Major Events in our Constitutional Development – Part 1
Kalinago life did not call for governance of the kind later imported by the colonizer. Each settlement was a world unto itself. It made three kinds of decisions: elect a Chief; go to war; conduct trading expeditions. Following free discussion by any Kalinago male willing to participate, decisions on these things were done by "shouts" of approval in "general assemblies".
1493 (3rd November)
Christopher Columbus landed on the island and claimed it in the name of Spain.
Proprietary rule began when, by Letters Patent, the English Crown gave control of the "Charribbee Isles", including Dominica, to wealthy English proprietor, James Hay, the Earl of Carlisle.
The English Governors of St. Christopher, Antigua and Nevis and the French Governors of Guadeloupe and Martinique formed an alliance against the Kalinagoes of Dominica, promising among themselves that neither England nor France would settle that island or the island of St. Vincent.
The Alliance of 1660 collapsed when Lord Francis Willoughby, Governor of Barbados, appointed Captain Thomas Warner as Deputy Governor of Dominica. Captain Warner was the son of a Dominican Kalinago woman by Sir Thomas Warner, Governor of St. Christopher.
The island joined Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, in an administrative union under the control of Lord Francis Willoughby.
Lord William Willoughby succeeded Lord Francis Willoughby, his brother, as Governor of Barbados. His instructions from the English Crown included that he should "straighten, distress and dispossess" any French national who encroached on the island of Dominica.
Captain Thomas "Indian" Warner was murdered by his half-brother, Phillip Warner, following which a Kalinago settlement at the site, now the village of Massacre, was destroyed and, the inhabitants, massacred.
A treaty was signed by English and French officials, declaring the island to be neutral territory belonging to the Kalinago people.
France acknowledged England's claim to Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.
The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle brought to an end the "War of Jenkin's Ear" which broke out in 1739. At that treaty England renewed its claim to the island.
The Treaty of Paris concluded the "Seven Years War" between England and France. England, having won the war, proclaimed the Windward Islands union of Grenada, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, Tobago and Dominica, to be administered under one legislature headed by a Governor-in-Chief, holding the military rank of Captain-General.
The Island was granted a Legislature of its own. It comprised a Governor appointed by the King, a Council nominated by the Governor, and an Assembly elected by voters. Baronet William Young was appointed the island's Governor-in-Chief and Captain-General.
An Act of the Legislature denied the free black and coloured segments of the population social and political liberties, including the right to vote.
Sir William Young was succeeded by Thomas Shirley as the island's Governor. Fort Shirley at the Cabrits bears his name.
An Act was passed in June of that year by which Roman Catholics, whether non-white or white were also denied the right to vote.
Governor John Orde urged the Colonial Office to change the 1775 Constitution so as to abolish the House of Assembly.
1785 – 86
The island's Neg Mawon (runaway slaves) were defeated in the "First Maroon War", and many oftheir leaders, including Balla, the most prominent at the time, was captured, sentenced and hanged.
A Revolution in France overthrew the Monarchy The island's Assembly passed a resolution condemning Governor Orde's running of the affairs of the country.
Slaves on estates in the South of the island revolted and demanded freedom. They were inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Louis Pollinaire, a Frenchman who came to the island from neighbouring Martinique. The revolt was suppressed and Pollinaire was captured, tried and hanged.
Following yet another stand-off with the island's Assembly, Governor John Orde was recalled to London. He was cleared of complaints against him but chose not to return to the island.
The British Parliament passed an Act terminating the Slave Trade.
A rebellion of the island's Neg Mawon was brutally crushed in the "Second Maroon War". "Jacko", one of their leaders most feared by the British, whose camp was in the heights of Layou Valley, was killed. Governor Ainslie was removed from his post and subsequently demoted, because of his brutal suppression of the Neg Mawon rebellion.
Upon recommendation by the British Parliament the island's legislature passed an Act to register all slaves so as to keep check of their conditions.
Governor Charles William Maxwell proposed that the island be made a Crown colony because of constant disagreements between the Council and the Assembly, which brought governance of the island to a standstill.
Governor, the Earl of Huntington, proposed a revision of the Constitution to reduce the number of Assemblymen from 19 to 9. His proposal was not supported.
Free persons of colour petitioned the House of Assembly for the removal of political disabilities against them. The Assembly refused to do so, alleging that these persons had neither wealth nor education and that three-quarters of them were Roman Catholics.
The legislature failed to put into law the British Parliament's plan for improvement of the condition of the slave population in British plantation colonies.
White Roman Catholics were granted the right to vote and to be elected to the House of Assembly. The number of persons in the House remained at nineteen (19).
The Brown Privilege Bill was passed, giving free black and coloured persons the right to vote and to be elected to the House of Assembly.
A Reform Act allowed manufactures and men engaged in commerce to be elected to the British House of Commons. Before then, only wealthy landowners could do so.
Three (3) coloured persons, one of whom was Thomas Rainey, were elected to the island's House of Assembly.
Dominica became a member of the administrative union of the Leeward Islands.
The Abolition Act was passed to abolish the institution of Slavery throughout the British Empire on the 1st August 1834.
#### 1834 (1st August)
"Thank God we free!" The ex-slaves were not freed immediately. Instead, they were put under Apprenticeship to their former owners for a further period of four years.
Attempts were made to prevent qualified coloured electors from exercising their franchise, although they had done so in 1832.
"Massa day done!!"
(Dr. William E. Riviere is an Historian & Attorney-at-Law)
Copyright © William Para Riviere, September 2014