New Village lay between La Pansée to the east, and Peart’s Gap and Morne Du Don to the west. Little more than a name on a map of Castries—the island’s capital—it was, nonetheless, representative of most, if not all, of the suburban communities. It was a community of similarities and differences, pride and prejudice, religious and occult beliefs and practices, class divisions and struggles, and hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
In the early sixties, the greater part of New Village was owned by Vernon Cooper. Cooper, a lawyer, had purchased the property from Garnet Gordon, a newspaper publisher. Even after ownership of the property changed hands, residents continued to refer to New Village as “La Coo Gordon,” in deference to the former owner. The new owner proceeded to impose a monthly charge, or rent, through a system of ascertaining and demarcating the portion of land occupied by each tenant. The rent payable was based on the size of the demarcated area, and payment verified by recording the details of the payment in a small notebook, followed by the signature of the landlord.
The first inhabitants had settled in the area when the roads were mere tracks carved out by bare feet repeatedly traversing familiar terrain. In those days, night travel was facilitated by the use of a shal or flambeau—a bottle containing some kerosene, with a piece of paper rolled into a tight wad and stuck into the opening at the top of the bottle. When the paper was fed with kerosene, by tilting the bottle downwards, and then lit, a traveler was provided with enough light to guide him or her. The place looked like a jungle then, and you had to have the heart of a lion to venture out at night because of the stories told of strange things and sounds that were sometimes seen and heard even in broad daylight.
Some of the early settlers passed on or moved away to other, less formidable, places. Others kept coming, to swell New Village into a bustling community where the tides of human interaction produced a colorful patchwork of incidents and events that helped shape the community’s history.