Brief Introduction to the Biography of Michel Maxwell Philip


Michel Maxwell Philip belonged to a well-established Afro-creole family in Trinidad. It was part of a social group often referred to as the “French mulatto elite,” who were often highly educated (in Europe), spoke French, and had been organizing to protest their oppression under the English administration since the early 19th century.  By the time Maxwell Philip became a lawyer, his class had at least one newspaper and other cultural organizations, such as literary and debating clubs which were used to hone political skills.
    Maxwell Philip came from an Afro-creole family in Grenada that emigrated to Trinidad in the aftermath of the Fedon Rebellion in Grenada in 1795 and numbered among the many “French” immigrants at the time. His family is an example of the connection between islands and the influence of the French and Haitian revolutions on the region as the Fedon Rebellion was encouraged by the French revolutionary government, just two years after it had emancipated slaves in Saint Domingue (Haiti).  In Grenada, his family had already achieved wealth and sent its young to be educated in Europe.  Part of the family emigrated after the 1795 rebellion because one its members Joachim philip had been a leader and therefore the  family experienced oppression.
    Maxwell Philip was born to a free woman of color on the Cooper Grange estate in southern Trinidad in 1829. (There is no record of who is father was.)  He went to the San Fernando Public School until the age of 14 and then to the St. Mary’s Catholic College in Blairs Scotland for six years where he got a classical education.  He returned to Trinidad in 1849 but then returned to England and studied Law and  “called to the bar in 1854." During that time in England, he wrote Emmanuel Appadocca – his only literary work.  When he returned to Trinidad  supported the Trinidad Literary Association (see L.B. Tronchin “The Great West Indian Orator” Public Opinion December 18 1888; See also Jose Bodu Trinidadiana (Port of Spain: A.C. Blondel, 1890), 83.).  He gained a reputation as the most talented and eloquent lawyer in the island.

* Maxwell Philip became the most prominent lawyer and most powerful Afro-creole government official.  His responsibility, however, as attorney and solicitor general was to enact the policies of the colonial government.  This is the paradoxical element of Maxwell Philip’s position and power.  He could act for Trinidadians only within his capacity as servant to the queen.

He was never made the attorney general because he was had “black blood” and perhaps also because he may have been illegitimate. He served, however, as as “inspector of schools, mayor of Port of Spain, unofficial member of the legislative council, solicitor general, and on seven occasion acting attonrey general”(xi).  He also served as “member of the board of health, board of education, a college council, and various commissions....”


* Maxwell Philip has stood as a significant figure in Trinidadian national history since his death in 1888 which coincided with an Afro-Trinidadian struggle for constitutional reform and representative government.  His novel was reprinted after his death in 1888.  However, his book remained out of print and was overlooked by scholars until the 1990s when Professor Selwyn Cudjoe oversaw its republication.The novel, however,  is a brilliant and rare bringing together of European intellectual traditions and Caribbean history and politics.  It combines an anti-slavery narrative with science fiction, philosophical dialogue, romance, and the pirate novel.


From Cudjoe’s  “Preface” Philip, Maxwell.  Emmanuel Appadocca or blighted life A Tale of the Boucaneers ed. Selwyn R. Cudjoe.  Amherst, MA: U P Massachusetts, 1997.