On March 14th 1795, a mere 6 days after the start of the Second Carib War, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyé, was killed in a pitched battle at the summit of Dorsetshire Hill. It is alleged that Chief Chatoyé was slain by the sword of Militia Captain Alexander Leith following a duel.* His last words were reportedly, “Oui B..,” in response to Leith’s question, “You him Chatoyé?“. As unlikely as this scenario may sound, especially considering that this duel would have taken place in the middle of an intense firefight, this legend of Chatoyé‘s death persists.
Regardless of how Chatoyé met his end, the impact of his demise on the war was devastating for the Black Caribs and their French allies. It marked the end of the first phase of the war in which they were on the offensive against the British. In fact, under Chatoyé‘s astute military leadership they had seized most of the island of St. Vincent, leaving the British confined to a tiny strip of land encompassing the capital, Kingstown, and its immediate environs. This in and of itself was an astounding feat given that Britain at the time was the strongest military power in the world.
Chatoyé‘s death was crushing to the Black Carib cause in several ways. Most of their French allies immediately fled, seeking refuge at Layou. Unfortunately many of them were caught, hanged and committed to the tide by the British. The Black Caribs themselves were left in shock at the death of the Chatoyé, in large part because they believed in a myth that he was invincible and could not be killed by mortal means. They retreated to their villages to mourn him and took several days to regroup.
Thereafter the tone and complexion of the war dramatically changed. Although the Black Carib resistance continued for more than a year, under the leadership of Chatoyé‘s brother Duvallé. Ultimately, it was not enough as the British eventually prevailed after a protracted and spirited fight!
Note: *As reported in Christopher Taylor’s book The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna.
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