THE LAST OF THE BIMSHIRE PIRATES
An image of society in the story of the last of the pirates and their booty of gold doubloons. Ed.
The Goddards were gentry from Somerset. They bought a seventy-acre plantation. Captain Goddard, the patriarch, told his son, Nicholas, that he would leave him one shilling if he married Rettah or Margaret. The shilling was a way around the law that said that children could not be completely disinherited by their parents. Nicholas, encouraged by his brother-in-law from Devon, married Margaret; was disinherited; the brother-in-law scooped up the plantation and poor Nicholas became poor. By the later half of the nineteenth century the Goddards ended up with other poor whites in a village of very poor people on the rugged Atlantic Coast.
Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Dowding defended St. Kitts, then called St. Christopher, against the French. Rich people become poor and then became rich again and the Dowdings became poor.
The Quakers objected to slavery and after the restoration settlement, Charles II outlawed their meetings. Constables raided the house of a leading Quaker, Walter Sheppard, and arrested twenty-eight of them. Catherine Shepherd Brown was a descendent of Walter and when she died she freed two of her slaves, Isaacs and Phillis and left them four acres of land. Slaves could only be freed if they were baptized and the two were baptized. Isaac married Elizabeth, a forty-year old freed black woman who was a laundress. He was fifty-two but long before that they had produced children, Samuel, William, Richard and a daughter. When Elizabeth married she used the name Dempster because her surname was also Brown.
The first freed Bowen was Billy. Samuel Bowen willed Billy to Catherine, his wife, to be freed at her death and when she died Catherine left Billy the £50.00, which was needed to pay for his manumission.
The Austins were free mulattos. They were boat builders and carpenters.
The Archers were copper smiths and carpenters. Mary and Matthew Archer were baptized and freed. Michael Archer, a descendant, who lived in a British settlement in the Isthmus of Darien in Panama, held a deep-seated resentment against the Spanish because he had found gold ore under his kitchen but before he could remove it the Spaniards broke up the village.
Ann St. John freed her slave John James and he took her name. Charles and Frances St. John had three daughters Martha, Sarah and Frances. Martha married a black man with no surname who took her name. Records of the remaining free St. Johns are missing. Someone at sometime for some reason removed them. The St. Johns birth, baptismal and marriage records for the 100 years from 1760 to 1876, show only four marriages which cannot be their entire ancestors. It is therefore impossible to trace the family by this means.
These black and white families were on the East Coast with mulattos who were their progeny. Most of the white people were deported in a war not of their own making and left penniless 4000 miles from their homes to die of deprivation, disease and starvation. By the mid-Victorian era they were in a tenuous social position. The free Negro families were in the same boat for although they had a head start over the slaves because they were freed, in some cases one hundred years before the abolition of slavery, the odds were against them. Life was hard. Poor black people married poor white people, cut cane in the season, caught fish, raised a few animals on the land and carried them to market.
These families were associated by their work by marriage and by living next to one another. Their loyalties were to each other, cemented by their mulatto children, not to a church that had ignored them, not to a state that had used them and a society that had scorned them. The whites had not got anywhere; the mulattoes and the blacks had got nowhere. To succeed they had to get hold of some money; they had to break out of poverty.
It was illegal for English coins to leave England. The colonies, however, had an economy going but they did not have a coinage and needed a medium of exchange. That media of exchange depended heavily on the non-English coins provided by pirates who brought them from many points. The coins used were Spanish. The main currency in use was called a bit, four times heavier than a shilling and made to break in eight pieces, like a cake. It was valued at one dollar and was an eighth piece of the Spanish silver coined called a Talla after Maria Tallah. Pieces of gold called Guineas that the Africans made and sold in West Central Africa - The Gold Coast - now called Ghana were also used. Guineas were an average of 20 shillings and were weighed together because of their irregular weight.
The better-off professions, the lawyer, the doctor and the tailor charged in guineas because they wanted gold. Doubloons were the popular Spanish gold coins in circulation. Louis d’ors circulated from France and were the equivalent of a sovereign; Ducats (Duce after leader) was Italian money, Marks (Marks means baron) was German money.
The English coins were a 3-penny, a shilling, a half crown valued at 2s. 6d., a grout valued at 3s. and a crown valued at 5 shillings. One ounce of gold made the English coin, the sovereign. By the end of the 1700's, the island was desperate for money and produced two copper coins, a penny and a halfpenny. As the King of England’s head could not be used they were stamped with an African head with the Prince of Wales motto “Il dine” and his insignia, three feathers engraved on them. The English had no gold or silver. The Spanish had all the precious metal in the Americas. The silver from the Aztec in Mexico and the gold from the Inca in Peru taken by the Spanish passed by this means. Had not the pirates brought the bit and pieces of eight, pieces of paper, which were open to forgery and fraud would have had to be used.
As early as 1650 an Irish pirate entered the harbour and stole a ship. In 1684 a law was passed to deal with piracy. The treaty of Utrecht brought the war of the Spanish Succession, Queen Anne’s War, to an end and put hundreds of seamen out of work. They turned to piracy. Blackbeard, the terror of the sea was Edward Teach, a white indentured labourer from Abergavenny Monmouthshire, Wales who arrived in 1656. The H.M.S. Scarborough, a man-of-war armed with thirty guns, was sent out to destroy his boat, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. A running battle followed for several hours. He won but he allowed the badly damaged vessel to return because she had nothing on her to steal
Stede Bonnet was the eldest of three children whose uncle sat in the legislature. He became a wealthy planter, a major in the military, and a justice of the peace, Stede pretended to be going abroad; gave his wife power of attorney, bought a sloop, named it the Revenge, took seventy men from the waterfront and before any one at home knew it he was pirating.
He was hung near Charleston in America and had managed to escape from the Southern Carolina authorities with the help of the Provost-Marshall who was a white Barbadian. Bonnet’s booty is supposed to be buried in three places.
Henry Morgan, the pirate who sacked Spanish Panama was an indentured servant. Exquemelin, a pirate’s surgeon on his ship wrote about Morgan’s sacking in his book “De Americaensche Zee-Rovers.” He said that Morgan was wanted for murder on the island. When Port Royal in Jamaica was the pirate’s capital Morgan became lieutenant governor there. Barbados along with Jamaica helped outfit five pirate ships with three hundred men. Prominent in this group was Captain Charles Vane who was hung at Gallows Point in Port Royal.
Pirate Howell Davis was arrested and imprisoned when his crew reported to the authorities that he asked them to be pirates. He was freed three months later. Captain Bartholomew Roberts was born in Wales and operated off the windward coast. He captured and plundered two vessels coming from New York. When the surviving seamen arrived a group of merchants equipped two boats at their own expense and set out after him. They bombarded him under such heavy fire that he threw his guns and heavy gear overboard and fled. Roberts vowed revenge and made a new design on the jack staff ABH for “A Barbadian Head” and AMH, “A Martinican Head.”
The pirate Lowther made his first and last capture two years apart off the East Coast.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century there was an accumulation of French pirates off the windward coast: sixty miles off a French pirate raided the American sloop Neptune and another ship; the Columbus arrived in port with five feet of water in her hold and half of her cargo lost.
The American brig Hector was raided two hundred off the east by pirates who hailed her in English; boarded her with eight guns and from the description of the pirate he was the famous pirate Monsieur L’Eclair of Martinique. HMS Blonde gave chase and as a result a Thomas Johnson was charged with murder and piracy; found guilty and sentenced to death. The High Court made an historic judgment when on appeal after the lower courts had rejected a claim by the Spanish Ambassador on behalf of the Spanish owners for the money and the merchandise taken from the Hector was upheld. The last pirate to be hung on the island was in 1825.
In the 16th and 17th century Spanish boats were built incorrectly and could not sail into the wind; to do so they had to row. The new navigation improvements, in their boats, in the nineteenth century meant that from Cathagena, Santa Maria and Baranquilla instead of sailing up the Gulf of Honduras along the Yucatan channel and the Bahamas Islands to Spain they sailed straight along the coast of Paria, through the Tobago passage between Tobago and Barbados and Fonseca and across the Atlantic.
The British backed Simon Bolivar in order to put down the Spanish. The Spanish hastily stockpiled gold and began shipping it back to Spain. Gold money was crossing the Atlantic during and long after Simon Bolivar collapsed the Spanish Empire in South America.
Slaves were not allowed to have a boat larger than a small rowboat called a Moses, because they could use it to run away from the island. The fish, which slaves ate were the ones caught on the shoreline in these small boats. White people ate deep-sea fish for the deep-sea fishermen were mainly all white.
John Goddard repaired and built fishing boats. He married Elizabeth Brathwaithe. Another Goddard brother Thomas married Margaret Davis and had one daughter Helena Augusta and a son Thomas. John spent two years in the main town where he built a two-masted schooner because it was too big to launch in the Bay where he lived. The boat was named after Thomas’ new baby, Helena. The Helena’s cargo was never cost effective because the brothers designed and constructed her to smuggle wine and goods from Martinique. The bow spit was low and hollow, so hollow it kept breaking off and low enough that guns could shoot over it. She was doubled hulled and the slap boards were made in such a way that it left a cupboard space all the way around for about a foot and a half. The double decking was so good that the customs men did not ever find the concealed cargo. She landed her contraband into the three bays on the East Coast, which were very difficult to steer. She was so fast that a big racing yacht from Canada raced against her and she won.
Free blacks and mulattos were not restricted to a Moses and they went and fished in a little fleet together with the lesser whites. These were some of the best line fishermen in the world. They caught flying fish by the lines on which there were forty or more hooks. They went out to Fonseca.
Fonseca is a mystery. The older white fishermen today still remember the tale of Fonseca. Fonseca was an island never more than forty feet high with two coconut trees the outline of which formed almost an irregular triangle. It was impossible to settle. Fonseca was formed from a wedge that broke off one of the tectonic plates and lifted up the Atlantic Sea bed; as it moved forward it met resistance. Fonseca was on the trailing edge of the wedge and Barbados is on the leading edge. In the charts of the 18th Century, it appears about 200 miles to the south east of Barbados. The Earl of Pembroke bought both islands. On the way down to South America the Portuguese and the Spaniards found this flat, low island, but on their charts put it in the wrong position. In “The History of Barbados,” written in the mid-nineteenth century by R. Schromburkg, Fonseca appears. In an earlier map by Hondis entitled Americae Novissima Descriptio (A new description of America) Fonseca also appears, with the designation Y. de S. 13 Degrees attached to it. Also a M. Rochette exhibits on his 18th century charted a rock nearly in the same place which he called Gallissoniere’s Rock.
The rising sea level and big twenty to thirty foot Atlantic breakers broke up Fonseca and made it into a fishing bank. The line fishermen still fish there. The Rainbow, a Royal Navy survey ship, just after the Napoleonic War did a survey and found these rocks. Fonseca means dry ponds. The so-called dry ponds of the south east are not dry ponds but sinkholes that have collapsed into caves like Fonseca.
These fishermen saw the Spanish merchantmen passing by Fonseca and knew what everyone knew that private people were loading gold illegally on private boats to send to Spain. The Families saw how they were coming and made their plans. They knew one another, trusted one another to keep their mouths quiet. It was their only one way out of poverty.
Cobbler’s reef is a vast reef from the south to the southeast where ships were wrecked almost every day. An idea came from one particular wreck, which yielded so much gold that there was a riot. The Captain burnt the shipwreck so as to erase everything that would likely lead to identification of the ship because his cargo was illegal.
Most fishing boats carried harpoons on swivels in case a whale was spotted. Whales were good money a fifty-foot whale yielded one barrel of oil per foot and was worth about $750.00 dollars. Sometime in the 1870s the harpoons from the Helena were removed from their swivels and two or three cannon were installed on her bow. St. John, a blacksmith and the best fancy metal worker who made anything out of metal attached the guns. He worked for the Haynes family. When the family bought the Rock House, in the suburbs, and moved, Haynes, as was customary, took his workmen with him and down came from the country, St. John, the best metal worker, to change the fittings on their new home. The latches and some of the hinges made over one hundred years ago are still in the windows.
At the appointed time the Helena set sail. Forty miles out to sea she approached a Spanish freighter from behind; dovetailed it and opened fire relentlessly. The freighter could not fire back. The men on board the Helena blew out the window of the Captain’s cabin; boarded it by the stern; barred the cabin; stole trunks of gold kept in the Captain’s quarter and set the freighter on fire. All souls on board perished but on board there was a Colonel’s special, black, Spanish horse. The animal panicked at the fire; jumped over board and swam in the same direction the Helena sailed. The next morning twenty white men went down to the beach to see a beautiful, tired horse.
“This is a lovely horse, where it come from?” They asked.
The incident is recorded in the book “The Bridge” page 87 by P. K. Roach.
“Having told you of some unexplained disappearances, the next story concerns a strange appearance. Mr. Charles Skinner lived at Boscobel Estate House in St. Andrew, which is on the northern side of this island. One morning as he was casually looking out to sea, he saw a peculiar speck heading in towards the shore. It was not a boat nor did it seem to be a whale and it certainly was not a man. His interest aroused, he hurried down to the beach towards which the speck was heading and there he waited to see what the object really was. After some time he could plainly see that it was a horse, swimming for the shore. There was no sign of any ship, nor did it seem likely that the horse had been swimming in the area and was not heading back to shore because there was no one visible on the beach. Eventually the horse staggered out onto the beach and it was obvious that it was on the point of collapse. Charles Skinner went up to it and spoke soothingly to it and quietly let it up to the stable at Boscobel House. When the horse had recovered it strength, it proved to be a lovely black horse and so Mr. Skinner placed and advertisement in the newspaper saying that this horse had landed on the beach at Morgan Lewis and would the owner please get in touch with him. No one ever claimed the horse.”
There were about twenty families on board the Helena and involved in the piracy of the Spanish freighter. The majority were poor whites. These families broke out of slavery by their own efforts and with their own smartness. They understood how to use the system to their benefit. Their names can be traced in the old records by their chain of marriages. One story is that a chemist who used to make fireworks inadvertently blew up his children.
“Idone with that.” He said. The families bought his gunpowder.
The other story goes that the cannons were bought from a Confederate ship, which arrived in the island and did not have money to re-coal because Confederate money had become cheaper and cheaper. The families bought the cannons. Another story says St. John built the cannons.
Since the high court ruling pirates could no longer keep their “prizes” and piracy was a capital offence; if discovered, these families could face the gallows. In normal pirate circumstances the booty would have been divided along the certain articles in writing specifying before hand what each person would be paid for the voyage, taken from what they took on the whole expedition. The supreme law was no prey, no pay. First to be paid was the captain for the use of his ship then the carpenter or shipwright who made her fit to sail. This would be about one hundred pieces to one hundred and fifty pieces of eight. Next they allowed two hundred pieces for provisions. Finally recompense for each man should he be wounded or maimed on the voyage - for the loss of a right arm was six hundred pieces. The remains were then divided in common. The captain took five or six parts, the mate two, other officers and the seaman one. Even the boys on board got a half share. It was forbidden to take until the last counting. They swore a pledge and if someone broke the rules, he was turned out.
The Goddards and the poor whites could take their booty outright. At the turn of the century they began to buy indebted plantations. A man called McConney who could not read or write was a key man for the whites; he hid the gold coins in a cave for ten to twenty years; became the godfather to the whites and helped out many white families. His myth was that he found a trunk of gold in a cave.
Joseph Josiah Goddard was a rum blender and speculator and had a son Joseph Nathaniel. Joseph Josiah would buy a cow, walk it the fourteen miles to the market, sell it and walk back. Even when he was old his talent never deserted him. He would put his hand on a sheep.
“This one is a good piece of meat.” He would say.
“Daddy you don’t have to do that any more.” Joseph Nathaniel, would tell him in later years.
The Goddards let the money surface slowly and invested. They bought into a partnership in cold storage. When fish were plenty, no profits could be made and when they were scarce there was none to sell but with refrigeration, fish, when they were plentiful, could be frozen and sold when they were scarce. The Goddards sailed the fish into the city and put them into their new freezers. They then expanded from meat and fish into groceries and dry goods and upstairs they opened a restaurant that was the forerunner of their present airline catering business, which operates through the islands and into South America. They also opened a bar in the city.
Joseph Josiah also blended rum for a plantation and knew the formula. He began blending the famous J. N. Goddards Gold Braid Rum, a party rum, not a connoisseur, nevertheless, it is a smooth, mellow rum. They created a legend that Joseph Josiah became wealthy by walking his few cows to market. A columnist in the daily newspaper believes it:
“Old Joe Goddard, the butcher, led his cow from the country to slaughtering house in Bridgetown. The man whose family proved that a family working together and working diligently, whose motto was service could build an empire.”
He poses the question, why have not there been any black butchers to build an empire?
“I would like to see the work done by our university historians to show why they failed or did not try.”
The non-whites had problems. Blacksmiths like St John made five shilling a week. They could not turn up with money and not arouse suspicion. The Association of the non-whites was formed. The Austins buried one trunk of gold for nearly twenty years. Their story was that an old fisherman found a trunk on the beach, and old Austin bought the trunk from him, brought it home and when he opened it, it was full of gold.
Another family went to St. Lucia and one of their off spring, a St. Lucian, won a Nobel Peace Prize for Economics. Charles Austin, the boat builder, married one of them and had a son called Samuel Augustus. They went to British Guiana (B.G.) where David Augustin and Charles Austin jr. were born. David became a foreman boat builder, a mailman and was a voter in the legislature. Charles jnr. was employed in public works as a carpenter for thirteen years before he became a shopkeeper. He married and had two sons and one daughter. He was a voter in the legislature.
The Archers were another family in the association. Ernest William Archer married Mary Augustus Johnson and had a son Ferdinand Christopher. They too fled to B.G. when Ferdinand was four. Ferdinand became a master tailor and married Elizabeth Kuipe. He founded the Mateenas Football Club; was involved in black racial up-liftment; founded the New Negro Development Association and completed the erection of the Association’s charity house for the indigent of all races. His favourite recreation was football and his hobby was reform work. He was a municipal and legislature council voter.
The Austins who stayed bought a small seventy-six acre and then found £11,400 pounds to buy one of the brightest and most plum plantations with a windmill. The St. Johns married into the Browns and the Austins and pretended that they were “always rich.”
All the Browns, except one brother went to B.G. as British Guiana was called, and took their gold doubloons. The Browns kept the secrets; disguised the source of their wealth, and guarded the association. They became the treasurers; they kept the money, hid the money, invested the money in properties, lent money and handed out the dole for more than fifty years.
There were five Guianas: Spanish, (Venezuela); Portuguese (Brazil); French (Cayenne) British (Guiana) and Dutch (Surinam). The Dutch East Indian Company was granted control of the Essequibo area. Berbice was added three years later. The Dutch had Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice. During the next four decades there was constant rivalry between, the Dutch, the British, the French and Spanish over these lands. In the peace settlement of the Napoleonic wars Britain got all three, and Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were unified as British Guyana (B.G.)
In B.G. there are fast flowing rivers broken by rapids that run northwards towards the sea or northeastwards to join the great Essequebo River system, which crosses the country from the south east of the centre. It rises in the mountains in the south near the Brazilian border and flows northwards for four hundred miles to join the Atlantic in an estuary, which it shares with two other rivers. Georgetown in the south at the mouth of the Demerara River is the capital and largest city. New Amsterdam is an old Dutch Town in the very south on the Berbice River.
A dutch merchant, the first English colonist who landed in Barbados nearly starved to death. He and his brother sailed to a Dutch fort on an island in the Essequibo and asked the help of Indians there who kindly consented to come to show them how to survive. The Indians having seen the white man’s way of operating but not fully, thought the white man had words when they stipulated that while prepared to help; in exchange for their kindness they did not expect to be violated and enslaved. The colonists lied. As soon as they got their feet on the ground they used their numbers to enslave the Indians. When the Indians in the Essequibo found out from one who managed to escape the settlement as a stowaway on a boat, they burned down the Dutch fort and put a curse on the settlers. The curse became known as Courteen’s Curse after the name of the Dutch settler. All the first settlers died shortly after in most violent deaths.
The Guyanese novelist Edgar Mittleholzer (1909-65) began his historical triology in the first book of the series, “Kaywana Blood”, with the Courteen Curse. The story of “Kaywana Blood” is that the Dutch Captain of the fort who arranged with the colonist for the Indians to go to their settlement, had an Indian wife named Kaywana, the Amerindian name of the country, which means the land of many waters. She had five children for her husband. One of the Indian chiefs liked her and thought that she was going with the white Dutchman against her race. The chief was jealous and when it was discovered that the Indians were tricked and enslaved, he used this to raise a rebellion. He killed Kaywana’s husband, and tried to kill her but she killed him, with the help of her children. He did, however, kill two of her children. The two surviving sons came to own a plantation and bought Negro slaves. One was cruel and sadistic without pity for the negroes, and the other had a conscience. There was a slave rebellion and the Negroes killed the sadistic son.
The Browns arrived in Essequibo and lived at a place called Bartica where white - Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English - met African met Amerindian met East Indian: where timber, met gold, met diamonds and where they developed a system of dodging, secrecy and shifting. In the West Indies, two easy avenues to success are the help of the government and the help of white people. The families owed their place to the system and the system became their patron. They all became members of the legislature.
The mention of British Guiana, especially in the bush, was synonymous with murder and theft. The chairman of the village simply wrote out a document, which was then signed by a magistrate. This document was handed to a police constable and property was levied on and sold for a paltry amount, without the owner being afforded an opportunity of hearing before a magistrate.
Peter Brown went to Guyana. He married Jane Allick and had two sons Cardwill and Andrew. Andrew began life as a schoolmaster and was admitted to the local bar. He was the first Negro to be elected to the local legislature and was member of several government commissions. On retiring from politics he was allowed to use the title ‘honourable’ for life. This was a precedent, for a black man.
Chester Allan Sinclair Dacosta Brown was born under the sign of Virgo the son of Philip Richard Brown a blacksmith and Mary Catherine Haynes. Philip was the brother that remained home. In his will he disinherited his wife if she married after his death. Philip made his daughter and Chester Allan his executors. A life insurance policy was to be divided between his wife, Chester Allan and his five daughters. For his son Philip Nathaniel who was a lawyer in B.G. he left two dwelling houses and $500 and the remaining of his estate and property in the island or elsewhere he left to all his lawful children and if one of his heirs died before their children that share would go to the beneficiary’s heirs.
Just as his father was before him and his father’s father, Chester Allan was the accountant, the fixer, the godfather and the Grandmaster until he died. The Browns’ owned two residential properties commercial properties all over the city, carried on a blacksmith shop and a bookstore, controlled investments; lent money, collected rents, sent children to Edinburgh University and gave them the money to set up practices on their return. Children married and were given homes and passages paid when the new ones moved to B.G.
Allan’s brother John Alexander was one year older. He was sent to Edinburgh University and the Royal London Ophthalmic College where he gained an M.B., C.H.S. (Edin.) D.O.M.S. (Eng.) and studied in Vienna. He married an Austin daughter. The couple went to live in Georgetown where he became Government Opthamologist, Resident Surgeon and Chief Medical Officer. He was Vice President of the British Guiana cricket club for eight years. He loved cricket and tennis and was a voter in the municipal and legislative council. He had three sons and one daughter.
Allan’s youngest brother was Cyril Rutherford “Snuffy” Brown. Like his brothers “Snuffy” attended College. He became a solicitor and went to B.G. where he was a stipendiary magistrate. He played cricket with Allan for the club which they help found, Spartan Club, Barbados and for B.G. when he moved there. He was one of the finest bowlers in the West Indies team and one the first black men to toured England with the team in 1923 and 1928. “The first time a full-strength England was pitted against foes that included native cricketers.” England had already played East Indian Prince Ranjitsinjhi thirty years before. He played in many Test matches against the MCC in Barbados, Trinidad and B.G. and scored centuries against the MCC and against Barbados and Trinidad in Intercontinental matches. He was captain of the Berbice County Cricket Club..
The Browns who fled to B.G. married white women but Allan left behind was dark-skinned, slim, boyish, looked ten years younger than he was, and was good-looking, well-mannered and lived in a big house in a wealthy suburb with his mother, aunts and a grandmother. He was known for his level-headedness and his steadfastness and held the record for an eight-wicket partnership of 218 against B.G. He was a pillar in the society when he fell in love with an eighteen-year-old, middle-class, Carib half-breed girl, twenty years his junior.
The Associates invested through their in-laws. It is a hidden economic history. There is a wheel in the museum that was adjusted to be used in the cane fields by a blacksmith who later trained as a chemist; his name was David Stonewall Payne and he gained a B.A. in the classics from Codrington College which is now a seminary but at that time it was affiliated to the University of Durham in England. He was one of the few B.A. persons with a degree and still rarer was the fact that he was black. Although he had a degree and was a very learned classical scholar he could not teach because local people of any colour were not allowed to teach in the secondary school. Stonewall could find no job so he immigrated to the United States on a ship and worked in a store packing shirts.
A bishop back home who knew him heard of a job in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and he wrote to Stonewall to come home and to go to Africa for the job. He returned home and set off for the job in the teacher training college where he taught Kwame Nkhruma, who was to become president of Ghana. This college was the forerunner to the now famous university. Before he left, he met a mulatto woman heading canes from the now plantation owning Austin family and they married. As soon as he settled in Ghana he sent for his young bride. He spent five years with the low paying job. Some of his children were born there. He bought two trucks and went into the business of buying and selling cocoa; made money but his wife could not stand life in Ghana. They lived there for thirteen years before they came back and he switched from the academic world to sugar planting assisted by his wife’s father, who lent him the money to buy a small sugar plantation with a windmill. Years later Austin helped him buy a large plantation and property in the same area.
The young woman with whom Allan Brown fell in love and had his two daughters, his only children, was Cecilia “Sissy” Marsh. She was of Carib and white blood, although considered white. Everyone loved and respected Sissy but no one actually liked her, except her mother and Allan and her close friends. Joan, their elder daughter, was slow and did not do well at school. When Sissy pushed the listless child, Allan took her on his knee.
“Do not worry. You can do anything you want. You do not have to be bright. You can go into business.”
Dolly real name Praxeles Anthony, her sister was fat intelligent, played cricket well like her father, all her uncles and her boy cousins and played the musical saw like her mother. Praxeles means fixer, like her father. Joan saved her money and Dolly ended up taking it and she spent it on food. Two forms under Joan she was considered the candidate for the first girl to win a scholarship, but it was another who was given that honour after her father died.
“My parents were perfect parents,” Joan said, “they taught us principles and they spoke with us on everything.”
Sissy led a principled life, grew her vegetables, kept all the children in pocket money for which they had to work. Dulcie, my mother sixth born of Ena, Sissy’s only sister, had enough. “When I was a little girl, Sissy, used to make me feed an old, blind fowl before she would give me money.” Joan, “Phonkey”, my mother’s sister, felt the weight of her rules. “Sissy used to make me feed a sick dove. One day I got so vex that I pushed the food down the blasted dove's throat and made it so full that next morning the dove was dead.”
Sissy, was a friend to anyone, firm, exacting of family, friends and the society. She took care of the lame, the poor and the halt. Her sister’s smoking of cigarettes, drinking of whiskey, going out nights with her husband to play bridge and leaving her children with a nanny, she deemed frivolous behaviour and her constant pregnancies irresponsible. She studied astrology and metaphysics, wrote, and was something of a social and political activist. Ena and Sissy were two beautiful women. Ena looked more Irish with black, coarse, straight, thick hair to her waist and grey eyes while Sissy had soft fine Carib hair. Their mother, Maude, was a half-breed and their grandmother, Mama Rosa, was an Indian squaw, the daughter of a Carib chief, and was born in St. Vincent. who married William Lowther, an Irish sea Captain.
The Lowthers were British nobility whose motto is Magistratus indicat virum - the state of magistracy indicates virtue. One of their descendants was Robert Lowther who was one the longest serving the worst and most notorious governor. Arrogant and tyrannical, he stole land and committed all manners of infelicities. He fired elected members on the Executive Council and broke all the rules of the courts. He persecuted all who opposed him, threw some in jail on concocted charges and stole their land. He was appointed by Queen Anne and called back to London but she died and George I reinstated him and sent him back. On his return he overstepped his instructions and became both prosecutor and judge of those who were responsible for his recall. Finally he was shipped back where he was prosecuted for high crimes and misdemeanours but went free because of the general amnesty at the death of the King George.
A later Lowther designed the world heavyweight championship belt, which is still in use. Another founded the Automobile Association (AA). One other infamous Lowther was a pirate called George. He was a terror of the sea. Captain Massey, his partner wrote an account of Lowther’s piracy when the two fell out. Lowther eventually committed suicide. He and his pirates were careened at Blanquilla, an uninhabited island off South America, when they were surprised and attacked by a British ship. Lowther’s men surrendered. He escaped but was soon found dead, his pistol at his side.
Lowther was a mariner who became a con artist and when that failed a pirate. He plundered ships and sank them with all crew on board. He sailed from London as second mate on board a ship, which belonged to the Royal African Company. Over time and through craft, he seized the ship changed its name to the Delivery and began pirating with the crew through the Eastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico, St. Christopher (St. Kitts) “with debaucheries, with drinking, swearing and rioting, resembling devils rather than men; striving to outdo one another in new invented oaths and excerations.” From the Bay of Honduras to Grand Cayman Island he whipped, beat, cut up his victims, put them on board ships and set them on fire. His first prize was a brigantine, captured 70 miles off Barbados. Days later he plundered a French sloop off Western Hispaniola. Soon he had a fleet of four vessels when he arrived in Virginia. He captured everything in sight; ships on route from New England even fishing boats were not spared. He hit the Grand Banks of New Foundland before he returned to the Caribbean and made his last capture; a ship out of Guinea, the Princess, off Barbados from which he took fifty-four ounces of gold dust, the ships gun powder, small arms and the cargo.
Mama Rosa and her husband sailed the rivers of South America panning for gold. They brought Maude, their pre-teen daughter, to vacation with William’s sister, Jane Ann Smith. Cholera broke out and the childless aunt prolonged her stay until Maude stayed permanently. Jane Ann ran a preserve business - guava cheese, guava jelly, and other condiments - and a laundry that serviced the ships, which came into the harbour. She hired women to wash that were called ‘rambunkins’. The Lowthers family stories were handed down through the generations and they knew the Association’s real story.
“Sissy, why don't you let Allan put on that nice new grey suit that he just bought and you put on a frock and the two of you go down the church one day next week and get married?” Maude forever said. “You are not going to hurt anyone else except those two girl children you have.” Maude warned.
Sissy refused the Brown’s life financed by their blood money and their tainted name. She would not marry Allan nor accepted any of his wealth and insisted that her name not be mentioned in his will. When Allan could not persuade her to live with him in one of his many houses, much to his elderly mother and aunt’s displeasure, he left his big house and moved in with her in her smaller home across a long avenue.
“I do not think I have the right to deprive the two children of their father’s inheritance. They can decide for themselves when they are of age.” Sissy relented finally.
Allan then wrote all his transactions made his will and left his fortune to his only two children. He gave Sissy a copy of his will, which she threw it in her bedside drawer along with her other documents.
The Association presented Sissy’s rejection as a matter of white and black and saw fortunes about to fall out of their reach: the unsecured loans, the easy money and many of them and their in-laws carried on businesses in the Brown’s buildings. No sooner than the will was made than on a visit to his mother’s house Allan fell seriously ill and he was forced to spend some time. The suspicion was that he was poisoned. There was talk of a silver spoon to put into his food; if the spoon turned black then the food was poisoned. On his return home, he was recuperating when one morning the illegitimate half brother of Jube, Alan’s good friend the Solicitor General and a member of parliament, “Rugged” a pimp and political tout came with an urgent message.
“If you leave this house today you are not coming back.” Sissy told Allan. She gave him an enema to build his resistance and he and “Rugged” left together. Allan never returned. He became ill again and died a short time after.
“The last I saw of my father alive was his back. He walked away from me and as he did so, I remember, “Rugged” put his arm around my father’s back.” Says Dolly.
"That was not so bad,” Sissy said as she walked down the stairs of the Browne's family house.
"Not so bad?" said the young man who accompanied her. "They say that if you gave any trouble today they were going to throw you down the staircase and kill you."
“Well,” Sissy smarted, "since they want that for me, you see that old grandmother they have in that wheelchair, she is the one that is going fall down those same steps, not me." The grandmother some short time later fell down the very steps and died.
SOME EMINENT CONTEMPORARIES - by Alexander Hoyos.
A GREAT-HEARTED SPORTSMAN
“You have never even wooed cricket, let alone won it.” writes Neville Cardus “if you have looked on the game merely as a clever matter of bat and ball.” The fact is, continues that irrepressible “charmeur” cricket is more than a game. Its leisuredliness, the room in it for graces and amenities deliciously irrelevant, all these make for the poetry of cricket and if anyone ever gets tired of it, he is tired not only of a graceful game but of the warm sun and communion with fellows of excellent heart. That indeed expresses the spirit of the game as few definitions could and it is certain that no one in this island has given a more faithful interpretation of that spirit than Mr. C.A. Browne who died 12th October 1941 after a long period of illness. To the thousands in this island, who once shared the fascination of watching his white-clad figure on the field, he was known affectionately as “Johnnie” Browne and his passing will occasion a deep sense of personal loss to every sports-lover in Barbados.
“Chester Allan Browne was born in this island fifty-six years ago and was the son of the late Philip Browne. He was educated at Harrisons College where from an early age he gave ample indication of his prowess as an all-round athlete. His natural ability made him proficient in every game to which he set himself but it was cricket that was to charm, if not inherited his soul! Whether he was playing for Harrisons College, the kindly nursery where his talent was nurtured, for Spartan C.C. which he led during more than one season for Barbados against Trinidad or British Guiana or for the West Indies against a visiting English side, he was never with any thought of self-glorification but his service was all his side’s, given in happy devoted heart. Brilliant he undoubtedly was, yet he possessed the modesty, discretion and simple-heartedness shown by few geniuses of the game, that was the real “Johnnie” Browne and it would be difficult to exaggerate what cricket in this island has lost by his death.
“Nothing could be more pleasant to the cricket lover than to recall the magnificent deeds of “Johnnie” Browne. He possessed all the recognized strokes and on occasion was capable of improvising strokes of his own when challenged to do so by untoward circumstances. Particularly memorable are his forward drives to the off and on-sides, his powerful square and late cuts and his mighty leg-pulls. It was perhaps the power of his cut that impressed itself most deeply on the spectator and the action of it could not be better described than in the words of C.B. Fry once used of J.T. Tyldesley “he threw the bat at the ball without letting go of the handle.” Possessed of as great a variety of strokes, it is small wonder that he was to prove such an arresting personality in many an epoch-making match, who that has seen it for instance will ever forget his performance in that great struggle against Trinidad in 1927. Rain had robbed the cricket at Kensington Oval of its customary easefulness and no batsman could expect to score unless he possessed the fast and quick wit to cope with the tricks of a spinning ball. Genius, however, has no use for the laws which relate ordinary individuals to their environment and “Johnnie” Browne was to show the Kensington crowd that he could respond effectively to the stimulus of adverse circumstances. He never relied on cramped on side pushes for any of his runs. He never believed in the “two-eyed stance” that makes it extremely difficult to execute full-blooded drives to the offside or straight. The pliant, swinging bat, the alert poise on toe-point, the squared shoulders and the defiant eye, these were the characteristics of “Johnnie” Browne which he displayed to such remarkable effect to save Barbados from an ignominious collapse in the first innings against Trinidad. Events like these must always stir the memory as lovable relics of a time when there were giants in this island. They cannot put provoke all the fragile sentiment which comes with the thought of greatness now growing dim and of might spirits whose days in the sun are over.
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my rears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro, to and fro.
Jube and “Rugged” produced a will, which they claimed was made when Allan was ill at his mother’s house and was witnessed by the two of them. The will was lodged for probate by Jube
“I give and bequeath unto Joan Gloria Browne the daughter of Cecilia Marsh the sum of six hundred and twenty-five pounds to bear interest at the rate of four pounds per centum per annum from my death.
“I give and bequeath unto Praxeles Anthony Browne daughter of Cecilia Marsh the sum of six hundred and twenty-five pounds to bear interest at the rate of four pounds per centum per annum from my death.
“I empower my trustee during the minority of the said Joan Gloria Browne and during the minority of the said Praxeles Anthony Brown to apply the whole or such part as my trustees shall think fit of the incomes of the expectant legacies of the said Joan Gloria Browne and of the said Praxeles Anthony Browne for or towards the maintenance or education of the said Joan Gloria Browne and Praxeles Anthony Browne with power to pay the same to the guardian or guardians of the said Joan Gloria Browne and Praxeles Anthony Browne for the purpose without seeing the application thereof and I direct that the surplus income shall be accumulate at compound interest and such accumulation shall devolve therewith but shall always be liable to be applied for the purpose aforesaid as if the same were income arising in the then current year.”
At Allan’s death Sissy gave her copy of the will to Jube and it was never seen again. Joan and Dolly, in Jube and rugged’s will were not identified as Allan’s children. Allan had tried to put his house and conscience in order and disentangle himself from the dirty business but he could never retire.
Allan had written a letter to Sissy for every day he knew her which contained a lot of information and the manuscript of her unpublished non-fiction book “The Best People do not Always Live in the Biggest Houses,” which was immensely critical and an important chronicle of the events of that time, the emerging politicians, the political situations, the fortunes, biographies and indiscretions meant that the Association could not allow this information to become public knowledge. To know the Browns’ story is to know the roots of the present political elite when they were emerging and were young and careless.
They tried to ruin her and destroy her and disinherit her children. Her life became continuous persecution. Jube, with whom she became estranged, in the end, insisted that in all conscious he could not see his friend’s children totally disinherited as was planned. He secured, after sometime $4,000 for each of them after Sissy had to remove her last daughter from college because one term she could not meet the school fees. Even so, the children had to wait until they were twenty-one, five and seven years later while hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and property were divided up and disappeared. Joan and Dolly reached twenty-one and inherited the $4,000 each. Sissy’s first two grand children from Joan were born when she died seven years after Allan’s death. I was two years old.
“You are just like my mother. She had to know everything.” Dolly chuckled. “Someone would say something and she would disagree. She would go to her books and if she could not prove it there, she would send to the ends of the world for an answer. She knew so much she even knew when she would die.” In essence play the game or “end up like Sissy.”
Sissy wrote to India to a mystic for a detailed horoscope for herself. The reading said that if she survived her fortieth year she would live to a ripe old age. She died in her fortieth year.
“My mother died when she thought of the hardship her children faced. The day my sister had to leave school my mother died inside.” Joan says.
"I had always hoped to see my two children to womanhood." Sissy cried the day she left her home to go to the hospital. She knew she was about to die. Dolly said that it was the first and only time she saw her mother cry.
Joan received her money two years before her mother’s death. She married a young man from a large family and invested with them. Dolly married one of the Austins, bought an Austin Princess car and her husband gamble away the rest of her inheritance on football pools.
The girls sought a new way of life. The huge teches for the making of preserves that had supported the family for over a century were turned down. Sissy’s encyclopaedias were left to the younger generation to look through for pictures; her crystal ball along with her astrological charts, her recipes for alchemy, her metaphysical books were destroyed. Allan’s hundreds of letters were burnt along with Sissy’s manuscript as Joan and Dolly joined the people who destroyed their parents. The noble ideas, their family’s Indian spirit and the old ways of the fore parents were broken. The new generation would live without the knowledge of their heritage or blood, existing only to produce, consume and pass away.
I, Sissy’s great niece, her sister’s first grandchild and the repository of these stories, was born December 24th 1946, the first Christmas after the War, and the year in which the Cold War began. Winston Churchill spoke of the fall of an “Iron Curtain” in East Europe. The German Fascist theory and method of “Cold War”; the art of defeating nations with little or no fighting was popularized and adopted in a new post-war balance of power. There was from this point onward no moral sanctity in human affairs and the world gave birth to a new generation of children who would know of no truth - simply empty shibboleths, the baby boomers of the lost generation.
Walter “Jube” Walton Reece, Q.C. was District Grand Master of the Scottish Fraternity of Masons. He was the son of H. Walter Reece who was descended from a plantation owner and his slave. “Jube” was born in the Jubilee year of the late Queen Victoria, and thus his nickname. He was astute, handsome, popular, quick-witted with eyes of steel and completely untrustworthy. He was elected to the House of Assembly and was the Attorney General’s junior, the Solicitor General. He was a good lawyer but was politically corrupt. He appeared to be Allan’s best friend, but the relationship was for his own purpose. In a newspaper article he was described: as despite having a hail-well-met manner as subtle, dangerous, below contempt, caring only for his own ends and behaved as he pleased and caring not for public opinion. Unlike his father and family who married white women he acknowledged his black blood in order to manipulate the black electorate but advocated that their fourteen-year-old children should be put out of elementary school. He eventually lost his seat.
“Do not trust him.” Maude warned when “Rugged” came to the house with Jube. She kept him in the kitchen. “Where he belongs.” Rugged was not allowed into decent drawing rooms.
“Rugged” was the son of Jube’s father and his maid. He looked like a dark version of Jube. The mother and child were shipped out to America. His mother was an Estwick and how he got the name Mottley and what he did in the States are a mystery. He returned in the mid 30s. Officially there is not much written about him, not his mother’s name or who his father was. His obituary reads:
“Like most Barbadians he [Mottley] returned to his old home bringing with him an air of worldliness and youthful sophistication and this at once brought him a following of youngsters.”
Rugged was a pimp and the youngsters spoken of were the young girls and boys he supplied to mainly the white and wealthy gamblers. He married and kept a stable of young girls from whom he had many children. His obituary continues:
“He was popular and soon entered his first business with the Brighton Club on Brighton Beach. Club life was given a much-needed fillip and so Mottley attained the status of a man about town. Closely connected with the Reece family of lawyers, he soon acquired a deep knowledge of the social and political life of Barbados. He exchanged club life for real estate. Values were changing and the land hunger that was quite noticeable made his effort a successful financial proposition. It kept him in the swing of things political because of the anxiety of small landowners to get past the Registration Officer and have their names added to the three thousand voters list with an unchallengable land qualification. This was the key to Mottley’s success. He knew everybody and everybody knew him so that when he hoisted his own political banner he found ready support. Sugar suffered one of its many setbacks and plantations as well as tenantries and small lots were sold and Mottley was in the thick of things. During this time he had been assisting in the political campaigns of members for the House of Assembly and the Vestry.”
He attached himself to Jube and began touting. A barrister’s tout is described in the “Wayside Sketches” of the 30s as:
“Our tout usually attaches himself to one (and sometimes more than one) of our barristers and plays the role which the pilot fish takes the shark to its victims. He may often be seen browsing in the courtyard and with a vast army of people always eager to “ha up!” somebody. Blessed with a conniving manner, very often he supplements his income by making out documents and complaints.”
Later Rugged become the first political tout, touting for Jube and a newly formed conservative party of the planters. With the lowering of the franchise in the thirties, the white planters formed a party to counteract a newly formed political party of the blacks, and they used him to secure black votes. They divided up a plantation into small lots and gave him the land to sell to the poor black people, which allowed them to be registered as voters for the planters.
In his award-winning novel “In the Castle of My Skin” (1953), George Lamming wrote about a thinly disguised fictional character called Mr. Slime, who swindled the people of a village out of their land.
Mr. Slime, in reality, was a former teacher who hooked up with Rugged. The teacher changed profession and began to wear two hats. He became a real estate agent and opened a people’s bank. The real estate came out from where he lived in the suburbs where all around and opposite were two plantations with an enormous village of squatters next to the main river, which flooded every summer.
The real Mr. Slime and his directors of the bank who were also the newly emerging, black, political elite, collected money from the poor blacks around him for their bank and told them that he would arrange with the landowner to let them buy their lots. They took the money the people put in the bank and bought the land from the plantation for themselves then sold off some of the plots from under them; some they offered to sell which the people had rented for generations, at inflated prices and when they could not afford to pay threw them off of it; some tenants they arranged to put in the alms house. They sold some pieces of land twice and three times.
This is the main plot of Lamming’s “In the Castle of My Skin”, who turned it into a symbol of the people’s hopes and dreams sold out by the politicians of the thirties, and in the atmosphere of corruption and social breakdown that prevailed. saw it as the necessity for each to make their ‘castle in the skin.’ The hero of the story, G, is Lamming himself, who was brought up in the area and he hints that he overheard the organizers of the land swindle plotting the murder of an elderly resident who refused to move.
At my birth a bank account was open with $30.00 in my name on this bank and money added for birthdays and presents. Before long it was gone along with the hundreds of poor people. Amazingly, the Labour Party for whom Slime’s son is a prominent supporter, has recently honoured him posthumously for his work with “poor black people.” It was said that “Rugged” made $5 million dollars. His obituary continues:
“Mottley showed an early magnetism and oratory that captured the hearts of the electorate whenever he called upon them.”
Rugged hooked up with a real estate agent who wrote every speech for him and taught him the real estate business. He handed out bribes and charity money and other forms of welfare in exchange for votes. Soon the planters placed him on many of their committees from whence he dispensed political patronage, commanded loyalties, and victimized whom he wished. He was elected as a member of their party and became mayor of the city. Nevertheless in the end he found himself the lone member of their party.
When Jube died, Rugged bought Reece Chambers, the Reece’s business and the huge library belonging to Jube and he sold the library to the law society. Today his eldest son occupies the building and has changed the name to Mottley Chambers.
“If I cannot get him out of the City. I will take the City out from him.” The leader of the Democrats said when he came to power. He abolished the local vestry system in order to get Rugged out of the city.
Mittleholzer, lived on the island for several years. He was born in New Amsterdam, B.G. His family was German and had been there for several generations where they were voters in the legislative council and members of the cricket club. Mittleholzer looked like a Caribbean man with Spanish blood. He was good-looking, fantastically intelligent and gained international acclaim and success as a writer in the 50's - the first writer from the Caribbean to do so. He liked and played Wagner’s music and was very proud of his Germanic origins. He was a Zen Buddhist and had one daughter. While in the island he wrote two articles “Miss Clarke Is Dying” and “Of Casurinas and Cliffs” and a novel “Of Trees of the Sea” all set at the Austin’s plantation. In another novel, “The Life and Death of Sylvia”, set in the corrupt society of Guyana but written and completed in Barbados; a solicitor, Mr. Knight, discovers a proxy note in Sylvia’s recently deceased father’s drawer and when she rejects his lewd advances in exchange for help; he and destroys the note so that the mortgage on Sylvia’s house is foreclosed on. The solicitor gradually reduces Sylvia, her brother Dave and her mother to poverty. He also wrote a novel, in 1959, under the name of Milton Woolsley called “The Mad MacCullocks.” An Austin or two by then living at their great plantation house on the windswept high ridge were said to have gone mad and were referred to as “The Mad Miller-Austins”.
Mittleholzer wrote “My Bones and My Flute” in the 1950s but the novel is set in the 1930s in Berbice, at the Berbice Timber and Balata Company about a well-know coloured family into which Mr. Ralph Nevinson, the main protagonist is married. The story is a recreation of the Browns story. Mittleholzer portrayed them as philistines in spite of their cultured way of life. Nevinson is terrified and about to go out of his mind and can be compared to Gershon Onesimus Brown. Nevinson spends all forty-seven of his years in New Amsterdam except for two years during the Great War when he joined the West Indian regiment and served in Egypt and Palestine. Gershome Onesimus Browne spent four years in the Egyptian expeditionary forces in World War I. His father operated a hardware store in New Amsterdam and was twice Mayor of that town. Gershome had a brother Walter Victor Browne who operated Pires and Silva’s Drug Store in Bartica. Both the fictional character and the real one shared a love of music. Nevinson’s grandfather was an Anglican priest well known for his good work in lower districts and for the church he erected. By comparison, Ferdinard Christopher Archer was taken to Guyana when he was four years old. He was born to Ernest William Archer and his wife Mary Augustus nee Johnson - Mary Johnson is the model for Mr. Nevinson’s wife. He married Elizabeth Kuipe and founded Maltenos Football Club and he began race up-liftment work and founded the New Negro Development Association. He completed the erection of the Association’s charity house for the indigent of all races.
The Association was very powerful so Mittleholzer was not at liberty to write a non-fiction book about these series of events so he wrote the images and showed the minds of the characters. The millieu of the times and the people of which he wrote are however clear for the diligent researcher.
“My Bones and my Flute” is about blood, race and soil. Mittelholzer wanted to emphasize how the races came together. The novel is about the effect the supernatural has on the mind and will of the weak and the strong: people under a curse, who must bring out the bones of skeletons in their closet and bury them otherwise the curse will follow them and their children.
“…what happened to us at Goed de Vries was of supernatural causes. There is no explanation that will satisfy conventional canons of reason – and I cannot help if I am called irrational or unscientific for saying so...
“…As I writer, I am weighed down all the while with the depressing knowledge that perhaps not two percent of my readers will credit a word of what I am now putting myself to so much trouble to do...
“…We were aware of that not-too-sane, aerial feeling of being in the midst of occult events and yet still conscious of the common-place routine of existence; sensible to the normal around us, yet, within, intelligent of something beyond our control that had intruded upon the reality of things…
“…In the final analysis it will be discovered that I am a person possessed of an innately morbid disposition, and I have no doubt that it is because of this, coupled with the circumstance that at the age of nineteen I succeeded in ridding my scheme of thought of all my former religious fears relating to the perils of the hereafter, that the prospect of my own death does not terrify or even dismay me...”
The story is an allegory of the sale of one’s soul to the devil – the Faustus Legend. The curse began two centuries before in the 1763 Berbice Rebellion in the interior with Jan Pieter Voorman, a Dutchman owner of Horstenland plantation who calls his slaves black hordes and the devil’s demons blacker hordes. He made a deal with the devil and sold his soul for the ability to create extra notes on a flute, so that he could invent a flute with a wider range of music. Voorman was sure that if he put his soul in the music, he could achieve immortality through the notes and defeat the devil. The devil double-crosses him and comes back for his soul the moment he discovers the notes.. Voorman ignores the slave rebellion and refuses to get off the plantation because he thinks he can make himself immortal before the slaves take his body.
The story is about the battle between good and evil, man and devil. The devil did not say how long Voorman was suppose to enjoy his gift, and he took Voorman’s soul as soon as he discovered the notes, making it impossible for him to live to enjoy his discovery. Mittleholzer wanted to show that the devil’s favours bring unhappiness because enjoyment cannot be obtained without a soul. Evil is the great corrupter of the spirit.
Two hundred years later, Mr. Nevinson who likes old relics is left an old manuscript in a closed tin by an old buffiando (Indian-black half-breed) after his death, and instructions to keep it shut away in safety from daylight and fire and that the manuscript must never be touched at anytime. Nevinson ignores the warning although he knew that most people at the plantation believed the curse and took out the manuscript to examine and translate it for the document is in Dutch. The curse descends upon him and he begins to hear Voorman’s music. The curse is:
“He who touches this parchment seals himself in a pact with Jan Pieter Voorman, to listen to my music, and later, when I beckon to join me in death. They have robbed me and massacred my wife and children who should have departed for St. Eustatius on the Standvastigheid. I shall never rest till the day my bones and my flute are found and interred with Christian rites. I place a curse and plague upon the person or persons who may touch this parchment. My roving presence shall pester him or them unto death unless my wishes are carried out. Gnashing my teeth on this fourth day of March, I shall curse the Blacker Ones. To him who seeks release from this pact and would put my soul at peace, let him heed what now follows, and so be led to the discovery of my bones and my flute and my musket.”
Jessie, the Nevinson’s young daughter, finds the manuscript, among her father’s things, touches it out of curiosity and also begins to hear the music. Milton Woolsley, the author of the book is a young painter whom Nevinson tricks into coming to Van de Goode de Vries, his plantation, by offering him money to paint some pictures, but in truth and fact Nevinson wants him there because he was scared and seeking help. The young painter touches the manuscript, and hears the music. Nevinson’s wife artificial in her behaviour but charming does not want to hear anything about the curse, no matter if everyone else knows, she wants to stay oblivious to the sound of the flute and does not want to get to the bottom of the problem. She tries to burn the manuscript and by so doing unleashes a new terror, the blacker demons. Mittleholzer shows the contradiction in her thinking: if she doesn’t believe in the curse why does she want to burn the manuscript. The Nevinsons and Milton are forced to look for the plantation; find the bones, flute and his musket and bury them but like the history of the families, the plantations are overgrown. The story is about the artist, and the bourgeois type of life from which Mittleholzer turned away. It is also about the necessity of a society to come to grip with the legacy and history of its ancestors.
The professors of literature of the University of the West Indies criticize Mittleholzer’s work as having a personal obsession. They claim that he is emotionally involved with his fiction and is obsessed with looking for inherited strains of bad blood. They put it down to Mittleholzer not knowing what colour he was and write that he was in deep disharmony with himself. Other critics have written that he demands too much of his readers and neither explains the images nor shows whether they are in his mind or the characters. They say they are bewildered by his writings. The deep disharmony the professors talk about is within the society and not knowing the history of the societies they are unable to understand. Or the alternative is that they simply did not want to know.
“My Bones and my Flute” is the fiction behind Sissy’s non-fiction book “The Best People Do Not Live in the Biggest Houses.” The great houses of the oligarchy, cut from coral stone and made with the labour of slaves are haunted by their space. Historians talk about the grandeur of their architecture, the opulence, and the workmanship. The silence, the quiet in the house and the interiors of these homes have their own memories and their own images. They are great monuments to the greed cursed with blood in the quest of gold in the New World.
Is the New World cursed? And if so, is it in the blood of the races all running together; or is it the shape of the devil itself? These are the things Mittleholzer pondered for he knew the history of the Association; analyzed their actions and placed them in the context of world civilization.
To tell the history of these families is to try to stop the unfair patronage. It is to understand the composition the political oligarchy who devise the modern day version of the 18th Century West Indian Company. There is, however, the Carib child who unlike Mittleholzer who wrote the story in fiction, set himself afire and burnt to death, has faced their demons, fashioned a flute out of their bones and though the music has long faded has retained the seed and written a modern symphony. They believe that they have outsmarted the devil by using a society gone mad with greed.