Swords, Ships and Sugar: A History of Nevis (St. Kitts and Nevis)

St Kitts Harbourby Vincent K. Hubbard

Courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

The Good

You know how grapefruit juice is the only juice that negates the effects of certain medicines? This powerful fruit was created on the island of Nevis when oranges from Spain cross-pollinated naturally with a fruit from the far East called Shaddock. (It’s now called a pomelo.)

St Kitts and NevisIn other interesting facts, the islands have seen many hurricanes. These weather events are named for the Caribbean god Huracan, by the way. There is a whole chapter on hurricanes here, along with one called Volcanos and Rainfall. In Religious Conflicts, we find that in 1703, Roman Catholics were banned by law from settling in the Leeward Islands. This was because Protestant England was fighting Catholic Spain/France.

The Bad and the Ugly

Reading about the atrocities visited on the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples by Spaniards and their ilk since about 1550 made me cross. Especially the bit which said that Spain decided that the Arawaks, being “cannibals” who ritually ate bits of their enemies killed in battle, could be enslaved while the Carib could not. Which resulted in almost every Carib being reclassified as an Arawak so they could be enslaved.

Arawak PeoplesThe Spanish then made the native St. Kitts Indians and Nevis Indians jump into the ocean with huge boulders in their arms, sink to the bottom and harvest pearls while holding their breath. For 16 hours a day.

I imagine many fine ladies wore these gems on their fat bosoms back in Europe, unknowing and uncaring where they came from. Grrrrr! How the Nazis would have loved these guys.

A Book For Dipping

I must admit to diving into this work as a sort of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader rather than reading it straight through, as a good member of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society such as the author surely meant me to do. It is just so full of pearls of trivia! Such as:

  • former sugar plantationAlexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, in 1757, as the illegitimate son of Rachel Faucett Levine of Nevis and James Hamilton, of aristocratic Scottish stock. It was said that because of his birth circumstances, he was barred from the Anglican Church School and was educated at Nevis’s Jewish School instead. Hamilton later joined the American Revolution and became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Did this prejudicial treatment in his early years incline his adult belief in the American system of separation of church and state? The reason he was a ‘bastard’ is because when his parents divorced, by law, his father was allowed to marry again and his mother was not.
  • Ruins on nevisNapoleon Bonaparte ended the sugar trade and accidentally, the excesses of sugar cane slavery–the taint of which stained the island of Nevis along with so many others in the Caribbean. After losing Haiti to a successful slave rebellion there, Bonaparte offered a cash prize to anyone who could figure out how to crystalize sugar from sugar beets, which could be grown in Europe. A German scientist did it, and the price of sugar plummeted. (Incidentally causing the British Empire to lose their monopoly.) Plantations shut down all over.

book coverThis is obviously a work that the author has put a long labor of love into. And he isn’t just some Rotarian with a passion for obscure local history either–Vincent K. Hubbard served as the Acting Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs of the West African Republic of Liberia in the 1960s, travelling to more than 100 countries in that job. He also set up the country of Vanautu’s Ship Registry for them.

If you enjoy this book, the same author has also written A History of St. Kitts: The Sweet Trade.

Rating: Four guilty mouthfuls of Earl Grey, sweetened with sugar. But not slave-sugar.

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