, it had fewer than 200 members.  But while the group was small, almost exclusively male, and poorly funded, it managed to act as a thorn in the side of the accommodationist despot, Booker T. Washington, and also to articulate a series of goals and principles that remain unrealized today.  Washington was so profoundly threatened by the Niagara Movement that he sent spies to cover its meetings and encouraged a “blackout” of its coverage by the black press.  Still, most historians say the Niagara movement left the legacy of the NAACP, the organization founded in 1909 to advance the civil rights cause.

 

     This could not be a better year to celebrate black protest, in a year when so many African Americans feel no need to protest.  Ground down or worn out, too many seem to accept the unjust realities of our current situation as if there are no alternatives.  We need simply look back a century to remember the courage that other African Americans had, though they had fewer resources and advantages than we do.  Too many of us have accepted the hype that race no longer matters even as lawsuits are being filed against all kinds of folks – Macy’s, Cracker Barrel (why does anyone eat at a place called “Cracker” anyway), Planned Parenthood.  To be sure, the merit of these lawsuits has yet to be determined.  But the fact is that racial bias in the workplace, the marketplace, and the classroom has hardly disappeared.  So why has protest?

 

     The Niagara movement was a protest for – suffrage (although W.E.B. DuBois disturbingly used the term “full manhood suffrage,” which totally sidelined black women), equal enforcement of laws, and “real education.”  How do we get these things?  “By voting where we may vote; by persistent, unceasing agitation; by hammering at the truth; by sacrifice and work.”  Not much, it seems, has changed since the founding of the Niagara movement.  African Americans, for all our progress, still seek voting rights (and ask those who stood in long lines in Ohio only to be turned away about that, or ask the felons who have paid their debt to society about their franchise), equal enforcement of the law, and real education.  Face, it, No Child Left Behind isn’t going to do it.  The real education DuBois said he wanted embraced the notion that our children should be “trained as intelligent human beings.  We will fight for all time against any proposal to educate black boys and girls simply as servants and underlings, or simply for the use of other people.  They have a right to know, to think, to aspire.”  Inscribe that quote at the entry of each of our nation’s inner city schools!

 

     Celebrating protest, beginning with the Niagara movement, means celebrating those folks who refused to go along to get along, those folks who refused to smile and take the payola that Booker T. Washington was offering.  It means celebrating the Black Panther Party and its breakfast program, its motivation to feed black children so they could learn.  It means celebrating those SNCC workers, those Freedom Riders and civil rights stalwarts, folk like John Lewis, Joyce Ladner, and Eleanor Holmes Norton (not to mention James Farmer, who recently made his transition).  And it means celebrating the folks who turned their backs as George W. Bush walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, delusionally thinking that the last election was a referendum on the carnage we have wrought on Iraq.  The protest tradition is too often disparaged, nudged to the sidelines, seen as disruptive.  But the Niagara Movement, with its very brief history, reminds us that protest sows seeds that often turn into remarkably effective (and sometimes relatively mainstream) flowers.

 

     Remember that the NAACP, the child of the Niagara Movement, was considered a subversive organization by some until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.  Educators in schools that were segregated were frequently harassed because they held NAACP memberships.  Today, young people question the relevance of the NAACP.  Once upon a time, the NAACP was our nation’s protest organization.  This year, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement, one might ask if our oldest and largest civil rights organization will embrace the protest tradition again.

 

     Much of the protest that emerged in the 1965-1975 period took place on our nation’s campuses.  Peace activists protested the injustice of the war in Vietnam.  Black students protested racist admissions policies, and fought for a place on campus.  Women protested their marginalization, and absence in faculty ranks.  These protests bore fruit – in black studies departments, black cultural centers, women’s studies departments, and a vibrant multicultural movement.  Will these folks, this black history month, celebrate their protest history, or will they focus on tried and true themes this Black History Month?

 

     Too often, black history month turns into recitations of “first blacks,” a reflection on “how far we have come,” a droning and moaning litany of significant dates.  This year we have the opportunity to embrace that which is vibrant about black history, to remember the Niagara Movement and the protests we have experienced in these last hundred years.  This is a chance for us to celebrate A. Philip Randolph, the mastermind of the March on Washington in 1963.  It’s an opportunity for us to lift up the economist Abram Harris and the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns.  It is also an opportunity for us to change the language around spontaneous street protest, the actions some would call “riots” that are more accurately described as “uprisings.”

 

     The ASALH, this year, has challenged those in the academy to reclaim our protest tradition.  With a protest agenda that is a hundred years old, will we step up and meet the challenge?

 

President's Spotlight

Derrick Foward"Move Forward With Foward"

Fellow Citizens:

Achieving constitutional justice in America isn't easy, but with your help, we will be one step closer. The unemployment rates across the country are staggering for people of African American descent. In almost every City in the these United States of America, the unemployment rate for African Americans is almost doubled the national average. We need to hold every employer accountable to the following mandate as outlined in the United States Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be Self-Evident, that All Men Are Created Equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain Unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Ask yourself, if all men are created equal, how do disparities exist? "We the People..." expect equality!!!

"Our Success Is Influenced By Your Actions (DLF)"

Your community servant,

Derrick L. Foward