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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 – History remembered

“Bristol 30th of 9th Month 1782

Dear George

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.

Sam.l Nottingham,

Mary Nottingham”

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.

Then & Now – Information

 

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.

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 – 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 Historical Information

“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.

Then & Now Senior Moments part 2

The seniors quiz night at the Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall continues this week. These senior citizens show that they are still alert with functioning long term memories – it was truly a blessed occasion as we listened to memories from days past – I think it is safe to say that we drank it up and hungered for more – “Memory is a way of holding onto the thing you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. The Wonder Years.” Jessica McMahan –  May the heavenly Father continue to bless all our seniors as they do what they can to help us understand the past and gain respect for our culture.

Then and Now Senior moments

This week features the Seniors at the Sir. Rupert Briercliffe Hall on May 16, 2012 taking part in a General Knowledge Challenge. It was an evening of fun and entertainment as we watched the senior compete for the top spot as they recall historical details about life in the Virgin Islands. Please stay tuned to CBN CH51 on Sunday and Wednesday at 8PM, and if you miss those two you can catch it again on Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at 4PM. You can also watch this on live stream at www.cbnbvi.com

Then & Now recall historical events – The Moyne Commission

In Life Notes, J. R. O’Neal wrote “it was in the 1930 that I became involved with the Civic League, the brain child of Hope Stevens of New York, East End and Nevis.” The league was formed because a group of men, concerned Virgin Islanders who felt the need for “political representation…we had none at that time,” JR (as he was affectionately known) wrote. He went on to say that there was “an Executive Council which was comprised of two local people nominated by the Governor of the Leeward Islands….these were James Edward Wilkinson (J.E.W) Georges and William Campbell Roy.” And this was how the League “came to meet with the Royal West India or Moyne Commission, known after its head Lord Moyne, which was created in response to the riots in almost every colony in the Caribbean between 1930 and 1935.” (J.R.O’Neal) The Moyne Commission report gave an in-depth analysis of the  riots and strikes that occurred in the Caribbean in the 1930s. What is rather interesting is that the report made several recommendations, such as legislation to protect trade union and peaceful picketing, creation of labour department and wage boards and the provision of workers compensation and unemployment insurance to name a few. And it supported greater representation by locals in the government. This report was not made public until 1945 although some of the recommendations were implemented prior to that. (Institute of Commonwealth Studies)

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