Buxton-Friendship

Guyana’s Premier Village

 

Theme for 2013: Milestones to Freedom: Resistance, Resolve, Emancipation & Entrepreneurship

Purchase of Friendship

 

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Buxton Heritage Group

Brooklyn, New York, USA

E-mail: lorna@buxtonguyana.net

E-mail: buxtonexpress@aol.com

 

 

As we celebrate the 170th Anniversary of the Purchase of Plantation Friendship (2011), I’ll like to reflect on these words by a fellow Buxtonian: Pride of a country and loyalty are generated by knowledge of the past. We cannot ignore the past, or turn our backs on our own history. It has fashioned us and conditioned us. Therefore we must seek as a nation to know why we are what we are” (Winifred Ivy Thierens-Gaskin - opening ceremony of Library Week 1966). As a Guyanese, Winifred Gaskin recognized the role of our history in helping to shape a national identity. She felt that our history must be known and understood if we were to progress as a people. I am a firm believer that knowledge of the past informs the present to plan for the future.

When slavery was abolished throughout the British possessions on August 1, 1838 (after a number of transitional years known as apprenticeship), large numbers of plantations were no longer economically viable and were sold off to groups of ex-slaves by planters anxious to cut their losses. Plantation Friendship was no exception; starting with Victoria, Buxton and other former Plantations, such as Litchfield, Friendship became part of the “Village Movement.”

The purchase of these Plantations by the ex-Slaves was an extraordinary achievement because Africans had been enslaved in Guyana for centuries; first by the Dutch and then the British prior to emancipation on August 1, 1834. Although chattel slavery ended on August 1, 1834, a system of “apprenticeship” was instituted for another four years in an attempt to continue the system of slavery under another name and guise. The white slave holders and plantation owners were compensated for the loss of their property by the British Crown, while the Africans were forced to continue working on the plantations where they had been enslaved. The period of “apprenticeship” compelled the Africans to work without pay for 40 hours a week and then they were grudgingly paid a pittance for any work they did after 40 hours. The Africans were compelled to pay rent for the very inadequate housing they were allotted on the plantation grounds. Surprisingly, out of this situation, they were able to save enough money to purchase their own land.

In 1841, 168 former slaves came together to purchase Plantation Friendship, a 500-acre Plantation adjacent East of Buxton for $80,000. A down payment of $35,000 was lodged. A second $5,000 was paid down. The balance of $40,000 was paid off in time. The people who bought Friendship and other Plantations did so because of determination and commitment. For nearly 200 years, these enslaved people worked for no money. Only after the 1823 East Coast rebellion that laws were passed and allowed them to sow and reap or catch fish and sell produce for money. Although the village started out with 168 proprietors, in 1844 the count was 595 and in 1848 it was 1561. By 1871, the population of Friendship was 1757. It should be noted that Plantation Friendship had began to change hands around 1838 (transport #21 of 1838). A transfer was made to G. Austin. In 1839, Transport # 139 of 1839 showed that the same Plantation was passed to R. Henderson. In the same year, by transport 192, one Nicol Martin bought the property. My research showed that Pitt Hughes and others were the original proprietors of Plantation Friendship.

Shortly after Plantation Friendship was bought, the two villages of Buxton and Friendship were amalgamated to form the largest village in the country. The founding fathers laid out housing lots at the front of the village with corresponding farm lands at the back. With the emergence of the communal and proprietary village, villagers had to address several problems such as water control in the form of sea defense, drainage and irrigation and also road repairs and bridges. There was periodic flooding and such was the situation that any drained village at the time was aptly described as “an inhabited swamp.” During the initial stage of the village movement, Governor Henry Light adopted a laissez-faire approach. This seemingly negative attitude could be seen as giving support to the ‘Plantocracy’ in thwarting the efforts of villagers.

Religious Worship and Education were extremely important to the people of Friendship, as lands were allocated for the establishment of Christian Churches and Schools. The first church built in Friendship after the purchase, was the Methodist which opened for worship on August 1, 1856 then the Roman Catholic on November 19, 1871. Caution: St. Augustine Church was already established by the Church of England before emancipation.

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. Friendship was no exception. The planters, no doubt, felt that if the Africans' farms were damaged, they would return to the estates to work. Friendship 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 village and the communal plantation deteriorated.

Life in Friendship was not very integrated like Buxton. Friendship had fewer Indians and maybe fewer Portuguese and Chinese. Indians in Friendship included: the Gobins, the Persauds, the Singhs, the Roopchands, Kaiser, Kamo and few fishermen at Brusche Front.

Pioneers of Friendship:

1. The First Grant to Farmers in the village of Friendship was given to Cornelius Kryenhoff. This grant was evidence that the people of Friendship were using the land profitable for agriculture. Kryenhoff was the first black Justice of the Peace in Guyana. He came from respectable and well-to-do parents in Friendship. He was educated at the African Methodist Episcopal Church/School then became a cooper. He became overseer of Friendship in 1873. Being in this position, he was able to lease the land from the “Crown” in 1878. About 120 acres of land was reserved for his own use where he planted sugar cane. The cane was sold to a factory. However, he lost heavily when the price of sugar he received in 1886 was dropped significantly. He was able to buy from the government a cane engine at Triumph and transferred it to Friendship and began processing his own sugar.

2. The First Indians in Friendship: in 1890 Cornelius Kryenhoff appeared before the Labor Commission and was given permission to hire 15 Indians because Africans would not work on Mondays except at their own price. Kryenhoff could not afford to pay this extra money and still made common process sugar at a profit. He had no alternative but to hire Indians. Fred Roopchand’s father could have been one of the 15 Indians hired by Kryenhoff.

3. St. Augustine’s Anglican Church: The Church of England was the pioneer when the need for religion and education arose. St. Augustine’s Church opened its doors for worship at Friendship on Sunday August 28, 1841. Many Africans welcomed the Church since the month of August is associated with freedom. However, the former slaves did not know that St. Augustine, chosen as the Patron Saint was himself an African who had been Bishop of Hippo, an ancient city in what is now Algeria. Friendship Methodist Church was started in 1855 and opened its doors on August 1, 1856. The Roman Catholic Church later followed. Like the church, St. Augustine school was the first school to begin formal education in Friendship. Benjamin Croft Eversley was the first catechist and Headmaster (1841 to 1857).

4. Dutch well: The first “Dutch” well was located on the recreation ground at Friendship. There is some suggestion that the “Great House” was also located on this ground. The playground site was the property of the former plantation owners. It was never shared out in proprietors’ shares but was acquired for that purpose by the Council. In 1934, Overseer J.D. Younge, my Grand Father, was commended by prominent villagers for the ‘Preparation of Recreation ground 1925-1926.

5. First Goldsmith: The first Goldsmith in Friendship was “Lilboy” of Railway Line & Friendship Middle Walk.

6. Buxton Scholarship: The first two Buxton/Friendship scholarship winners were from Friendship; they were Balbir Balgreene Nehaul and Claude Holder.

7. Indian Ranger/Company Canal: The first Indian Ranger was Seepaltan from Friendship. He could have been the same person who looked after cows and farm lands for the Younges and Holder families. He was a pioneer in the “Grow More Food” campaign of World War 11. Seepaltan was involved with organizing the excavation work for the first Pumping Station and its inflow and outflow facilities in Friendship.

The Company Canal that separates Friendship and Buxton was dug around 1886 to provide irrigation and drainage for the farms in Kryenhoff and Younge Empolders and other farms lands in the village. Seepaltan was a farmer who was closely connected to this canal. Everyday, he paddled his boat “Arno” to his farms at Ogle Empolder. Amazingly, it was the same “Arno” that transported his body from his farm to Buxton front.

8. Rice Mill: The first rice mill in Friendship was on Ogle Street that belonged to the Ogle family. Paddy, cultivated at Younge Empolder by Nana Culley and her sisters Mrs. Hiles and Mrs. Alder, both of Friendship, were processed at the mill. Nana was an ardent farmer.

9. Cricket: Magistrate Veerasammy, at the time resident of Friendship, played a major role in the rebuilding of sports facilities and helped to raise the standard of cricket in the village. He was a cricket coach who gave his talents freely. There was also, the war time Casual Cricket Club with old greats like Oscar Spenser, Martin Stephenson, Clayton Castello and Speco Bacchus, all of Friendship. However, it was goldsmith Fred Roopchand who was the leading pioneer of cricket in the village. He organized the new Congress Cricket Club and coached people such as Charles Booker and Martin Stephenson who went on to play in national first class competitions.

10. Volley Ball: The Rev. Aubrey Bowen, an Indian Lutheran Minister, first brought Volley Ball to Friendship/Buxton. He and his family, including his children, Indy and Rudy lived at the Lutheran Manse now occupied by the James at Friendship Middle Walk Front.

11. Table Tennis – The Bowen’s could be the pioneers of Table Tennis in Friendship. The Methodist School also had a tennis table that used to be against the wall to the left as you enter the building. I vividly remember this table going back to around 1954.

12. Soap Factory: The first soap factory in Friendship was built by the De Cambra family. It was located at the corner of Friendship Middle Walk & Railway Line

13. Vocational School: The first vocational school for boys (trade school) was at the corner of Friendship Middle Walk & Railway Line. The first Headmaster was Mr. Kirby Philadelphia of Friendship. He lived at the corner of Friendship Middle Walk & Noble Street. The house was gutted by fire some years ago.

14. Mico College Jamaica/Rawle Institute, Barbados: Some early scholars of Friendship who attended Mico Teachers College in Jamaica include Fitzroy Egerton Younge - January, 1923 - January, 1925 with Distinctions in English, Arithmetic and Algebra, History, Geometry and Vocal Music. An early scholar of Rawle Institute in Barbados include Christabel Douglas. There were also a J. Pollard and Samuel Baird. Not sure if they were from Friendship.

15. Juke Box: The pioneer of Juke Box in Friendship was Bysoondial Singh, called Kaiser. He was a tailor who left Non Pariel sugar estate and settled in Friendship with his family. The next Juke Box was operated by Charles Barnes also of Friendship.

16. Special Mention: Edgar Simon could be the only person in Buxton/Friendship that has two streets named after both grandparents–Noble Street in Friendship, named after his grandmother on his father’s side and Joseph Street in Buxton, named after his grandmother on his mother’s side.

Stop Train – Was it a Friendship Issue?

In 1856, the British Guiana legislature gave the government the right to enact improvement taxes on the properties of the villagers. This led to a stalemate between the government and the purchasers of Friendship. Friendship proprietors had not asked to come under the Ordinance No. 4 of 1851. (Note: This ordinance was introduced by Governor Barkley who was also a sugar estate owner in Berbice and an elected member of the House of Commons in England). Friendship villagers conducted an ongoing struggle against colonial intrusion in their affairs and in defense of their rights to handle their own affairs. In 1862, the governor of British Guiana confiscated the property of James Jupiter, Blucher Dorsett, Hector John, Webster Ogle, Chance Bacchus and James Rodney Sr., leading to riots. After the governor refused to hear the complaints of the delegations from Friendship, six village leaders set sail for England to air their grievances to the Queen. After arriving in Barbados, the Barbadian governor met with the delegation and advised his counterpart to absolve their properties of tax duties. This betrayal upset the other villagers, it also threaten the well being of the members of the delegation who claimed they were not aware of the contents of the letter. In another effort to settle this dispute, some villagers decided to “stop the train” carrying the governor, and force him to listen to their grievances. With his train surrounded by angry villagers, the governor promised that Friendship would be exempt from these levies.

In closing I can conclude that these former Slaves, with the purchase of Plantation Friendship, have seized the opportunity of Emancipation to establish the foundations of a civilized life – the quest for education, employment, equality and the pursuit of happiness. The village of Friendship rested securely on four pillars – Church, School, Home and Farm. – these were the wellspring of a distinctive culture.

 

Acknowledgements

I’ll like to thank everyone who kindly supplied this information and made it possible for this History to be written.

I am grateful to: Nandi Kellman, Edgar Simon and Eusi Kwayana (Buxton/Friendship in Print & Memory).

Note: If there are errors or additions that any one may have, please contact me at E-mail: youngefitzroy@gmail.com or Telephone: 592-274 0572 (Guyana).

 

….by Fitzroy “Rollo” Younge

 

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