While most estates had shops for their workers, prices were high and the owners often tried to in-debt workers to secure their future labour. Travelling saleswomen/merchands/hucksters travelled from plantation to plantation with trays on their heads, containing madras head-kerchiefs, prints etc, which they retailed and made enormous profits. However, some labourers travelled to Castries on a Saturday morning to vend plantains, yams and other produce which they harvested from their garden.
Historian, Henry Hegart Breen, stated that every second house in Castries displayed a shop of some description, crammed with every imaginable item from a pipe to a prayer book. Even the most respectable ladies and the wives of the wealthiest merchants deemed it not derogatory to hawk goods on the streets.
Dennery, Gros islet, Anse la Raye, Choiseul, Laborie, Micoud, Vieux Fort and Soufrière had house shops in abundance. Elderly women bought leftover wares from the Saturday market cheaply and sold them from their balconies during the week.
In 1841, Soufrière had 228 houses, and just about every third house was a shop, where some kind of commodities was sold. About six or seven was respectable enough to merit the name of “stores.” These ”stores” usually sold cured provisions and dried goods such as salted beef, salted pork, mackerel, codfish, butter, lard, salt, oil, sugar, rice and green-tea.
Salted/cured goods were very popular with the farmers; they sold their poultry and pigs to the market and used the money to buy salted/cured products instead. Fresh meats were usually reserved for feast days such as Christmas.
Source: A History of St. Lucia by Harmsen, Ellis & Devaux = 2012
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]