Joseph Chatoyer was a paramount chief of the Caribs and the first national hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Chatoyer was a black Carib (Garifuna), a people born from a mixture of the indigenous Caribs of the Caribbean islands and African slaves. The Caribs left no written records, so tales of their lives and struggles with European colonizers came from their enemies. There is no doubt from the surviving accounts that colonial officials regarded Chatoyer as a pivotal figure who obstructed their goal of acquiring land for the cultivation of sugarcane. Early nineteenth-century historian Charles Shephard described Chatoyer as “ruthless and sanguinary” and possessing “cruelty rather than courage.” Sir William Young, a British colonial official, attached a great deal of importance to Chatoyer. Young's son, also Sir William, the author and heir to his father’s estate, took note of the hospitality that his father showed to Chatoyer, the Carib chief, who on occasion enjoyed dining and accommodation at his villa and on his properties. The elder Young also apparently invited Italian painter Antonio Brunias to St. Vincent, who painted the only surviving depiction of Chatoyer.
Chatoyer first appeared in the historical records in 1768 as chief of the Grand Sable estate where he led Carib resistance to British surveys of their land, a step towards occupation of those lands. Chatoyer was a military strategist and diplomat who appeared to have well understood the geopolitics of those times. He played on French–British antagonisms to seek French assistance in the struggle against the British. During fighting between the two imperial powers in 1778-9 (part of the American Revolution), Chatoyer played a leading role coordinating the joint efforts of the French and Caribs. He was also a key diplomat in the negotiations over Saint Vincent at the subsequent Treaty of Paris (1783).
Chatoyer died in 1795 in another struggle against the British remembered as the Second Carib War. Multiple stories exist about his death, but the most plausible version is that he fell victim to an early morning ambush at Dorsetshire Hill where an obelisk now marks the spot and the occasion.
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“Chatoyer, Joseph” in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition
“Chatoyer, Joseph” in Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography
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James Almeida and Steven J. Niven
Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.