A year ago, when Mr. Leroy Neckles kindly allowed us to visit his Beausejour Estate, I asked BBC correspondent Laura Trevelyan a straight question.
“How does it feel to be the descendant of a slave-plantation owner, sitting here on one of their plantations with a descendant of enslaved people?”
She was just as direct in her answer. “I feel ashamed for my ancestors who participated in the horrid practice of slavery.”
It was indeed a shameful, horrid, criminal, and painful practice. Despite this, when slavery ended in 1833, the British government paid twenty million pounds (about three billion pounds in today’s money) to about 46,000 claims from plantation owners for the loss of their enslaved ‘property’ across the Caribbean.
The British government paid the enslaved population nothing. Instead, the colonies were left in social and economic shambles.
Two hundred years after slavery, Caricom governments continue to amass huge debts in their efforts to build their economies for the betterment of their populations.
The Caricom Reparations Commission has a 10-point plan to address the impacts of slavery on the former British Caribbean colonies. Among the points, Caricom asserts that the European governments must first issue an apology for slavery and pay reparations to address the damaging legacies of slavery in areas such as the economy, national debt, education and health.
Laura’s 18th century ancestors, through marriage, owned shares in at least ten Grenada plantations, including Beausejour, Tempe, Grand Bras, and La Sagesse. The Trevelyans in the 1830’s received about U.S $3 million in today’s money in compensation for more than 1,000 enslaved Africans on those plantations.
Ironically, one of the early Trevelyans also married into the staunchly anti-slavery Macaulay family, whose members worked with William Wilberforce to campaign for the abolition of slavery.
During the 100 years following slavery, the family concentrated their money in the Wallington Hall estate and farms in England. However, in 1942, the last of the family to own it gave away the entire estate to the U.K. National Trust.
The Nettlecombe estate in England is also associated with the Trevelyans, as far back as 1646. It is still family owned but the house and land are leased.
When Laura met with Dr. Nicole Phillip and me a year ago to produce the BBC documentary on Grenada, she promised to do more than just feel ashamed for her ancestors. Next week, in keeping with the Caricom 10-point plan, she will hand deliver a formal apology to the people of Grenada, signed by almost 100 members of the Trevelyan family.
In addition, after consulting with Grenada’s National Reparations Commission, she will make a personal donation of 100,000 pounds (U.S $120,000) to the UWI Open Campus Grenada to support educational and economic opportunities for Grenadians.
Other Trevelyans are donating money to benefit scholarships for the UWI Grenada Open Campus initiative, and in support of the Grenada Education and Development Programme (GRENED), which is dedicated to youth empowerment, leadership, and sustainable development.
The Trevelyan name is just one of approximately 46,000 claims that received British payments after slavery ended in the Caribbean.
Their effort is just the beginning. It is a first but bold and promising step that should open the doors for more families, banks, universities, churches, the U.K. government, and the Royal family, which benefited from slavery, to step forward.
Silence is no longer an option.
The Trevelyan example should encourage the British Government and Royal family to help heal old wounds, increase awareness on how the legacies of slavery continue to burden the former colonies, and take concrete action to remedy those destructive legacies.
What the Trevelyans are doing is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. It is reparatory justice. Others should do the same.