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“Bristol 30th of 9th Month 1782
Thy letter of the 8th of last 6 Mo: we received which was well pleasing to us to hear of the present good disposition of thy-self and the rest of our late servants, whose welfare and happiness both, here and hereafter, we have much at Heart; but we are sorry to hear of the removal of Poor John Venture and Harry, tho’ not without hopes of their partaking of that mercy which is extended to all without respect of persons, wheither White or Black: so George, remember what we Write to thee we write to all of you who once called us Master and Mistress, but now you are all free, as far as it is in our power to make you so; Because none are Free indeed except they are Free in Christ; therefore, we admonish you, not as your Master and Mistress, but as your Friends and benefactors, beseeching you to be caucious of your conduct and sircumspect in your behavior to all, that none may accuse you of abusing that Freedom which we in the course of Divine Providence, have been permitted to give you: Remembering also that as Free Men and Women, ye stand accountable for every part of your conduct, and must answer for the same in your own Persons, If you do amiss, in which case the Laws where you are have provided a punishment according to the Nature of the offence, but do well and ye shall have praise of the same. And that you maybe enable to live honestly among Men we have given you our Eastend Plantation in Fathog-Bay with every thing thereunto belonging, which we will endeavor to have secured to you by all lawful ways and Means; that none may deprive you nor your offspring of it, but that you may Freely Cultivate and Improve it to your own benefit and advantage and thereby be provided with a sufficient subsistence to live comfortably together in all Friendlyness and cordiality assisting each other, that those more advanced in Years may advise the younger and these submitting to the Council of the elder so that good order and harmony may be preserved among you which will assuredly draw down the blessing of the most High: But if you have not wherewithal (money) to cultivate and Improve the plantation yourselves, we advise you to Hire Yourselves for a season to whom you please as also the Plantation if you think it necessary, till you acquire a sufficiency to go on yourselves but in every step you take of this kind allways remember the good of the whole: And as soon as you can make a beginning on the plantation yourselves with Cotton and Provisions we would by all means have you to do it that you may not be scattered and too much divided by endeavor to dwell together and be content with Food and Raiment and a blessing will certainly attend you under the influence of such a disposition. Tell Dorcas Vanterpool we are much obliged to her for her friendly care and attendance of poor John Venture and Harry during their sickness we shall be pleased to hear how you go on by any opportunity, and that you cautiously maintain a good report among the Neighbours, live in love among yourselves, and the peace of him who passeth all understanding will assuredly be with you and yours, which we earnestly desire and pray for being your sincere friends and wellwishers.
The Nottinghams were, at this time, living permanently in Bristol England since 1778. This letter was written to their “Negro George” As they were very interested in the welfare of their freed slaves. (EARLY HISTORY OF THE BRITISH VIRIGN ISLANDS FROM COLUMBUS TO EMANCIPATION BY VERNON PICKERING – P.125-127)
Today, August 9, 2012, the Festival of Culture and Praise Committee will be having a Celebration Ceremony Commemorating this confirmation letter (Dated Sept 30th, 1782) which freed the slaves of the Nothingham Plantation. “This letter confirmed that Samueal and Mary Nothingham gave the slaves of Nothingham Estate Long Look – this freedom was given on June 30th 1776, by a conveyance, which not only manumitted their slaves but gave them the estate in Long Look to be shared as tenants in common.” (V.Pickering P.126) Today, the Nottingham estate is no longer a property held in common as initially intended by the Nottinghams, but has now been sub-divided and made available to decedents of the Nottinghams slaves.
In “150 Years of Achievement 1834 to 1984” Charles H. Wheatley, the then Chief Education Officer, wrote “perhaps if 1984 is to be really meaningful to us we should address the question of our destiny as a ‘nation” – so where are we since then, how far have we come and what have we learned from the past. We learned that these Virgin Islands were a presidency of the Leeward Islands from 1872 up until 1956 with education being administered from Antigua until 1940 (p.17) – one of my earlier posts with Mr. Elton Georges showed the progression of the legislative process over the years and up to the present – now we are self governing with a Premier and a Ministerial Government elected by the people with a Governor as a representative of the Queen responsible for defense.
This week my interview is with Mr. William (Kenney) Industrious who is 102 years old – has never worn eyeglasses, is able to get around on his own and has little help in his home, although he now complains about stomachache. He reminisces about his past and spoke of people having to walk from all over the island of Tortola to the capital Road Town to see the only doctor who dealt with all medical needs, whatever it was – this reminded me of one of the stories in 150 Years of Achievement.., which read “once upon a time there was one doctor in the B.V.I. We should say only a quarter of a doctor, because the doctor also served as Commissioner or (head of the Government), Magistrate, and Treasurer.” (p.55) I guess this is the same doctor that Mr. Kenney spoke about, which was absolutely incredible! Midwives were essential at that time as they cared for mothers during childbirth – these women had no formal training but were mothers themselves with knowledge of bush medicine – Mr. Kenney told of his being born at home in a very small house that was home to his parents and siblings.
Mr. Kenney told of how his family and the community ate what they grew as ground provision, live stock- fresh eggs, fresh bread, fresh meat and poultry, and fresh fish, as there was no means of keeping food other than salting for another day. To purchase basic things such as flour, sugar etc families had to walk miles over rocky and hilly terrain into the capital of Road Town to the only dry goods store (Mr. Georges) that was around at that time – others opened later on, but that was the first one. Despite the hardship of those earlier years, he reflected on how good life was at that time – they had family, friends and a caring community!!
Tropical Storm Isaac just passed by to the South of the Virgin Islands on Thursday last (August, 23, 2012) and although the Virgin Islands did not experience hurricane force winds we still experienced winds gusting at 50mph and quite a bit of rain.
Each time we get ready for a storm it conjures up memories of past hurricanes, which some Virgin Islanders have written about such as the one of 1924. “The great hurricane of 1924 did a lot of damage throughout the BVI, and Road Town and Baughers Bay were especially hard hit. Many people were killed, particularly in Baughers Bay, and one person was killed in Road Town. The Cottage Hospital, built by Major Peebles was destroyed, and Government House and many other Government buildings were badly damaged. The Methodist Church was destroyed…” (Memoirs of H. R. Penn, A Personal Account of the History and Politics of the British Virgin Islands in the Twentieth Century. p.16) Now-a-days, the Royal Navy visits to help in the time of natural disaster – RFA ARGUS was here for a brief visit and left the territory on August 22, 2012 for the island of Anguilla – I was fortunate to have gone on board for the press conference on the 21st and to learn that they would be around during these stormy days in the event of any natural disaster.
This week, I interviewed Mrs. Ellen Skelton – a very beautiful and charming elderly lady. It was a very emotional interview for me as Ms. Ellen reminded me so much of my mother (deceased) – it turned out that Ms. Ellen is a close relative and went to school with my mom and they were good friends – I cannot believe that we now live so close and I am only now meeting her – I guess, everything in its own time.
The interview will be written about later but it was informative and gave much insight into the village in the Virgin Islands where I was born and grew up for the earlier part of my life – I truly give God thanks for this wonderful encounter. No matter how long we live, I am convinced that there will always be things to learn and surprises in store, some pleasant – like this one, and some not so pleasant, but we must be open to receive and embrace those, which are blessings.
Our Virgin Islands have seen many changes over the years; families have moved from place to place and sadly many of our elders have passed on without us having an opportunity to capture their experiences for us and others to learn from – it is now imperative for us to do so!! My parents have passed on and so have my grandparents, both maternal and paternal and I cannot recall anything from any of them about our historical background, but I am on a quest to find some – meeting Ms. Ellen and spending some time, albeit short, with her was like finding a treasure trove.
In the early years of the sugar industries (1900s) people went from the Virgin Islands to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to find work – “some of these seasonal workers settled in the host countries permanently, but most returned home at the end of each ‘sugar season.’” The families here in the Virgin Islands waited patiently to be reunited with their loved ones – many of the schooners went from San Pedro de Macoris to Road Town, Tortola, in the Virgin Islands without incident until July, 1926.
The vessel “Fancy Me” was a schooner, which was owned by two brothers, James and Alexander Smith, from Carrott Bay, in the Virgin Islands, “was returning from the port of San Pedro de Macoris on 25th July 1926, with a number of workers from Anegada and Tortola attempting to get back to the Virgin Islands in time for the August 1st Emancipation celebration – unfortunately, this was not to be. After one day at sea, the Fancy Me was caught in a storm and was wrecked on a rock known as El Caballo Blanco or ‘The White Horse” – As there was only one lifeboat, which the crew used leaving the 89 passengers to fend for themselves, 59 men perished as a result.”
The wreck of the “Fancy Me” is recorded in Virgin Islands history as it was one of the worst sea tragedies of its time affecting Virgin Islanders.
(150 Years of Achievement 1834-1984
The Brewers Bay Seniors speak about their early years growing up in the Virgin Islands – how difficult it was but, nonetheless, a good life – living was simple, people worked hard and together, shared whatever they had and children helped in the home – they had to get up early morning to help with the animals, fetch fire-wood for cooking before going off to school – you could buy a “dumb bread” (a round, flat bread without yeast baked flat over the fire on an iron skillet) for one penny and that had to stretch a long way – the popular drink of the day was “sugar and water” – they would mix brown sugar with water and make a refreshing drink to go with the bread or just on its own. One person recounted how her mother gave a penny to her brother with the instructions to “split it” as it was all she had – he tried to do so by pounding it with a rock but was unable to break it only to return home without anything for him or his siblings to eat all day as the baker refused the beaten up coin! His mother had to point out that she meant to split the bread and not the coin. Life was simple and without the necessities that we now-a-days have come to expect, but it was safe and secure with a meaning of purpose and community spirit – the village actually raised the child.
Peter and Penny Haycraft came to the Virgin Islands in December 1959 from London, after Peter answered an Ad in the UK Daily Telegraph, to be the skipper of the Youth of Tortola, “the first modern passenger boat that went between Tortola and St. Thomas.” Peter recounted how he had a choice of going to Port Sudan or coming to Tortola and he took the latter and has been here ever since.
This was at a time when the Virgin Islands were still in its growing phase – and Penny tells how they first lived at Treasure Isle hotel, which was then owned by Charles and Betty Roy), they then stayed for a short time in Kingstown where she would “light a lantern and take to the dock so that Peter could see to come to port.” The Haycrafts later moved into a four-room house in Lower Estate, which was built and owned by Mose Malone, with a bathroom (a novelty in those early days) – Penny took one of the rooms and converted it into the “first private fee paying school in the territory for children ages 6-8 years.” Although they lived in Road Town (the capital) this was at a time when there was no electricity any where on any of the islands owned by Her Majesty’s Government. Their three children were born at the Peebles Hospital, one just ten months after arriving in the territory.
Years later, Peter not wanting to be a “bus driver” (thats what ferrying a boat back and forth to St. Thomas in the USVI felt like) became an entrepreneur when he opened his first business, Road Town Wholesale, in 1961 – his other business Rite Way Supermarket was not opened until 1968 and was located slightly down from the where it is at present on Flemming Street. The wholesale store occupied one room behind Little Denmark (at that time the sea ran through what is now called Wickhams Cay, which was a small island in the harbour – It later moved to main street on the other side of the road to what is now the sporting goods store next to what is now McKellys. Before Rite Way there were two small local grocers on main street – Carlton DeCastro and J. W. Georges where Peter got his St. Bruno tobacco, which he still uses, and which was being imported from England by Mr. Georges.
In those days all shipments coming to the island first had to get here via St. Thomas, USVI and often cargo services could not be relied upon so Peter imported his first vessel, which had been registered in Ireland, inorder to bring his own goods to Tortola on a timely basis – He was able to arrange with S. R. Mendes in Antigua for Booker Lines and Atlantic Lines to deliver directly to Tortola and for this he brought in a series of lighters (barges) onto which the cargo could be placed and pulled to shore by his vessel “The Kilross,” which commenced Island Shipping and Trading.
The Haycrafts, who still live in Road Town, reminisced about a quieter time when children could walk about unsupervised and without fear of them being run-over by traffic and when there was more of a community spirit. They are much older now and have acquired much success through hard work, can live anywhere they choose but still prefer the Virgin Islands – they leave a couple of times each year to visit with two of their children and grandchildren who live abroad.
“In 1823 a Commission of Enquiry was appointed to research into the state of captured Negroes in the West Indies. These were not ostensibly slaves, although in effect they must have been much the same; instead they were called ‘African Apprentices’ but, even so, many of them appear to get little or no wages..The enquiry which was recorded was titled ‘Tortola Schedules,’ and gives dozens of stories of individuals, including their African names, their tribes, and the history of what happened to them since they arrived in Tortola.
One case study from the ‘Tortola Schedules’ reads: One case was that of George and William, cartwhipped by their master J.P. Doan….the doctor who examined them stated ‘I examined the Apprentices the day they were punished; I saw that the flesh was torn from their posteriors in many places, and bore evident marks of the Cartwhip — the blood on their dinner was fresh.'” (Early History of the British Virgin Islands, From Columbus to Emancipation – By: Vernon W. Pickering)
Evidently, life was not easy for those who came before, even when they were not referred to as slaves, but their treatment at the hands of those whom they called “Masters” left little to the imagination of their true position in that society.