Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and Culture

On the Wrong Side Women's History: Judith Phillip's Role in the Colony of Grenada

March 20, 2024 Alexandria Miller Episode 79
Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and Culture
On the Wrong Side Women's History: Judith Phillip's Role in the Colony of Grenada
Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and +
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Show Notes Transcript
There are stories we typically don't tell during Women's History Month, one of whihc is the narrative of Judith Phillip (1760-1848), an enslaver from Grenada whose family's dominion over Carriacou and Petit Martinique tells a story not just of land and wealth but race and colonial allegiances against the backdrop of the transatlantic slave trade. This episode discusses the intricacies of Caribbean history, weaving the personal story of a mixed-race family into the broader fabric of 18th-century Caribbean society.

Join Strictly Facts as we uncover how Judith's French baker father and her mother, an enslaved woman, rose to prominence to own plantations and amass a fortune. We'll explore the societal structures that allowed their family to thrive in an era of oppression and how their legacy challenges our understanding of Caribbean history and power at the time. In this final episode for Women's History Month, we share the tale of inheritance, power, and the complexity of free mixed-race individuals during a time when such narratives are rarely told. 

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Produced by Breadfruit Media

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Strictly Facts, a guide to Caribbean history and culture hosted by me, alexandra Miller. Strictly Facts teaches the history, politics and activism of the Caribbean and connects these themes to contemporary music and popular culture. Moa Kwan People. I hope you're doing well. Thank you for tuning into another episode of Strictly Facts, a guide to Caribbean history and culture, and I'm your host, alexandra Miller. I'm recording this episode just after presenting at the Caribbean Without Borders Conference at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, where I not only spoke about the impact and importance of Caribbean podcast like Strictly Facts, but I also made some amazing connections and I'm really excited for some future episodes I have in the works for you all.

Speaker 1:

Nonetheless, it is still Women's History Month and I wanted to share this story of a woman from Grenada, either the islands of Caracou or Petit Martinique we're not sure historically exactly where she was born. As you may remember from the solo episode about a month ago. What's in a name? Geography, governance and the grit of national identity. I spoke about islands like Caracou and Petit Martinique that are part of Caribbean nations, in this case Grenada, but not named in the official nation's name. As I researched for that episode, I stumbled across a brief fact that shared, that the two aforementioned islands were at one point majority owned by a free black woman, judith Phillip and her family. The line was as simple as that and didn't go into further detail on the time period or what may have contributed to her family's wealth. So I simply bookmarked the page for later for, of course, hoping to look into it for this Women's History Month episode.

Speaker 1:

When I eventually returned to Judith Phillip's story and the story of her immediate family some weeks later, I was a bit surprised and had to really reflect on some assumptions we can be quick to draw about history and all of the intricacies that history brings to us. When I first heard that Phillip had owned a majority shares on the islands, the brief antidote again didn't really share much about her. Beyond that, what I soon realized was Phillip was a free mixed race woman born during the mid 18th century at what was really, you know, the start and sort of height of the transatlantic slave trade across the new world. Phillip was born to honor Phillip, a French baker who moved to Grenada while it was still a French colony, hoping to build a fortune for himself that he really couldn't afford to do in France at the time and Jeanette. Not much is known about Jeanette until after she marries Phillip, but it is assumed that she was an enslaved black woman owned by Phillip, and that Phillip men omitted her after they began their relationship I say relationship here a bit loosely, of course, because although they would eventually be married, there was an inherent power dynamic involved, with Philip being a free white man and possibly her enslaver, and Jeanette, of course, an enslaved black woman. There are countless stories of the horrors and abuses black women faced at the time, from Mary Prince from Bermuda, who was one of the first black women to write an autobiography of her experience as a slave and detailing those experiences, to, of course, harriet Jacobs in the US South, who did the same thing some 30 years later. And so I wanted to be sure we don't discount the sexual violence and abuse of power that were critical parts of, you know, many slaves' experiences, in the same ways that we oftentimes think of physical and psychological abuses that they faced in the New World. Nonetheless, together, honor and Jeanette Philip amassed substantial wealth, owning and operating cotton and indigo plantations across Caracue and Petit Martinique.

Speaker 1:

Honor Philip passed away in the 1770s, bequeathing most of his fortune to Jeanette and their eight children, judith included being their eldest daughter. It is in the aftermath of Honor Philip's death that matriarch Janet Philip's story really comes to prominence. Due to the legal documents at the time, jeanette and her children inherited Honor's property after his passing and the matriarch continued to acquire property for the family estate, of which, at one point, a surveyor in 1784 recorded as 477 acres in Grenada's dependency islands. The Philip family wasn't the only free mixed-race family of the planter class at this time, but they were certainly one of the most prominent. Prior to Jeanette Philip's death in 1788, her children had begun taking their own leadership positions in the family's estate. Judith Philip was tasked with managing the family's largest plantation, grand Ants in Caracue, to which she was in charge of over 200 slaves. Judith continued to be a frontrunner for the family after the Philip matriarch passed away, not only taking full possession of plantations like Grand Ants, but also acquiring more land and slaves and serving as a broker of her siblings, who often bought and sold land exclusively from each other, as some of her siblings' interests grew to other parts of the Caribbean, including Trinidad.

Speaker 1:

Though the Philip family, sans patriarch Arnor Philip, were people of color, and their mother being a former slave. Their rule as enslavers was not any different from the cruelties we typically associate with slavery. This is particularly to be noted, especially during the latter 18th century, when Spanish colonies declared that any self-manumitted maroon slaves would remain free in the Spanish Caribbean, had they found some way to get there. Though it is written that the enslaved Black people Judith Philip owned were quote-unquote less marked by the whip she governed her plantations and those of her siblings with an iron fist when one of her slaves, jose, in June 1834, stabbed another slave from a neighboring plantation, his name was John Charles and was sentenced to death. Judith was able to petition the colonial secretary to reduce Jose's sentence because she had the support of other local enslavers on nearby plantations. While some would note this as an impressive feat on Judith's behalf to persuade the colonial magistrate to gain support from white plantationers as well, especially as a free colored woman, and even reduce Jose's sentence, I think of it, and it's really reflective of Judith Philip's position on power and race at the time, always choosing to side predominantly with the wealthier French and British enslavers and magistrates than the interest of the majority Black and mixed race people in the islands. At the time, in fact, when Judith's younger brother, joaquin, chose to support Fidon's Rebellion and uprising to create a Black Republic in 1795, as was being done concurrently in Haiti. The Philip family publicly disparaged and separated themselves from Joaquin even in the aftermath of the rebellion.

Speaker 1:

When Joaquin was eventually captured and hanged in St George's, grenada, the remainder of Judith's life continued to be marked by significant social standing. As one of the wealthiest enslavers in the colony of Grenada, she began a relationship with a British merchant, edmund Thornton, and together they had five children. She even lived in London for some time but continued to control her family's estate. Even when she was abroad, she aligned herself with key British officials and planters so that they not only sided with her interests, especially being a free woman of color and of French Catholic descent, but like her mother, judith managed the land, slaves and deeds of most of her family across Grenada, caracou, petit Martinique and Trinidad. She was one of two and the only daughter to amass a fortune comparative to her father's. The decade before emancipation it is reported that she owned 276 slaves, and when enslavers received reparations and I hope you can tell my sarcasm there after British emancipation in 1834, she received over 6,500 pounds for her slaves and the plantation grandants.

Speaker 1:

Although Judith's Philip story might be one atypical to share during Women's History Month, where we might think to highlight the achievements of women who have perhaps bought for equality of some sort, the truth is Judith's Philip is part of our very complicated colonial history. Her story, and the story of her entire family, highlights some important intersections and reflections on history that we don't always immediately think about. When, again, I first read of Judith's Philip owning a majority stake in two Caribbean islands, I thought wow, that's a story you don't hear of every day and you know. Upon learning that she inherited and owned slaves, we could be quick to think of some of our assumptions, to hope that, you know, she was a free woman of color and that she would have just manumitted all of the other black people on the island who her family owned. But, as we know, this was not necessarily the story. Our histories, as important as they are, aren't always beautiful, and that's something we must also contend with as we continually explore who we are and where we come from.

Speaker 1:

Judith's Philip also marks some interesting points at the intersections of race and gender, where, I found we might not always think of as well. We tend to think of enslavers as predominantly being white men and maybe secondarily white women. But how often do you consider free people of color and their support of the institution of slavery? There are several interesting thoughts I have on this story. For one, the weight of legal documents in place of, you know, say, judith's Phillips voice in letters, for instance, the fact that it seems that the Philip family had a bit more freedom to do what they wanted to do and rise to greater prominence, being that they were living in smaller islands, not the mainland of Grenada. And, of course, the changes of power going between French and British rule in Grenada and the fact that Judith aligned herself with the interests of British enslavers and colonial magistrates so that she wouldn't face any gruelties as a free woman of color.

Speaker 1:

There are some amazing books that help us to reconsider and push the boundaries of our knowledge, especially when it comes to race and gender during the transatlantic slave trade. First and foremost, I have to highlight Kid Cadling and Cassandra Pipas' Enterprising Women, gender, race and Power in the Revolutionary Atlantic, through which all of what I've summarized today and much more on Judith, philip and her family stems from. There are also books like Merce Fuentes' Dispossessed Lives Enslaved Women, violence and the Archive, and Jessica Marie Johnson's Wicked Flesh Black Women Intimacy and Freedom in the Atlantic world. That are tremendous histories of Black women and women of color as they intersect, support, adapt and challenge the systems of power, race, gender, slavery and colonial rule at the time, and, of course, I'll link those on the Strictly Facts syllabus for you all.

Speaker 1:

In closing, I hope this episode provided some food for thought for you this Women's History Month and that you walked away with a little bit of a changed perspective. As always, be sure to support the show, leave us a rating on your favorite podcast app, support the work we're doing via our PayPal and share this episode with your communities, be that on social media or in person. And I'm always super excited to know what your thoughts were on the episode. So do send me a DM on your thoughts if you have any, and I may even send the first person who DMs me a sneak peek of the next episode, which is an amazing conversation I'm really looking forward to sharing with you all. So till next time. Strictly Facts, fam. As always, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Be well, take care and lookal more. Thanks for tuning in to Strictly Facts. Visit StrictlyFactsPodcastcom for more information from each episode. Follow us at Strictly Facts Pod on Instagram and Facebook and at Strictly Facts PD on

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