James Alphaeus Alexander Biggart was the first black Tobagonian druggist and the first black legislator (1925–1932) in the Trinidad and Tobago Legislative Council. Given the high property and income qualifications for candidates, he was one of Tobago's well-to-do, politically astute, educated black professionals. He began his pharmacist career in 1892 and had the only pharmacy in the rural Windward District before Tobago became a ward in the colony of Trinidad and Tobago in 1899. He was a passionate advocate for the welfare of Tobagonians and the development of his native island.
With only limited success, Biggart campaigned for the development of the infrastructure of the island. He called on the colonial government to improve and increase the mileage of roads and the number of bridges on the island; to improve sea communications and education; and to establish and improve markets, post offices, wireless and telephone services, and the provision of government services in Tobago—which would make it unnecessary for Tobagonians to go to Trinidad to access those services. Biggart began a tradition of strong advocacy on behalf of Tobagonians, and his efforts for the development of Tobago were carried on by A P. T. James (1901–1962), Arthur N. R. Robinson (b. 1926), and others. The campaign for political autonomy conducted by these men eventually led to Tobago gaining internal self-government in 1980. Thus, Biggart can be viewed as the one who laid the foundation on which the 1970s Tobago autonomy movement was built.
Biggart was also in the forefront of efforts to establish secondary education in Tobago. He requested more money, College Exhibition (government scholarships to secondary schools) set-asides for Tobagonian students, special representation on the board of education for Tobagonians, and a resident inspector of schools for the island. A resident inspector of schools was reappointed in 1930.
In addition, Biggart was concerned about the disparity in wages paid to government workers on the two islands, the high level of unemployment in Tobago, and the lack of industries on the island. To alleviate this last problem, a lime factory was built, and the first meeting of the Tobago Lime Growers Association was held in 1930. He also sought to make the provision of government services more convenient for Tobago's rural population. Through his efforts a post office was established at Moriah.
As a health professional, Biggart had a vested interest in increasing the number of medical personnel and improving the medical facilities in Tobago. In 1926 Biggart requested a motor ambulance service for Tobago and brought the deplorable condition of the Scarborough Poor House to the attention of the government. That geriatric facility was later remodeled, repaired, painted, and a qualified nurse and matron were appointed.
James Biggart had a strong sense of Tobagonian identity, as reflected in his insistence on the preservation of Tobago's history. In 1929 he successfully requested that the government collect the historical literature, documents, and other items of interest in Tobago and preserve them for future generations. After only six months in office, Governor Horace A. Byatt (1875–1933; gov. 1924–1930) described him as being "specially active" in presenting the interests of Tobago in the legislature.
Byatt, Horace A. CO 295/555: Byatt to Amery, July 23, 1925, Despatch #331, Public Records Office, Kew, England.
Campbell, Carl. "Tobago and Trinidad: Problems of Alignment of Their Educational Systems at Union: 1889-1931." Antilia 1, no. 3 (April 1987): 21–27.
Luke, Learie B. "Identity and Autonomy in Tobago: From Union to Self-Government, 1889-1980." Ph.D. diss., Howard University, 2001.
Trinidad and Tobago. Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council and Council Papers, for the period 1925 to 1932.
learie b. luke (2005)
"Biggart, James." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/biggart-james
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