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Then & Now – Remembering Sir Alan

 

Each time I interview one of our seniors or just in everyday conversation, the name Sir Alan Cobham continues to pop-up in the conversation so I have decided to take a look at how he influenced change in the Virgin Islands.

Joseph Reynold O’Neal (JR), whom I have written about before, wrote in “Life Notes” that Sir Alan Cobham, an Englishman and WW1 pilot with the Royal Air Force, arrived in the Virgin Islands in 1952 “brimming with ideas for the islands’ development.” (p.72) At that time there was no airport in the Virgin Islands so Sir Alan Cobham came up with the idea of how one could be developed and made a proposal to the Government, which was accepted – according to JR, “Sir Alan went to Beef Island and hacked about the underbrush figuring out the alignment and so on.” (p72) Sir Alan made a huge impact on the development of the territory – he bought a shipyard in Road Town (the capital) and “set it up with a rail for hauling boats, he established the Land Rover and Sea Gull Outboard Motors dealership (taking JR on as his local partner and transferring his portion over to his son Geoffrey) and later started a ferry service with the Youth of Tortola” (p73) a passenger boat which ferried people between St. Thomas in the USVI and Tortola in the Virgin Islands, captained by Peter Haycraft whom I have also written about prior. The Land Rover business was called J.R. O’Neal G. A. Cobham, Ltd., and was later sold to Leando Nibbs of Nibbs Auto Sales and Parts.

During his life in the Virgin Islands, Sir Alan acquired a wealth of land throughout the territory including the “eastern part of Peter Island” from JR. This land on Peter Island was later sold to Peder Smedvig shipowners from Norway who developed the Peter Island Resort, which later changed hands to the Amway Corporation and several more changes subsequently.

As a note of interest, Sir Alan also bought Necker Island, one of the islands in the Virgin Islands archipelago, and which was later sold to Sir Richard Branson.

Then & Now – Our interesting Virgin Islands

 

 

On September 21, 2012, we met Mr. Salvadore Callwood, a very dynamic and energetic elderly gentleman, at his home in Carrot Bay – this was after my visit with Mrs. Melcena Smith. And yesterday, Friday, October 5, 2012, we visited with Mrs. Jenny Wheatley (Teacher Jenny as she is called) at her home in East End. Each of these visits presented us with a glimpse into the historical past of these Virgin Islands – from childhood to adulthood and into the senior years.

Mr. Callwood recalled how his parents moved to the Virgin Islands from the Dominican Republic, his early childhood years and how he left as a teenager to live and work in the United States Virgin Islands but was pleased to return to the Virgin Islands when the, now deceased, Chief Minister of the Territory, who was his good friend,  suggested that he should return home as there was work for him to do – he did and went to work at the Long Bay Hotel and Resort- Mr. Callwood is long retired but has many fond memories of the early years of his life.

Our meeting with Teacher Jenny was two-fold – in the first part, she showed us how to make local “tart” – a pastry that can be filled with stewed coconut, pineapple, guava or whatever you want to fill it with, and is a great sweet treat any time of the year but especially at Christmas time – a must taste when visiting the islands. The second half was spent chatting with this lovely lady about her early years growing up in the Virgin Islands and reminiscing on some of the local sayings – Teacher Jenny is also retired but has remained very active within the community – in addition to the many things she does she finds the time to contribute to the “Millennium Committee” which was instituted by the past Premier, The Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal.

“‘The Millennium Committee took up the baton with an initial goal to compile a list of buildings and sites that might be in danger of being destroyed if their historical value was not properly researched and identified. Xandra Adamson, another Millennium Committee member and longtime resident of the BVI, who is originally from Trinidad, explained, “We knew our long list would not be effective unless we focused on just a few buildings to start with. We let the Chief Minister select from the list his top four buildings of importance and that is how we came up with the ones designated for historical plaques.

The J.E. William George's shopThe four buildings chosen for their historical significance are all located on Main Street, the site of many traditional West Indian homes now converted to businesses. St George’s Church Hall (owned by the Anglican church), Her Majesty’s Prison and the J.E. William George’s Compound are all on the west side of the street. The locally known “Fireproof” building owned by the J.R. O’Neal family (across from the Methodist Church) is located on the east side. Each has a unique history for the significant events or purposes that it served.

Jennie Wheatley, the third core member of the Millennium Committee, is another local historian with a wealth of knowledge. Her credits include starting the Virgin Islands Studies program at the H. Lavity Stoutt College, inspiring many of the territory’s youth to take an interest in their history and culture. She remembers the George’s Compound well. “There were other places you could pick up a few items in the early days, but this was the place to go to get it all – from birth to death. They stocked clothes, groceries, tools, even lumber to build a coffin.”‘ (www.bviwelcome.com)

Note: “Her Majesty’s Prison” to which the article refers is the old Prison on Main Street in the capital of Road Town, on the island of Tortola – the largest island in the Archipelago.

THEN & NOW – Ms. Melcena

 

This week I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing two other elderly persons within our community – Mrs.. Melcena Smith of Little Apple Bay and Mr. Salvador Callwood of Carrott Bay – both on the island of Tortola. – Mr. Callwood will be featured under separate cover.

 

Ms. Melcena, as she is affectionately called, is a beautiful lady with an exceptional memory for details – while she is missing exact dates it was a delight to sit with her and listen to tales of years past – she still lives in the same village where she was raised as a child, not in the same home – she recalled how small those houses were and even showed a picture of the house, which is proudly displayed on the wall of her modern house that her oldest son, Bernard, built for her.  Despite being the only child to her parents (one other sibling died at a very early age) Ms. Melcena and her husband, now deceased, had twelve (12) children – all of whom are still alive – one daughter still resides at home with her.

This was quite an emotional interview for me as Ms. Melcena was the “god-daughter” of my paternal grandmother, whom I did not know – I didn’t even know where my grandparents lived or really anything about them as they both died before I was born and no-one ever told me anything about them – but here I learned that my eldest sister, now also deceased, was named for that grandmother – Annie Thomas (nee Vanterpool) and she and her husband who was from St. Kitts lived “just down the road” from where Ms. Melcena lives, in the same village and that she was from Great Thatch Island, which is one of the islands in the Archipelago which make up the Virgin Islands (UK).

Although her children had built her a modern home on the beach front – beautiful! This wonderful lady has retained a collection of utensils and other accoutrements from her earlier years including an oven built from a tin (similar in design to a large saltine cracker tin – rectangular in shape, with a lid made also from tin, wired on and on the inside there was a  layer of wires to form a central shelf – this was used for baking bread or any form of baking when the brick oven was not in use – she even retained three large pieces of charcoal as evidence of what was used for heating the oven (charcoal burns without smoking) – some was on the bottom and some on the top.

(Below is the closest picture I could find of such a contraption – this one does not have the central shelf but its gives the concept)

http://rt492.org/dl/projects.html#stoves

Look for Camp stoves and Ovens under the index

 

Then & Now – Pleasant Encounter

 

 

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.

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 – “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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Then & Now – Legislative Proces

The first Assembly or House of Representatives in the Virgin Islands, which had been asked for since 1747, became a reality by proclamation on November 30th 1773, and the Assembly met for the first time on January 27, 1774 and had eleven (11) members who represented the planters and freeholders. (Early History of the British Virgin Islands, From Columbus to Emancipation, p.75-76: By Vernon W. Pickering)

Despite that representation, the abolition of slavery in 1834 and the collapse of the planation economy saw the Virgin Islands dwindling in population making it difficult to form the rudiments of a government and as a result they were ruled from Antigua – needless to say, the subsequent process to self government was a lengthy and complex one.

The following information is taken from my interview with Mr. Elton Georges, CMG, OBE.

1943 Secondary Education was introduced in the Virgin Islands; 1956 the Federation of the Leeward Islands was broken up and became individual colonies – head of State was changed from Commissioner to Administrator who still reported to a Governor based in Antigua; 1959-60 the Administrator reported directly to London and the Virgin Islands became a Colony with direct link to Her Majesty;  1967 Ministerial Government came into being with Administrative Secretaries who were later changed to Permanent Secretaries – the Speaker was introduced and  presided over the Council rather than the Administrator and the Speaker was elected from outside the Council (2000 Constitutional change provided that the Speaker could be elected from the elected members of the house but they continued to elect from outside); 1971 – Administrator was changed to a Governor partly driven by our close proximity to the USVI and PR; 1976 the definition of a belonger was put in the Constitution and the voting process changed – to qualify to vote you now had to be a belonger. It also increased the number of seats in Council from 7 to 9; 1994 before the 1995 election Britain increased the number of seats by amendment to include 4 at large – the entire country was equal to one constituency for these at large members – this was opposed by the then government, however this is how the council is constituted today.

From 1967 until 2007 the head of Government was designated Chief Minister at which time amendments to the Constitution changed the designation to Premier. Five Virgin Islanders held the position of Chief Minister and to date two have held the position of Premier.

Chief Ministers:  1967 – 1971 Hon. H.Lavity Stoutt; 1971 – 1979 Hon. Willard Wheatley; 1979 – 1983 Hon. H. Lavity Stoutt; 1983 – 1986 Cyril B. Romney; 1986 -1995 H. Lavity Stoutt; 1995- 2003 Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal and 2003 – 2007 Dr. The Hon. D. Orlando Smith.

Premiers: 2007 -2011 Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal and 2011 to date Dr. The Hon. D. Orlando Smith.

 

 

Then & Now 3rd episode with Hugo Vanterpool

Please join us today, Sunday, April 29, 2012 on CBN Ch51 at 8PM, for the 3rd episode of my interview with Mr. Hugo Vanterpool. I am thankful and appreciative of Hugo for allowing me to interview him – he is a fine and most gracious gentleman. Following my interview with Hugo, Traci will speak on Healthy Living.

We thank you for joining us during these first episodes and look forward to your continued support.

Then & Now interactive and informative

Did you know that the first guest of this talk documentary, Mrs. Eugenie Todman-Smith was the Community Development Officer of the Virgin Islands in 1966 and one of only two women (the other one being, Ms. Pearl Varlack)  out of a total of twenty four people who met with Dr. Mary Proudfoot, the constitutional commissioner appointed by the United Kingdom in 1966, to look into political conditions in the territory of the Virgin Islands. From the Proudfoot report a new constitution for the Virgin Islands was introduced. (Eugenia O’Neal) It was this constitution that in effect gave the territory full self governance.

THEN & NOW, Sunday, April 22, 2012

Join us tonight on CBN Ch51 at 8PM for the second episode of a three part series with Mr. Hugo Vanterpool – further discussion of his book “Dusk to Dawn” – a look at the history, culture and heritage of the Virgin Islands. And, of course, Traci will speak about Healthy Living. Look forward to hearing from you.

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