1500-1799 | Burning crops | Burning villages | Saint Vincent | Starvation campaigns

Genocide on St. Vincent – ‘The savages will be starved into compliance’

Black Caribs negotiating with British officers c. 1773 –
New York Public Library via Wikimedia.
Black Caribs negotiating with British officers c. 1773 –
New York Public Library via Wikimedia.

27 July 1796

On 27 July 1796, Major General Hunter, commanding 3000 British troops on the island of St. Vincent, launched the final phase of a campaign to expel the Black Caribs, a population originating from both the indigenous Indian population and escaped slaves, from their land. As the Scots Magazine explained to its readers, the general had been ‘sent by the planters, who wanted to wrest from their (Carib) hands, the fertile districts of which they were possessed.’1 Hunter, frustrated by determined Carib resistance and guerrilla tactics in the island’s mountainous interior, ordered his men to proceed up the river valleys of the Colonarie, Byera and Rabacca, burning the Carib’s crops and villages and destroying their canoes.2

A British officer, writing to his father on 27 July, explained that ‘the Mode of Carrying on the War has been changed. We now confine ourselves to the destruction of the provision grounds… By this Means it is expected that the Savages will be starved into Compliance… Posterity will hardly believe the number of lives lost in these islands.’3 Chris Taylor, a historian of the Carib Wars, comments that ‘when they (the soldiers) made contact with the Caribs who tried to harass them in their efforts they offered no quarter’ and as the scorched earth campaign, began to take its toll, increasing numbers of starving men, women and children surrendered to face transportation to the small Grenadine island of Baliceaux.4 By January 1797 a total of 4,776 detainees had been shipped to the mile long island. 3,696 of them women and children.5

Already suffering from severe malnutrition, poorly fed, confined in overcrowded conditions and with no supply of fresh water, the number dying from disease increased rapidly from one hundred in September, to four hundred the following month and peaking at 950 in December. Only 2,248 detainees survived to face being transported yet again in April to the island of Roatan, off the Honduran coast. Another 222 perished during the month long voyage, and the 2,026 survivors who were finally abandoned to fend for themselves on the remote and largely uncultivated island can not have been optimistic about their future prospects. Taylor estimates, based on reports by a doctor, that by this time approximately 77% of St. Vincent’s pre war Carib population had already been wiped out by the British campaign of pacification and the subsequent months of detention.6


  1. The Scots Magazine, 2 December 1796, Vol 58, p. 894.
  2. Christopher Taylor, The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival and the Making of Garifuna, University of Mississippi, Jackson, 2012, p. 138 and Michael Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2009, pp. 205-206
  3. Cited in Michael Craton, op. cit., p. 205.
  4. Christopher Taylor, op. cit., p. 140.
  5. Christopher Taylor, op. cit., pp. 142-143.
  6. Christopher Taylor, op. cit., pp. 143-3 and 146-147.

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