THE OLIPHE BLOSSOME
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the British ship the Oliphe Blossome in St. Lucia. The meeting that took place between Europeans and the Amerindian people, the island's inhabitants, was short-lived and catastrophic. The eyewitness account of John Nicholl, a European survivor, is the only documented evidence of the drama that was played out at Anse de Sable beach in Vieux Fort.
On April 12, 1605, the Oliphe Blossome sailed from England loaded with provisions and men for the new colony of Guiana. After seventeen miserable weeks at sea, food and water were rationed. Mutinies had broken out and when land was finally sighted, it was St. Lucia, not South America that had been found.
Immediately, "the Carebeyes came in their Periagoes or Boats abord us with great store of Tobacco, Plantons, Potatoes, Pines, Sugar Canes, and diverse other fruit."
The friendly reception encouraged 67 Englishmen to stay behind. The Caribs sold them some fishing huts at the mouth of the Vieux Fort River. The Caribs lived in a village two kilometers to the north. "Captaine" of this village was Anthonie. Every day, his men visited the Englishmen to trade "for all manner of victual". In exchange, the English gave them "hatchets, knives, beads, fish-hooks, and thimbles, with other trifles."
The English and the Indians marvelled at each other's eating habits: "by no meanes wee could not make them eate salt: for they use to eate all their meate seasoned with Ginnie Pepper."
For four weeks, all went well. Then Anthonie's brother, Augraumart, a chief from St Vincent arrived and discord started. Anthonie said that Augraumart was planning to murder the Englishmen. Yet Augraumart was very kind, showing the Englishmen how to process cassava. Augraumart then warned the English "that Anthonie would cut our throates."
Matters deteriorated when one Englishman sold Anthonie a sword. His mates decided this was too dangerous. They found Anthonie "in his bed, which they call an Hamaco, with a little fire under him because he was not well, and the Sword standing by him, which yong Sen-Johns tooke and brought forth to us. This drove [Anthonie] into a great rage against us."
The white men then discovered that the Caribs wore "for an ornament upon the small of their naked armes a four-square plate, which maister Browne a Gold-finer told Captain Sen-Johns had three partes of it Golde." When asked where they found their gold, the Caribs pointed to "a great Mountaine on the North-west part of the Island whose toppe we might see from the place where wee dwelt". Was this Gros Piton? Sixteen Englishmen set out on a gold-finding expedition. They were never seen again.
The remaining Englishmen suspected foul play. The Caribs ceased visiting their settlement. Hungry and curious, John Nicholl and some others walked to the Carib village. They found the women preparing a feast. They refused to feed the Englishmen who then found the Caribs' gardens and helped themselves.
The next day, a group of Caribs led by Augraumart and his father visited the Englishmen, bringing roasted land crabs and inviting them to the village for more food. The Englishmen were suspicious - but were swayed when Augraumart promised them hammocks. The English had begged for these, "because they would bee a meanes to save us from the Stings of a certaine Flye called a Musketo, the which would so torment us with their poysoned stings, and cause us to swell as though we had the Leprosie."
After an impromptu party, all the Caribs left except for Augraumart and his father who offered to walk them to the village to fetch the hammocks. The two Caribs carried no bows and arrows, only a "Brasell sworde". The English carried their guns and felt safe.
Walking across Cape Moule-à-Chique and onto Anse de Sable beach, the Englishmen were huffing and puffing. Plodding through soft sand, they were sweating and cursing the heat, their clothing and their heavy weapons. Only one Englishman enjoyed himself:
"Maister Alexander had put off his Doublet, and gave his Boy his Peece, & went jesting and playing arme in arme with the two Carrebyes…
The men reached Pointe Sable: a sandy point to the north of Anse de Sable. To their left, the beach was covered in bush. Ahead of them and to their right was the sea.
"And when [Master Alexander] least suspected daunger, Augraumart made as though hee would imbrace him. And suddenlye clasping helde with one hand on his Rapyer, and the other on his Dagger, and his Father with a great Brassel Sword strooke him downe…"
The Englishmen were trapped.
"Then came the Arrowes so thicke out of the wood, that we could not get our match in the Cocke for pulling the Arrowes out of our bodye"
The English dropped their guns and pulled out their swords but this only encouraged the Amerindians...
"for when they see wee could not hurt them with our peeces, they would come so neere us, as though they purposed to make choyce in what place to hit us."
And so it went, Caribs shooting arrow upon arrow at the Englishmen whose attack was as futile as their defense. Nicholl and another survivor ran into a narrow bush path leading away from the beach. Pursued by Caribs, Nicholl's companion was shot in the head.
"I leapt into the wood, downe to the valley, where I found a great Lake: And hearing them, with great showts and cry, which they use in signe of triumph and victory, pursue mee still, I leapt into the Lake, with my sword nayled to my hand, and two arrowes in my backe."
Nicholl had entered the swamps where Hewanorra International Airport now stands. By the time the Caribs attacked the English settlement, Nicholl and his friends had the great cannon ready. However, the Caribs shot burning arrows into the huts and charged under the cover of thick smoke. After a week without food, the Englishmen surrendered. They traded their last belongings for a canoe and some cloth. Thus,
"upon the xxvi (26) of September 1605, at one a clocke after midnight, we embarqued all xix (19) in that little Vessel or Boate which the Indians had made all of one tree ... Our Roapes for our Sayle were our Garters, and our Yard a Lance."
Thus ended the first-ever English settlement of St. Lucia. Many Europeans lost their lives to Carib attacks before the close of the 17th century. The Caribs finally succumbed but they did not give up without a fight.
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