This one is for Antiguans and Barbudans. Does that name ring a bell?
I am still amazed at all I continue to learn about us. Today’s tutorial comes via one of our best working historians – best for me because of how she manages to humanize and particularize history, our history – Dr Natasha Lightfoot. I love that, though she works in American academia, so much of her research is Antigua-Barbuda specific, and not just broadly Caribbean. It’s important to me because for small islands like us, there are so many gaps and so much disinterest even in Caribbean-specific spaces and institutions. I remember because I’ve been in those spaces, spent time in those institutions. And I didn’t have the material that’s available now because of Dr. Lightfoot’s work.
For example, the life of Eliza Moore, who acheived something of legal significance when she petitioned for her freedom from another jurisdiction in light of the Emancipation Act which had made slavery illegal in Antigua and all of the English-speaking Caribbean (i.e. the then British West Indies). Though born in Antigua, she was by then living in the Danish West Indies and from there she made her case and won. It couldn’t have been easy but I would argue that it was a significant precident. And I thank Dr. Lightfoot for bringing it to our attention, affording me the opportunity to share it with you.
The article, published January 2022 in William and Mary Quarterly, is linked in our 44th Reading Room and Gallery.
Excerpt 1: “Eliza Moore was born in Antigua between 1794 and 1797 and was sold by her first enslavers, the Gillam family, to William Armstrong, a sugar estate owner in Saint Croix, sometime between 1807 and 1809… Armstrong sold Moore in 1815 upon his departure for Copenhagen; after that, she was exchanged at least two times between slaveholders on the Danish island of Saint Thomas before 1836, when she first appears in British records inquiring about her right to be free.”
The article noted that though the slave trade in the British Empire had legally ended in 1807 and slavery itself in 1834, as we know, it did not properly stop the trade, nor did it inhibit the capture (e.g. as spoils of war) and/or removal of enslaved people from one jurisdiction to another (think of people hiding their money and other valuables today offshore and their failure to see the natural humanity of the people they enslaved, certainly over profit). Eliza certainly would not have been the first nor only ensnared in these or other loopholes. But she found a way out.
Excerpt 2: “Her advantages, and those of her kinfolk, derived from domestic servitude that translated into various forms of access that supported her claims in the first place. Even the chance encounters that allowed for Hughes to run into Moore in Saint Thomas or that gave Blackstone the opportunity to inquire into her sister’s whereabouts with Sarah Gillam all those years prior reflect the circumstances of enslaved domestic workers, who could travel and interact familiarly with whites. For Moore herself, proximity to her first owners as a child allowed for her education, acquisition of literacy, and mobility. These experiences and the information they furnished her with undergirded her ability to approach the authorities with the entitlement of a British subject, an act that an illiterate bondswoman employed in the fields, for example, might not have been able to attempt. Moore’s successive journeys from her British Antiguan owners to her Danish Saint Crucian and Saint Thomian owners seem to have funneled her through positions of domestic labor, allowing those opportunities for certain forms of privilege particular to her occupation to continue.”
It’s been months since I read the article but, from memory, Hughes in the excerpt above refers to the childhood friend whose paths crossed with her old friend and interceded on her behalf once she was back in Antigua. Blackstone is Moore’s sister, who had not seen her since she had been carted off first to England – with a detour to, I believe, Spain after the ship carting her was waylaid, and finally to the Virgin Islands. It goes without saying, or should, that “access to whites” and whatever advantages that afforded her came with a flipside, the dangers of proximity, e.g. sexual violence. But the connectivity was vital in this case.
Final excerpt: “The two people who vouched for Moore’s birth and life experiences in Antigua with the most depth were Black women who had until recently been enslaved themselves, her half sister Hester Blackstone and her friend Mary Hughes. Moore did not know her own date of birth, and the retelling of her early life in Antigua rested on the estimates of women who were equally unsure about details of Moore’s biography and the exact moments when she was taken from and returned to the island. But the women speaking on her behalf skillfully figured out how to circumvent their inability to provide exact dates. Hester and Mary used imperial events in their 1838 depositions, a tactic manifested in their testimonies in so similar a fashion as to suggest deliberate coordination. Hughes and Blackstone linked important moments in Moore’s life with notable British imperial administrative and military events at the turn of the nineteenth century, such as the installation of a new governor in Antigua or the outbreak of war in the Caribbean. Their use of imperial time made their affirmation of Moore’s birth and life in Antigua as a child more legible to the powerful administrators hearing testimony from these formerly enslaved women. Their success, however, should not obscure the reality that the strategy they adopted out of necessity calls our attention to yet another dehumanizing aspect of enslavement: the negation of enslaved people’s sense of themselves as beings in time, and thus as autonomous participants in their life stories. Their inability to know time intimately and the denial of the privilege to preserve a record of important dates in their lives, such as their own birthdays and the births and deaths of loved ones, helped to compound the exploitation deeply embedded within enslavement. The depositions of Blackstone and Hughes nonetheless underline the crucial function of community in slavery as the support system that facilitated both survival during bondage and individual enslaved people’s acts of fugitivity and claims to freedom. The British government would not have taken Moore’s case seriously if these women had not vouched for her. Eliza’s first point of self-presentation was to invoke her Antiguan-born mother, Sally Carr, which both Blackstone and Hughes reiterated. Proclaiming her birth to an enslaved mother in Antigua and demonstrating her sisterhood and friendship with formerly enslaved Antiguan women all grounded Eliza in that British colony and contributed to the colonial administrators’ serious consideration of her case. These details subtly show how enslaved people fostered and deployed loving relationships even over time and distance.”
The article is entitled ‘”So Far to Leeward”: Eliza Moore’s Fugitive Cosmopolitan Routes to Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean’. It is by Natasha Lightfoot. It appears in The William and Mary Quarterly, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Volume 79, Number 1, January 2022.
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As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, The Jungle Outside, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.