19 May 2022
Diederik Oostdijk is Professor of English and American Literature at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and was a 2021 Eccles Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
The British Library is an excellent place to do cross-media research. During my research stint, I intended to study the working relationship between poets and visual artists, especially Ted Hughes (1930-1998) and Leonard Baskin (1922-2000). As a consequence, I spent most of my time in the Manuscripts Reading Room where papers of both are held. In addition to finding many relevant letters and manuscript drafts that reveal how the English poet and American artist collaborated, I found plenty of doodles and drawings that showed the genesis of several books on which the two worked together. The detailed finding aids on the British Library website often describe these, but they cannot do justice to the experience of seeing this visual material in person. In order to take photographs or have scans made, it is necessary to acquire permission from the copyright holders, so it is advisable to seek this before making the trip to the British Library. It is much more of an ordeal to do that after visiting.
The British Library’s holdings of fine press materials was equally relevant for my research, but to check these out I needed to go one floor down, to the Rare Books & Music Reading Room.1 Hughes and Baskin collaborated on many books that were published by their own publishers, Eremite Press and Gehenna Press, respectively. The leather bindings containing the richly illustrated books printed on handmade paper are sights to behold. Some of the fine presses were short lived and have remained obscure, but they often presented young authors with their first opportunity to publish, or gave established writers the chance to try out new approaches for their work. It allowed Hughes, for instance, to express his grief about Assia Wevill and Sylvia Plath in poems hidden in limited and sumptuously designed editions, years before this became public knowledge with his more public Birthday Letters, which he issued through a commercial publisher.
In a different corner of the same reading room, I listened to many interviews with poets, painters and photographers. These recordings are not accessible from outside the British Library, but through a few desktop computers of the Rare Books & Music Reading Room. They include radio recordings, footage made at and by the British Library, and assorted other tapes that were digitized. I was able to listen to dozens of digitized cassette tapes that Ian Hamilton recorded for his biography of the American poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977). He only used a tiny fraction of these interviews for his book. This raw material will undoubtedly give researchers new leads, insights, and ideas, as Hamilton could obviously not pursue all angles, and there are always unexpected pronouncements in these interviews that are waiting to be explored further. Not all links that I clicked on worked, but the reference staff encouraged me to fill out forms when that occurred, so that they could help repair the broken links.
The physical papers of the Ian Hamilton collection are still largely unprocessed, and so not readily accessible. Yet the curators are interested in making portions of them available if scholars can specify what exactly they are looking for. I was lucky to be able to peruse some transcripts of interviews and some correspondence from that collection that are not yet detailed in finding aids, but that I can now use for my research. The joy of searching through boxes and folders of unsorted material is the distinct pleasure of being like a kid in a candy store. Every time you open a folder or box you don’t know what it will contain, and I discovered nuggets that I know will become part of articles or essays that I will write down the line. I was allowed to look at these unsorted papers in the Maps Reading Room, yet another reading room that I could add to my tally at the British Library.
My favorite research experience was looking at Fay Godwin’s contact sheets and photographs in the Visual Arts Reading Room. Tucked away in the much larger Asian and African one, this tiny reading room is only open from 10.30am to 12.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and you need to make an appointment before going there. Godwin (1931-2005) was an English photographer who collaborated with Hughes on a book, Remains of Elmet, about the area of Yorkshire where Hughes grew up. Godwin, however, also took photographs of many poets and writers, including of Lowell. The contact sheets and developed prints held in the Visual Arts Reading Room allow one to retrace the photographer’s steps. The sequence of shots helps you to see how she conceived of several images, and decided which one to single out to develop as a photograph. Godwin clearly wanted to showcase chess pieces in her photograph of Robert Lowell, for instance, when she visited him and his wife Caroline Blackwood at Milgate House in Kent in 1971. He stares intently and bemused into her camera, and as viewers we are interested in observing the next move in his life, and also Godwin’s next move as photographer.
The limited access time and spacing in the Visual Arts Reading Room made me value the opportunity and experience of viewing this unique visual material even more. Like visiting the other reading rooms, it deepened my interest into how poets and visual artists collaborated together. To make the most of your research time at the British Library, it is surely important to plan ahead, but also to allow for chance to occur. Allow some time to wander around, and to inspect some of the other reading rooms that you were not intending to visit. You never know what you will find.
1. A guide to the British Library's post-1945 US fine press holdings may be found here (fourth item down).
07 February 2022
This fourth instalment of our Americas e-resources blog series focuses on women in the US, both historic and contemporary, but may also prove a useful starting point for exploring women’s lives and experiences in other parts of the Americas and Oceania.1
Having recently curated a large exhibition on women’s rights in the UK at the British Library, we are well aware of the challenges involved in organising a topic as varied, contested and capacious as ‘women.’ It has been interesting to see, therefore, how some of the major digital recourses have been organised into different thematic strands.
On Adams Matthews's Gender: Identity and Social Change, for instance, themes include women’s suffrage, feminism and the men’s movement as well as employment and labour, education and the body.
Drawing from collections in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, the resource offers full text access to monographs, periodicals and archives from the early nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Among other riches is the archive of Betty Friedan, feminist activist and co-founder of both the National Organisation for Women and the National Abortion Rights League (digitised from the Schlesinger Library). The archive includes Friedan's survey and accompanying notes about the satisfaction of female graduates in 1957, a piece of work which informed her seminal 1963 publication The Feminine Mystique. As letters sent to Freidan shortly after the book’s publication reveal, some readers objected strongly to the notion of ‘the problem which has no name’, the existence of women’s malaise which The Feminine Mystique identified.
For an analysis of women and popular, commercial culture, Proquest’s Vogue Archive is hugely illuminating. With full of coverage of American Vogue from the magazine’s first issue in 1892 to the current month, the archive showcases evolving fashions, photography and design as well as being a record of culture, society and aspiration over more than a century. The subject search engine allows for close analysis and the outline statistics for coverage across years provides both a snapshot of topics and their popularity at any given time. A search for ‘abortion', for instance, reveals a peak of 158 mentions between 1990 and 1999, compared to 74 between 1970 and 1979, and 9 from 1960 to 1969. Careful indexing and high-resolution colour page images render the magazine accurately and allow for detailed searches as well as providing evidence of the frequency fashion, style, photography.
Everyday Life & Women in America is published by Adam Matthews and supports the study of American social, cultural and popular history. Offering access to rare primary source material from both the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History at Duke University and The New York Public Library, it includes fully searchable monographs, pamphlets, periodicals and broadsides addressing 19th and early 20th century political, social and gender issues, religion, race, education, employment, marriage, sexuality, home and family life, health, and pastimes. One of the periodicals on offer is Town Topics: The Journal of Society (1887 – 1923). In its day, this was an essential source of articles and commentary on art, music, literature, society, gossip and scandal not only for the socially ambitious, but also for established families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. Today, this full-run of issues provides a unique insight into the Gilded Age.
Everyday Life & Women in America is also rich in guides to social conduct and domestic management literature. One example from a vast selection is American Ladies' Memorial; an indispensable home-book for the wife, mother, sister; In fact, useful to every lady throughout the Unites States (1850). This covers topics such as embroidery and painting as well as etiquette and behavioural advice. In ‘A few Rules for the Wise’ the author advises ‘ladies’ should ‘Control the temper’ as well as ‘use but little ceremony, else your guests will not feel at ease.’
For the records pertaining to suffrage and women’s rights organisations as well as women at work during the World War II, a good place to start is the History Vault women’s study module Struggle for Women's Rights: 1880-1990, Organizational Records. This includes financial records, letters, papers, diaries and scrapbooks and more taken from the University Publications of America Collections. Records include those from the National Women’s Party, League of Women Voters and the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor and the correspondence of the director of the Women’s Army Corps. A recent addition are the birth control campaigner, sex educator and nurse Margaret Sanger’s papers.
Three platforms worth exploring, despite being somewhat challenging to navigate, are The Gerritsen Collection, Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History, and North American Women’s Letters and Diaries. The latter contains the first-person experiences of 1,325 women through 150,000 pages of diaries and letters, while Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History brings together hundreds of accounts by women of their travels across the globe from the early 19th century to the late 20th century. A wide variety of forms of travel writing are included, from unique manuscripts, diaries and correspondence to drawings, guidebooks and photographs. The resource includes a slideshow with hundreds of items of visual material, including postcards, sketches and photographs.
Spanning four centuries, The Gerritson Collection draws together content from Europe, the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This archive of books, pamphlets and periodicals on suffrage, women’s consciousness and feminism was originally collected by the nineteenth century Dutch physician and feminist Aletta Jacobs Gerritsen and her husband. Today, the collection contains more than 4,700 publications including a substantive body of material pertaining to anti-suffrage, for example Carrie Chapman Catt's Ought Women to Have Votes for Members of Parliament? (1879) and Anti-Suffrage Essays by Massachusetts Women (1916).
This is the tiniest snapshot of the material available via the Library’s electronic resources pertaining to women in the US, but hopefully it demonstrates the wealth of primary and secondary source material that have been collated from archives and libraries around the world and made available through single-access platforms.
Later this month, we will look at the Library's Americas literary e-resources!
Polly Russell, Head, The Eccles Centre
1. All of the databases referred to here are full-text and need to be consulted on-site at the Library.
20 January 2022
N.B. This article may contain descriptions which are outdated and/or culturally/racially insensitive
Slave sugar sweetened the British economy for over three hundred years. As abolitionist discourse grew over the course of the 18th century, the operations of British-owned Caribbean sugar plantations became a contentious subject. Even after abolition, the economics of the post-emancipation sugar trade remained a bitter question in British politics. In 1848, amidst revolutions and financial crises, it was sugar that dominated debate in the Commons, as Disraeli noted in his biography of Bentinck:
“Singular article of produce! What is the reason of this influence? It is that all considerations mingle in it; not merely commercial, but imperial, philanthropic, religious; confounding the legislature and the nation lost in a maze of conflicting interests and contending emotions”.
The library has recently acquired five bills of lading dating from 1714-1800. They are printed forms recording the receipt of goods transported by sea, with gaps for the addition of specific information by hand. In their printed contents alone, they are unassuming pieces of administrative ephemera. However, the devil is in the details. Three of the bills were completed by Dudley Woodbridge on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, an organisation that lobbied for the greater influence of the Church of England within Britain’s burgeoning empire. The Society spanned the Atlantic, including Barbados, where it operated a slave-worked sugar plantation. It is from this plantation that these bills originate.
They detail three separate shipments of sugar from Barbados to England from May 1714 to April 1715. Though all three are penned by Woodbridge, each bill lists a different ship and captain. More can be learned of these ships when cross-referenced with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. For instance, one bill details a shipment transported upon the ship ‘Smith Frigate’, captained by John Riding, and signed in Barbados, 29th April 1715. When searching the database for ‘Smith Frigate’, one finds a detailed entry which tells the story of a 200 ton ship, responsible for carrying 287 enslaved people from Cape Coast Castle to Barbados in 1714. Fourteen people died during middle passage of this voyage. The ship returned to England in 1715, taking the sugar with it. By presenting this information side-by-side, we can contextualise the sugar trade and its inextricable relationship with slavery in the 18th century.
Another bill details the transport of twenty hogsheads of sugar from Kingston to London in April 1778. It is signed by the carrier, Captain James Moore, and the form has been completed by the agent, Malcolm Laing. Once again, this document is enriched when compared against databases. Laing appears on the UCL Legacies of British Slavery database as a resident slave-owner from Kingston. During probate of his estate in 1782, he owned 93 enslaved persons, 44 of which were male and 49 female. 30 were children. Unlike the other bills, this one survived with its original paper envelope. The envelope is addressed to William Philip Perrin, owner of five estates in Jamaica, inherited from his father. Further archival evidence attests to the scale of Perrin’s operations in Jamaica, where enslaved persons were forced to labour on sugar plantations, further engorging Perrin’s healthy capital. The sale of sugar from these plantations turned a profit of £4,500 per annum, equivalent to approximately £400,000 today. Perrin never visited Jamaica.
Careful consideration has been given to how these items are catalogued. It was important to contextualise these items, using supporting information drawn from databases such as those mentioned above. Unsurprisingly, none of these refers to the individuals who were kidnapped, sold, and enslaved for the production of sugar. Yet, sugar and slavery are inextricably related, and to describe such resources without any indication of this association would be reductive. Subject headings related to slavery have been included alongside those of shipping and trade. Summary notes have been added to enhance the historical context of the documents, and citations refer to the databases where this information is collated. One inescapable tragedy is that the enslaved individuals from these plantations cannot be named, but their slavers can. For named individuals, such as William Philip Perrin and Malcolm Laing, authorised name entries have been created, with adequate biographical information detailing who they were and how they made their money. By linking our catalogue records with data from other sources, we are able to enrich our metadata to contextualise these documents, and provide a valuable description of what they are and what they represent.
 Disraeli, Lord George Bentinck, (London, 1852), page 530.
 The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in obo in Atlantic History (Accessed December 2021).
Blog post by
02 November 2021
As an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library in September 2021, I was interested in material from late eighteenth-century British North America relating to American Loyalists and race issues in Atlantic Canada. The economic, political, military and social consequences of the American War of Independence had been major for the British empire. However, my focus was on the exiles from America and the relocation of thousands of Loyalists and disbanded soldiers within the empire.
After the outbreak of the war in 1776, 'Tories' - Loyalist inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies - together with their slaves, Black and Native Loyalists, as well as disbanded soldiers, migrated to Atlantic Canada, the British West Indies, Great Britain and Botany Bay to seek refuge. The first evacuation took place in 1776 when Loyalists from Boston chose to settle in Nova Scotia. Formerly called Acadia, it had been a British territory since the end of French and Indian War when many New Englanders migrated there after the expulsion of the French Acadians. The largest evacuations occurred years later from Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, in 1782, from New York City in 1783 and from St-Augustine, in East Florida until 1785.
Propaganda promoting the reception of Loyalists within the empire spread rapidly in pamphlets and newspapers. The image below, for example - 'The reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain, in the year 1783' by H. Moses - details the variety of social status and ethnicities of the Loyalists. We can see Britannia opening her arms to American loyal subjects, to Natives and to Blacks.
A wide range of documents illuminating these massive departures still exist, including petitions, muster rolls, letters, handbills, maps, and official registers either written by British officials or civilians. At the British Library, the Clarkson Papers and the miscellaneous letters and papers relating to American affairs, contain several petitions from disbanded soldiers and Loyalists to obtain land in order to settle in British American colonies.
Unsurprisingly, the question of land seems to have preoccupied the British government and the settlers throughout the War; not owning property meant being excluded from the shareholder status and its ensuing political rights. In 1782 a strong push began in Britain to offer land in Jamaica, Bermuda, St-Lucie, Barbados and the Bahamas islands to Loyalist planters from the southern colonies. The main arguments used were the possibility of bringing the slaves to the British West Indies which offered the accustomed warm climate and agricultural system. The opportunity to bring thousands of new planters or white settlers with slaves to the British Caribbean was essential in order to maintain the slave societies on these islands. But how could Free Black and Native Loyalists be integrated into this slaveholding system with their liberated, manumitted or free-born status?
In order to accommodate this massive arrival of Loyalist settlers, towns were founded or extended and provisioned. Land had to be quickly divided into lots in order to be distributed to about 10,000 people in Jamaica, 5,000 in the Bahamas and hundreds in St-Lucie, Bermuda and Barbados. In some cases these Loyalists doubled or tripled the black and white population of the territories. One must bear in mind the challenge of rapidly organising the evacuation and resettlement of so many refugees while dealing with the peace treaty and trade regulations between Great Britain, France and the United States of America. If we take the example of Canada, muster rolls indicate the large number of disbanded troops, Loyalists and slaves who arrived in Upper/Lower Canada, and Nova Scotia. In 1784, while the province of Quebec was receiving more than 5,500 new settlers, Nova Scotia had more than 28,000 Loyalists including about a thousand slaves and 3,000 Black Loyalists (Native Loyalists were excluded from general musters).
Beyond the British empire, land acquisition was also a huge issue in the settlement of the Black Loyalists and the Black Poor out of Britain and Atlantic Canada to Sierra Leone, Africa, in 1787 and 1792. Promises of land - between five and twenty acres - were given by the Sierra Leone Company to the 1,190 coloured men, women and children from the Black Loyalists community in Canada willing to participate in the British project 'Back to Africa'.
Land was also very much linked to economic concerns, since each Loyalist and their descendants were allowed to request financial compensation from the British government for any loss in the Thirteen Colonies. In the 1784 Land Claim Commission register extending to 1815, 47 Black Loyalists out of thousands of claimants gave lists of their lost properties in America. Consequently, the massive arrivals of new settlers shaped a Loyalist mosaic and participated in creating multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-linguistic societies in the late eighteenth-century British empire.
These documents unquestionably permit a more detailed research of the Loyalist diaspora and the under-studied question of land distribution. Social studies of Loyalists can also encompass these records in order to examine a broader cultural outcome in modern British societies.
By Seynabou Thiam-Pereira, Eccles Visiting Fellow
17 September 2021
This blog by Rebecca Goetz (Visiting Fellow, 2018) is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research across the British Library's Americas collections by scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre's Awards.
In my work at the British Library in June and July 2019, I was particularly interested in documents from the late seventeenth-century Caribbean that might shed light on illegal and quasi-legal slave raiding and slave trading – moments when the evil but nonetheless completely legal (and indeed, highly regulated) trafficking in African and Indigenous American human life that we know as the Atlantic slave trades collided with the criminal or legal grey worlds of pirates and privateers. Jamaica was a particularly volatile meeting point between these different forms of maritime violence, trade and enterprise. The English seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, and in the course of the next few decades, the newly-conquered island became a haven for pirates and privateers, and not coincidentally, a locus of the shadowy world of intra-European slave trading. I wanted to know how and where Europeans raided and traded for enslaved people, Indigenous and African alike. One paragraph in the records of the governor’s council of Jamaica caught my eye (Sloane MSS 1599). I had not expected to find such a vivid tale of extralegal slaving, Spanish-English rivalry, and treason against the English Crown in the British Library’s manuscripts collection – and yet here we were!
On 13 March 1688 , Captain Edward Reddish appeared before the council, asking for assistance in obtaining compensation from the governor of Margarita for the illegal seizure of his ship, the Inlargement, in 1682. The ship, which Reddish co-owned with several other business partners, was a slave ship carrying a cargo of 135 souls from Africa for sale in the English Caribbean. Reddish claimed he had difficulties with his ship, and so had put it at the island of Margarita to make repairs. The governor of Margarita, a man he named as Juan Fermín, seized the Inlargement and her cargo. Reddish told the council that “Firmin under the colour of freindship surprized the sd ship and detained her to owners loss of 5600 pounds.” Reddish went on to say that Fermín was not the legitimate governor of Margarita; Fermín had usurped that power from the duly appointed governor of the island and forced him to “take sanctuary in the Church.” Reddish understood that the rightful government on Margarita had been restored and wanted the council’s assistance in reclaiming his property or in winning restitution.
This short paragraph attracted my attention because I could not imagine what legitimate business an English captain might have on Margarita, a tiny island off the coast of what is now Venezuela, over 1,500 km away from Jamaica at completely the other end of the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish had claimed mastery of Margarita since the mid-1520s, when they were busily laying claim to the southern Caribbean and its rich pearl beds. Margarita and its sister islets, Coche and Cubagua, were centers of the Spanish pearling industry from the 1520s to the 1540s. Even as early as the first decade of the 1500s, Margarita, Coche, Cubagua, and the nearby mainland were also centers of Spanish slaving of Indigenous people. By the later sixteenth century, Margarita had reinvented itself not as a pearling space but as a locus of a vigorous, informal, and often illegal trade in enslaved Indigenous people from the interior of South America. Margarita was an entrepot providing extralegal and untaxed access to enslaved people to other Spanish islands as well as Cartagena and Spanish settlements in central America. In the 1590s, Walter Ralegh noted a well-established slave trade in the Orinoco River basin; he described canoes full of captive Indigenous women bound for sale as slaves on Margarita. Almost a century later, Margarita remained part of an informal trading and slaving network that included English settlements in Guyana, Dutch settlements at Essequibo, and Curaçao. It seems unlikely to me that Reddish had such serious trouble with the Inlargement that he ended up at Margarita by accident. Instead, I suspect Reddish thought he could get a higher price for his enslaved cargo in Margarita than in Jamaica and he could evade English regulations and taxes while he was at it.
What Reddish did not expect was political chaos on Margarita. Juan Fermín de Huidobro was born on Margarita but had spent his career in various Spanish-controlled locales around the southern Caribbean, including posts on Trinidad and in Guyana. His varied career suggests to me he would have been broadly familiar with informal trade in enslaved people, foodstuffs, and commercially valuable products such as annatto (an orange-red condiment and natural dye derived from the seeds of the achiote tree), tobacco, and sugar around the southern rim of the Caribbean. In 1677 he was appointed military commander in charge of fortifying the island and the nearby mainland against attack from the Dutch, English, and the Kalinagos of the Lesser Antilles. Fermín had a falling out with the civil governor of the island, Juan Muñoz Gadea, and the two spent the decade of the 1680s sparring in court at the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, in the Council of the Indies, and periodically launching rebellions against one another on the island. The saga came to a conclusion finally in 1689 when Fermín died.
Reddish clearly believed he could get compensation for the cargo of enslaved people Fermín seized from Muñoz. But the English governor of Jamaica, Christopher Monck, Duke of Albemarle, had other ideas. When Reddish brought his petition to the Council, Albemarle pointed out that some of the owners of the Inlargement had been “attainted for treason whereby the sd ship and Cargoe became forfeited.” The Council voted to write to the governor of Margarita and ask for compensation in the King’s name instead of Reddish’s. I imagine that Reddish’s business partners might have been involved in Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685, the unsuccessful uprising of several leading Protestant against the Catholic King James II, who was still on the throne at the time of Reddish’s petition (although I do not yet know for sure who they were). Reddish left the council empty-handed.
While I can flesh out the story of Reddish, the Inlargement, and political hijinks on Margarita, there is less I can say about the 135 enslaved people seized. Their “final passages,” as the historian Greg O’Malley would term them, were not recorded in the archives of Spain or of England. Illicit trading and tax evasion made it imperative for smugglers trading in enslaved people to avoid official notice—and thus details were not recorded in imperial archives. Some of these enslaved people might have remained on Margarita as pearl divers. Others might have been sold to planters in Cumaná’s nascent sugar economy. Some might have ended up in Cartagena, and others still might have been sold in Dutch, French, or English territories. Their voices and stories are lost amid tales of interimperial rivalry and treason.
09 July 2020
This post by Nadine Chambers is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.
'As the heirs of two oceanic histories, we are conscious of the …challenges… the Atlantic and the Pacific represented to our respective ancestors. We are committed to nurturing and supporting the techniques of survivance that have led us to find each other.' Teresia Teaiwa1
How Breadfruit came to be loved in Xamayca/Jamaica became part of my Eccles Fellowship focusing on the North American and Caribbean collections at the British Library. In my larger project, I chose to explore the ways in which existing historiography has erased (or occluded) the interrelationships between Black Caribbean and Indigenous peoples by reading in between the silences in colonial voyage narratives. I contemplate the spaces between Black and Indigenous people’s parallel and intersecting histories of displacement, migration and decolonial struggles. I seek stories of our encounters that have been ignored in academic texts or situated at a distance geographically or categorically in archived records. My focus is on the traces of contested and still largely unwritten relationships as key to current discussions about Black freedom and Indigenous sovereignty if we “were not, even in the situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from one another”.2
In this essay, I offer a compass with which to navigate memories, geography, sacrifice, death through the entry point of Tahitian breadfruit brought by ship into the Caribbean. I continue to be inspired by the late Teresia Teaiwa (African American and I-Kiribati), who embodies an Atlantic-Pacific connection reflected in much of her academic scholarship and poetic works; reminding us of the imposed amnesia and the need to undo its erasures.
so it’s easy to forget
that there’s life and love and learning
asia and america
there’s an ocean
and in this ocean
the stepping stones
The first beloved place of breadfruit is in my maternal grandmother’s backyard in Constant Spring, Jamaica – a lone tree I remember while seated in carousel 333 of the British Library’s Rare Books and Music Room. I find myself travelling back and forth, through space and time and through archival texts, seeking Teresia’s stepping stones and finding the footprints of two Ma’ohi (Tahitian) men who touched down from the HMS Providence after months of sailing from the Pacific to land in Jamaica in 1793. I imagine them walking through the first place of contact – Port Henderson where my mother-line’s sea faring people still live. Their second land fall was Port Morant to travel overland to Bath...
... definitely passing through Airy Castle where my father’s people have landed history rooted by three Oteheite (ayyah) trees that bore deep purple-skinned fruit legendary in size and sweetness. Raised in Jamaica on breadfruit and apples made possible by their Ma’ohi traditional knowledge that crossed into the Caribbean, I listen for echoes of these two men’s footfall as I read a copy of The Log of H.M.S Providence by W. Bligh in the Manuscripts room on the 2nd floor of the British Library.4
Bligh – the celebrated naval captain of Bounty and Providence fame – instructed the crew to make sure that Tahitians were not to be told about the reason for the acquisition of the breadfruit.
Against this silence, I ask – so, to what purpose?
Within the library catalogue I found the oft overlooked work of an accomplished Jamaican botanist - the late Dulcie Powell and her careful attention to the plant genealogy of Jamaican botanical gardens, and the people behind it. Powell’s work, 'The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, H.M.S. Providence, 1791-1793', gives the reader the economic context to understand what drove British captains’ military and commercial ventures, coded as “botany research” and “exploration” – each opened with devastating military violence towards Pacific Indigenous peoples, appropriated plants then brought Tahitians and their intellectual acumen to the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.5 She includes an extract from writing by the well-known planter Bryan Edwards of 15,000 deaths of Black people trapped between the violence of enslavement and environmental catastrophes:
THIS NUMBER WE FIRMLY BELIEVE TO HAVE PERISHED OF FAMINE, OR OF THE DISEASES CONTRACTED
BY SCANTY AND UNWHOLESOME DIET BETWEEN THE LATER END OF 1780 AND THE BEGINNING OF 1787.6
This key excerpt from Edwards shows that the bedrock of the introduction of breadfruit to Jamaica was part of the British global imperial project, and that the breadfruit’s purpose was to sustain the life of Black people in Jamaica – solely for reaping profit from slavery.
But what about introductions between people?
The two men Maititi (Mydidee, Mideedee) and Paupo (Bobbo, Pappo) are first introduced to the reader through Bligh’s logs: the former styled as a Tahitian emissary, the other as a Tahitian stowaway. I note Captain Bligh’s first awareness of Paupo was part of a critical decision as to whether he lives or dies.
To my astonishment I found a man who had always been collecting with the botanists secreted between decks… and I had not the heart to make him jump overboard… I conceived he might be useful in Jamaica...therefore directed he should be under the care of the botanists... (July 18, 1792)7
Here, his name is not revealed on a long voyage that depended on many other racialized people who remained seen but also unnamed while assisting the survival of the floating Plant Nursery in safe harbours from storms and fresh water supplies as they sailed from the Pacific to the Caribbean. However, my central quest is Maititi and Paupo’s moment of arrival and any evidence of their encounters with people of African descent in Jamaica. Only some details are known to us, as we have to rely on 3rd Lieutenant Tobin, who observed Feb 5th, 1793 as the day Maititi and Paupo were on deck to see those “for which the benefit the voyage was chiefly promoted” – the Black people who “were loud in their praises and were constantly paddling around her [the Providence] in their canoes.”8
What might these Ma’ohi men’s thoughts have been about the excitement from the canoes or upon meeting the eyes of the paddlers? Did the paddlers notice the two men?
My reading of eighteenth-century ship’s log and crew diaries is informed by these questions – questions hardly considered at the time. In order to make visible Paupo’s landfall in Jamaica, I examine a few additional moments from Bligh’s log and find details that only relate to his relationship with the project through being listed as their ‘Otaheitian friend’ and an unpaid responsibility of Gardener Wiles who had agreed to stay on in Jamaica at Bath at £200 per annum.9 These logs render invisible and silent people of African descent who were the majority of the population: the records scarcely show any detail of these enslaved workers except in ledgers where their masters were paid for allowing them to be hired out for labour in the botanical garden.
However, finally a surprise encounter.
Somewhere in the months between landing in Jamaica and sailing for England to deliver the remainder of the botanical collection to Kew, Tobin writes this undated observation of Paupo in Jamaica:
...having many quarrels with an old negroe nurse who attended him – one day when she was oversolicitous [sic] for him to eat, after making several ineffectual attempts to explain to her that he required nothing, in rather an angry tone he said Aimak mad oboo peyak peyak “I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear telling her “she might perhaps find room in his head”.10
Seventeen months away from Tahiti, this singular encounter was retold by a third party as a partial exchange of words, strong feelings and touch between a young ailing Paupo and a senior Black healer. I re-read the gesture and the translation and found myself move slowly from elation to unease. In other fleeting moments Paupo is described as cheerful; yet here his exchange seems fraught. The translation of his words is unreliable, the touch and exchange ascribed layered with complexity.
Nine months after Ma’ohi Paupo arrived to Xamayca –in the Caribbean Sea – Wiles reported Paupo’s death in The Royal Gazette printed 27th of October 1793 (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384) and that his last days he refused food, refused to speak before succumbing to ill health. There is no known marker to signal his resting place as part of the land at Bath; far from his island which Powell described as “about as far south of the Equator as Jamaica is north…and their climates are therefore similar”.11 However, it was not similar, neither in area nor, more importantly, in social climate.
The pages of the newspaper reflect a snapshot of this climate – his obituary placed beside a report of trade business, a military report and lists of Black ancestors who are ill and enslaved or featured in runaway ads and workhouses. This returns us to the question of what could Paupo’s relationship have been to the enslaved community, perhaps through being cared for by that nurse? Would the cost of his keep have become associated with the ‘negro labour’ ledger lines for the garden? Could one speculate he might have had a sense of being estranged from the system Black people surrounding him were chained within?
“I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear
What more could have been recorded?
Instead, it is easiest to know more about the thoughts of the leadership of the plantocracy behind the Providence project. The Royal Gazette stated:
…In less than twenty years, the chief article of sustenance for our Negroes will be entirely changed; - plantains, yams, cocoa, and coffee, will be cultivated only as subsidiary, and used merely for change; whilst the breadfruit, gaining firm hold in the earth by the toughness and strength of its root, will bid defiance to storms.12
Official letters stating the plants did well came from Wiles who reported regularly to his patron Joseph Banks of their progress; in October 1793 they were “thriving with astonishing vigor” on the eastern side of the island. Wiles found “everyone exceeding anxious to get plants of it,” although some “old conceited & prejudiced [enslaved] creoles” said they preferred plantains and yams.13
In truth, Breadfruit survived but took decades to become part of everyday people’s preferred local diet.14 I continue to wonder sometimes if by chance, in those brief months whether Paupo had time to personally introduce breadfruit preparation to the healer’s community? What would that have looked like–practical trade or tentative trust-building? Or like breadfruit; in the healer’s mind was Paupo separate and associated with a garden of unfamiliar plants and closer to the owners in an enslaved society?
The difficult purpose of this small essay is to reframe Paupo’s story within the context of the Black population. Yes, slavery and hunger were the terrible impetus of our forgotten introduction to Tahitians who brought uru and other botanical riches of the Pacific. The difficult social climate that structures his introduction to the healer I overcome by thinking about a Tahitian story in a time before time as we know it. It is said a Ma’ohi family survived a famine when the father transformed himself - with hands becoming leaves; arms and body, the trunk and branches; his head – the breadfruit in the place known now as Tua’uru – the Place of Breadfruit.15 I think of this as I consider how this plant was transported in 1793 to deal with starvation in the Caribbean. Today, uru lives – included when Jamaicans state the word ‘food’ defined as specific reference to the circle of beloved ground provisions our Black ancestors refused to abandon even in those hard times.
First in the Valley of Tua’uru then in Bath, St. Thomas with Paupo - a Ma’ohi stone within the Jamaican landscape. Māuruuru.
Nadine Chambers, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.
1 Teaiwa, Teresia; Ojeya Banks, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Courtney-Savali Leiloa Andrews, Alisha Lola Jones, and April K Henderson. ‘Black and Blue in the Pacific: Afro-Diasporic Women Artists on History and Blackness.’ Amerasia Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, (2017), pp. 145-193. (British Library shelfmarks: Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(1); Document Supply 0809.655000; )
2 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 2. (British Library shelfmark: YC.1994.b.3724.)
3 Teresia Teaiwa, ‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19:2 (2017), p. 133-136. (British Library shelfmark: ZC.9.a.5571)
4 William Bligh, The Log of HMS Providence, 1791-1793 (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976).
5 Dulcie Powell, ‘The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, HMS Providence, 1791-1793,’ Economic Botany, vol. 31.4 (1977): 387-431. (British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 3651.700000; Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(10))
6 B. Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. Dublin, 1793, Vol. 2. Dublin, capitals in the original.(British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 44458])
7 Bligh, ibid.
8 Journal of Lieutenant George Tobin on HMS Providence 1791 -1793, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2011/D04424/a1220.htm [accessed online July 2, 2020].
9 Bligh, ibid.
10 Journal of Lieutenant Tobin, ibid.
11 Dulcie Powell, ibid.
12 The Royal Gazette, Feb 9, 1792 – Misc section, unknown publisher Kingston, Jamaica. (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384)
13 Wiles quoted in Newell, Jennifer. Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange. University of Hawaii Press, 2010. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply m10/21589 )
14 Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2008. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2009.b.918)
15 Henry, Teuira and John Muggridge Orsmond. Ancient Tahiti. Honolulu: B.P Bishop Museum, 1928. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6245/3.(48.))
05 February 2020
Nearly forty years ago, on 13 June 1980, Guyanese historian, political activist and academic Walter Rodney was assassinated. Family, friends and fans across the world mourned the loss of Rodney. This grief expressed itself privately and publicly – through poetry, letters and protest. Traces can be found in the British Library, particularly in the archive of Andrew Salkey. P.D. Sharma – a Guyanese comrade – wrote to Salkey shortly after hearing the news. He wrote of being ‘paralyzed with grief, shock and disbelief’ as expressed in the poem below; such moving remembrances of Rodney’s continue to this day:
WALTER RODNEY IS DEAD (13th June 1980)
Weep people, cry Jesus
And drown the earth above us
Flood the oceans
Liquidify the mountains
The Eastern star is blown
No more the fairest of twinkles
Done the kingdom and the king.
Now the sun will never catch the night
The falcon god soars
And shadows we be
Our world is out.
How infinite was so brief
Too much and only but few
Except that grey men
With infants on their laps
Shall tell to eternity
Of the light that once,
Breathless and bedamned
Questioning the open
But if, what might …
(Letter from P.D. Sharma (LA) to Salkey (Massachusetts), June 1980, Walter Rodney File, Box 21, Andrew Salkey collection, The British Library)
Walter Rodney’s intellectual energy, praxis and commitment lives on. It lives on through Black liberation struggles across the world and the action and commitment of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at LMA (FHALMA). Housed at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the Huntley Archives is made up of Jessica and Eric Huntley’s documents, photographs and recordings. It also holds the files of Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications (one of Britain’s earliest black publishing houses) that they collectively founded in 1968, following the banning of Walter Rodney from Jamaica.
On Saturday 22 February, the 15th Annual Huntley Conference: Rodney's Enduring Legacy will offer a space for activists, scholars, students and families to engage with this legacy through a day of discussion, film, lectures and archive tours. Supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the LMA and the Museum of London, it brings together some of London’s key cultural heritage institutions. It also builds on an ongoing collaboration between the British Library, LMA and FHALMA as part of the mass sound digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.
Volunteering for FHALMA and helping to organise this conference has offered a brilliant opportunity to extend my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership beyond the British Library and UCL by connecting with archives and community groups across London. Related to ongoing research on Caribbean publishing as activism, the conference provides an important space to discuss the history and legacy of Caribbean intellectual thought.
Notably, the conference will include roundtable sessions called 'Groundings' which are modelled on and inspired by Rodney’s practice of talking plainly about human rights, identity and Black history directly with grassroots communities. These intergenerational conversations will explore themes of Black liberation, solidarity and class, whilst considering the role of youth, academics, communities and creative producers within historic and contemporary struggles.
Professor Patricia Daley's keynote, 'Walter Rodney: The Black Academic and the Importance of the Study of Africa for Global Black Emancipation', will reflect on Rodney's impressive contribution to radical scholarship on Africa and consider his understanding of ‘groundings’ as a form of academic and political practice, central to black emancipation globally.
Walter Rodney continues to challenge us through our archives. You can find Rodney in the British Library’s Andrew Salkey collection, from recordings of memorial lectures to Bogle-L'Ouverture book launches. Rodney also speaks to us through his many texts - published both when he was alive and posthumously - including: The Groundings with My Brothers (1969), A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (1970), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) and Walter Rodney Speaks: the making of an African Intellectual (1990).
Suggested further reading/listening:
- Bogle book launch (1985), Andrew Salkey collection, C1839/62.
- Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited. Barbados: Canoe Press, UWI, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2005.a.8199).
- Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought. Mona: University of the West Indies, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 99/13124).
- Manning Marable lecture (1987), Andrew Salkey Collection, C1839/45.
- Colin Prescod, ‘Guyana’s socialism: an interview with Walter Rodney’, Race & Class, 18 (1976), 109- 128. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6236.a).
- Kate Quinn (eds.), Black Power in the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2014.a.16051)
- Researching Walter Rodney in the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archive.
Works by Walter Rodney:
- The Groundings with My Brothers. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: X.709/10382)
- A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 72/14824)
- How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1976. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 82/24897)
- Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118)
Naomi Oppenheim is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and UCL researching Caribbean print cultures and the politics of history in post-war Britain. Follow her on Twitter @naomioppenheim
05 August 2019
Above: 'Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row, Emperor of the Six Nations' from Add MS 5253.
On July 22nd, the Eccles Centre was pleased to host a group of students from the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies, who were visiting London as part of their course led by former Eccles Visiting Fellow, Professor Coll Thrush. The plan for the day, however, was a little bit different from our usual student visit days. As part of our work with the Beyond the Spectacle project, we wanted to go beyond the usual collections display and highlight research being done on these collections and how students and members of the public could take a lead role in disseminating the findings of this research.
The day started with some of the Library’s more historic items. The Library’s founder collectors, especially King George III, Sir Hans Sloane and Thomas Grenville, had a strong interest in North America and, as a result, collected significant works relating to the indigenous peoples of Canada, the Caribbean and the United States. A significant part of the Library’s eighteenth-century collections are various materials relating to the ‘Four Indian Kings’ a visiting delegation from the nations of the Mohawk and the Mahican during the reign of Queen Anne. Etow Oh Koam, Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row journeyed to England and London to make their case for greater support and interest from the monarch and their words were variously recorded and distributed. There were also illustrations made of the delegation, some crude and westernised while others, such as those found in the collection of Hans Sloane and reproduced here, are detailed and vivid. The display also highlighted the breadth of Library collections that speak to the history of contact between indigenous nations, North American colonists and Europeans, with material spread across the Library’s manuscript, map, newspaper, printed book and other collections.
Above: the display taking shape. Image by Cara Rodway.
These collections, specifically those relating to indigenous travellers to Britain across the centuries, are being used by the Beyond the Spectacle project, on which the Eccles Centre and other British Library colleagues are partners. In the second half of the day researchers from the project, Jack Davy and Kate Rennard, worked with Roberta Wedge, who frequently runs Wikipedia editathon days with the Library, to illustrate how collections such as those at the Library can be used for research and to improve the information found on public websites and encyclopaedias, such as Wikipedia. It is not unfair to say that some of the students started this part of the day dubious as to how they could use their learning and recent research to update something like Wikipedia but the day provided openings to a different perspective. Roberta’s work with Wikipedia and organising group edits of Wikipedia pages focusses on how the site can only reach its full potential if a wide range of individuals, publics and perspectives are contributing to the editing process. If this can be achieved, the content of Wikipedia and other online forums will reflect the diversity of the world in which we live and its complex history.
Above: students from the group researching and editing. Image by Phil Hatfield.
Part of the afternoon focussed on encouraging students to conduct their own research, based on the display from earlier in the day and using online archives and resources to dig into some of the other materials the Beyond the Spectacle project has been using. We are grateful to the British Newspaper Archive and Adam Matthew (creator of the American Indian Newspapers database) who both provided access to students on the day so they could engage with the materials held in their collections and use them in research and editing. Students used these materials to update entries on a number of Wikipedia pages, adding information to the page, ‘Four Mohawk Kings’, the page for St. Olave’s Church (London), setting up a new page on the playwright and actor Gowongo Mohawk and making a number of other edits.
By the end of the day many of the students were motivated by the realisation of how much agency they have to develop content on sites like Wikipedia and excited by the new research skills they had learnt by using the resources of the British Newspaper Archive and Adam Matthew. For me a favourite moment was when a student, asked how the day had influenced their perspective on Wikipedia noted that now, ‘Wikipedia is my new stomping ground’. The day showed the potential of supporting students and other researchers in gaining access to historic and digitised collections, it also highlighted how the knowledge gained from these can contribute to influential public sites. We hope to run similar events again, on a wide range of subjects, and thank Adam Matthew, the British Newspaper Archive, Wikipedia, Beyond the Spectacle and UBC for their support and partnership.
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
- Cross-media Research: Searching for Poets, Painters and Photographers
- E-resources for Women in the United States
- Slavery and the Sugar Trade: cataloguing five bills of lading
- Loyalists, Race and Atlantic Canada
- The Masters of Margarita – Anglo-Spanish rivalry, treason and the slave trade
- The Black and Indigenous presence in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean
- Walter Rodney's Enduring Legacy Through Archival Collaboration
- A Tour of Indigenous London
- James Knight’s “History of Jamaica”
- ‘A Triple Threat Woman’: The Letters of Sylvia Plath