During the late 18th Century, Samuel Augustus Mathews a white, sometimes debt ridden, carpenter started performing in the language of the enslaved. He claimed that his command of the language was such that when during his travels in the region he disguised himself and went out among the enslaved they did not realise that he was a white man. During the visit of Prince William Henry to St. Kitts 28 February 1787, Mathews entertained him with a rendition of his Buddy Quow and Sabina probably at an all-male drinking party. As a white man born in St. Kitts, he would have been fluent in both English and English Creole. Through his trade he would have worked closely with both enslaved and free coloured artisans so his competence in the Creole language was not surprising.
The language had its origin in the dynamics of contact in St. Kitts. The English settlement of St. Kitts started in 1623. The English found French men on the island and more arrived in 1625. In 1626 the first 40 enslaved Africans were brought to the island. By 1628 there were about 1400 English and about 300 French persons on St. Kitts. At this point, there were no big plantations but merely small agricultural units on which tobacco planters worked in close proximity to their indentured and enslaved workers. A common of communication had to be found. With the fairly frequent dispersals of the population after raids and the unstable conditions that disrupted life on St. Kitts throughout the 17th Century, it was possible that the language of the enslaved that Mathews boasted he knew, may not have developed entirely on the island but certainly the conditions for its development had been laid here.
Some examples from Mathews’ publication of 1822 entitled The Wiltshire Squeeze.
- Nawngaw mek kraub no hab no head
- [pride] make crab no have no head
- dat time so cockroach mek dance he no brom hax fowl foo kum da
- that time so cockroach make dance he no belong for come there
- sawby nebber kum biffo
- knowledge never come before
- haud libbin mek dog yeat raw cawn
- hard living make dog eat raw corn
For more information on this subject see St. Kitts and the Atlantic Creoles: the texts of Samuel Augustus Mathews in Prespective edited by Philip Baker and Adrienne Bruyn (London, University of West Minster Press, 1998)