The Merikins were African-American refugees of the War of 1812 – freed black slaves who fought for the British against the USA in the Corps of Colonial Marines and then, after post-war service in Bermuda, were established as a community in the south of Trinidad in 1815–16. They were settled in an area populated by French-speaking Catholics and retained cohesion as an English-speaking, Baptist community. It is sometimes said that the term "Merikins" derived from the local patois, but as many Americans have long been in the habit of dropping the initial 'A' it seems more likely that the new settlers brought that pronunciation with them from the United States. Some of the Company villages and land grants established back then still exist in Trinidad today.
During the American Revolution, freed black slaves were recruited by the British. After that war, they were settled in colonies of British Empire including Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas. During the War of 1812, there was a similar policy and six companies of freed black slaves were recruited into a Corps of Colonial Marines along the Atlantic coast, from Chesapeake Bay to Georgia.
Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, on taking over the command of British forces on the North America station on 2 April 1814, issued a proclamation offering a choice of enlistment or resettlement
Unlike the American refugees who were brought to Trinidad in 1815 in ships of the Royal Navy, HMS Carron and HMS Levant, the ex-marines were brought there in 1816 in hired transports, Mary & Dorothy and Lord Eldon. There were 574 former soldiers plus about 200 women and children.To balance the sexes, more black women were subsequently recruited – women who had been freed from other places such as captured French slave ships.
The six companies were each settled in a separate village under the command of a corporal or sergeant, who maintained a military style of discipline.The villages were named after the companies and the Fifth and Sixth Company villages still retain those names.
The villages were in a forested area of the Naparima Plain near a former Spanish mission, La Misión de Savana Grande.[Each soldier was granted 16 acres of land and some of these plots are still farmed today by descendants of an original settler.The land was fertile but the conditions were primitive initially as the land had to be cleared and the lack of roads was an especial problem. Some of the settlers were craftsmen more used to an urban environment and, as they had been expecting better, they were disgruntled and some returned to America. The rest persisted, building houses from the felled timber, and planting crops of bananas, cassava, maize and potatoes.
Rice was introduced from America and was especially useful because it could be stored for long periods without spoiling.
Twenty years after the initial establishment, the then governor Lord Harris supported improvements to the infrastructure of the settlements and arranged for the settlers to get deeds to their lands, so confirming their property rights as originally stated on arrival. As they prospered, they became a significant element in Trinidad's economy.Their agriculture advanced from subsistence farming to include cash crops of cocoa and sugar cane. Later, oil was discovered and then some descendants were able to lease their lands for the mineral rights.Others continued as independent market traders.
Many of the original settlers were Baptists from evangelical sects common in places such as Georgia and Virginia. The settlers kept this religion, which was reinforced by missionary work by Baptists from London who helped organise the construction of churches in the 1840s.The villages had pastors and other religious elders as authority figures and there was a rigorous moral code of abstinence and the puritan work ethic. African traditions were influential too and these included the gayap system of communal help, herbal medicine and Obeah – folk magic and witchcraft. A prominent elder in the 20th century was "Papa Neezer" – Samuel Ebenezer Elliot (1901–1969)– who was a descendant of an original settler, George Elliot, and renowned for his ability to heal and cast out evil spirits. His syncretic form of religion included veneration of Shango, prophecies from the "Obee seed" and revelation from the Psalms. The Spiritual Baptist faith is a legacy of the Merikin community.
Research complied Jalaludin Khan 2017
Text Merikins Wikipedia
The Merikens: Free Black American Settlers in Trinidad – John McNish Weiss
Photos The Merikens: Free Black American Settlers in Trinidad – John McNish Weiss
Sources further readings
Benn, Carl . Essential Histories: The War of 1812. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.
Brereton, Bridget . A History of Modern Trinidad 1783-1962. Champs-Fleurs: Terra Verde Resource Centre, 2009.
Governor Sir Ralph Woodford to Colonial Secretary Earl Bathurst 28th August 1816. Trinidad Duplicate Governor’s Dispatches January 7th 1815 to December 7th 1816.
McNish Weiss, John . The Merikens: Free Black American Settlers in Trinidad 1815-1816. London: McNish and Weiss, 2002.
Williams, Eric. History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. London: Andre Deutsch, 1964.
Winer, Lise . Dictionary of the English\Creole of Trinidad and Tobago. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.
Wood, Donald . Trinidad in Transition: The Years after Slavery. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Gerald Horne, Negro Comrades of the Crown, African Americans and the British Empire Fight the United States Before Emancipation (New York: New York University Press, 2012);
Gene Smith, The Slaves Gamble, Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2013;
John Weiss, “The Corps of Colonial Marines: Black Freedom Fighters of the War of 1812,”
http://www.mcnishandweiss.co.uk/JWhistoryindex.html; The Merikins: Free Black Settlers 1815-1816,
Trinidad and Tobago’s National Library and Information System Authority http://www.nalis.gov.tt/…/TheMeriki…/tabid/563/Default.aspx…
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