By SATYENDRA PEERTHUM,
Historian, Lecturer, & Writer
“This man struck terror among the residents in the district of Savanne to such an extent that it became impossible to allow a black slave to go on an errand without an armed guard. Vandalism and criminal acts have decreased sharply with the arrest of this notorious government apprentice.”
The observations of Mr. Virieux, Procureur-General, at the trial of Fritz and his companions at the Supreme Court in Port Louis in December 1825. (MNA/JB 177/Box B53/No.25 (April 1825- January 1826), The case of the marron leader Fritz, Government Apprentice, in the Savanne district)
As we commemorate the 187th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Mauritius, it is imperative to remember the famous maroon leaders who led the struggle for freedom and human dignity. One of those famous maroon leaders was Fritz, who was in fact the last major maroon leader of colonial Mauritius which until recently has been largely forgotten.
On 21 June 1825, Fritz, a 30-year-old maroon government apprentice of Mozambican origin, was captured along with four other maroons by Edouard Vinay, a police officer and a special maroon catching unit, on Telfair’s Bel Ombre Sugar Estate. Fritz was the former apprentice of Désiré Carosin and the leader of a small, but famous maroon band in the district of Savanne. He had been a maroon for more than two years and was always armed with a big stick and knife. His five followers were Lazare, a slave who belonged to Charles Telfair, Cotte, Jérome and Hector, and Edmond.
Between January 1824 and June 1825, Fritz and his gang operated mostly in the western part of the Savanne District, specifically near Bel Ombre Sugar Estate, Baron d’Unienville’s estate, Ruisseau des Créoles, and Montagne des Signaux de la Savanne. They were responsible for a number of thefts and numerous nocturnal raids on several sugar estates. Their diet consisted of beef, ‘tang’, anguilles, chevrettes etc. According to local colonial officials, during one and a half years, they spread terror among the Franco-Mauritians and free coloured residents in the western part of the Savanne district.
In April 1825, in order to capture Fritz and his gang, a special maroon-catching task force was set up by Governor Sir Lowry Cole. It consisted of Edouard Vinay, a police officer, and Sieur François Le Cordier, leader of a maroon-catching unit in the Savanne, and ten free black maroon catchers. For a period of two months, they searched for Fritz and his followers, until they were finally captured in June of the same year near Bel Ombre Sugar Estate. When cornered by the maroon catchers, Fritz put up a very stiff resistance which caused one of the members of the detachment to shoot him, while his followers surrendered without a fight.
During his lengthy trial, Fritz and his men were incarcerated at the Civil Prisons on Government Street next to the Supreme Court building in Port Louis. He was accused of murdering a slave of Mr. Carosin, attempting to kill three other slaves, armed resistance during his arrest, theft with violence, carrying out raids on plantations and cattle theft.
In December 1825, Fritz and his former followers were condemned to death. On 14th January 1826, his testament was recorded by the Chief Clerk of the Supreme Court in the presence of Procureur-Général Virieux and a French Catholic priest. He confessed that he was guilty of most of the charges brought against him except for the one count of murder and the three counts of attempted murder.
Two days later, Fritz and his followers were executed in the yard of the Civil Prisons. Fritz, the Liberated African maroon leader, and some of the other Liberated African maroons like him categorically refused to complete their 14 years of forced servitude and to be part of an oppressive Mauritian colonial slave society. They rebelled as individuals or as groups against their employers and the local colonial authorities, they preferred to live in the forests, ravines and mountains of the island beyond the reach of colonial society and slavery. In fact, when looking at the long and complex history of maroonage in this country, Fritz, the Liberated African, was the last important maroon leader of colonial Mauritius which today we remember and honor!