History of Pointe Michel

The village of Point Michel stands on a raised delta of volcanic debris formed by pyroclastic flows from the Morne Plat Pay volcano between the mountains of La Vue and La Falaise. It was first inhabited by the Amerindian people from South America, the last group being the Kalinago (Caribs). Their main village was situated on the flat land behind the present Roman Catholic Church where remains of their pottery have been found.

La Pointe was one of the first areas in Dominica settled by French people in the early 1700s. Most of them were small farmers who were being pushed out of Martinique by the expansion of sugar production there. There were the Peltier, Sorhaindo, Bardouille, Dechausay and Poiree families among others. For instance there was John Baptiste Peltier, the first of the family to settle here in the 1730s. He had previously been a small-scale planter in northern Martinique, who then moved across the channel to Dominica and acquired land in the parish of St.Luke. His descendants have been prominent people in Point Michel for generations. A section of the village of Point Michel, on the road to Mount Lofty and South Chiltern estates, is called Poiree. It is named after Jean Poiree, a French settler who owned 28 acres of land in the area. When the British arrived he was forced to hold the land on lease from the British Crown and this is recorded in the directory of the Byres Map of 1776. The point was named after one of these French settlers, Michel. When the British arrived they tried to rename it Dalrymple's Point after Colonel Campbell Dalrymple, one of the army commanders involved in the capture of Roseau by the British on 6 June 1761. This was in recognition of his services in the capture of Dominica but this name never stuck, most likely because the main population of the Pointe Michel area was of French descent and they refused to use it.

The Carib name for the whole of La Pointe was Sibouli, the Carib name for two types of fish. The scientific names of these fish are: Melichthyspiceus and Melichthysniger. At Point Michel, Sibouli is now the area in the southern section of the village, south of the Roman Catholic Church, in the vicinity of a large dry ravine that crosses the main road. The use of Sibouli as a place name may refer to the prevalence of Sibouli fish in the sea off of the point.

The French, and later the British, established many estates in the valleys behind Pointe Michel and the village grew as a commercial and social centre for these estates. Most of them grew coffee, although some sugar was also grown, and in the early 20th century they all changed their crop to limes. Among these estates were Grano, Champigny, South Chiltern (Robert), Highlands, Mount Lofty, Aberdeen, GommierJacquin, Lionne, La Vigie, Refuge, Malgretout, L'Habitante and Union. The latter was originally 364 acres in size, located directly behind the village of Point Michele and is now owned by the Pemberton family. Up to the 1860s it was a coffee and sugar estate owned by the Bremner family, the last being J.L. Bremner. In 1827 the estate was worked by 104 slaves who produced 36,500 lbs of coffee. Then it was bought over by T.P. Trail and Charles Beaurisseau, at which time it switched to producing only sugar. When Charles Beaurisseau died, a dispute over the land commenced between his widow and his son whereby the estate was the subject of a celebrated court case in the 1880s, BeaurisseauvsBeaurisseau. By the early 20th century the estate was under Pemberton ownership. In spite of hurricane damage it still has one of the last existing wooden estate houses in Dominica, designed as a cube entirely surrounded by jalousie windows and built with all of the traditional facilities to withstand hurricanes, while at the same time allowing for excellent ventilation. These are design skills that today's builders have unfortunately abandoned or forgotten.

La Pointe was the landing place for French soldiers during two French attacks on the British in Dominica, one in 1778 and the other in 1805. Because the people of La Pointe were French supporters the French forces knew that they would not be challenged. From here they marched on Roseau, but had to fight hard under the cliff at Solomon and at Loubiere. As the estates expanded the importation of enslaved Africans into the area grew. Soon the French families were mixing with the African people and a Creole population developed in La Pointe. The languages mixed and a new culture was created in dance, song, food and dress. After Emancipation of the slaves in 1838, many people from the estates in the hills came down to settle in the village along the narrow stretch of land near to the sea called "The Kings Three Chains". It became a village of fishermen and farmers. Today, hardly anyone lives in the hills and there are many ruins in the bush. From the earliest days of French settlement the Roman Catholic faith was strong in La Pointe. At first the parish of St. Luke was served from Roseau; in 1771 a priest resided here briefly, but eventually in 1852 La Pointe got its first resident priest, Fr. J.S. Féron. There was a succession of small wooden churches built over the years near the shore. The ruins of the first stone church can still be seen in the cemetery. Later, the present church was built on the hill above. In 1922 a primary school was established by the Roman Catholic Church at the beginning of the episcopate of Bishop Moris.

In the 20th century, changes grew apace in Pointe Michel. Water, electricity and telephones came gradually. Before proper motorable roads most La Pointe people went to Roseau by canoe, and when the roads did arrive, Roseau people came here to catch canoes to take them to Soufriere, before that road was built in the early 1960s. Health clinic, Credit Union, playing field and housing schemes were some of the other changes seen in the village. Much of the housing had to be rebuilt after Hurricane David, 29 August 1979, when Point Michel got a direct hit by the storm.

In politics, La Point people have led the way. In 1832 William Leonne was one of the first Roman Catholics in Dominica to enter the House of Assembly, following the emancipation of Roman Catholics in 1829. On May 15, 1919 a future Prime Minister, Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, was born at Point Michel, later becoming the first woman Prime Minister in the Caribbean. For over 50 years since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951, this constituency has been voting into office representatives from the same side of Dominican politics, first independent candidates and then the DUPP and the Dominica Freedom Party. In music and song children of the village have done it proud: Ophelia Olivacee Marie, First Serenade and others. The style of its women has been immortalized in the 1967 calypso "Pointe Michel Girls". There is much more to tell and this is just a taste! Do an oral history exercise among the older people and find out more.

Some Highlights of the History of Pointe Michel
by Lennox Honychurch

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