BLACK HISTORY MONTH: BLACK HEROINES, PART 8: SOLITUDE: HEROINE AND MARTYR OF THE GREAT 1802 REBELLION

She was about eight years old when her mother faded out of her life forever. We know very little about the years that passed before this orphan would defiantly call herself: Solitude. . . .

 

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November 20, 1802: Basse-Terre, capital of Guadeloupe, French West Indies. The island had just suffered one of the most formidable black uprisings the New World had ever known. A few months earlier, three hundred rebels led by the Mulatto Louis Delgres, leader of the Armies of the Republic, had blown themselves up in small mountain fortress, thus ending the slave rebellion of Guadeloupe. Many women and children stood with them in that final sacrifice. They had stayed true to their slogan: “Freedom or death.”

 

Most of them were torn apart by the blast. The others died strung up on Constantin Hill, in the heights of Basse-Terre, and their bodies exposed to wind and rain “for all eternity,” in accordance with the ill justice dealt at the time.

 

But one of the greatest heroines of the revolution was temporarily pardoned. Given that the child in her womb was the property of her slave owner, her execution was rescheduled to the day after the birth.

 

She gave birth on November 28, 1802, and on the morning of the following day, the doors of the jail opened on an old woman no one recognized, not even those who had known her a few months earlier in the glory of her youth. Her skin furrowed to the bone, her hair whitened and shining in the sun, she stepped forward peacefully between two rows of spectators, while maternity’s milk slowly stained her night shirt: yet she was only thirty years old.

 

We know few things, very few things, about the origins of Solitude, the woman from Guadeloupe.

 

 

File:Guadeloupe map.png
MAP OF GUADELOUPE ARCHIPELAGO

 

 

It seems that she was the fruit of a forced union that took place on a slave ship, between a French sailor and African woman being taken to the Americas. This forced conception, brief and violent, on some ship rolling in the middle of the ocean, is in many ways a perfect picture of the fate of Solitude, the mulatto girl.

 

No one knew when the strange name came to be hers, when it settled on her face like an emblematic mask. No slave sale certificate made note of it. It only appeared toward the very end, upon the writ condeming her to death.

 

She was about eight years old when her mother faded out of her life forever. We know very little about the years that passed before this orphan would defiantly call herself: Solitude. . . .

Under slavery, the mixing of the races often produced human beings of “imprecise” ancestry, beings torn between Africa and Europe and finding no succor on this earth. Very often, those of mixed race came to choose the side of the masters because the latter offered a few breadcrumbs and some dignity. Often, pulled apart by difficult options, they allied themselves with madness and death. But some, more numerous than is often mentioned, returned to the black part of their being, and advanced to the first ranks in the struggle for freedom. Such was the case in Guadeloupe. Such was the case among the main actors of the 1802 tragedy, which included such mulattoes as Delgres, Ignace, Massoteau; and such was the case for Solitude.

According to an old Brazilian proverb, the mulatto hangs the portrait of his father in the living room and that of his black mother in the kitchen.

Much is left to the imagination as to what led this child of rape, this “little yellow girl,” as mixed children used to be called, to take the side of her old African mother.

The Maroons’ settlement at La Goyave was made up exclusively of Bossales, who were also called saltwater blacks. They had come directly from Africa, unlike the island-born sweet water blacks. Solitude lived a few radiant months there. Her body, marked by long years of hardship, came back to life. She shivered in the wind to the African chants of her companions. She pierced the sun, they say, with the grace of a cane arrow. Then, on February 3, 1798, the troops of General Desfourneaux captured the La Goyave settlement and exterminated its leaders. The young woman became the leader of the survivors, taking her first steps into legend. Her small band made a noise over all of Guadeloupe. So she wandered, hunted by French troops and black militias, until Consul Napolean Bonaparte came to power. Napolean had his mind set on officially re-establishing slavery. A large fleet dropped anchor on May 5, 1802, in the waters off of Pointe-a-Pitre, in order to enforce that decree.

 

In 1793, a slave rebellion started, which made the upper classes turn to the British and ask them to occupy the island. In an effort to take advantage of the chaos ensuing from the French Revolution, Britain attempted to seize Guadeloupe in 1794 and held it from April 21 to June 2. The French retook the island under the command of Victor Hugues, who succeeded in freeing the slaves. They revolted and turned on the slave-owners who controlled the sugar plantations, but when American interests were threatened, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a force to suppress the rebels and reinstitute slavery. On May 20, 1802, slavery and the slave trade were reimposed there.

 

Almost all at once, black Guadeloupe was on fire. Solitude was at that point expecting the child of a Congo, an African who did not know two words of Creole but who brought her all the tenderness of the world. The joy from her belly reached her eyes and gave her the soft skin of a pretty filly dancing in the sun. At the sounds of the cannons, however, she pushed herself and her belly into the heart of the battles at Dole, Trou-aux-chiens, Fond-Bananier, and Capesterre. From victory to victory, and then from setback to setback, she pushed herself and her womb all the way up into the mountains before the final defeat. It is on that mountain, on the terrace of the Danglemont Plantation, that the Commandant Delgres decided that he and the last of the insurgents would blow themselves up by lighting a barrel of gunpowder with his pipe as the French troops charged in. The group of revolutionary soldiers killed themselves on the slopes of the Matouba volcano when it became obvious that the invading troops would take control of the island. The occupation force killed approximately 10,000 Guadeloupeans in the process of re-taking the island from the rebels.

 

Among the entangled bodies, Solitude, the Mulatresse, was picked up and carried to the Basse-Terre prison, which she left, with a halo of white hair, on November 29, 1802, after giving birth. Solitude was hanged by her enslavers, who would not murder her until she after she was delivered of a little child destined to be slave material for another slave master.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

After her death, a shroud of silence fell over the fate of Solitude. Up until the 1960s, no street, no alley in Guadeloupe had yet been named for her. Her name had not even been given to any ship, as had her companion, Commander Delgres; this ship now comes and goes twice a week between Pointe-a-Pitre and the island of Saint-Barthelemy, ferrying cattle.

 

Today, the souls of these other heroes may be at rest. Their names are on the lips of everyone and their stories are known by small children. Ignace, Massoteau, and Delgres have attained eternal life as the stuff of folklore.

 

As for Solitude, not only does her name now grace squares and avenues in Guadeloupe but she has also become a poem, a song, a library, and a museum room. She has even transformed herself into a very beautiful tune, played on country drums straight from Africa, whose sound she heard when she was still alive, when her companions, the maroons of La Goyave, played. . . .

 

General Dessalines honored the black heroes of Guadeloupe with the following lines from a letter he wrote. These lines testify to the solidarity and interaction between the revolutions in Haiti and Guadeloupe, a fact documented by Henri Bangou in his Histoire de la Guadeloupe:

 

 

“Wrecked and devastated Guadeloupe; its ruins are still smokng with the blood of children, women, and old men, felled by the sword; Pelage himself a victim of their tricks, after having cowardly betrayed his country and his brothers, the brave, immortal Delgresse was spirited away into the air along with the debris of his fort rather than accept the chains. Magnanimous warrior, your noble death, far from astonishing our courage, will merely tease the thirst in us to avenge or follow you.”

 

 

“““““““““

 
 
Slave uprisings occurred throughout the islands, though many would-be revolt leaders were caught before rebellions could begin. The dates below list some of the larger rebellions that were staged from 1735 to 1835. But on islands that had held slaves since the earliest days of colonization, such as Barbados, a majority of slave revolts usually occurred before these dates.
 
Island Year About the Event
Antigua 1735 Conspiracy involving blacks and mulattoes around the island.
  1831 Thousands of slaves rose up, committing arson and rioting.
Bahamas (Exuma) 1830 Several slaves rose up.
Bahamas (Exuma, Eleuthera, Cat Island) 1832-1834 Widespread rebellion where hundreds of slaves rose up together.
Barbados 1816 Bussa’s rebellion took place, involving thousands of slaves.
Cuba 1805 Slave rebellion recorded.
  1809 Hundreds rose up in many provinces and in Havana.
  1825 Hundreds of slaves rose up in Matanzas.
  1826 Several slaves rebelled in Guira.
  1830-1831 Several coffee estate slaves rebelled.
  1833 A few sugar estate slaves revolted.
Curaçao 1795 Slaves led by Tula and Carpata rose up by the thousands.
Dominica 1785-1790 Dominica’s First Maroon War took place.
  1791 A rebellion on New Year’s Day in which hundreds of windward slaves rebelled.
  1795 The Colihaut uprising involved hundreds of slaves.
  1802 Hundreds are involved in the mutiny of the Eighth West Indian Regiment.
  1809-1814 Thousands take part in Dominica’s Second Maroon War.
Grenada 1765 Maroons encourage and participate in a revolt of hundreds.
  1795 Fedon’s Rebellion, involving both freed men and slaves, takes thousands.
Guadeloupe 1737 Hundreds are involved in the Revolt of Latulipe.
  1789 The French Revolution causes an uprising of thousands.
Hispaniola (French) 1752-1758 Mackandal unites the Maroons, and hundreds fight.
  1791 Thousands rebel during the French Revolution.
Jamaica 1742 Dozens of Coromantees in St. Ann’s Parish conspire to revolt.
  1745 Hundreds of Africans plan a revolt in St. David’s.
  1760 Tacky’s Rebellion.
  1765 Coromantees in St. Mary’s rebel.
  1766 Westmorland slaves revolt.
  1776 Africans and Creoles in Hanover Parish plan a large rebellion.
  1791 Many rebellions in the year following the Haitian revolt.
  1795 Jamaica’s Second Maroon War.
  1806 Several slaves in St. George’s Parish caught planning a rebellion.
  1808 Mutiny of the Second West Indian Regiment.
  1815 Under Ibos, hundreds of slaves rebel.
  1822-1824 Unrest in Hanover is widespread, and hundreds rebel.
  1831-1832 The”Baptist War” takes place on Christmas when thousands rise up.
Marie Galante (Guadeloupe) 1789 During the French Revolution, many rise up.
Martinique 1752 Rebellion.
  1789-1792 Thousands rebelled during the French Revolution.
  1822 Rebellion.
  1833 Rebellion.
Montserrat 1768 Many planned a rebellion.
  1776 Rebellion.
Nevis 1776 Rebellion.
St. Kitts 1778 Some planned to rebel on the island.
St. Lucia 1795 Brigands War.
St. Vincent 1769-1773 The Black Carib (mixed escaped slaves and Caribs) fought the First Carib war.
Tobago 1770 Revolt in Courland Bay.
  1771 Rebellion in Bloody Bay.
  1774 Queen’s Bay rebellion.
  1801 Creoles planned a Christmas rebellion.
  1807 Hundreds of slaves marched on the Government House.
Tortola (British Virgin Islands) 1790 Hundreds revolt on Pickering’s estates.
  1823 Hundreds revolt on Pickering’s estates again.
  1830 Hundreds of Lettsome slaves revolt.
  1831 A plot involves slaves across the whole island.
Trinidad 1805 Hundreds of French slaves plot a revolt.
 
SOURCE:
“BREAKING FREE: SLAVE REBELLIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN”: http://caribbean-guide.info/past.and.present/history/slave.rebellion/
 
REFERENCES:
 
“In Praise of Black Women: Black Heroines of the Slavery Era,” by Simone Schwarz-Bart.
 
“Reines d’Afrique et héroïnes de la diaspora noire. (Queens of Africa and
Heroines of the Diaspora)” By Sylvia Serbin – Publishers: Editions Sépia, Paris,
2005
 
 
RELATED LINKS:
 
BLACK HISTORY MONTH (UNITED KINGDOM):  http://www.black-history-month.co.uk/
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5 responses to “BLACK HISTORY MONTH: BLACK HEROINES, PART 8: SOLITUDE: HEROINE AND MARTYR OF THE GREAT 1802 REBELLION

  1. Pingback: In My Solitude « Aker: Futuristically Ancient

  2. Pingback: GUADELOUPE: AFRICAN DESCENDANTS IN “THE ISLAND OF BEAUTIFUL WATERS” IN CARIBBEANS | EXPOSING BLACK TRUTH

  3. Stella Antley

    I salute these brave brave suffering souls…. For the children they bore and lost…. For their lives deferred lost and never lived in a land not their own!

    I salute the Slave Holding Me … My Great, Great Grandmother, her name Charlotte McClee. She lived to the sage Blessed Age of 111, in 1957 but not before seeing Five Generations of her daughter’s, daughter’s, daughter’s, daughter (me) born free. I’m sure it was a pride of freedom she took to her grave.

    Thank you for sharing the stories of these amazing Royal Nubian African Women who were made Slaves….. They must NEVER be forgotten for they fought for us without ever knowing us.
    Stella for the Slave Holding me

    (Please visit my fbpage The Slave Holding Me) to see her legacy and the Connecticut Legislatures Official
    “Apology” for Slavery in Connecticut between 1600-1800 and presented to me on Her behalf. I speak for her in the 20th-21st Century…..” I am the Voice She Never Had.”

    She was a Slave on Smith’s Plantation, in Charleston, NC and was the mother of nine children….. She was also a Midwife and delivered both Black and white babies, praised in her Eulogy.
    “Happy Black History Month”

    “We continue the journey….. Still We Rise”

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