CREATIVE SPACE #11 OF 2022 – MINING NUGGETS OF HISTORICAL GOLD

CREATIVE SPACE #11 OF 2022 (Uploaded May 31st 2022)

CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 as a blog series and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition with EXTRAS running here on the blog and full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube. In 2021, the twopart CREATIVE SPACE mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean authorjournalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer. 

Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on June 1st 2022:

Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS. 

CREATIVE SPACE: MINING NUGGETS OF HISTORICAL GOLD

Often, even in our own accounting of ourselves, we exist at the margins of history, if written in to the tale at all. It is an ongoing consequence of colonialism; of the erasure that began with the plundering of Africa, the theft of its people and other resources, and the self-abnegation that extends slavery and the plantation economy mindset beyond its official end (that mental slavery that Bob sang about). Finding and telling our stories is a purposeful, revolutionary act even in 2022; and the reading of them can be like discovering valuable nuggets of gold.

Which is what makes golden, the centering of Vigo Blake (or Baba Vigo as Reparations Support Commissioner Dorbrene O’Marde insisted on calling him during the Vigo Blake day formalities, in order to de-center his enslaver, the owner of Blake’s estate).

Other characters in the story – told over the years by the likes of Joy Lawrence and Barbara Arrindell – include Henry Cochrane, the old Black man who was found teaching the children before there was an official school building. The Hart sisters, Anne Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites, free Black daughters of Black plantation owner Barry Conyers Hart, who, with Liz’s husband Charles Thwaites, an Englishman described in The West Indies in 1837 by Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey as “the venerable father of education in Antigua”, were among the schools’ first educators, i.e. among the first educators of enslaved and free Blacks in the Caribbean.

But it – including Bethesda, which became a village as people built homes near the school so that their children could attend – doesn’t happen without Baba Vigo. It was he who made the suggestion of securing the land and pledged his free labour, six weeks of it with the help of other enslaved volunteers, to the construction of the 44 ft x 16 ft school room, which opened its doors on May 29th 1813, attracting hundreds of eager students. And from its humble beginning, with its thrash roof and earthen floor, the foundation of educational infrastructure for us by us, was laid, not just in Bethesda, not just in Antigua, but in the region.

Bethesda Methodist church on the site of the original Bethesda school.

Fitting that the community activist group, the Bethesda School Heritage Foundation Inc., which began its observance of Vigo Blake day, May 29th, in 2021, would use the 2022 gathering at the historical “gentle rising ground…open to the sweet and gentle breeze of the bay” (that rising ground being Chapel Hill, where the Bethesda Methodist church now stands on the site of the old school, and the bay being Willoughby Bay), as an opportunity to honour community service. Specifically recognizing farmer Grace Ann Agatha Appleton-Samuel, athlete and coach John Archibald, educator and spiritual leader Rev. Lucier C. Baltimore, Bishop Elmond C. Joseph, and last surviving 39er Harold Carter.

Carter who went to jail fighting for labour rights against the plantocracy (after the strike called at the iconic Bethesda tamarind tree) is another nugget. There are nuggets still being unearthed. 

I for one like finding nuggets of historical gold. Which is why I was excited to learn about Eliza Moore, and families like the Mopps, Tanners, Baileys, Beazors, and the sailor Humanity, generational craftspeople on Barbuda thanks, respectively, to Natasha Lightfoot and Margaret T. Tweedy. These not only help fill in the story of us but unearth significant moments in history, a la Baba Vigo an’ dem.

Eliza Moore’s case proved interesting to me – as in should be studied by Caribbean legal students, interesting, as it did set a precedent. Lightfoot writes in ‘So Far to Leeward”: Eliza Moore’s Fugitive Cosmopolitan Routes to Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean’ January 2022 in William and Mary Quarterly, that Moore successfully fought for her freedom as an enslaved resident in the Danish West Indies, on the basis of having been born to Antiguan-born Sally Carr “between 1794 and 1797” in the British West Indies, which had legally ended slavery 1834.

Her sister Hester Blackstone and childhood friend Mary Hughes vouched for her, per 1838 depositions. “(They) linked important moments in Moore’s life with notable British imperial administrative and military events at the turn of the nineteenth century, such as the installation of a new governor in Antigua or the outbreak of war in the Caribbean. Their use of imperial time made their affirmation of Moore’s birth and life in Antigua as a child more legible to the powerful administrators hearing testimony from these formerly enslaved women.”

I hadn’t heard of such a case before and imagine that petitioning for one’s freedom via such a route was daunting and potentially dangerous for an enslaved woman but she did it –and now we know.

Fascinating.

This knowledge of self through history is golden, and so we keep mining.

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EXTRAS

The original school building is nothing but memory, a memory now being reclaimed. Even the public school built by the government in 1961 has since closed. Until  the Bethesda School Heritage Foundation Inc. began its efforts, there had been no formal recognition of this site nor of Bethesda village’s place in the birth of education for Black people in the Caribbean. They held the first Vigo Blake day in 2021. (Read more)

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Read about Bethesda here.

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Learn more about the Thwaites’ from Antiguan and Barbudan historian Joy Lawrence.

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Read more about the Hart sisters and their contribution to the evolution of education for Black people in the Caribbean.

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Read my review of A History of Barbuda under the Codringtons 1783-1883 by Margaret T Tweedy.

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You can read about the honorees of 2022 Vigo Blake Day on the Bethesda and Christian Hill Community Group.

Quickly though, those honorees are –

Grace Ann Agatha Appleton-Samuel, a community farmer since age 9 to 89, and counting.

John Archibald a standout cricketer who played locally and regionally, and former sportsman of the year (1977) who helmed his community cricket team to several national championships before becoming a physical education teacher coaching Pares to wins in several sports while still coaching nationally and sub-regionally. He continues to coach in Bethesda.

Rev. Lucier C. Baltimore, who has lived in Bethesda her whole life and worked as a teacher in Bethesda and neighbouring communities for over 40 years starting in 1968, and continues as a counselor, mentor, and spiritual leader.

Harold Carter, the last remaining survivor of the storied 39ers who sparked the famous labour strike tied to the iconic Bethesda tamarind tree and were imprisoned for their efforts.

Bishop Elmond C. Joseph who distinguished himself in his youth as a footballer and cricketer, but found a higher calling.

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Speaking of mining nuggets of historical gold as told to us by us, remember to check out my write-up on To Shoot Hard Labour in CREATIVE SPACE 13 OF 2022: SAY THEIR NAME: IN MEMORIAM.

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Bethesda School Heritage Foundation Inc (on Facebook).

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