TagSlavery

Then & Now in Virgin Gorda

 

 

In July we spent some time in Virgin Gorda interviewing a few of the people who live there about the past and present (Then and Now), it was a series of very informative interviews, however, we hope to do a few more interviews on that sister island.

Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the Virgin Islands, although Anegada the second largest contains vast salt ponds and with a much lower population than Virgin Gorda. Two of the ladies that were interviewed, Ms. Rose Gardener and Ms. Grace Waters reflected on the days of growing up in Virgin Gorda fondly – even though times were hard their sentiments were that it was rich with family values and community spirit – children had respect for their elders and everyone supported each other in every sense of the word – something that is not so prevalent now-a-days. These ladies spoke frankly about their earlier years, from parents, families, community customs, pregnancy, medical services, first jobs, feeding a family to giving girls a bath in an outdoor tub every Saturday so that she could be inspected for signs of purity. This interview can be seen on local TV Ch51 at 8PM Sunday and Wednesday evening and 8AM Saturday morning.

A BIT ABOUT THE VIRGIN ISLANDS

The Virgin Islands was a presidency of the Leeward Islands from 1872 until 1956 and the Governor resided in Antigua from where governance and education was administered until 1940. Rev. John Haddock was one of the first teachers in Virgin Gorda. A Mr.Semper from St. Kitts is credited with building the first school in the Valley, Virgin Gorda and Mr. Simon, an Antiguan was the first headmaster of that school (Anglican) – During the 1920’s and 1930’s just about all of the headmasters came from one of the Leeward Islands and not much attempt was made to train anyone local (p.13).                (150 Years of Achievement, 1834 – 1984)

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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