Costa, Emilia. Crowns of glory, tears of blood : the Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
As a teenager old family letters about the Van Cooten family in Australia triggered my interest in family history. Letters to my great-grandfather John Hughes Van Cooten contained the following tantalising clues:
- The other was that our great grandfather went to the West Indies on a royal Commission. What that Commission was I do not recollect, and that having fulfilled the mission of his government he received a [grant?] of land that as much as he could bring under proper cultivation became his own. This was termed an “Unlimited grant”.
- He married a Madagascan lady said to be of royal blood (very wealthy) and by her he had a numerous family of sons and daughters (22).
being highly educated & no fortune he went to the West Indies, under the auspices of the Dutch Government & surveyed the colony & sent home so excellent a chart of the same and the river Demerara that the government gave him #1000 and an unlimited grant of land, i.e. so much frontages & back west he could clear & put under cultiture annually.
- The names of the Estates were “Better Hope, Sheet Anchor, Brides Lust “. I don’t know the date of the year in which my mother and father were married but I believe it was in the November of 1835 or 6.
- You ask your Grandfather’s name? Well!! He was “Jan” or John Van, Van Cooten M.D. – formerly of “Brides Lust” , Demerrara – and eldest son of Mr Henrique Van, Van Cooten by his wife Dorothy of the same address.
I doubted that I would ever be able to find out the truth behind these statements. As an adult working in IT at a University, I spent two years working for the library. I took the opportunity to explore. The book that was key to opening a vast area of research was “Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood.” My ancestor wasn’t listed in the index, but showed up upon a quick flick through the contents! I found it very emotional to discover evidence corroborating the clues in old family letters. The “Notes on Sources” provided invaluable pointers to documentary sources, and has led me to making contact with other researchers in the area. Hendrik had a part to play in the events of 1823. He was an old established plantation owner. The actual name of the plantation was Vryheids Lust. He was a slave owner, but more kindly to his slaves than many other owners. He was sympathetic to the cause of the London Missionary Society. Mentions of Hendrik are here. This is a book where I found that as fascinating as the narrative was, the footnotes and citations were more valuable!