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Then & Now with Eugenia O’Neal

 

After reading FROM THE FIELD TO THE LEGISLATURE: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands  By Eugenia O’Neal, I had a sense and a better understanding of women in the Virgin Islands and their struggles to make an impact in the future of their lives and that of their beloved Virgin Islands – “during slavery, planters manipulated gender ideology to argue that black women were more like men and not at all like the women of Europe.” (Introduction) No doubt, “slaveowners in the West Indies were familiar with the gender tradition of agriculture in West Africa. They understood at once that black women could be thrown into the deep end of the labour regime, and be productive. This explains in large measure their refusal to shelter these women from the most arduous physical task, as well as the suggestion that productivity differentials did not exist between the sexes.” (Centering Woman: Gender Discourses in Caribbean Slave Society by Hilary McD Beckles, Pg9) In my interview with Ms. O’Neal she spoke of her annoyance when she hears people referring to Virgin Islanders as lazy and unwilling to work – a sentiment I endorse.

Women toiled the soil, took care of their families, and yet found time to contribute to the well-being of their communities – because “even when they have entered into the paid labour force, women have neither structurally nor ideologically been allowed to leave the family” (Citizenship & Identity by Engin F. Isin & Patricia K. Wood).  And when women could not find work at home in the Virgin Islands , “many were able to enter and find work in the USVI” (p92) And in the “Moyne Commission report it was noted that the inhabitants….show a most praiseworthy and attractive spirit of enterprise, independence and resource.” (p93) – it is even more so today – I guess a trait from the ancestors.

Virgin Island women have struggled, and yes, FROM THE FIELD TO THE LEGISLATURE, and though they are not yet free from struggling they understand and appreciate the harshness of plantation life that their ancestors endured and they have reached a place of understanding that as black women they must now work to overcome the socio-economic and political stereotype of competing masculinities and continue to develop their role in society and not be slighted by race or sex.

NOTE from UNDERSTANDING SLAVERY INITIATIVE  ‘The transatlantic slave trade was responsible for the forced migration of between 12 – 15 million people from Africa to the Western Hemisphere from the middle of the 15th century to the end of the 19th century. The trafficking of Africans by the major European countries during this period is sometimes referred to by African scholars as the Maafa (‘great disaster’ in Swahili). It’s now considered a crime against humanity. The slave trade not only led to the violent transportation overseas of millions of Africans but also to the deaths of many millions more. Nobody knows the total number of people who died during slave raiding and wars in Africa, during transportation and imprisonment, or in horrendous conditions during the so-called Middle Passage, the voyage from Africa to the Americas.”

Then & Now – Emancipation

 

On Thursday, July 26, 2012 the territory of the Virgin Islands began preparation for its  annual celebration of emancipation, which occurred on August 1, 1834 – the proclamation was read in the Anglican and Methodist Churches in Virgin Gorda and Tortola. Vernon Pickering, wrote in Early History of the British Virgin Islands that “emancipation was approved in 1833 but did not become effective law until August 1, 1834.” (p.153) There have been several written and oral accounts of where the proclamation was read but this was recently cleared up by Mrs. Eileen Parsons (Educator and cultural historian) who recalled Dr. Pearl Varlack’s visit to England to research and clarify this event – although the “Sunday Morning Well,” located in upper main street, Road Town, Tortola was the popular place for Sunday worshipers, coming into town to Church from the countryside, to stop and freshen up and change their foot-wear before going to Church,  it was not the place where the proclamation was read. And for many years the Churches alternated in organizing the annual celebration.

In 150 Years of Achievement 1834 – 1984, Mr. Willard Wheatley, Minister for Health Education and Welfare (Deceased) and Chief Minister from 1971 to 1979, wrote: “We have come a long way certainly but we can boast about nothing unless we look back and take stock of where we came from. We know a great deal about our history. We know where we came from. We know too, how we were brought here. We have nothing to be ashamed of. There are those who should be ashamed–not our race. On the 1st August 1834, the British Bible Foreign Society in England gave a gift (a copy of the New Testament and Book of Psalms combined in one) to every person who was emancipated and who was able to read.”

The territory of the Virgin Islands has a long, interesting and often misrepresented history but one thing is for certain, the people of this territory are proud of their heritage and free thanks to the Emancipation proclamation of 1834 – they cannot turn back the hands of time but they can determine how they go forward and what legacy they leave behind for future generations.

THEN & NOW – “Slavery, Smallholding and Tourism…”

 

…..Social Transformation in the British Virgin Islands” written by Michael E. O’Neal, PhD – “a Senior Research Fellow at Island Resources Foundation, with offices in Washington, D.C., and the Caribbean.”

I have chosen to take excerpts from Dr. O’Neal’s book so that readers can get, if not the full impact, close to it, the gist of what I am trying to convey without adding or taking away from it. Here in the Virgin Islands, on the eastern end of Tortola there is an area referred to as “Nottingham” and while many of us use the name daily we were never quite sure where it came from or how it came about – the following excerpt from Dr. O’Neal’s book will help to shed some light on that.

“In June 1776, Samuel and Mary Nottingham, who were at the time residing in Long Island, New York, effected a deed of manumission as regards slaves on their Tortola plantation called Longlook…….., also deeding to them in perpetuity their fifty-acre estate. p27.  Besides their liberty and the land, Mr. Nottingham’s negroes were left a legacy of £316.15s sterling by his sister, and which was paid to them by DR. DAWSON of Tortola. Not a fourth part of the property left to them, and some negroes also manumitted by Mr. Perceval, and Mrs. Vanterpool, and Mrs.Frett, remain in their hands.” p28

In looking at the Plantation Era, Dr. O’Neal wrote “the early 1780s in particular was a pivotal period in the history of the Virgin Islands plantation society. During this period, a transition took place from a society of small yeoman farmers and their slaves engaged in the cultivation of tobacco, cotton and provisions, to one based on the production of sugar (and, incidentally, of rum) by relatively large estates. The outcome of this process was the decline and virtual disappearance of the small cotton planter as a result of real estate consolidation precipitated by the expansionist pressures of the larger sugar planters.”p12

At the time of the abolition of slavery in 1834, sugar and cotton were the two main staples of the economy with sugar being the number one seller, however, after the abolition of slavery and several unfortunate hurricanes many of the sugar plantations were destroyed and not rebuilt  – drought added to this problem and as a result the economy drastically declined. The Sugar Duties Act was passed in 1846 by the UK, which did not help the planters or the territory.  Many problems occurred during this period, which reduced the territory to a smallholding and subsistence economy…..

It was not until the mid twentieth century that the economy saw a change…Dr. O’Neal wrote “During the 1950s ….the United States Virgin Islands experienced a dramatic increase in tourism…This windfall phenomenon prompted the British Virgin Islands Government to express the hope that ‘some of the influx may eventually spill over’ into the British Virgin Islands.”

Slavery, Smallholding and Tourism, Social Transformations in the British Virgin Islands is a must read for all who wish to get a better understanding of the transformation and development of the Virgin Islands

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Another Senior Moment

Tonight on CBN CH51 another episode of the Brewers Bay Seniors will be aired – the seniors continue their look back at life growing up in the Virgin Islands – the difficulty of childhood, in an impoverished time, but the love and family togetherness made it a very special time in their lives, perhaps rich in the things that really mattered. Please visit with us…

Historical Information

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

Then & Now – “Good Old Days”

“On Monday morning, bright and early
Not tired, vexed or even surly,
One rose to tread the path “over the hill”
Without a whimper, but with a will,
To arrive in time for school
For this was the best and safest rule.”
(Taken from: 150 Years of Achievement 1834-1984, By: Pearl Smith)

Then & Now – Brewers Bay Seniors

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.

Today, Monday July 2 is the observance of Territory Day, which falls on July 1 each year – the Federation of the Leeward Islands was dissolved on July 1, 1956, which created the colony of the Virgin Islands headed by a Governor who presided over the Leeward Islands – this year (2012) is 56 years since that occurrence  – “In politics and history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state.” (Wiki) This was briefly addressed in my blog on June 17, 2012 after my interview with Mr. Elton Georges, CMG, OBE.

 

Then & Now – Recounting the Earlier years

My husband, Robin, came to the Virgin Islands forty eight (48) years ago and often recalls how things were in those earlier days.

He first flew out from the UK via New York, San Juan and St. Thomas USVI, where he was met by Captain “Fishy” (Roderick Soares) and brought across on the “MV Sunshine” and was taken to Stephen Dickinson’s office (The first accounting firm in the territory) by the same “Fishy,” where he was shown to a desk and put to work – all in one day, and he only found out where he would be living later that night – the house immediately next to the office, which was located in Road Town – he had no excuse not to be on time!

The movie theatre was in the same building as his office and naturally as a young man in a strange new place and unable to sleep while the movie was in progress he quickly found his way into the projection booth with two local young men, Marshall Davies (deceased) and Ickford (Dandy) Scatliffe – the three soon became fast friends. The cinema was owned by an Englishman by the name of Douglas Williams (Deceased) who had bought the building from Norman Fowler (an American). Douglas had been a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in the UK and did a lot to promote the Virgin Islands (British) in the UK – he visited here occasionally and converted the ground floor of his building into two apartments so that he could have a place to stay when in the territory – the ground floor of that building, Robin believes, was the location of the “Tortola Times Newspaper,” the first in the territory before Carlos Downing started the “Island Sun.” In those days the phone system was by “party line” and it was necessary to listen to the number of rings to determine who the call was for – “often when you picked up the phone to make a call you would find someone else speaking so you would wait a while before trying again” – the line was shared with Virgin Islands National Bank (which went through various progressions to become Banco Popular today – it was also known as the First Pennsylvania Bank, NA), J. R. O’Neal – G. A. Cobham (the Landrover and Seagull Engine agency), Jackson’s Insurance Agency Ltd. (now Creques Insurance),  J. A. Storey & Partners (Land surveyors) and surprisingly, Treasure Isle Hotel, which was the other side of town. Just down the road from his office was the premises of Ruth C. Anthony and her husband Alban Anthony (both deceased), with whom he became very friendly, and across the street was the booking office of the Sunshine,  Clarisa’s Beauty Salon and a few small stores – further down the street was J. R. O’Neal Ltd., and Government offices, which included the Post Office.

Back then, the airport, which is on Beef Island, was undeveloped – it consisted of a sandy strip and the weekly flight from Antigua was met by a short wheel based (SWB) Landrover, which was a combination of immigration, customs, fire brigade and baggage handler. Passengers off the flight would walk behind the vehicle to where the bridge connecting to the main island of Tortola is now  to get on a pontoon upon which passengers and luggage were placed – the pontoon would then be pulled across the channel using a “wet slippery rope” in the sea and would be met by the police LWB Landrover, which would take you into town – obviously the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, which was opened in 1966, was a great boom to simplifying travel into and out of the territory by air and getting to the few businesses that were on that end of the territory – one of these was Marina Cay, a small hotel, which was run by Allan and Jean Batham (who left the territory many years ago, returning to New Zealand), another was a Slip-way on Beef Island and a miniscule hotel on Bellamy Cay (now called the Last Resort).

Robin’s account will continue next week….stay tuned…..

 

Then & Now – VI early years revisited

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.

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