Tue | Dec 6, 2022

Patricia Green | Change tenure over Crown lands

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2022 | 12:07 AM

A section of Bernard Lodge in St Catherine.
A section of Bernard Lodge in St Catherine.

Jamaica defines Crown lands as “… government lands owned or held in trust by the Commissioner of Lands by virtue of the Crown Property (Vesting) Act …” (1960) in the 2015 ‘Manual for the Divestment of Government-owned Lands.’ Looking back to 1661...

Jamaica defines Crown lands as “… government lands owned or held in trust by the Commissioner of Lands by virtue of the Crown Property (Vesting) Act …” (1960) in the 2015 ‘Manual for the Divestment of Government-owned Lands.’

Looking back to 1661 when, “… By the King A Proclamation for the encouraging of Planters in His Majesties [sic] Island of Jamaica in the West Indies …” signed under the hand of ‘Charles R’ - all of the island of Jamaica was owned by the Crown. This was granted to freed British persons. Hence the historic definition in Jamaica of the term ‘Crown Lands.’ This Proclamation was “… given at Our Court at Whitehal [sic], this Fourteenth day of December, in the Thirteenth year of Our Reign ...”.

I was flabbergasted during a conversation with a senior attorney-at-law who contradicted this historic fact that I shared with him about Crown lands. I here elaborate that King Henry VIII, who reigned from 1509–1547, declared the Crown “the only supreme head of the Church of England, excluded the Pope, and converted all papal lands into Crown lands.” Therefore, Crown lands also include those occupied by the Church in all jurisdictions under British colonialism.

In this season, the world mourns the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and hails to the British throne her son, King Charles III. As supreme head of state, and the Anglican Church, Charles III follows a long line of succession.

His predecessor, Charles I, reigned from 1625-1649, and according to the website, ‘Royal UK Kings and Queens from 1066,’ was plagued by civil wars between him as monarchy and the Parliament. Eventually, he was beheaded. Some heralded him a martyr for his people. Thereafter, by 1655, when England captured Jamaica from Spain, the monarchy was absent. Instead, Oliver Cromwell as ‘Lord Protector’ presided and later announced that England and Scotland were to be one “commonwealth,” which became law in 1657, marking the inception of this league of nations.

TRAFFICKING SLAVES

After the monarchy was restored to Britain, King Charles II, son of Charles I, was proclaimed and reigned from 1660-1685. Charles II granted a charter to the ‘Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa,’ and this was led by his younger brother, James, the Duke of York, who later succeeded the throne because Charles II had no legal heir. By 1672, it changed to the ‘Royal African Company’, trafficking enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and the wider Americas. It included many merchants as traders in overlapping roles as privateers, pirates, buccaneers, planters, and others. Jamaica became the world’s busiest slave market through the town of Port Royal, leading the world in the trafficking of enslaved Africans.

Charles II knighted buccaneer Henry Morgan and made him Colonel of the Port Royal militia then appointed him deputy governor and commander-in-chief of all Jamaican forces. Morgan owned 36 ships, with 1,800 men under his command, and when he died in 1688, he had 109 enslaved Africans and large sugar plantations.

It was this Charles II who made the 1661 proclamation for “… our island of Jamaica, being a pleasant and most fertile soyl [sic] and being situate commodiously for Trade and Commerce, is likely, through God’s blessing, to be a great benefit and advantage to this and other Our Kingdoms and Dominions, have thought it fit, for encouraging of Our subjects … to reside and plant there … thirty acres of improveable [sic] lands shall be granted and allotted to every such person, male or female, being twelve years old or upwards ...”. The proclamation continued, “… and that all Fishings and pitcaries, and all Copper, Lead, Tin, Iron, Coals, and all other Mines (except Gold and Silver) within such respective Allotments, shall be enjoyed by the Grantees thereof, referring only a twentieth part of the product of the said Mines to Our use …”.

Engaging solely on the slave ship experience limits the impact on Indigenous and African peoples within European plantocracy. On Jamaica, the discussion must be broadened. After 60 years of Independence, the Jamaica government still makes reference to “Crown lands.”

LANDS TAKEN

Throughout the period as a Spanish colony, 1494-1655, lands were taken from the Taino Indigenous people, then the English took this land from Spain, and its colony thrived from 1655-1962. The 1661 Proclamation continues, that the grantees, “… shall hold and enjoy the said Lands to be assigned, and all houses, Edifices, Buildings, and Enclosures, thereupon to be built or made, to them and their heirs for ever…”.

At the 1834 emancipation, the enslavers who had been granted generational lands received financial compensation for the loss of their enslaved workers through a £20 million pay-out by the British government. This UK Government indebtedness ended in 2015 with equivalencies valued £16.5 billion. Yet the enslaved Africans and their descendants were never compensated. The Oxford Dictionary defines reparation as “… the action of making amends for a wrong one has done, by providing payment or other assistance to those who have been wronged …”.

“The University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of Glasgow have signed the first ever agreement for slavery reparations,” headlined the ‘UWI St Augustine Campus News’ August 2, 2019. They established a joint research and development agreement valued at £20 million as an apology from Glasgow as a slavery-enriched institution. This targets medicine and public health, economics and economic growth, cultural identity and cultural industries, and other 21st-century orientations in Caribbean transformation. By August 30, 2021, ‘CARICOM Today’ carried “UWI receives US$500,000 reparation payment”, this time from a British citizen whose family married Barbados enslavers. This contribution went to the development fund at UWI Cave Hill Campus. However, where are direct reparations like that provided to the enslavers?

The Government of Jamaica is the largest land owner, controlling approximately 22 per cent, highlights Landlinks. The World Bank reports that the cost of transferring land in Jamaica is among the highest in the world, ranking 108th of 178 countries. Is there a link between landlessness, poverty, and crime? Should the mitigation be that the UK government purchase Crown lands for reparation to the descendants of enslaved Africans, including absorbing the cost of land transfers in order to right the injustices of King Charles II?

After emancipation when freed Africans purchased lands and cultivated and built houses, they later were dispossessed by colonial actions that culminated in the 1865 Morant Bay uprising. During these actions, some of their lands reverted to Crown lands.

Overcoming great tribulations is an emancipated disposition, critical to the correction of injustices, and the re-evaluation of its genesis towards a reparation agenda. Let us stop the marginalisation of small farmers from prime agricultural crown lands, including Bernard Lodge and Innswood estates that seem to mimic historic colonial malpractices.

- Patricia Green, PhD, a registered architect and conservationist, is an independent scholar and advocate for the built and natural environment. Send feedback to patgreen2008@gmail.com.