|The Company Villages of Moruga: A Reference Point for Heritage Development |
By Peter Taylor Thursday, June 21 2007
My fascination and childhood curiosity with names such as 5th and 6th Company and “Hard Bargain” villages was rekindled when I renewed my acquaintance with Anslem Blake resident of Hindustan Road, New Grant.
These names resurfaced in 1990 when, while a research assistant at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies St Augustine, I was asked to assist some young students in their preparation for the mock United Nation Conference taking place that same year.
My task was to guide these young persons, drawn from throughout the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago, some from the above mentioned villages, to the relevant research material at the University and elsewhere, appropriate to theie chosen country.
Not having then yet read Michael Anthony’s Towns and Villages and despite visiting my relatives as a child on King Street, Princes Town and neighbouring villages, my curiosity continued unabated up until recently, when in cursory conversation with Blake, I resolved to find everything I could on the history of the Company Villages.
My point of departure was a book entitled the Saga of the Companies published in 1978 by Boysie Huggins, found in the National Library.
This fascinating book brought to life a most unique and thrilling history of how the company villages came to be so named.
Huggins’ documentary notes that the original settlers to this area were African American soldiers who had fought for the British in the War of American Independence during the 1770s. These former slaves were offered their freedom in return for fighting for the British.
In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation promising freedom to all slaves who deserted and fought for the British. Tens of thousands of slaves escaped to the British lines. Britain having been later defeated in this war, was asked to find a home for their soldiers. Huggins:
“Unwilling to send them to England, and not being able to settle them either in Canada or Australia…the British finally decided to send them to their newly acquired possession…Trinidad.” This transportation took place in the early 19th century and the Afro- Americans and their families were sent to Trinidad in six batches or Companies.”
Upon arrival, the settlers were deposited in the southern part of the island. The British kept its promise and gave the head of each household 16 acres of land and freedom from slavery. This land became known as “blood land” due to the nature of its acquisition.
Thee “company” villages are situated along the Moruga road, and are five in number. 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. The 2nd never reached Trinidad and is rumoured to have landed in Jamaica.
These “Merikins” (mutation of the world American) as they came to be known, numbered 574 in all, and settled in the middle of the jungle. Michael Anthony (Towns and Villages observes:
…after placing them there the Government never looked back to offer any help and the settlers…never forgave Woodford for his…fair promises to them before they arrived.
“It was a good thing that these men were of tough military fibre for it appears that it was now they had to turn towards clearing the land and preparing a place to live. They felled trees, thus clearing the area and also they used the wood of those trees to make houses. They planted crops…and set about the task of making roads and many of the roads that are in the company villages today were made by them during that period.”
Of immense historical interest are the origins of the present day names of many of the roads in he community. “Indian Walk” got its name from the daily trek made by the Guarahoon indigenous peoples of Venezuela who came to trade their goods.
“In time this track through which they walked, came to be described as the Indian Walk” (Anthony p 91).
Huggins illuminates the origins of various place names.
“The Guara-joons over-nighted at Rest House Road, a Gov’t Rest House until the 1920s. At Indian Walk is also Petit Café — where women did brisk trade selling edibles to the travelers. The travelers would then continue their journey to what is today Princes Town. To shorten this journey, one Ma Matilda, who owned land adjoining the Fair Field and New Fancy Estates allowed passage through her land, thus reducing the journey.” Thus Matilda Road.
Mandingo Road got its name from the descendants of the Mandingo tribe of West Africa who settled in the area. So too the Congos, hence Congo Block.
Also St Mary’s Village or Preau Village, named after one of the African personalities in the area.