Until last year, you could follow a trail of broken bricks leading to a wooded area off Lothians Road, Princes Town.
It took you to one of the highest points in a town known for its rolling hills, rich soil, and bad roads.
Little could be seen from this vantage point because it was walled by carat leaves, and shaded by palmiste palms and a towering tamarind tree that kept the place dark and damp even in the driest of dry seasons.
But there was a time when that track took the faithful to the hilltop site of a Spiritual Baptist church, where they practised the rituals of their religion after the lifting of the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance which had banned their activities between 1917 and 1951.
The worshippers would not have known, but those broken bricks once enclosed a solitary grave on the hillside.
The brickwork was demolished with a sledgehammer wielded by the church builder, and the shards laid down to make that track.
The identity of the grave’s eternal occupant was not known then, wasn’t thought important enough to preserve, and was lost to time.
But there were a few town elders, and one committed researcher (the late, great Angelo Bissessarsingh), who had a good idea who might be buried there, and the person’s connection to the area, a history dating to the time of the enslaved Africans and indentured Indians.
Lennox Patterson also remembered the grave. He had lived on that property from childhood. The house in which he lived with his ten whistling birds was more than 100 years old.
Rough time to live
And other than some roofing sheets overhanging the front steps, it was all original.
Patterson’s property was once part of the Lothians Estate, one of the most lucrative sugarcane concerns in the country in the 1800s before it folded shortly after the death of its Irish owner in 1897.
Patterson’s grandfather, Moses Patterson, was an estate labourer who fathered two children, Carmen and Donald, with Indian indentured labourer Budhanie.
Moses also had sisters, Victoria (named after Queen Victoria 1837-1901, whose sons, Princes Albert and George, inspired the town’s name, after they visited in 1880) and Elizabeth.
The sisters also worked on the estate, at three cents a day, to purchase some of the land with money saved.
The sisters built homes on the property and planted cane at the back. Victoria took in Carmen (born in 1911) and raised her from a baby. As a young woman, Carmen would find love in Bruce Griffith who worked in the oilfields of Barrackpore.
She followed Bruce to the oil boom. It was then a rough place and time to live, no pipe-borne water, electricity, life expectancy – 50 years. Patterson was born into this and remembers the struggle.
The family had pigs to supplement the income, he said. There was a pond from which they drank. His father fell ill one night from that polluted water.
Dysentery weakened him. He tried the home remedy – arrowroot powder. By the time it became critical, the hospital was too far away. Only two unreliable taxis worked the area. Griffith died at home, in his 30s.
Patterson’s sister would also die like this. She was four.
So his mother Carmen brought her family back home to Princes Town and to that house that her aunt Victoria built; simple but solid, its frame of cedar and greenheart, tree trunk posts at the front, the kitchen at the back built into the hillside, two bedrooms and a living room.
And this is where Patterson and six siblings would grow up, working the canefields, carting the cane to the Malgretoute scale, where the sugar railway ended, attending the St Stephen’s Anglican school, Ma Carmen employed as the cook at the Coterie of Social Workers in San Fernando (where hundreds of children would get a free meal), and Aunt Victoria, the village seamstress, making extra money from her craft.
The memory of the Lothians Estate faded in the collective minds of the community, and the cane land, cedar grove, and mango and cherry fields became residential plots.
The children would marry and disperse.
Patterson was the only one to remain behind with Aunt Victoria and Ma Carmen. Then it was just Ma. Until 2003, when she, too, died.
Patterson spent his best years at the Works Department located down at the abandoned Trinidad Government Railway train station on the town’s west side, where he helped construct public buildings, retaining walls and drains around Princes Town.
It is why he has such a clear recollection of the grave behind his home. A master bricklayer did the job, he said with admiration. It must have been for someone important, he was sure.
Uncovering the truth
And he is right.
The land on which Patterson came to live was once the property of a man that Princes Town owes a debt of gratitude.
That man is Harry Bourne Darling, born in Ireland in 1813, died in Princes Town 1887, owner of the Lothians Estate.
He was employed as an overseer on another estate of Scottish planter Williams Eccles and, by 1840, had saved enough to purchase the Lothians.
That mystery grave on the hilltop could be of Darling’s wife, Mary, who died in the 1850s, said Angelo Bissessarsingh, who did the research before he died far too early, four years ago this month.
Will we ever know?
Patterson died in 2013. He was 70 years old.
And in the November of Covid year 2020, Princes Town’s oldest house, sagging and hollowed out by termites, was demolished.
It took the excavator only minutes to take down a home that had stood for 110 years.
But in clearing the land, the headstone and location of the grave was found. The inscription cannot be read, but there is a talk of an exhumation, if someone is brave enough to do it.
The truth may still be uncovered.