Joseph Chatoyer – The National Hero of St Vincent

Joseph Chatoyer – The National Hero of St Vincent:  by Veronica Williams.

St Vincent and the Grenadines an island in the Caribbean is without doubt one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean.  Like most of the islands in the Caribbean it was colonised by Europeans, namely the French and British for a period of time. St Vincent is now an independent country, but the struggle to remain free can be seen through the carib wars which took place.  One of the main proponents of the struggle was Joseph Chatoyer, who eventually became known as the Chief of Chiefs of the Caribs.

The original inhabitants of the island were thought to be the Ciboneys and Arawaks.  These two groups moved further north and were replaced by the Caribs.  I mention that the original inhabitants of the island were thought to be Ciboneys and Arawaks, but arguably the first people to populate the Caribbean islands originated in Africa.

Africa is, as we know the birthplace of mankind and if we look at a globe we can theorise as to how black men travelled throughout the globe.  One such theory is that the world was constructed differently and that there were connecting lands or land bridges between Africa and the Caribbean.  Another idea is that they travelled east around the globe until they reached North America and the Caribbean.

I put forward this view primarily to support an idea that some of the original inhabitants of the Caribbean islands were African men who were the indigenous people of the islands; and not necessarily slaves who had runaway or been shipwrecked and had made these islands their home. It may be argued that when the Europeans arrived and met the carib population they were both yellow caribs and those who were black and very obviously of negro origin. To all extents and purposes both the yellow and black caribs seemed to live quite harmoniously and seemed to have inter- married and assimilated each other’s cultures.

Joseph Chatoyer was in this latter category a black man or Carib(Garifuna).  A strong black man of a noble race who fought and died to preserve the land of his fathers. Chatoyer was an outstanding warrior with great leadership skills and qualities.  It was claimed that he was a master strategist and diplomat.  He earned a great deal of respect from both other Carib leaders and from the Europeans with whom he fought.  It is said that after his death some panic ensued from the French who withdrew from the war for some time.  The Caribs were also quite distressed and needed some time to recover before once again taking up arms.1   

Chatoyer was a significant figure in the struggle to retain the lands and liberty of the original inhabitants of St Vincent.  Although the exact date of his birth is not known, we gain an impression that he was middle aged and married with sons.  In my opinion this hero can be described as a famous general who was both brave and strong in resisting the British in their quest to take away their lands.

It was during the second Carib War that Chatoyer met his death at the hands of Major Alexander Leith.  The story about his death is recounted in tragic terms, and the profound loss at his death was deeply felt by both Caribs and French allies.  In March 1795, Duvallier the Windward Carib Chief took down the British flag at Dorsetshire Hill, which was a distinct challenge to the English.  Chatoyer eventually joined Duvalier at Dorsetshire Hill and took command.  Sadly on the night of March 14th 1795 the English stormed Dorsetshire Hill and Chatoyer was killed.

Chatoyer’s influence on others  is successfully established through a play which was written by the first black playwright.  It effectively delineates his exceptional abilities as well as portraying his struggle to resist the British. The play which is entitled  “The Drama of King Shotaway was written and produced by a gentleman named Mr Browne. A write up to the play states that the facts were taken from the ‘Insurrection of the Caravs in the island of St Vincent.’  The playwright acknowledges that the play was written from his own personal account of the events which took place, it also illustrates Chatoyer’s determination to outwit the British.  Mr Browne is recognised as the father of black theatre in America.2     

Every year on March 14 in St Vincent and the Grenadines  a public holiday is held to respect the great contributions of their national hero Joseph Chatoyer.

Veronica Williams

1.Chatoyer (Chatawae) National Hero of St Vincent and the Grenadines by Adrian Fraser (PhD) Published Galaxy Print Ltd (2002)

2. Our Cultural Heritage Vol.IV Famous Vincentians – Published by Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadine

Veronica Williams

Veronica Williams
Veronica Williams is a graduate in English Literature and has a Masters Degree in Cultural Studies.  She was an educator for 25 years and is now retired from the teaching profession.  Veronica has a wealth of experience to share and draws on her Christian background when discussing some of her views.  In addition to writing educational resources she also writes articles for magazines and newspapers.  Additionally she has written her autobiography, which is entitled The Mind of the Individual.  She moved to the Caribbean in 2010.


Contact :

Telephone No. 1(869)664 6438

Links to other published articles by Veronica Williams

Wisdom Magazine’s Web Edition  Article for July 2012

It Isn’t Always Appropriate to Laugh

Wisdom Magazine’s Web Edition Article for March 2012

Why It’s Okay to Cry


SKN Vibes (26/06/2012)

How to Remain In Paradise

6 thoughts on “Joseph Chatoyer – The National Hero of St Vincent

  • 4th March 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I needed this for home work it really helped (not).

  • 5th March 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Cutiepie. Sorry we couldn’t help you this time. What do you need from the article? what sort of information is it that you were looking for? If you have the time to tell us it will help us to improve the site for the NEXT time,you need to do homework.

  • 16th September 2014 at 12:30 am

    This article has some wrong details. It was the Arawaks and the Ciboneys who were the first set of people to inhabit the island. Then the caribs came along and fought them off. As a matter of fact the caribs even took their women and inter married with them. Then we have the African slaves, a dutch ship which was shipwrecked off the coast of Grenada and they swam all the way to St Vincent and also some slaves managed to escape from islands such as St Lucia, Barbados and Grenada seeking refuge in St Vincent AND THE GRENADINES. At first there was a war between the Caribs and the BLACK africans. Then problem resolved and the Caribs offered their women to the blacks to marry because in those days it was taboo for a man to lie with a woman before marriage. So that story about Africans is more like a myth. The blacks met the Caribs there first and establish a whole new race “The Garifuna” aka black caribs. It was the Europeans who brought BLACK AFRICANS to the Caribbean(Proud Garifuna) 100% Vincentian…

    • 25th February 2016 at 2:10 pm

      U have point but if you read books it would give you a brief discription of the indians… they are of negro colour also the hieroglyphs are or african art. The white fail to tell most this I’m our history… the moors/muurs were here look at an old Barbados coin.. proud vincy

  • 20th August 2016 at 12:11 pm

    As a proud yellow Carib, on both of my parents family lineage, this article has a tremendous amount of incorrect information. I would suggest the author take a visit to Sandy Bay, St. Vincent, and speak with the yellow Caribs of that community. They represent the ancestry of the original yellow Caribs. After the visit, and having gained first-hand information from the Sandy Bay community, the author will then be able to truthfully rewrite her article.

  • 14th October 2016 at 12:04 am

    I just finished a historical novel about Joseph Chatoyer as a part of a series of historical novels focused on the Black Caribs (Garifuna) of St. Vincent. From extensive reading it appears that the ancestry of the Black Caribs is largely a mix of the indigenous Caribs and Africans who escaped slavery from nearby islands, such as Barbados, were captured or purchased by the Caribs, or were ship wrecked in the Grenadines and brought to St. Vincent by the Caribs. There was also a large component of Arawak ancestry from the mix of male Carib invaders and female captive wives during the Carib migration from the mainland to the islands beginning in the 13th century. Carib wives spoke a different language from their husbands who lived separately in a men’s house or carbet. There was also probably a component of some European-Carib-African mix as Caribs would sometimes capture Europeans and Africans in their raids on European settlements, taking their women and children back to the islands.
    Some have hypothesized an earlier cross Atlantic migration of West Africans to the Americans, especially the Windward Antilles, but such a migration seems unlikely given the distance and type of boats available to West Africans at the time. There appears to be some evidence of a Malian king sending out dugout canoes on expeditions, but it is unlikely that if any made it across the vast Atlantic they played any significant role in the population, though it is not impossible that some few fishing canoes may have accidentally made it as far as the Americas. The evidence for pre-Columbian contact between Africa and the islands is very weak.
    The relationship between native Caribs and Africans who lived among them was complex. There was certainly inter-mating and inter-marriage to the point that eventually, with continued immigration of Africans into the Carib population the mixed African-Carib population was becoming dominant. This may have been a result of a large number of shipwrecked West Africans arriving in the late 17th century. Carib chiefs became concerned and decided, in Biblical fashion, to kill the male offspring of Africans, while sparing female babies. This led to a conflict and the separation of the two branches of the Carib people of St. Vincent, with the mixed and African/Caribs largely settling on the Windward Coast. Conflicts between the two groups continued over time with the French governor eventually being asked to intervene, drawing a border between the two groups. The presence of maroons, or escaped African slaves, complicated the situation, as did settlement by French colonists. The Black Caribs, while of mixed ancestry and whose African ancestors came from a variety of different cultural traditions in Africa, largely assimilated the entire Carib cultural pattern, language, subsistence, sea faring ways, warfare styles, etc, in addition to what European cultural traits were adopted by both groups.
    Eventually the Black Caribs became the dominant group of indigenous people on the island, with the remaining Red or Yellow Caribs being in the minority, though both cooperation and conflict occurred between the two related groups. There were Red Caribs that fought alongside Chatoyer against the English, as well as some who remained neutral. Some were even sent to Balliceaux with the exiled Black Carib population, though most were resettled in Carib Country.
    Chatoyer and his probably half-brother, Duvalle, were the leading chiefs in resistance to English encroachment on Carib lands on the Windward. They fought three wars against the English and also were involved in other actions and negotiations to try to maintain Carib autonomy. Chatoyer was both a friend and opponent to Sir William Young, the land commissioner who played the major role in trying to remove the Caribs from their fertile windward lands. Chatoyer’s son probably lived with the Youngs for a time and Chatoyer and Duvalle were visitors to Villa Young and had business deals with Young. The First Carib War was largely a stalemate. The Caribs surrendered but on relatively good terms, as only minimal lands were ceded and the promises they made to the English were largely ignored and unenforced. During the American Revolution Chatoyer and the Caribs played a major role in the French occupation of the island. They were greatly disappointed when the island was returned to the English in the subsequent peace treaty.
    The final war between the Caribs and the English included major contributions of French fighters sent by Victor Hugues, revolutionary governor of Guadeloupe. Most of these, including the commanders, were of African origin, many coming from St. Lucia, where a similar war was being fought to expel the English. Even after Chatoyer’s death at the beginning of the Second Carib War the outcome was unclear. The fortunes of the English and the French/Carib alliance went back and forth into 1796, with Kingstown again nearly falling to the Carib/French forces. Both Chatoyer and Duvalle were designated French commanders and given French uniforms by Governor Hugues. Chatoyer was the supreme commander of both French settler and Carib forces fighting under the French tricolor flag at the onset of the conflict.
    Duvalle and Chatoyer’s oldest son survived the war, surrendered, went into captivity and likely joined the 2000 odd survivors who were shipped off to Roatan and exile. Gulisi, who was Chatoyer’s daughter played a role in the history of the Garifuna exiles and their migration to Belize.
    Alexandre Moreau de Jonnes, a French Revolutionary gunnery officer sent at age eighteen to train Caribs on St. Vincent, writes in his memoirs of his time on St. Vincent. He lived for several months among the Red Caribs and became good friends with an anti-English chief, Pakiri. He fell in love with Pakiri’s French educated daughter, Eliama. Both Caribs were later killed by the English. De Jonnes also was friends with two of the “great chief’s” daughters, presumably Chatoyer’s daughters, though he doesn’t use Chatoyer’s name in his book. He and Fleur du Bois, one of the daughters, have some adventures together and become very close. Their grandmother, presumably Chatoyer’s mother, is described as a boyer or shaman. Other documents say that Chatoyer’s father was Legotte, one of the chiefs or caciques of Grand Sable, the largest Carib town on the Windward.
    Though Major Leith was commander of a unit of slave soldiers working for the English in defense of Kingstown, it seems more likely, according to some authors, that Chatoyer was killed by Leith’s men and not in a one on one duel with Leith himself. That of course is all conjecture. Leith’s African Rangers and rangers from other English held islands played a major role in the defeat of the French (who were also largely of African origin) and Caribs.
    Some interesting side lines: Chatoyer was found with a gorget, a neck shield and sign of office, that was a gift of Prince William Henry, third son of King George and a British naval officer, who later became king of England and was related to Queen Victoria who took England into the 20th century and gave her name to an era. Chatoyer also had as a gift from his sometime enemy sometime friend, Sir William Young II, a broad sword, which he may have used in battle against Major Leith. This sword was Sir William Young, First Baronet’s second son and Sir William Young, Second Baronet’s brother. Henry Young served in the American Revolution and died at the Battle of Saratoga at Freeman’s Farm. It was his valuable sword. Interesting that the English defeat in that battle helped draw the French into the American War for Independence and thus resulted in the French invasion of St. Vincent and the successful taking of the island with Carib help. The fact that the younger Sir William gave the sword to Chatoyer demonstrates the complex relationship between the two families. Ultimately the second Sir William wrote the book that advocated the removal of the Caribs from St. Vincent and probably was also the signer of the order to implement it.


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