APT James: a family man and king len' hand

Dr Rita Pemberton  -
Dr Rita Pemberton -


The impending arrival of the new inter-island vessel which has been named in honour of the late APT James, Tobago’s representative in the Legislative Council of TT from 1946-1961, has stimulated renewed interest in James and his contribution to Tobago.

James died on January 5, 1962 from a cerebral haemorrhage due to hypertension and this week marks the 59th anniversary of his death.

While there has been much focus on his political life, save for gossip clips, his personal life has not received academic attention.

This is an opportune time to expose the realities of his family life so that the man can be fully understood. In so doing, the parallels between his practices at home and the vision he had for the development of Tobago will become evident.

Born in Patience Hill in 1901, James, who was the eldest of his siblings, lived there with his mother and obtained his first job cultivating tobacco in the area at a time when tobacco was one of the crops considered to replace sugar as the island’s main export crop.

James migrated to Trinidad and obtained a job as a labourer with the Lake Asphalt company in Brighton. He rose to the rank of foreman and ultimately became a financially endowed, independent contractor. He was a committed Butlerite, a strong advocate on labour issues and was involved in the labour movement of the 1930s inspired by Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler.

When he relocated to Tobago, he first resided at Government House Road before moving into the home he constructed at the corner of Young and Cuyler Streets in Scarborough.

James, popularly known as Fargo, was married twice and fathered ten children. With his first wife he had five children, four girls and a boy, then he had twin daughters, a son and then his two youngest children, a girl and a boy, from three other relationships. He had no children with his second wife.

Despite his gossip world image as a philanderer and “dandy man,” James was a committed family man who provided for all of his children, continually checked on them and closely monitored their development. While the older children lived with their mothers, he was fully responsible for the upbringing of his last two children, to whom he was the father who “mothered me.”

James believed that there should be no distinctions among people and everyone should be treated equally. This was manifested in his relationship with his children. He refused to accept the notion of half-siblings and he utilised every opportunity to bring his children, and later grandchildren, together and allow them to develop sororal and fraternal relationships while he strengthened his paternal relationship with them. He treated them equally and when he travelled he bought gifts for all of them.

Those who lived with their mothers were brought to spend holidays with their father and younger siblings. He ensured that he had meals, especially breakfast and lunch, with his children regularly and on weekends he would devote time to talking with them, discussing their problems and progress as well as concerns about the island and country. One of the older daughters was brought as a companion to her younger sister when his political commitments required him to be absent from his home for lengthy periods. He considered family relations to be very important and he insisted that his children spend time with their grandparents.

He was a staunch Roman Catholic and mandated his children to attend church on Sundays and gave considerable support to the church. He was godfather to several children, which responsibility he took as seriously as that of fathering. He supported his godchildren and treated them as he did his own children, ensured that they were provided for and gave assistance whenever and wherever it was needed.

He believed in the power of education and saw to it that his children were properly educated. He supervised their homework and when he was satisfied that it was properly done, he made them revise what was taught at school each day and he took them up to ensure that they understood what was taught.

This parallels his commitment to education for the population. He was unhappy with the deficit of secondary education facilities on the island, particularly in Tobago East. As a corrective measure, in 1954 he established the Foundation Secondary and Commercial School in Roxborough. Although the school did not carry his name, he paid the principal and staff, the rent for the building and the fees for many of the children whose parents could not afford to pay. In addition, he maintained an informal library, a collection of books from which children without books could borrow.

He also believed in practical education and particularly in agricultural education. To demonstrate its value and develop the skill, he gave each of his children a plot of land around the home on which to cultivate crops. He taught them how to plant and nurture their crops, examined them and then organised a celebratory meal when the crop was harvested. It is no surprise that his last daughter studied agriculture.

James was a businessman and was engaged in real estate. He acquired properties across the island in places which included Belle Garden, Bethel, Bloody Bay, Castara, Concordia, Mt St George, Moriah, Patience Hill, Parlatuvier and Runnymede. He was also the owner of three businesses, two shops in Canaan and Patience Hill and a rumshop in Moriah.

To ensure that his children understood the operations of the business, he took them to the shops and made them assist in their operations. His last daughter, who was made the accountant of the family business, was responsible for keeping records of all transactions – payments and receipts, loans to individuals (with their names and addresses), and she was sent to do a commercial course at Guy’s Commercial School to learn typing, shorthand and bookkeeping. Ironically, it was his youngest son who became an accountant.

He was an enthusiastic cook, specialising in fish broth, for which he had his own brand, and bush meat was his absolute favourite – especially agouti cooked down with coconut. He believed in eating the locally produced food items which he prepared for his children when his time permitted.

His home was like the community centre, with a steady stream of visitors. In addition to his close friends such as Cecil Louis and Clarence Warner, who were the regulars, and his political associates, there were people who came to bring gifts or to seek assistance. Just as he did with his children, he gave an ear to all who came and gave generously to all who were in need. He turned his back to no one and whether it was in the form of loans, financial assistance, or property, he gave generously to all who sought his assistance and all those he encountered who were in need. Some loans were never repaid, but James remained undeterred and continued to assist the uplift of people on the island.

In his personal life and political life, APT James was guided by three principles:

Tobago first, which he frequently said in the Legislative Council, was an expression of the view that at home and across the island all should contribute to the improvement of Tobago.

Secondly, his guiding maxim, which he reminded his children, was: “All earthly brothers and sisters who pray to our Father who art in heaven” were brothers and sisters. Therefore he believed that there should be no discrimination based on class, colour, gender or status and sought equality and equity for all.

Thirdly, his unswerving belief in education as the tool for personal and island development was manifested both in home and political life. He operated on the traditional philosophy of helping others to improve themselves, as expressed in the proverb “hand go, foot come.” APT James should be best remembered as the personification of the basic feature of Tobago’s traditional culture – king len’ hand.


"APT James: a family man and king len’ hand"

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