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00. Panic in Grenada during 1750-1800CE

SEP. 09, 2021


The boys are out of the office this week, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get your HHE experience! To tide you over until our next scheduled episode, please enjoy this ‘Out of Office’ instalment.

This Out of Office episode took Ryan to research the subject of Panic on the island of Grenada, an island country in the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea. The island forms part of an archipelago of islands including St. Vincent, Barbados, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe and it consists of a main island and several small islands to the north of the island including Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Almost half the island is covered by forest and it’s famous for white beaches, mountains, and waterfalls, which is nice.

Grenada is actually one of the smallest independent countries in the Western Hemisphere, coming in at 348.5 sq. km or 603 times smaller than France, housing a population of 112,000 people.

Grenada is a spicy location - 40% of the world’s nutmeg is from Grenada. That’s how you get a nickname like the "Island of Spice". Although it’s not all about nutmeg only, oh no. There is also mace (which is the dried “lacy” reddish covering of, um, the nutmeg seed), but there’s also cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

The island is also home to Grand Etang is a lake formed over a dormant volcano, which is said to be bottomless because nobody has been able to find its bottom with SONAR. Happy diving!

There are three rum distilleries in Grenada, which is not an important fact, but it is a good excuse to serve ‘Grenada Rum Punch’ during a podcast.

In the beginning

2 million years ago, volcanic activity resulted in land formation, including our destination island.

A mere million and a half years later in 500 BCE humans are known to have been there, through the evidence of shell middens, basically seafood garbage dumps, in the area.

Further evidence of human settlement is found for about 300 CE, but the next big change in the population came around 750 CE, when migration from South America increases the population of the island.

By 1200 CE, considered to be the height of Grenada's indigenous population – 87 different sites have been identified.

Then the colonists arrived.

Colonial Years

In 1498, on his 3rd voyage, Christopher Columbus sighted the island, called it Concepction, and basically just kept sailing.

The name never really caught on and in 1530 the island became known as "La Granada” after the Andalusian city, but still nobody wanted to move there, however white the beaches.

It is not until 1609, that the first real attempt at settlement is made. It is not a great success, and 24 English colonisers were attacked, tortured, and killed. A few survived and hid on the island waiting for ships to return six months later. They did not leave good TripAdvisor reviews.

Another attempt was made in 1649 when 203 French arrive, this time building an an armed fort called ‘Annunciation’. Spotting the new batch are a bit less vulnerable than the first lot, the indigenous chief agreed to a treaty splitting the island between the two communities.

The truce held and peace reigned for literally weeks before conflict broke out, marking the start of five yearts of fighting the culminated with the losing tribal Chief choosing to throw themselves off a cliff rather than surrender.

In 1675 - Dutch pirates capture Grenada, but the French quickly take it back and by 1750 - Grenada had a population of 835 (525 of them slaves). They were spread across 3 sugar estates and 52 plantations. Cocoa, coffee, and cotton are introduced, making the island increasingly valuable.

1750-onwards (aka the ‘pass the island’ years)

In 1762 the Seven Years' War gets going in earnest. As part of the action, the British captured Grenada with not a shot fired and a year later France cedes the island to Britain.

In 1767 - A slave uprising is put down (starting something of a theme, to be honest).

In 1779 - The French re-captured the island during the American War of Independence but four years later in 1783 it is restored again to Great Britain.

Just to liven things up, in 1789 – The French Revolution begins, making aristocrats all around the world pretty nervous.

And rightly so – revolution is in the air and in 1791 there was a revolution in Haiti and a black republic formed. For the next two years rebellion-fever spreads across the Caribbean, led by French speaking free people of mixed-race, although with the handy side-effect of freedom for slaves where they were successful.

In 1795 - Two men from Grenada travelled to Guadeloupe to meet with French revolutionaries to get some ideas. And guns. And training in how to shoot.

They are the start of a Grenadian rebel army, which is to be led by General-in-chief Julien Fédon. He was the owner of a coffee and cotton plantation in the middle of Grenada’s main island, a free man of mixed-race and a keen revolutionary.

In fact he had been preparing for an insurrection against the British for years, converting his Belvidere estate into a fortified headquarters and planting crops for his army to eat.

This man knew how to forward plan.

When Fedon’s men returned from Guadaloupe, it was time to launch the rebellion. On the night of the 2nd March, Fedon ordered a group of 100 insurgents to simultaneously attack the East coast village of Grenville and the west coast town of Gouyave.

In Grenville Fédon himself led a group who forced 20 white residents from their beds. They looted the town, raided houses and cellars are raided and had a few drinks to celebrate. The 20 prisoners were taken to the market place, shot, and their bodies cut to pieces with cutlasses, all the while being cheered on by the newly-freed slaves.

Fedon took some hostages back to his base at Belvidere estate and waited for news of Gouyave.

Let’s meet John Hay

Monday, 2nd March, 1795
At 9pm, John Hay, a resident of the colony, doctor and the British Commander of the St. Johns Regiment in Grenada heard a knock on his front door.

He answers to find some of the colonists are on his doorstep and they are concerned. They suspect an intended attack. Apparently a canoe had arrived that afternoon carrying a strange man of mixed race alongside two natives of Grenada and that evening there had been a meeting of the free people at Belvidere estate.

Hay stepped outside his home and looks up and down the street noticing that the town is indeed ‘uncommonly quiet with many doors shut’.

He considers action, but it’s late, there’s no sign of violence at the time, and the regiment of 32 English soldiers were spread across a distance of ten miles - to get word to them and draw them back to town at this late hour would mean they wouldn’t arrive until the morning in any event.

So John decided it was time for bed and to deal with it all in the morning. Leading by example, John changed into his night shirt, conducted his ablutions, snuffed out the candles, got into bed - and falls asleep

This is what happened next, in his own words from his book ‘A narrative of the insurrection in the island of Grenada which took place in 1795’

“About midnight, or very early next morning, I was awaked by a violent rapping in my back gallery and at my chamber door. It was moonlight: and upon opening it a little, I perceived a number of armed men in the gallery, without being able to distinguish who they were. I immediately shut the door, bolted it, took my pistols from the brackets on the partition, and jumped from the window into the street. I attempted to escape but found myself surrounded with a number of coloured men armed with muskets, bayonets and cutlasses, all of whom I knew by sight.

Sylvain Dragon made a thrust at me with his bayonet, by which I was slightly wounded in my wrist, he then cocked his piece and persecuted it to my breast, but was ordered not to fire by Etienne Veuteur, my next-door neighbour, who they had styled ‘captain’. Uncertain of their intentions, I called to him if it was my life they were for, to which he replied ‘No’ and ordered me to surrender my arms. In the instant, my arms were pinioned by men behind me whom I couldn’t see, and my pistols wrested from my hands. Under such circumstances resistance would have been folly in the extreme and to attempt an escape would have been attended with instant death. I therefore submitted and inquired the cause of such unprovoked violence; to which he answered that the national troops had landed.

They detained me a considerable time in the street in my shirt, notwithstanding every remonstrance I could make to be permitted to put on my clothes; in the meantime, the French coloured women were enjoying the scene from their windows, seemingly with much satisfaction”

John Hay was taken to Belvidere estate to join the other hostages. There he was held captive in a small room with barred windows with about 40 other prisoners

John Hay did not like Mondays.

Tuesday, 3rd March
In the morning, the guards stepped aside and into their cell walked Julien Fedon, ‘The General’.

Fédon told the hostages that they need not expect swift rescue, because the rebels were "perfectly acquainted with the mode of making war in the woods". He then ordered John to attend to some of his soldiers, injured in the night’s fighting. Only now did John realise why he had been spared.

Escorted, John travels across the island, tending to wounded men, each night being brought back to the prison cell in Belvidere. Whilst there, he is fed a daily diet of Boiled beef and plantains

Time Out – how to make an approximation of John Hay’s prison food.
This recipe is based on a fancier recipe called ‘Oil Down’ but has been considered by food historians as what John Hay’s meals could have looked and tasted like (but with a bit more flavour and spice, because you’re not a prisoner).

‘Boiled beef’ in this instance is almost certainly corned beef or salt beef. Plantains would be green and boiled over an open fire. To prevent scorching, green dasheen leaves would be used as liners in pots to protect from scorching.

There was also breadfruit, a plant fount plentifully on the island. Then add water (which is coconut milk in Oil Down, but who’s going to waste coconut milk on a prisoner.

Serve hot with a side of sadness

Back to John. Friday, 6th March

At midday, to shouts of “Vive la republique!”, Jean-Pierre Fedon (the brother of the General) arrived at Belvidere Estate dragging along with him Ninian Home, the island’s Governor Ninian Home, and James Campbell the man who sold Belvidere estate to Fedon in 1791.

These were perhaps the two most senior people on the island and Fedon ordered the Governor clapped in irons. Unfortunately his ankles are too big for the manacles, so he is tied and laid on a mattress instead.

Fedon demanded that the Governor deliver up the island to them, but he refused, saying he “would never sign any order which would disgrace his memory”. But more pertinently, now he had been captured he didn’t have the authority to do anything of that sort anyway.

The Governor did agree to write a letter to the authorities though (on behalf of all 43 prisoners). The first draft did not go down well with Fedon, who said “we republicans dislike equivocation” – and demanded a more explicit letter. The Governor promised a new version by the morning.

To make sure they knew he was serious, Fedon ordered his second-in-command to kill everyone if “any try to escape or our posts get attacked”

“The guard’s fury appeared to be wrought up to the highest pitch, his eyes sparkled fire, every feature, every gesture plainly denoted with what anxiety he panted to satiate his ferocious rage, by embruing his hands in the blood of innocent men. With one foot on the threshold of the prison door and the other out of it, a pistol in one hand and a dagger in the other, saying, “I require no other weapons but those in my hands to execute your orders”.

Another guard at the same time was drawn up before the door with cocked firelocks and half-charged bayonets: Many of the prisoners shrieked and called for mercy, conceiving the bloody order was to be immediately put in execution.

The Governor gently reprimanded them and begged they would behave like men.

A night spent under such awful and gloomy apprehensions can neither be easily imagined or described.“

By the next morning (6th March), the Governor had drafted the new version of the letter:


General Julian Fedon, commander of the French Republican troops (which are now of considerable number), did last night communicate to me the answer which he has received from the president and counsel, to the declaration sent them by him, and the prisoners, who are 43 and number, have requested that I would acquaint you with the said General Fedon’s positive declaration made to me and the rest of the prisoners, which is briefly as follows:

“That the instant an attack is made on the post where the prisoners are now contained, that instant every one of the prisoners shall be put to death”.

The same orders have also been regularly given to us every night since we have been prisoners.

We therefore hope you will take this our representation into your most serious consideration, and not suffer, if possible, the lives of so many innocent persons to be sacrificed. Signed by 43 prisoners.

PS. General Fedon is of opinion that I have not sufficiently expressed his sentiments in the full manner he wishes should have been done, and requests me to add, "that he expects all the fortifications to be delivered up to him on an honourable capitulation”

The President and Council of Granada, did receive that letter and later responded to Fedon, saying:

the proposition was so horrid it was difficult to conceive that any, wearing even the form and semblance of humankind, should have exceeded. It requires but one answer, that we are all equally willing to spill the last drop of our blood rather than disgrace eternally ourselves and our country, by a concession to a man capable of such a proposition. We desire that no further communication of the same nature may be attempted.

Which is a long and old fashioned way of saying ‘blocked’.

Saturday 7th March
By the Saturday, all free black people had now joined Fedon’s movement:

Numbers of black men, principally French, were continually coming in, and were generally armed with Pikes, some mounted with iron, others hardwood, burnt and pointed, about 8 feet long. They were commonly employed in foraging parties, under the command of the captain of their own colour, to bring in cattle and plantains, and in plundering houses and plantations.

But at night their yells and war songs were so dreadful that it added to our almost perpetual challenges and sleep was almost impossible. Particularly in a situation so excessively cold, without either mattress or covering of any sort.

But it’s wasn’t all happy families in the rebel camp, as John Hay writes.

Acts of violence committed against themselves were carefully concealed from prisoners. For example, I was informed out of doors, that a French planter of the name Solier had some words with a coloured captain of the name of Ragon, he with one or two strokes of a Cutlass nearly severed Solier’s head from his body. He fell dead at his feet. In attempting to interfere, one guard shared the same fate. Ragon was instantly shot on the spot.

Friday 13th March
A new prisoner, William Kerr, entered the prison.

He had been, some days before, with the French white people in Fedon’s house, where he said there was not room, and that he preferred being with us.

We considered him as a spy sent to watch our private conversation. We were therefore much on our guard for the first two or three days. A similar attempt had been made before to impose upon us, by a Frenchman named Graham, who was sent in as a prisoner, but we very soon discovered his intentions. Although he pretended to be much afflicted, and cried at his entrance among us, towards the evening he left us abruptly with a loud laugh.

Tuesday 17th March
The prisoners were roused and told to leave the cell. From there they were marched across the island past a battlefield where the English army is facing off against the rebels.

One of the Majors in the rebel army tells the prisoner’s guards that the General has given orders to put the prisoners to death. Which was pretty stressful to overhear.

Many of the coloured people seemed eager to carry out the orders immediately cocking and presenting their muskets.

“But,” says the Major, “not withstanding the English are the common enemies to liberty and mankind, more especially to those of our colour whom they have tyrannised over for many years and treated with cruelty hitherto without example - yet we will convince you and the world besides, that Republicans can conquer and be generous at the same time, and, not withstanding the positive orders of the general, I take upon myself to spare your lives.”

A white man whose name I forget, lamented that he could not have the pleasure of cutting off all of our heads, or the heads of the whole nation at a blow.

But they were still alive. And they kept marching. For many long nights they kept laughing, sleeping outdoors, exposed to heavy rain and high winds.

Sunday, 22nd March
The prisoners continued to march across the island and up to the peak of a mountain where they found a new prison had been built for them. It was 22 feet long and 13 feet wide, with stocks on each side. Which would have been fine for a group about half their size.

We were then 47 in number and there was only two hammocks. There was not room for more than 28, the rest were either obliged to stand or sleep on the wet ground beneath.

During the three days we were lodged, we suffered the greatest hardships for want of water.

We cast the night without sleep, as may easily be conceived, from cold and want a room to lie down.

To add to our misery, during a heavy rainfall, we found the house leaked all over the roof, which was only thatched very thin with green leaves and branches of trees. About this time, we learned from our guard’s conversation that a letter had been brought to Fedon, concluding in the following terms "strike hard, exterminate the English, they are the common enemies of liberty and the rights of man"

Monday, 23rd March

One of our guards entered the prison with a hammer in his hand, and first ordered the governor, and then seven others, according to their rank in the militia, to put their feet in the stocks, in which number I was included. There was only room for eight at that time.

He seemed to execute the order with great satisfaction, making some remark on everyone as they were put in.

As I had been indisposed for some days before, from a bowel complaint, I took upon me to write the General in the afternoon, to the following purport:

"Citizen General, the complaint I have laboured under for some days still continues, which renders my present confinement very inconvenient, I therefore beg you will order my enlargement, and I hope, at the same time, you will be pleased to extend your clemency to the rest of my fellow prisoners"

The prison door is always locked at sunset, so hard were they and deaf to every human feeling, that they could hardly be prevailed on to open the door afterwards if the calls of nature required a prisoner to go out. One Captain was particularly to be pitied, who had laboured under a diarrhoea from the first of his confinement. They often proposed to shoot him, to rid them of the trouble of opening the door so often at night.

8th April
Gunfire can be heard and the prisoners are immediately ordered in and locked inside.

The British were attacking Belvidere estate. But was that good news or bad? John and the others overheared a voice saying that "the prisoners are to be shot"

Some, who did not perfectly understand French, asked me if it was not so. To which I made no reply. Another guard said it would not take place till the General came up himself, during which time the door was frequently opened and frequently shut with great violence.

The guards appeared very much agitated, trembling with impatience, and some seemed to have their guns cocked. A few prisoners call out ‘mercy!’ but there was no reply. Others who were not in stocks were on their knees praying. Not a word was exchanged amongst us, we all knew an attack from that Quarter must fail of success, which would not only prolong our misery, but endanger our lives.


The door was opened, two men appeared with hammers to take the prisoners out of stocks. Those who were not in confinement were ordered to go out. I was near the door and immediately obeyed.

The general was on a battery about 20 yards distant. He called to me to come up.

I heard a musket go off before I reached him. Upon looking behind me, I saw Peter Thompson make nearly 2 steps forward and then drop down seemingly motionless. I flew to Fedon, in order to try if I could to prevail upon him to have mercy on the innocent.

“They have none on our people below" he replied.

I then applied to his second-in-command, who said they had no influence whatsoever over him, and he began the bloody massacre in presence of his wife and daughters, who remained there, unfeeling spectators of his horrid barbarity.

He gave the word ‘feurgh’ himself to every man as soon as he came out, and, of 51 prisoners, only Parson McMann, Mr Kerr, and myself, were saved.

They all bore their fate like men and Christians, and, except a young boy of 12 years of age, I did not hear a word from one of them. Dr Carruthers attempted to run and was shot at about 50 yards distance from the prison.

I think it is probable he counted them as they came out because when the last was shot he lighted his cigar and walked with great indifference backwards and forwards on the battery.

Addressing himself to me, he said, "you need to be under no apprehension for your safety as long as I live, but you may be obliged sometimes to shift your quarters. As soon as the prisoners are removed, you shall be lodged for tonight in the same prison.”

A man came up and observed to him, that some of the prisoners were not quite dead. He desired they might be dispatched with cutlasses and bayonets. Immediately the orders were executed with cutlasses and pikes, while the prisoners lay in a pile before the prison door crawling over one another in the agonies of death.

When all of the prisoners were dead, Fedon ordered that they be buried under the doorway of the prison. Of the 47 prisoners, 44 were dead, and three remained, the ‘much loved’ Parson McMahon, our Dr. John Hay and, suspiciously William Kerr whom everyone had been thinking might be a spy.

Fedon called this the ‘camp of death’ and Belvidere as the ‘camp of liberty’.

The next year
Dr. John Hay escaped to Guadaloupe, where he stays until the rebellion ends. Back in Grenada, the fighting subsides into a “bizarre year-long stand-off” with several skirmishes during which both sides regrouped in preparation for a final war.

Which came on…

18 June, 1796
Fedon and the rebels were cornered in their base, the now-possibly-ironically named ‘Camp of Death’.

During the night, the British and a troop of German Marines left their campfires burning and crept up the mountain in small groups, using their swords as scaling ladders and neutralising rebel outposts as they moved.

The troops breached Fédon's camp with little resistance, killing his wife. In return, Fedon killed his remaining hostages.

Seeing the situation as hopeless, rather than be captured, the rebels, including Fédon, threw themselves down steep hillside to death or escape.

A British soldier described this:

“Fédon launched himself down a place where [no man] dare venture after him. His object and that of the few remaining in the woods was to get off in a canoe. We had destroyed several that were preparing for that purpose"

Fedon's army was obliterated and nine days later the remaining rebels surrendered

So What happened to Fedon?
To this day the fate of the rebel Fedon is unknown.

The army found a compass in an upturned rowboat that was pointing towards Trinidad suggesting that he had drowned attempting to join his sister there.

But in 1815, the Governor of Trinidad reported that Fédon had been sighted in Cuba but they didn’t investigate. Given the relatives in Trinidad and Grenada it is possible that he survived and went into hiding.

Whatever the truth, the failure to capture Fédon created a mythical status among the free people and slaves, creating in turn a long-term sense of insecurity for the white population, who lived in fear of his return

So what happened to Grenada
The British took 18 months to restore order. The economic damage to the island itself was considerable and the he total cost of the two year rebellion is estimated to be around £2,500,000 (£54m).

In the end 50 men were executed by hanging and then decapitation, with some gibbeted as a warning to approaching ships.

38 rebel leaders were taken to towns, where, after a "nominal" trial, were publicly executed and their heads paraded around the island.

In contrast, of the white rebels, most were reprieved and a few were exiled to South America.

Approximately 25% of the island's slave population (7,000 people) were killed.

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