William "Panchoo" Campbell was possibly the last person in T&T who had been a kidnap victim of the slave trade.Emancipation in 1834 affected Tobago differently from Trinidad since unlike the latter, Tobago had no extensive crown lands for ex-slaves to settle and thus those who did not emigrate were compelled to continue working for the planters.In order to keep sugar estates going, the metayage system, which was a form of sharecropping, developed. The metayer (sharecropper) occupied a piece of land on which he/she planted canes. At harvest time, the estate owner supplied the mill where cane was processed into wet muscovado sugar, of which the metayer received a percentage for the labour.
Over a decade later, falling sugar prices and the failure of estates in the West Indies for want of labour saw the bankruptcy of the West India Bank.The lack of credit for machinery upgrades and labourer wages meant that the planters were more dependent on the metayers than ever. Planters still needed bonded paid labour and could not entirely rely on the tested sharecroppers. Indentured workers from India and China were considered, but the cost of importation was too heavy for the decimated colonial purse. A devious stopgap measure was found in "liberated Africans."
Although emancipation had come to the British colonies in 1834, the Portuguese only followed suit in 1888. Even in the United States, a bloody civil war had to ensue before freedom came in 1865. This meant that many European slavers still plied the Atlantic. British men-of-war ships preyed on these and "liberated" the captives, taking them to Tobago, St Kitts, Antigua and St Vincent.According to the act passed to support this measure: "All persons dealt with or detained as slaves, who heretofore have been, or hereafter may be seized or taken, under any of the acts for the abolition or suppression of the slave trade, by her Majesty's ships of war or otherwise, and liberated or delivered to the officers appointed to protect, receive, or provide for such persons, and all other persons who, as having been dealt with, carried, kept, or detained as slaves, may have been taken and liberated, or received, protected, or provided for under any of the said acts."
In 1851 the first group of liberated Africans arrived on the island. Children were housed with native emancipated ex-slaves and were expected to acquire the rudiments of English speech.
A system of indentureship was implemented and described thus in 1862 by Henry Woodcock, who was the Chief Justice of Tobago: "The immigrants are to be lodged by the employer in comfortable houses, and to be provided with medical attendance in sickness; and a weekly allowance of food, as prescribed in schedule G of the act. The employer is also to furnish the immigrant, in each year, with the articles of clothing enumerated in the same schedule. The first year's clothing is to be furnished the immigrant on his entering into the contract."
The number of liberated Africans was small enough, to be sure, being less than 300 all told. Many went to Windward estates. Though they integrated into the colonial society, the Africans were a people somewhat apart, retaining much of their language and culture which, when combined with a largely homogenous pre-emancipation ethnicity, is probably why so much West African heritage has survived in Tobago.In 1861 another batch of immigrants arrived and took their place in a unique chapter of Tobago history.Many old Tobagonians (now dead) remembered the very old Africans who were alive up to the 20th century. Perhaps the most remarkable was William "Panchoo" Campbell, who died in 1938 at an alleged 115 years of age.
Bearing the scars of the terrible branding iron put to his skin, Panchoo was abducted from his native Congo by Brazilian slavers around 1849-50 and was originally rescued by a British warship and taken to the island of St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.He was one of the arrivals among the liberated Africans who came to Tobago in 1851. Originally an indentured labourer, Panchoo became a small farmer after his contract expired and eventually accumulated significant wealth for a man whose original destiny intended him for bondage. He was the owner of a house and cultivated lands in Speyside amounting to several acres, had married several times and had numerous offspring.This grand old man, at his passing, represented the last of the fascinating people who had originally been captured slaves, but ended up being freed men in a strange land. Though he was not technically enslaved in Tobago, Campbell was the last documented survivor of the brutal human trafficking that took place in the plantocracies of the West.