Slave swam to Toco long before Duke

Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader Watson Duke proved his point yesterday by swimming part of the journey from Tobago to Trinidad to protest the unreliable inter-island ferry service.

Many people took to social media yesterday in support of Duke while others doubted his ability to accomplish that feat.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard described Duke’s attempt to swim as “inherently dangerous because of the natural ocean currents between the islands”.


In 1993, Grand Riviere resident Raymond La Croix swam from Trinidad and Tobago after two previous unsuccessful attempts.

But long before La Croix’s venture, as history books record a rebellious slave by the name of Sandy made the treacherous journey in 1770.

“Sandy was one of the heroic figures of the period of slavery in Tobago, he was quite a heroic person and quite a personality,” historian Gerard Besson told the T&T Guardian.

Besson said when he heard of Duke’s plan to swim from Tobago to Trinidad he immediately thought of Sandy.

So who was this heroic figure Sandy and why did he make this swim?

According to historian Professor Bridget Brereton in her book An Introduction to History in Trinidad and Tobago, Sandy was born somewhere in West Africa but we do not know exactly where.

We do not know Sandy’s true African name but we know that he was enslaved and brought across the terrible Middle Passage to Tobago sometime in the 1760s, Brereton wrote.

Historian Rita Pemberton in an article entitled “Sandy’s Liberation War 1770” stated Sandy was a carpenter on the Grafton Estate in Tobago.

On November 11, 1770, Sandy plotted with other slaves to seize arms, kill their masters and lead a general uprising on the island in a bid for freedom.

It was the first slave revolt in Tobago and it lasted for six weeks and threw the entire island into chaos.

Tobago at the time was controlled by the English.

“Although only a few slaves joined in, it terrified the whites,” Brereton wrote.

The rebellion began at Courland Estate where one of the estate owners, Samuel Hall, was killed.

A military outpost at Hawk’s Bill Point was also attacked and two soldiers stationed there were killed.

The revolt spread to different parts of Tobago and forced the British authorities on the island to eventually call in reinforcements from Grenada, St Vincent and Barbados.

In all some 20 whites were killed.

“Rewards were offered for the capture of any of the resistors, for bringing in Sandy’s head, with freedom guaranteed for any enslaved African who brought Sandy in alive,” Pemberton wrote.

Sandy, however, was never captured.

According to an article by deceased historian Angelo Bissesarsingh detailing the history of Toco, he stated that runaway slaves from Tobago were a part of the society in Toco.

“Sandy escaped capture by jumping into the sea and swimming to Trinidad where some believe he lived out his life in Toco,” Bissesaringh wrote.

Speaking to the T&T Guardian Brereton said there has been a “persistent legend” that Sandy swam from Tobago to Trinidad.

“We have no idea what happened to him but if as some people have speculated he got to Trinidad it definitely was not by swimming. The truth is we don’t know. We don’t know what happened to Sandy,” Brereton said.

Brereton said she believes that if Sandy, in fact, came to Trinidad from Tobago “it was in a boat”.

“All we know is that he was not captured and he was not killed in Tobago but there has been a persistent legend that he managed to get himself to Spanish Trinidad where he would have been fairly safe because the Spanish authorities if they found him would not have sent him back to British Tobago but we simply do not know,” she said.

Source: Guardian