Queenstown – a village rich with history and culture

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By Lakhram Bhagirat

Situated in the county of Essequibo and sandwiched between the communities of La Union and Plantation Little Alliance, the village of Queenstown is a history lover’s paradise.

Queenstown is believed to be the oldest and largest village on the Essequibo Coast with an estimated population of over 10,000. The village’s history is rich and its people are proud keepers of that history.

However, like many communities in Guyana, the history is not adequately documented and the oral knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation is being lost.

When I was told that Queenstown is among the first sets of villages in which emancipated African slaves purchased lands, I knew I wanted to explore it a bit more in an effort to understand and appreciate its history.

So, I got up at 12:30 am on Wednesday, prepared myself and then took the hour-long drive from my home to the Parika Ferry Stelling. My colleagues and I were going to the Essequibo Coast on the first ferry out, which was scheduled to leave at 5 am, but in order for us to get a spot on the boat for our car, it meant sacrificing some hours of sleep.

Like many people travelling over to the Essequibo Coast, we had to be at the stelling at least two hours before boarding time to book our vehicle. Even though vehicles are booked hours and sometimes days before, you are not guaranteed a spot on the ferry.

At about 4 am we were allowed to board the MV Sabanto with our vehicle and waited for the others to come on board. We departed the Parika Stelling just after 5 am and began our approximate one hour and thirty minutes journey to the Cinderella County.

The ferry ride was very smooth and we were treated to sunrise on the mighty Essequibo (remember, Essequibo is we own!) and along the way, we passed our evergreen MV Malali on her first run. We also saw the MV Kanawan along the way too, some of her passengers waved at us when they saw the cameras.

One of the big pots used to cook meals in the 1800s now sits at the back of St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church

We arrived at the Supenaam Stelling at about 06:45 am and by the time we disembarked the ferry, it was about 7 am. It was then we began our journey to a village I was visiting for the first time and I was both excited and tired from not sleeping in over 24 hours.

We drove leisurely, allowing ourselves to enjoy the peaceful morning on the picturesque Essequibo Coast.

I was meeting up with one of Queenstown’s older residents, Winston Christiani, who was going to explain, to the best of his knowledge, the history of the village.

Ironically, our meeting place was at Queenstown’s most historic building – the St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church and when we arrived, we were greeted by the parish’s priest, Reverend Garfield Develler and Mr Christiani.

Queenstown got its name by paying homage to the then Queen Victoria and was established in 1841. However, it is believed to be among the first proprietary villages in Guyana meaning that emancipated African slaves could have purchased plots of land and establish homes so they could live.

The village is about 400 acres, according to Reverend Monsel Alves – a Queenstown native – and has about 765 lots and legally became Queenstown on September 25, 1841.

 

Queenstown Public Road

It is believed that Queenstown was one of the first established villages in Guyana since records show that persons started owning lots there from as early as 1838 but the village would become legally recognised in 1841 after the recognition of Victoria in 1839 and Buxton in 1840.

Mr Christiani, in our conversation, related that the village is a combination of three plantations – Mocha, West Field and Dageraad and from the knowledge he has, it has always been a place of social cohesion.

“There is almost half and half of the races living in this village and everybody live as one. It has been that way from long and it still is that way. We have all races living in here and we live in peace,” the elder gentleman said.

Based on historical records, the plantations of Mocha, West Field and Dageraad was owned by one Mr Carberry who was among the first individual slave owners. He was the founder of the first proprietor village in British Guiana and would sell lots to the emancipated slaves for $100, $150 and $200 depending on the size and location.