''White-Black towns'' of Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu

A plan of Ft St. George and surrounding settlements, en.wikipedia.org

Black town, Madras,1851 en.wikipedia.or

     Chennai, formerly known as ''Madras'' during the  early colonial rule and later  under the British Raj, is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu and is India's fourth largest city.  Located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, it has an estimated population of 8.9 million (2014), the 400-year-old city is the 31st largest metropolitan area in the world. It is one of the important IT as well as major automobile  manufacturing centers in the world.  In August  2014 the city celebrated its 375 years of its existence. 

Chennai has a long history since the establishment of the  East India Company followed by the  British Crown  to its present growth. Incidentally, Robert Clive, who was instrumental in establishing the great British Empire, had begun his humble life as an ordinary clerk in the corridors of power in  East India company's office  here in Ft. St. George.

Francis Day and his superior Andrew Cogan were considered as the founders of Madras  who had constructed  Fort St George 
on a strip of beach on 23 April, 1640 the company leased from the native ruler. The lease was signed a few months earlier, on August 22, 1639.Same year  houses for their employees  came up.  They wanted to protect their settlement and their warehouses inside the fort. Their small fortified settlement quickly attracted other East Indian traders and, as the Dutch position collapsed under hostile Indian power, they also slowly joined the settlement. the city that was born in north Madras, it had begun to  grow southwards.  By 1646, the population in the settlement had reached 19,000  with Portuguese and Dutch populations  substantially more.

Black Town, Madras,   en.wikipedia.org

 To further consolidate their position, the Company combined the various settlements around  that area  an expanded Fort St. George, which including its citadel also comprised a larger outside area surrounded by an additional wall. This area became the Fort St. George settlement.   As stipulated by the Treaty signed with the local  Nayak  ruler, the British and other Christian Europeans were not allowed to decorate the outside of their buildings in any other color but white. As a result, over a period, the area came to be known as ''White Town''.

1805 Law College George Town, Chennai, TNupload.wikimedia.org

George Town, Madras, chennaifocus.woodpress.com

According  to the treaty signed, only Europeans, principally Protestant British settlers were allowed to live in this area  and outside of this confine,  non-Indians were not allowed to own property. However, other national groups, chiefly French, Portuguese, and other Catholic merchants  had separate agreements with the Nayak ruler which allowed them in turn to establish trading posts, factories and warehouses. As the  British East India Company, controlled the trade in the area, these non-British merchants made agreements with the Company for settling on Company land near "White Town" as per agreements with the Nayak. 

Map of Madras city in 1921, en.wikipedia.org

Over a period of time, native Indians also arrived in  greater numbers and soon outnumbering, the Portuguese and other non-Protestant Christian Europeans. Following several outbreaks of violence by various Hindu and Muslim Indian communities against the Christian Europeans domination and their over stepping on their religious belief,  White Town's defenses and its territorial charter were enlarged to include most of the areas which had developed around its walls thereby incorporating most of its Catholic European settlements. In its wake, they resettled the non-European merchants  along  with their families and workers, almost entirely Muslim or of various Hindu  nationalities outside of the  newly expanded "White Town". This was also surrounded by a wall. To differentiate these non-European and non-Christian area from "White Town", the new settlement was called "Black Town." It grew along the northern perimeter of the fort  into a busy township often known as Chennapatnam by the natives. The European called it  Madraspatnam.  Collectively, the original Fort St. George settlement - "White Town", and  the new settlement "Black Town" were called Madras. An important fact was initially, this planned settlement with mutual consent did not carry any racial connotationsBlack town was mostly  occupied by natives who had links with the construction of the fort but also by those  who catered to the needs of the sahibs, barbers, washer men, servants, etc.  

Fort St. George, Madras, credit:  en.wikipedia.org

 The French was in control of the Black town briefly. When the British got it back in 1749 as part of a deal with them,  the British flattened a portion of the Black town and converted into an esplanade
(part of it now called N.S.C. Bose Road)  covering  Muthupet and  Peddanaikenpet villages in the late 1700s as part of  their military and defensive  strategy  in order to have a clear line of firing  to deal with future invaders.   They erected 13 pillars in 1773 along the flattened area (now, only one is left). New black town (now George town came up beyond the 13 pillars and the old black town was in the place where now stands High Court complex. The stretch between the pillars and high court is now NSC Bose Road. Old black town - first Indian town was north of Ft. St. George.  However the  new Black Town continued to supply goods to the merchants of the Fort, ‘White Town’  In 1911 the black town was renamed George Town in honor of king George V (earlier Prince of Waleswho was crowned as the Emperor  of India who in the same year attended along with his wife  the greatest show on earth - The Delhi Durbar.

king George V. George Town, Chennai.

 1914 old image. king George V. George Town Madras

Other suburban areas  such as Triplicane, Teynampet, Nungambakkam, Royapettah and so forth were only villages and later were acquired by the British.  It was along side of Ft. St. George - the earliest British Settlement,  the present metropolis of Chennai originated from the Black Town.  

                                                  (Modified :  October 20, 2023)