Bahamians have, not too surprisingly, put a lot of stock into the historical personality that was Stephen Dillet. The reasons for this are more than obvious. He became a political figure, at a key turning point in colonial history, when politics became more expansive in the Bahama Islands. Coloureds, after 1834, after emancipation, and soon darker skinned negroes, could now qualify to challenge for a seat in the Assembly.
The dominance of politics, in the Bahamian psyche, has meant that, by and large, history has all but ignored other equally interesting historical figures, who achieved a variety of things, outside of politics. Lamentable for sure, because Dillet was not the only coloured man to enter the House of Assembly in 1834
Stephen Dillet was many things, including a slave owner. While the castigation of white slaveowners continues in the modern day, Dillet has been, interestingly, given a quiet pass. That important part of his life has been overlooked, in the interest of peddling the historical greater good.
Just to be clear, Stephen Dillet is given the accolade of being the first coloured or mixed race man, in the House of Assembly, but he was not the only one in 1834.
Equally, if we are cutting the fine cloth of history on the bias seam, to ensure that this heavy woven historical fabric, may hang the correct way, we must acknowledge a racial difference. Dillet was not the first full born negro, to sit in the House of Assembly.
Dillet was never a slave. Dillet owned slaves.
Stephen Dillet, if the following photos, are indeed him, had straight hair and European features. He, as the saying goes, ‘could pass.’
Stephen Dillet was many things. Dillet was a European featured, coloured man, born around the year 1795 in Haiti. He came to the Bahama Islands, in 1802, at around age seven, as a way of escaping the ravages of the Haitian Revolution. Dillet came with his mother at the behest of his white French soldier father, who obviously cared for him, but who has been written out of this portion of history.
How Dillet supposedly landed in New Providence in 1802, supposedly impoverished, with only his French speaking mother, who spoke no English, with no means of support or money or home, —- yet by the year 1815, Dillet was a travelled man of 20 years old, and a shop owner, with a flourishing trade as a tailor, and eventual slaveowner —- remains a complete and utter mystery!
How did he do it? Who educated him? Who paid for clothes and food and a roof over his head?
Stephen Dillet was a tailor by trade. He owned a tailor’s shop. He travelled out of New Providence quite a bit. After he became a Member of the Assembly, Dillet was appointed to high positions in various government jobs. Stephen Dillet held multiple posts, at one point or the other, from Coroner to Post Postmaster.
Stephen Dillet travelled. Ticket of departure issued in 1815. Dillet presumably travelled to purchase items for his tailor shop
1822 – Stephen Dillet, Tailor
Stephen Dillet travelled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in June 1834
In the slaveowners compensation record, Stephen Dillet submitted a claim for 2 slaves in 1834.
The post emancipation decades were good to Stephen Dillet. Very good, in fact!
Dillet was blessed with a long life, a healthy life, and he found his career in politics and government to be hugely rewarding. It afforded him a comfortable, financially secure life and considerable prominence in Nassau.
Stephen Dillet purchased his commission, at the rank of Lieutenant, in the local Nassau militia. Interestingly enough, George Biggs, the bigoted publisher of the Bahama Argus, who hated Governor James Carmichael Smyth and was instrumental in having his governorship revoked, also purchased his commission at the same time as Stephen Dillet and others.
Stephen Dillet had several government appointed positions
Stephen Dillet, Postmaster
Stephen Dillet, Inspector of Police
Stephen Dillet, Acting Chief Constable and Inspector
Stephen Dillet, Coroner
1825 – Arson Controversy … was Stephen Dillet an arsonist? Did Stephen Dillet burn down the Masonic Lodge on Bay Street after he was refused membership
In 1825, coloureds were still barred from being members in the Masonic Lodges. Stephen Dillet and a handful of coloureds, —-although they were freeholders, free men, slaveowners and some shop owners,—- were nevertheless, barred from membership.
Someone decided that such apparent meanness, should be answered with kerosene, and a lit match.
Governor Lewis Grant issued a £200 reward for information on the fire, which occurred on Tuesday, 18th January 1825. The fire not only destroyed the house used by the Masonic Lodge, it also destroyed some adjacent buildings as well.
Stephen Dillet, who had been widely accused of the deed, put his own reward in the paper. Dillet said he would reward anyone who could prove he set the fire.