Castle Bruce

A brief history by Lennox Honychurch
View of Castle Bruce Bay

The area around Castle Bruce has been inhabited for 5,000 years. It was first populated by Amerindians from South and Central America who traveled along the islands of the Eastern Caribbean on rafts and canoes exploring for new resources for food. It was an area rich in natural resources: It has some of the flattest land in all of Dominica, one of the biggest rivers that itself has several tributaries. The high woods come close to the shore and there is a wide bay with a grand sweep of beach, a large freshwater lagoon at the mouth of the river and a headland that ends in two rugged islands topped by forests of their own. The first group of Amerindians who came here did not practice agriculture, and only hunted and gathered from the land and sea around them. At about the time of Christ another group came from the Orinoco River area of South America and brought crops such as Manioc or Cassava, pawpaw and pinapple (zanana), with them. They made pots out of local clay and built large communual houses.

These people, who are the ancestors of the present day Kalinago/Caribs who live near Castle Bruce still, made farms and settlements on the beautiful and fertile valley lands and hillsides of Castle Bruce. In those days however they called the place Kouanari and the name appears on the early European maps of Dominica as Couanary.
A map of 'Couanary' before it was called Castle Bruce

A map of 'Couanary' before it was called Castle Bruce. Made by British map-maker Thomas Jeffreys c1765

Kalinago life at Kouanari
These Amerindian people made full use of the bounties of nature that were found in the area: in the river, fish and crayfish, crabs and eels. In the sea, the conch (lambi), lobsters, reef fish and deepwater fish such as dowad, ton and kingfish. On the land they planted fields of cassava, pawpaw, yams, tannia, sweet potatoe, peas, beans, zanana and cashima among others. Up in the forest behind their settlements they found all sorts of natural resources for their lives: palm thatch 'zel mouch', 'yanga' and 'palmiste' for their roofs, wood for their houses and for building their canoes, plants for medicines and food. They made their tools out of stones and bone and wove baskets to hold their possessions. All these things were freely available in the area of Kouanari and surrounding mountains and valleys.

All this was to change from the morning of 3 November 1493, when some of the people of Kouanari saw seventeen large and unusual sailing ships on the horizon. The vessels could not find a place to land on this rough and rocky shore and so they sailed on northwards along the island. Gradually in the years ahead changes came to Kouanari. Strange trade tools of iron and copper were brought to the villages. Printed cloth from foreign lands and mirrors and bells and glazed bowls were also traded, and with them arrived strange diseases that they could not cope with. Many died from malaria and smallpox to which their bodies had no resistance. Eventually Spanish slave raiders came trying to capture the Kalinago at Kouanari to take them to the big islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola to work in mines and on plantations but the people resisted by fighting off the invaters and retreating into the mountains.

The French and British arrive
More changes came in the following centuries as first French people and the English came to take the Kalinago lands. The great flat valley of Kouanari was considered to be excellent for planting sugar cane and the hills around were perfect for raising coffee. When the British captured Dominica from the French in 1761 and took over the whole island by treaty in 1763, Dominica was cut up into lots for sale. The privileged people and first British officials grabbed the best land for themselves. One person who knew the value of the area was James Bruce, who had been sent out from Scotland to plan forts for Dominica.

The surveyors cut up Dominica into parishes and named the one in the centre of the east, St. David's, after the patron saint of Wales in Britain. The bay was also named St.David's by the British. The entire valley, totalling some 1,485 acres, was purchased from the British Crown in the 1760s by Royal Engineer Captain James Bruce who named it after himself. It was one of the largest plantations on Dominica. He imported over one hundred enslaved people who had been brought from West Africa to work on the plantations. In the years ahead more were added to this number and all make up the ancestors of the people of Castle Bruce today. They brought with them skills, knowledge and traditions which they used so as to survive inspite of the harsh conditions. With the work of the slaves, Bruce established a sugar estate with a large watermill powered by water from the river and a boiling house and distillery to make sugar, rum and molasses. A plantation house was built on a ridge that overlooked the whole valley. The site of this house is where the Christian Union Church is today.

Sugar Mill Rollers Remains of the iron rollers of Castle Bruce Mill which crushed the sugar cane produced on the estate

The mill is all in ruins now because the stones of the buildings were taken to use for building the Roman Catholic Church in 1950 and for other construction. However, near the main playing field, hidden by a large ficus tree, one can still see the tall chimney tower that served the estate factory. In 1827 the estate was being worked by 167 enslaved people and produced sugar, rum and molasses. This produce was shipped from the bay in canoes, which took the barrels of produce from the beach out to ships anchored in the calmer, deeper water, near the islands at the southern side of the bay.

The Estate Abandoned
During the period of maroon or runaway slave, Negre Mawon, uprisings in Dominica, particularly in 1814-1815, large numbers of enslaved people on Castle Bruce estate took off into the hills to secure their freedom. After the full emancipation of the slaves in 1838, Castle Bruce was more or less abandoned by its owners. The former slave families became peasant farmers and cows were left to roam all over the estate valley. The village at that time developed along the boundary of the two big estates, Richmond and Castle Bruce, because after emancipation, all those persons who were not working on the estates had to move and find land for themselves. The place where they used to live down by the bay on estate lands was known as 'Kai Neg'. It is now part of a village extension housing scheme and the old name is not in use. In the 1830s a new group of people of African origin came to Castle Bruce. In 1837 and at other times around those years, ships carrying enslaved West Africans across the Atlantic Ocean and destined for colonies and states where slavery had not yet been abolished, were captured by the British Royal Navy. The slaves on board were disembarked on the islands including Dominica and were liberated. Some of these free Africans settled in castle Bruce. Other areas where these persons were set free included Soufriere, Woodford Hill, Portsmouth and St.Joseph.

House at Jalousie, Castle Bruce, c1910
House at Jalousie, Castle Bruce, c1910

In the 18th century Joseph Senhouse owned land on the northern borders of Castle Bruce and that part of the new free village became called Senhouse. Other names such as Jalousie were given to different parts of the village as it grew up the hillsides. Life in the village was very simple. There was no electricity, piped water, telephones or motorable roads and everyone had to walk if they wanted to get to Roseau or go north through the Carib territory. The most direct way was to walk on a track through the forest past the Emerald Pool and then to Pont Casse and so to town. Otherwise people walked to Rosalie via St.Sauveur and over the Lake Road and then past Laudat. Some people who had a lot of produce to carry took a canoe all the way around the south of the island, but this could be dangerous. It was a life of self-help, Koudemain, when everyone helped each other. The entertainment was in the form of traditional dances such as Bele, Quadrilles, Flirtations and Lancers and with storytelling, 'contes' and 'tim-tim" tales.

20th century Castle Bruce
By the late 19th century Castle Bruce Estate was owned by J.F. Johnson, but he lived in Roseau and little was done to make the place productive. There was no road to transport produce to Roseau and few ships called at Castle Bruce bay any longer. When Mr.Johnson's daughter, Janet, inherited it, she only visited her land once in her life, and left overseers to take care of the place. Land was given for a one room school that was built in 1931 and still stands today. Eventually she sold it to the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) in the 1950s. CDC built up the estate once more, planting coconuts, cocoa and bananas and employing many villagers.

In the 1950s many people left Castle Bruce to emigrate to the United Kingdom and later to the US Virgin Islands and mainland America itself. In 1972 controversy over the firing of some 54 workers and protest action, led by Atherton Martin, resulted in government intervention and the breaking up of the estate into smallholdings. The village was connected by motorable road in 1963 and the size of the village and the services available such as clinic, police station, enlarged school and a variety of modern conveniences have grown significantly since then. With the roads open many of the best pupils of the village school went to High School in Roseau and never returned to live in the village but with jobs in Roseau, the capital, set up homes and families in the suburbs such as Canefield and Goodwill. For more details such as the establishment of the Village Council and famous people in the history of the village itself it would be interesting for young people to embark on an oral history project to talk to, and record, older people who can still remember Castle Bruce in former times.


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