Earlier this month I traveled to the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis for a wedding and visited three historical sites that reminded me of our shared history from freedom, enslavement, and to emancipation. Those places include Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, the Nevis Slave Market and the Golden Rock Inn.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is located near the western coast of St. Kitts. To get to the top of the hill, I took a van ride lasting about 15 minutes from the street level entrance. Along the way I endured faint screams from the seven women I was riding with, whenever the vehicle rolled back slightly on this steep, winding hill.
When all was said and done, I had ascended 800 feet to the most breathtaking view I have seen in a while. I saw the blue ocean and sky lined with white clouds, rolling green slopes, Mount Liamuiga in the distance and homes dotting the land below. A section at the top of the hill displays several cannons pointed in different directions, I was not able to confirm if they were the original cannons but Wikipedia states that the first canon was placed at the fortress in 1690.
Designed by British engineers, the fortress was built in stages primarily by enslaved Africans over the next 100 years. The Africans were brought to the island in the 1630s to work on the tobacco, cotton and sugar plantations.
The website for the national park explains that “the Fortress… is of singular importance as being the remains of a large, complete military community of the 18th century. As such, it is a veritable time capsule of international significance. The prominent Citadel is one of the earliest and finest surviving examples of a new style of fortification known as the ‘polygonal system.’ ”
Two other places of interest during my trip were located on the island of Nevis which was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, a so-called “founding father” of the United States and the first US Secretary of the Treasury.
While on the island, I saw where the Nevis Slave Market was located. As the sign explained I was standing on the site where approximately 7,000 enslaved Africans had been on display and then sold to plantation owners. It was a solemn moment for me as I thought about the countless people who lived in captivity on such a beautiful island. The horrendous act of selling human beings as cattle lasted on Nevis from 1674 and 1689.
I also visited the Golden Rock Inn which is located on what was once, as far back as 1801, a sugarcane plantation. It is a very scenic estate that features a large pool and colorful natural vegetation.
According to my tour guide, John Prentice, an area of the Inn where today tables and chairs for casual dining are located was also the spot where enslaved Africans entertained their so-called “masters.” He recalls what he knows about Golden Rock in this video.
As I walked around the Inn, I couldn’t help but think of the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The Inn is still owned by white people while the African descendants work on the premises.
Some 200 years after enslaved Africans were first brought to St. Kitts in the 1630s the criminal enterprise was abolished on August 1, 1835. The event is celebrated as Emancipation Day. Then in the 20th Century, the people of Saint Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain on September 19, 1983, which is also celebrated as a national holiday.
St. Kitts like many Caribbean nations relies on tourism to boost its economy.
Visits like these allows you to absorb spectacular beauty of the Caribbean. At the same time, it makes you reflect upon a history of mass violence, exploitation of, and dispossession of African peoples to create wealth for Europeans.
Even today whether in Africa, here in the United States or in the Caribbean, African people do not control much of the land or the wealth. It’s reminder that we must dedicate ourselves to the struggle for economic emancipation.