Speech by Government Commissioner of St. Eustatius Alida Francis
Response Public Entity St. Eustatius to the Response of PM Rutte (National Government).
The atrocities committed against enslaved people and Africans in the Caribbean, including the Dutch Caribbean and Suriname are too many to count.
We know of the long hours our ancestors were forced to work in unforgiving sunshine to enrich their enslavers. We shall never forget the many revolting and abominable acts of cruelty inflicted on our people.
According to oral tradition, Mr. Moore, the owner of the Golden Rock Plantation, took pleasure in whipping the enslaved. Jim was one of the enslaved men Mr. Moore took pleasure seeing get whipped. Mr. Moore even had his own designated slave whipper to inflict the harshest punishment on those that toiled on his plantation.
Here on St. Eustatius (Statia), we are also familiar with Gallows Bay, where the owner of the Mansion Plantation publicly hanged an enslaved man. The enslaved man’s grievous fault was that he was unable to save the plantation owner’s wife from her attackers, even though he had saved the owner’s son.
These stories symbolize the cruelty inflicted on our people. But let us not forget the brave enslaved men and women of St. Eustatius who revolted on June 12th, 1848.This uprising on St. Eustatius was a bloody wake-up call to the colonial government to stop dragging its feet about abolishing slavery. (So, our enslaved people who gave their lives for their fellow enslaved did not go in vain). It was these sacrifices that fired up the abolition agenda and made it an urgent issue within the Kingdom; from Willemstad to The Hague, from the Hague to our very own Oranjestad.
The revolt was not in vain. The revolt was led by our very own, a free man of colour, Thomas Dupersoy, whose descendants are still represented among our population today. We also know the names of five enslaved leaders that joined Dupersoy: Abraham, Valentine Schmidt, Prince, Oscar, and Joseph. They lead their fellowmen to the house of the Governor (Johannes de Veer) to demand their freedom. Their bravery is what helped to accelerate the process of the freedom we enjoy today.
And so today, 159 years after the Dutch abolished slavery, on behalf of the National Government the Prime Minister has expressed the willingness to address the atrocities inflicted on our people.
Saying sorry means, you have acknowledged that you have done me harm and that you will do better. So, how do you foster meaningful dialogue, how you repair the damage, how do you promote healing, how do you ensure that we as a people can breathe again?
Having heard the Prime Minister’s response to the report “Chains of the Past, we the people of St. Eustatius acknowledge the response. Though we acknowledge, what happens next? How do we move forward together?
This response, however imperfect the timing, presents another opportunity for the Dutch Kingdom to craft a future that is meaningful and acceptable.
For us in St. Eustatius, we firmly request the Dutch Cabinet not to move too fast, and do not move without us. For history has taught us that decisions made for us must include us.
It is true that we are one Kingdom, but our Kingdom is diverse, colourful, and it is also complex. Therefore, the approach must be as diverse as the Kingdom is diverse.
As we clarify our relationship with The Netherlands in the context of slavery past, St. Eustatius will require a tailor-made approach; by us for us. Statia has a unique history – having changed hands among major European powers 22 times. No other partner in the Kingdom can make such a claim.
And every voice must be heard – the cheerleaders and those who are still pained and unhappy; the highly opinionated and those yet to form an opinion; those who are fully aware and the unaware, the people in culture and agriculture, in education, in the economic sector, in politics, in sports and entertainment. Every Statian voice is important to the process and each one must carry weight.
Today December 19th, 2022, is another historic day in the Dutch Kingdom. Today can be the beginning of a new chapter in our history if we are genuine in our approach. We must therefore commit ourselves on both sides of the ocean that no matter how difficult the dialogue becomes; we will remain at the table.
Let us make this response the beginning of meaningful change in the relationship between Statia and the Netherlands.