The Constable of St. Peter has declined to back calls for the statue of New Jersey founder Sir George Carteret to be removed from his parish, or changed, due to the naval privateer’s links with slavery, despite growing calls from protestors.
While Richard Vibert said he condemned racism, he maintained that removing or amending the statue would be tantamount to rewriting history, which he said islanders “cannot and should not” do.
The comments to Express came as tensions flared over the statue, stoked by the toppling of a statue of slave owner and trader Edward Colston in Bristol during an anti-racism protest over the weekend.
The statue of Sir George Carteret was erected in St. Peter in 2014 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of New Jersey.
The US state was given its name by the St. Peter-born Vice-Admiral, who was gifted the land as thanks for sheltering King Charles during the English Civil War.
While the accompanying plaque acknowledges Sir George’s key role in island history, it does not reference the fact that the privateer supported and profited from the trade of slaves.
What is so shocking is that the slave owners were compensated but NOT the slaves. I would rather the statue did not exist but as it does, I would like to see an interpretation board next to the George de Carteret statue acknowledging his rôle in slave ownership. https://t.co/wyps3y6ybr— Jennifer Bridge FRSA (@JennBridge) June 6, 2020
As the local Black Lives Matter movement intensified in Jersey last week following the police-inflicted death of US citizen George Floyd, many islanders began questioning the appropriateness of the statue.
Some suggested on social media that the statue should meet a similar fate to the Sir Colston memorial, which was spray-painted before being thrown into the river.
Former St. Helier Deputy Jennifer Bridge, meanwhile, called on Twitter for a different solution to acknowledge the other side of Sir George’s legacy.
“While undoubtedly George Carteret led an extraordinary life and was a person of historical significance I would prefer, that the statue did not exist, but as it does, I would strongly urge that an information board is placed close to the statue so that people will know the truth about the man, not least that he was a founder of a company whose sole aim was to trade in ivory, gold and slaves," she explained.
"To leave this statue in place without an interpretation board would give both tourists and locals alike the impression that we as an Island venerate this man and tacitly condone him. Not in my name.”
One islander partially put that into practice following the physically-distanced protest for racial justice in People’s Park on Saturday by taping a board at the base of the statue reading: “Black Lives Matter. George DC traded African people.” Since then, more plaques pointed out his slavery involvement have followed.
Express contacted Constable Vibert about the divisive presence in his parish, asking whether he believed it should have its plaque amended to include a reference to slavery or be removed altogether.
But Constable Vibert said there were no plans to do either, stating that the statue does not seek to glorify any involvement with the slave trade – “something which today is totally unacceptable” - but is rather intended to represent the historic link between Jersey and New Jersey.
Pictured: Islanders protested for racial justice in People's Park on Saturday.
“The statue of George Carteret erected in St. Peter was very much the vision of our former Constable to mark the ties with New Jersey and founding of that state by George Carteret who had been gifted the land for his support for Royalist cause,” Mr Vibert explained.
“400 years ago the views and morals by which people led their lives were totally different to what is considered acceptable today, but we cannot and should not re-write history.”
Mr Vibert added that no Parish funds were used in the project and that the land on which the statue stands is not actually owned by the Parish. The Parish is, however, responsible for maintaining and insuring it.
“George Carteret spent much of his life in England and, unlike Bristol, where a statue was pulled down at the weekend, the Parish did not benefit in any way from George Carteret’s involvement in the slave trade,” Constable Vibert added.
He then went on to condemn racism and highlighted the importance of tolerance.
“Racism and Slavery have no place in today’s society and the events surrounding the death of George Floyd have saddened me,” the Constable said.
“It is incomprehensible that such prejudice by those who should be protecting the public resulted in the death of an innocent man.
“It is important that we continue to teach tolerance and address such failures in our modern society in order that across the world both racism and slavery are eradicated.”
Pictured: Trenton Square is located near the International Finance Centre buildings.
Recent events have also seen Trenton Square, which is based in the vicinity of the International Finance Centre buildings, come under fire.
The square was named as such in 2018, aiming to draw parallels between Jersey and New Jersey, whose capital is Trenton.
However, the city itself draws its name from William Trent, who both traded and owned slaves.
The link was raised as an issue at the time of the square’s unveiling, but a change of name was not supported.
An e-petition launched yesterday has now reignited the debate, and has since gained around 250 signatures. It reads: “William Trent was a Philadelphia merchant who participated in the slave trade, buying and selling enslaved people in the West Indies and the North American colonies. Nobody who did this should be honoured. It was/is terrorism. Then. Now. The square should never have been named after William Trent.”
But, contacted by Express, Constable Crowcroft maintained his view that the Trenton name should not be changed.
He reminded islanders that St. Helier and Trenton are twinned, and proposals for the twinning were adopted by the Parish Assembly 60 to two, with no one speaking against them.
He also referred to former politician Ted Vibert, who proposed the motion, saying: “What a city decides to call itself is a matter of the 87,000 people who live there. What the State of New Jersey decides to call its capital is a matter for the 8.7 million people who live in that state.
“It would be an absolute affront to the people of New Jersey for the people of St. Helier to refuse this twinning request because we disapproved of the fact that their city is named after someone who was involved in slavery 200 years ago.”
Commenting on the name of Trenton Square, Mr Crowcroft said: “Whilst we are aware of the origins of the name of Trenton as a city, we should note that New Jersey was the first Northern state in the United States of America to express official regret for its role in ‘perpetuating the institution of slavery’.
“A resolution was passed in New Jersey’s Assembly and State Senate in January 2008 to issue an official apology for the State’s role in slavery.
“The resolution apologises to the slaves and their descendants, acknowledges the difficulties that African Americans have had in gaining civil rights, and calls for citizens to learn about the history of slavery in order to gain understanding and ensure that the struggles of the slaves are never forgotten.”
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Their activities. It is important to keep it in place but to be honest about the unpleasant or nasty parts of history. If we lose the statue you are sweeping under the carpet these important issues. Let’s have it all out there in the public domain let’s not hide the nasty and only celebrate what is considered desirable. If we don’t we miss an opportunity for conversation, for educating people across generations, and let’s face it people and heroes are not always pure saints - but let us know both sides of the character !
This has gone ridiculous.