Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Natural Histories of Indigenous Resistance: Alexander Anderson and the Caribs of St. Vincent

Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Natural Histories of Indigenous Resistance: Alexander Anderson and the Caribs of St. Vincent

Article excerpt

I have inclosed to Sir George Yonge some sheets of the plan I intend for a Flora Carribea; I will be happy in being honoured with your advice relative to it.

-Alexander Anderson to Joseph Banks, 17891

The dreadful situation these Islands have been in for near two years past has much interrupted me in my plans relative to the Garden and pursuits. . . . Every Garden Plant & what else in a scientific line, is obliterated wherever the infernal banditti have had access. As to the Catalogue, nothing can be done till a change takes place of our present situation. My Books & papers are all packed up, some in one place & some in another: next to the Garden they were my greatest concern. I have lost many things in the confusion.

-Anderson to Banks, 17962

In 1789, the botanist Alexander Anderson optimistically wrote to Joseph Banks about a plan he had to compose a "Flora Carribea" or catalog of the plants he had collected as superintendent of the royal botanic garden in St. Vincent, a small island in the Lesser Antilles.3 By 1796, however, these plans had been thrown into disarray or "confusion," as Anderson called it, by the outbreak of the Second Carib War (1795-96). The war pitted the British colonists of St. Vin- cent against its indigenous Carib population and was particularly devastating because it represented the culmination of several decades of intense conflict. Since 1763, when Britain received St. Vincent from France as part of the peace agreement concluding the Seven Years' War, colonists had settled on the island and attempted to turn its lands into sugar plantations.4 They were opposed by the Caribs, however, who had maintained St. Vincent as an autonomous terri- tory for several hundred years.5 Even in the late eighteenth century, after most of the region's native peoples had been exterminated, the Caribs of St. Vincent still numbered in the thousands and made their home on the island's wind- ward or northeastern half (see Fig. 1). Almost as soon as the British colonists arrived in St. Vincent, they attempted to encroach on these territories because they contained the portions of the island most suitable for sugar planting; in fact, less than ten years after the island's initial colonization, the First Carib War (1772-73) broke out.6 While this earlier war concluded in a stalemate, the Second Carib War led to the almost total destruction of the island's colonial infrastructure, as the Caribs burned down the vast majority of the British sugar plantations.7 Although not a plantation owner himself, Anderson deplored the conduct of the Caribs and named them "infernal banditti" for harming the gar- den and hindering his progress on the "Flora," which he never completed.

Yet in the drafts that Anderson left behind, he adopted a more ambivalent tone regarding the Caribs. The Second Carib War had thrown his life into "con- fusion," but by the first years of the nineteenth century, he had returned to his writing and was at work on a manuscript detailing the natural history of St. Vincent.8 Anderson most likely intended this narrative, which was comprised of eighty-four handwritten pages, to serve as an overview of the geographical setting of the royal botanic garden and as an introduction to the catalog of its plants.9 Yet as Anderson composed his story about the island, he veered off the topic of botany and into an extended treatment of the Second Carib War. In his retrospective account, Anderson still lamented the fact that St. Vincent had been "rendered one field of desolation and smoking ruins."10 At the same time, he noted its traumatic effects on the Caribs themselves, who had been physically removed from St. Vincent after their surrender in 1796. Taken first to Balliceaux, a small island near St. Vincent, the Caribs were eventually trans- ported to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras, over a thousand miles away. Moreover, although approximately four thousand Caribs left St. …

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