Tag Archives: king court

About Court or Klaas

The King Court Monument, sculpted by Reginald Samuel, on Independence Drive – during a visit by participants of my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project in 2013.

I’ve been meaning to share some information about Antigua and Barbuda’s first national hero King Court (also known as Prince Klaas or Klass) which hit my mailbox (via activist Edith ‘Snookie’ Oladele) last October. Today, as anti-Blackness and systemic racism are still very much with us (and we are not immune from either even in majority Black places like the Caribbean), it seems timely to revisit the case of Klaas. It seems particularly urgent in light of a conversation I had here in Antigua this past week in which we explored colourism, racism, over policing, and classism right here at home and the exposed and still bleeding wound of racism in America and other places where, like the Caribbean, European led colonialism and  enslavement of African people set certain patterns still with us today in motion. At some point in the conversation, I was sharing the story of Klaas with two  Antiguans-Barbudans, of two different generations, who didn’t know it, who had not learned it in our school system. I didn’t either but I’ve put it together over the years, plus I’ve been most years to Watch Night (which is the Emancipation night activity which revisits the public murder of Klaas and his fellow freedom fighters of 1736). I was glad to share it because we need to know. For this telling of the story though, I’ll defer to the researched information from that October email which opens with:

“Today, October 20, 2019, marks the 283rd anniversary of the death of Prince Klaas/King Court/King Tacky in 1736.  During the following five months, 87 other men were cruelly executed  all because they dared to want to be free from slavery. They are Antigua and Barbuda’s first anti-slavery martyrs and heroes. Let us remember to acknowledge and honour them today Keep their memory and their courage alive our youth and we too, need to know our history Please share the attached information with your contacts  and to as many members of your family and friends as you can.  These heroes must not be forgotten The seed of freedom was planted on this island through their blood. That blood cries out to be remembered  and the revolution continues Freedom is not yet as long as we continue to forget.”

“Please share the attached information”: Mission accepted.

“King Court was born in 1691 in Ghana, the West African country that used to be called, the Gold Coast. He was captured from his native land and brought to Antigua in 1701 as a young boy of 10, one of the dreaded “Coromantee” slaves. The name ‘Coromantee’ was given to those West Africans who were shipped from the slave holding fort of Coromantin in Ghana. …

“Oral traditions claim that he was from a Royal House in Ghana. Thus, he would have been accustomed to all the freedom and privileges that his high status conferred on him. …

“King Court is described in one account as a tall man with ‘full, burning eyes’ who dressed well, usually in a tailored coat. He often wore a green silk hat adorned with a bunch of black feathers. He was a trusted valet or ‘waiting man’ for his master, a wealthy, white merchant named Thomas Kerby who lived in St. John’s.  King Court enjoyed more privileges than was customary for a slave and he carried himself with a regal air.  He could have become a Creole – a slave fully acculturated to life on a West Indian sugar plantation.  But he refused to deny his African heritage and insisted that he be regarded as an African.

A rendering of Court by a participant in my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project after our visit to the monument.

“King Court quickly became a leader among his fellow enslaved people …

“They crowned him ‘King of the Coromantees’ in broad daylight at two o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday October 3rd, 1736. The coronation was accompanied by a dazzling, military ‘ikem’, a traditional shield dance of the Akan peoples of Ghana. The ceremony was attended by a large assemblage blacks and a significant number of whites. The latter were probable entranced by the show of pageantry and pomp, but the blacks knew well that behind all the merry-making, the ‘shield dance’ was intended to affirm and demonstrate their loyalty to King Court. The coronation took place in the area of what is now Upper Gambles, opposite the St. John’s Boys School on the northern side of Old Parham road. King Court was seated under ‘a canopy of state, surrounded by his great officers.’ He ‘walked in procession as King and had all the homage and respect of a king paid to him’. …

“King Court had planned an island-wide insurrection involving slaves from all the sugar plantations. …

“His aim was to overthrow the British oppressors by blowing up the ‘great house’ where the annual ball for the planter class was scheduled to be held. Had his plan succeeded, it would have had widespread repercussions, not only in Antigua, but the rest of the West Indian colonies. It would have dealt a severe blow to the institution of slavery and the plantation system. But King Court was cruelly betrayed by some of his fellow slaves. In revenge, he and his followers were subjected to extreme torture and executed by the British colonial government. His strong body was broken on a wheel on Market Street on October 20th, 1736.” Read the full citation: KLASS CITATION FOR KING COURT

An article by Kofi Ayim provides some additional context.

“Antigua and Barbuda, a two-island nation in Eastern Caribbean saw a series of slave rebellions in the 1720s led by stoic men like Sharper, Frank, Papa Will and “King” Tackey. The story of Tackey is the most intriguing. He was kidnapped and brought to Antigua in 1701.
Records put his arrival age at between 10 to 15 years old. His origins are traced to Kromantse (Coromantee) in the then Gold Coast, now Ghana. Kromantse, a fishing village in the Central region of Ghana, was used by European slave trading nations as a major holding and shipping point for slaves brought from hinterland. The historic town still exists as does the stone castle-dungeon that held the captives. It is conceivable therefore that all so-called Coromantee slaves were not necessarily natives of the Gold Coast. Consequently, there is no such thing as “slaves from the Coromantee tribe” as alleged in some works. Tackey was said to have come from the Asante (Ashanti) tribe. If accurate, the name is a corrupted version of his original “Tachie” name. As an adult slave in Antigua, Tackey was crowned a king, complete with Akan religious ceremony in the presence of some two thousand slaves, the largest gathering in Antigua at that time. He was highly respected and was very influential amongst all the slaves in Antigua. …

“In 1728, at age 37, the King and others hatched a plot that, if successful, would free his people and change conditions under which they lived in the country. Working with Tackey and Tomboy were Sekundi and Jacko, both Creole slaves. Other active participants included Hercules, Jack, Scipio, Ned, Fortune, and Joney. It must be noted that these silly-sounding names were assigned by slave owners to serve their own whims and caprices. For several years they planned and plotted in secrecy.
A ceremony for the British Crown was to be held on October 11, 1735. Tomboy, an ace carpenter had the job of supervising carpentry work in a hall that would host a grand ball. The plot therefore assigned him the task of planting gunpowder at vantage points in the dancehall, where assault would be initiated as dancing begun. About 300 to 400 slaves were to enter town, subdue the partying whites (kill them if necessary) and seize strategic interests. The event was however, postponed to October 30. Tomboy and others insisted on carrying out the plot on the agreed date but King Tackey persuaded his comrades to wait out the postponement. A slave, called Johnny, snitched out the plot.
The governor ordered an inquiry and as a result eighty-eight slaves, besides Tackey, were implicated. They would be executed or punished in a most cruel and barbaric fashion. On October 26, 1736 King Tackey and his two generals were crucified. He was tied spread eagle onto a round wheel and left outside to die a slow and agonizing death that would deter others. Six were gibbeted for public viewing; seventy-seven burnt alive and thirty six banished. Three slaves, Jacko, Ghlode, and Sacky who belonged to Sir William Codrington, one-time owner of the Betty Hope Sugar Plantation were among those executed.” Read this article in full: KLASS Celebrating King Tackey

Read also the list of enslaved people, and how and when they were executed: KLAAS SLAVES EXECUTED

The roll call is actually one of the features of Watch Night. I’m not sure what’s happening with Watch Night in 2020. Carnival’s been cancelled but it’s never really been a part of Carnival so much as a thing apart, even though it’s been moved from Betty’s Hope to the Botanical Gardens; plus public holidays are public holidays – could this be the year that Watch Night eclipses Carnival?

Written by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Find out about me at http://jhohadli.wordpress.com . Respect copyright.

 

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Throwback Thursday – King Court/Prince Klaas

12118932_10154281918098032_8498472409335853797_n1736.

“…a ball was to be held in honour of George II’s coronation at Christopher Dunbar’s house in St. John’s, three parties of 350 slaves were to enter the town and kill the plantocracy there gathered. However, the ball was postponed until later to commemorate the King’s birthday, and during this delay a slave named Johnny, became an informer.” (Source)

king court by kurneking court2013.

“…the Prince Klaas/King Court monument designed and built by Sir Reginald Samuel…one of the few sites of public art/sculpture crafted by a native son and …an example of interpretation of moments; how do you capture all a person was and all they are meant to represent in a single moment; the sculpture must hint at character but also give a sense of the larger-than-life-ness that the person is representative of/symbolizes…” (musing on including a stop at the King Court monument as a stop during the 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project’s daily walkabouts)

Writing at Prince Klaas by Joanne C Hillhouse

Thanks to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda’s Facebook page for reminding us that this week in Antiguan and Barbudan history (October 20th) when “King Court. was brought to the place of execution- Ottos where he was tied by the wrists and ankles on a wheel. He acknowledged all the allegations against him, and at noon he was broken on the wheel and executed. His head was severed and stuck on a pole at the jail door. The body was burned at Ottos pasture. The chief ringleaders were Jack, Ned, Fortune, Tony, Secundi, and Jacko. All were enslaved Africans in trusted positions. The following day, Tomboy and Hercules along with 85 other masterminds were executed, most were burned alive.”

Full disclosure: There remain some who dispute the account of his bravery and some who defend it. Either way, as a national hero of Antigua and Barbuda he has come to symbolize the spirit of defiance that stretches always toward freedom.

Images: top image from the Museum fb page. All other images from the 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project’s visit to the monument.

What more do you think we should be doing as a country to honour King Court? Are we doing enough re the upkeep of the monument in his honour? What about the artistry of Reginald Samuel, also the designer of our national flag…has that been sufficiently lauded? Just questions.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. Seriously, a lot of time, energy, love and frustration goes in to researching and creating content for this site; please don’t just take it up just so without even a please, thank you or an ah-fu-she-subben (credit). If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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JSYWP, on planning city stops and engaging with history

So I realized today (the day before the Day) that in identifying city-stops for the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project walkabouts, I had omitted to include anything at the centre of the African experience which is backwards but not wholly surprising given that so much of what remains (as far as historical-scapes go) has to do with European impact – the Georgian style buildings, the Anglican church with the eagle-eye view etc. I found myself returning to a spot I’d dropped because it was too far outside of the city for our daily walkabout I told myself. But, in this 11th hour, I found myself, ashamed of my omission, squeezing it back into the schedule. That spot is the Prince Klaas/King Court monument designed and built by Sir Reginald Samuel. It was an inexcusable omission as one of the few sites of public art/sculpture crafted by a native son and as an example of interpretation of moments; how do you capture all a person was and all they are meant to represent in a single moment; the sculpture must hint at character but also give a sense of the larger-than-life-ness that the person is representative of/symbolizes. But it was also true that King Court/Prince Klaas, though an African freedom fighter in the Caribbean, was not separate from that tale of European impact, after all it was them he was martyred for rising up against (or plotting to anyway) in 1736. Besides wasn’t it too late to include this, too late to find some way to make his story relatable to a group of young Antiguans and pull from his story something that could be made into a literary activity appropriate to their age group? Maybe. But I couldn’t let it go. Then I remembered reading something about the Akan Shield Dance in which the revolutionaries engaged on the eve of their revolt. I put my Google-fu to work and found these excerpts from David Barry Gaspar’s Bondmen and Rebels (full disclosure: a book that’s been on my to-read list for entirely too long):

Gaspar

(sorry folks that’s where the available excerpt ends…guess like me you’ll have to read the book). Apart from being struck by the desire to see a re-enactment of the dance live, maybe during Independence or Carnival (hint hint Culture Department or Antigua Dance Academy), I liked that it had movement, action, a distinctly African link…and from all that I got an idea for how to use it in a literary activity. See, part of what I’m trying to do in the JSYWP is re-enforce that there is rich fodder for inspiration and our imaginations in our own history, lives, world. And that is the tentative link (apart from having the same leader and investment in the youth and the literary arts) between that project and Wadadli Pen because Wadadli Pen’s core is all about Caribbean-centric stories. What I hope to show is that these don’t have to be clichéd stories, that’s where your imagination comes in. So I’m hoping I can use this bit of their history to fire up their imagination and I’m really glad I revisited the idea of involving Klaas/Court in some way…even if his monument is some distance away from the city proper, writers need to get out and stretch their legs to stretch their imaginations sometimes.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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