Buxton-Friendship

Guyana’s Premier Village

 

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

Buxton People Stop Train

 

Extracted from Guyana Mete-Gee                       by Ovid Abrams

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The Buxton-Friendship Local Authority was the largest village in the colony, and the villagers were keenly interested in all matters relating to the management of their village. As the first village to be established in an organised manner, this Local Authority took a leadership role in dealing with the plantation owners and the central government-which really were one and the same.

The founding fathers built roads, dug drainage trenches and planned house lots to start their own community. They also set up a governing body-a Village Council-made up of councilors elected by the people. The thriving village made the plantation owners nervous, because the Africans had turned to farming and became independent of the plantations. This infuriated the plantation owners, who saw, in the success of the villages, a loss of cheap labour.

In a major scheme to suppress the villages, the Legislature enacted a law in 1856 granting powers to the government to levy “Improvement” taxes on the properties of villagers. This made the village fathers angry. They immediately repudiated liability for the tax, contending that the villages were private property, and the government had no legal right to tax their properties. But the government insisted on collecting, and a stalemate developed.

 

Governor Rebuffs Leaders

A group of Friendship proprietors, led by James Jupiter, Blucher Dorsett and Hector John, was the most active and determined of the ex-slaves. They headed a list of 88 proprietors from Buxton, who sent a petition to the governor of the colony, asking  him to reconsider the tax levy. But the governor refused. Instead, he branded the men as ringleaders.  So the dispute raged on.

In 1862, the government ordered the confiscation of the properties of James Jupiter, Blucher Dorsett, Hector John, Webster Ogle, Chance Bacchus and James Rodney., Sr. To back up his decree, the Governor dispatched a contingent of policemen and a detachment of the 21st Regiment of Fusiliers. They took to the houses, throwing the occupants and their belongings into the streets. The people did not take this sitting down; they started a major riot, forcing the government to send troop reinforcements.

Following those incidents, the villagers made several attempts to meet with the governor to discuss their complaints. But he again refused to meet with them. They then turned to Honourable Clementson, a member of the Court of Policy (legislature) for help. This failed also. The people had no recourse but to start another riot. Those persons who had bought the confiscated houses were unable to occupy them and live in peace. In one instance, James Rodney amassed a huge mob and forcibly took possession of his former property from the new owner.

Then a delegation of more than 100 proprietors walked 14 miles to Georgetown to see the Governor, but he refused to meet with them, describing the men as a “barbarous people”. The men walked back to their homes in Buxton, quite disappointed and angry at the governor’s insensitivity to their problems. They decided on another plan.

 

People are Betrayed

The six village leaders decided to travel to England to tell the Queen of their grievances. So they set out for England in a small craft. They loaded bags of cassava starch into the boat to serve as ballast and, also, to be sold when they reached their destination.

After a few weeks on the rough seas, the men barely managed to reach Barbados. The delegation decided to meet with the governor of the island to complain about the injustice they had suffered at the hands of his counterpart in British Guiana. The governor sympathized with them and dissuaded them from continuing their journey on to the Mother Country. He told them that the governor of British Guiana was his friend, and offered to mediate the dispute. The Barbadian governor gave the Africans a sealed letter addressed to their governor and assured them that everything would be alright.

Believing that the letter contained the solution to their problem, the men returned to BG. They were in high spirits. After handing over the letter to the governor, the men returned to Buxton, where their jubilant supporters greeted them.  But the feelings of respect and satisfaction the villagers had for their leaders did not last long.

The BG governor, who by that time was apparently eager to end the conflict, readily granted the wishes of the Barbadian governor, whose letter stated: “Exempt the six men’s properties from taxes.” Thus, the properties of the six men were declared tax-exempt. This enraged those villagers whose properties were not declared tax-free. They branded the men traitors who were looking out for their own self-interests.

 

Villagers Seek Revenge

The betrayed men were almost torn to pieces by their former friends. They were declared enemies of the people, and lived in torment. They tried to explain that they were unaware that the Governor would not have declared all properties in the village tax-free, but the people did not believe, and poured out scorn and fury upon them. This, naturally, embittered the betrayed men. They tried to meet with the governor to demand an explanation, but he won’t meet with them.

While the matter was still simmering, the people learnt that the governor was expected to travel by train through the village to inspect the newly extended railway farther up the coast. Word quickly spread, and the people mobilized a delegation. They decided that it was their opportunity to force the governor to listen to them and resolve the problem once and for all.

A group of men and women armed with sticks, cutlasses, chains and other implements, took up strategic positions by the railroad early in the morning and eagerly awaited the train’s arrival. After a few hours, their patience was rewarded. The black steam engine chugged along the wiggly tracks, hauling three cars and leaving a trail of smoke behind. The women swarmed onto the track and stood motionless. Others remained alongside the track, brandishing their weapons. The driver brought the train to a screeching halt just shy of the human barricade.

 

Hostile Demonstration

As soon as the train stopped, the men and women passed the chains through the spokes of the wheels of the engine and locked them with padlocks. “Leh e move now,” one woman said angrily. A hostile demonstration followed.

The people surrounded the car with the governor, and demanded an audience with him. The impromptu show of force certainly caught the governor’s attention, because he could not summon help. The telephone was not yet invented, so the petrified governor had no option but to face the angry Buxtonians and promised them an immediate reprieve from the repressive tax measures he had enforced.

The people then removed the chains and allowed the governor to continue on his journey. This time, the governor kept his promise and exempted all the properties in Buxton from Central Government taxes.

 

Buxton Women

 

Women were very important in the development of Buxton. Nana Culley trod the streets of the village to rid them of truants. Mama Fiffee prolonged the life of many sickly children and adults with her local Bush medicinal remedies. It was mainly the women-especially pregnant women-who stood in the tracks and forced the driver to stop the train. It was women who led the confrontations with the colonial administration to seek help in easing the regular floods of the past.

 

Excerpted from:

Prophet Wills-The Walking Dictionary

by Wayne Jones

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