How did a Lascar, all the way from the East Indies, become a runaway slave, in Nassau? Moreover, why was he, out of the three runaway slaves hunted down that day, Friday, March 18th., 1785, the only one murdered, in the forest of the Blue Hills.
We don’t know what he looked like, because it was 1785 after all; but we know he was called Indian John. What we do not know is how he came to be living as a runaway slave in the Bahamas, or how many others were there, like him, living as either slaves or free men and women, in the Islands.
Indian John, the Lascar, undoubtedly arrived in the Bahamas along with a parcel of slaves from India, Madagascar, Mauritius other territories located to the east of the Cape of Good Hope. He may have been a slave servant, sold while his slave Master was in the Bahamas. He may have been bought or captures by a slavers making their way across the Atlantic with African slaves, or from a privateer ship sailing from the East Indies with goods in trade.
Somehow Indian John made a bid for freedom from his slave master, only to find himself, with other runaways, negro slaves, hiding for their lives in the forests of Nassau. Due to his undoubtedly unique features, straight black hair, which were not African, his presence, anywhere, in Nassau would have been immediately noticed.
Indian John and the other two slaves that day were branded to be thieves or banditties as they were called. They stole food and supplies to help survive in the bushes as runaways.
For some reason, the slave catchers that day, in the thick bush and forest of Blue Hills, killed Indian John as tried to remain a free man.
A THOROUGHLY COMPLEX SLAVE HISTORY WE HAVE YET TO FULLY UNDERSTAND
Truth is, we have yet to fully understand the complex nature of colonial slavery in the Bahamas. All we really have to go on are the rough numbers in terms of population size. We have yet to account for the lives of the untold one hundred thousand or more souls who were shipped and processed through the Bahamas, as slaves, during the almost two hundred years of negro slavery (1648-1834).
The origin of the term “lascar” is based upon the Persian term, “lashkar”, (لشکرگاه).
“Lascar” means an Indian sailor (from India) serving in the British merchant marine. In the 1900s, the meaning came to be expanded to encompass just about any foreign sailor from east of the Cape of Good Hope, whether East African, Indian, Malaysian or from anywhere in the East Indies.
Nassau, MARCH 25, 1785
“On Friday last week a party of Woodsmen sent in quest of a gang of runaway Negroes, who have for some months past committed many thefts with impunity, fell in with their camp on the Blue Hills in the interior part of this island, where they surprised the three of them in a hut; one, a Lascar, known by the name of the Indian John, making resistance, and attempting to escape, killed; the two others was secured and brought to town.
On the evening of the same day, another of the gang was apprehended in town.—- We hope soon to have it in our power to give a good account of the rest of the banditti, as measures are adopted, which promise an effective suppression of them.”
(Bahama Gazette, Nassau, 25 March 1785)
INDIAN SLAVERY DID NOT END WHEN NEGRO SLAVERY ENDED.
“For an estimated 2.5 million Indians, slavery ended not in 1807, because of William Wilberforce, but in 1917, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi. A marginally prettier term was used for post-modern slavery: indentured labour. The fiction was that the new slaves had volunteered, and in theory they were entitled to return passage in five years. One hundred and seventy years later they are still waiting. The figures are equal: Britain enslaved some 2.5 million from Africa.
There is a bitter word in Bihar: girmitya. It is a corruption of “agreement” and describes the dread of agents, thugs or smoothies who kidnapped or bluffed the destitute, and sent them away to lands from which they would never return.
By the 1830s, slaves on British plantations had begun to exercise their right to freedom. Africa could not remain the catchment area for replacements – this trick would not be sustainable. The eye of the British government turned to its most lucrative colony, India. By this time, British rule extended up to Bhojpuri-speaking Bihar in the north, and between Madras and Mysore in the south. The famines that resulted from unprecedented taxation following Lord Cornwallis’ Permanent Settlement killed millions in Bengal and left those who survived on the edge of desperation. From this pool came the new slaves.
The first batch of Biharis reached British Guiana in 1836. Within two years, Charles Anderson, a British magistrate on the island, unable to contain his anger, complained to London about the severity with which Indians were treated. Whipping, imprisonment and death were common, often through starvation. Nothing had changed except for the colour of the slaves. The pressure became so strong that the Colonial Secretary suspended the import of Indian labour in 1840.”