I lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands for just under five years, 2005-2009, including six months, in 2008, on Grand Turk Island. Grand Turk Island is one of three islands in the archipelago where the historic Bermudian salt industry was situated. The other two islands where Bermudians made salt—with the labour of slaves—are nearby Salt Cay and South Caicos.
Before moving to Grand Turk Island to take up residence, I visited the island over a weekend for “Museum Day,” which I had seen advertised in The Sun, a Turks and Caicos Islands newspaper. The Turks and Caicos National Museum was, at the time, located solely on Grand Turk Island. It was during Museum Day that I re-encountered the story of Mary Prince.
Prince was born enslaved in 1787 or 1788, in Bermuda. Over the course of her life, she had five slave-owners—all Bermudians—and she had lived in four territories: Bermuda, Grand Turk Island, Antigua, and London, England. She was enslaved on Grand Turk Island for approximately ten years, 1802-1812, when she worked in the salt industry there for her fourth slave-owner, Robert Darrell.
I studied Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, in 1988, as an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. On Museum Day, it had been 19 years since I had read her slave narrative, but I remembered the basic elements of her story well.
What I didn’t remember on Museum Day was that Grand Turk Island was the place of Prince’s enslavement, when she had worked in the salt ponds. It wasn’t until I saw copies of The History of Mary Prince for sale in the Turks and Caicos National Museum’s gift shop that I made the connection. Several copies of the book were shelved with those of other local authors. I reached out and pulled a copy off the shelf.
From that moment, the landscape of Grand Turk Island shifted, and I began to experience life differently—historically. Derelict salt ponds transformed into stone walled containments of thickening brine. And everywhere—walking the lanes, at the beach, in historic houses—I saw the enslaved at their tasks. They washed laundry, pounded corn in mortars, raked salt, and loaded salt onto tall ships at anchor in the harbour. And they were punished, sometimes severely, for offences, such as not keeping up with the gang.
I made a commitment to the memory of Mary Prince. I decided to further investigate and to authenticate her story, and to get her story out to a wider audience, especially to youth, and their teachers. With this in mind, I have created this website with Middle School students, and older readers, as my intended audience.
My thought was, and still is, that Prince's narrative is a story of hope. Mary found freedom, and with the help of an abolitionist writing team, of which she was the storyteller, her story was put into print. The History of Mary Prince was published in 1831, and it was reprinted twice that year.
In 2010, I began interdisciplinary PhD Studies at The Memorial University of Newfoundland. The title of my dissertation is “Reclaiming Histories of Enslavement from the Maritime Atlantic and a Curriculum: The History of Mary Prince.” For the purpose of my research, I have visited every place Mary Prince lived. I also visited the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, because archival records pertaining to Mary Prince had been relocated there from Antigua, in 1968.
The History of Mary Prince is an opening to learn about the Middle Passage and colonial slavery. It is also an opening to learn about food gardens of the past. My thought is that food gardens of the past, and our current food gardens today, may be places to learn about the concept of creolization. Please see short discussions of these topics under the Learn tab of this website.
This website is an encapsulation of the findings of my research, which is written up much more fully in my PhD dissertation. One day, I hope to see my dissertation available for the use of any, and all, who are interested to learn more about the story of Mary Prince, colonial enslavement, and the abolitionists who worked so ardently with Prince, who was herself an abolitionist, to secure her freedom in the West Indies.
UPDATE — July 15, 2020
I graduated from the Memorial University of Newfoundland in May 2017. In 2018, I began a research project for which I received a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is titled, "'Mind the Onion Seed!': The Bermuda Onion, Slave Narratives, Plant Knowledge and Seventeenth- to Twentieth-Century Commerce in the Global North Atlantic." Could (I wondered, as one of my research questions) the Bermuda onion have been grown as a plantation crop prior to Emancipation and might it, therefore, be listed amongst better-known commodities grown or produced by enslaved people, such as sugar, molasses, rum, cotton, timber, rice, and salt? The answer to this question is YES. Prior to Emancipation, Bermuda operated partially as a provision plantation, providing the sugar islands--Antigua, Barbados, and St. Vincent, for example--with food that augmented the food plants grown in those colonies. My research also uncovered many other related and astonishing historical findings that I've written up and hope to see published in journals by the end of 2021. The "Mind the Onion Seed" project concludes in fall 2020.
In 2019, I completed a research project for Bermuda's Department of Community and Cultural Affairs titled, "The Latter Days of Bermudian National Hero Mary Prince," and I also began work as a co-investigator on a second research project for the same agency titled, "The Mary Prince Research Group." I am very pleased to say that Bermudian historian Dr. Clarence Maxwell (who was the external examiner of my dissertation) is the other co-investigator on this second project, along with Bermudians Ms. Karla Ingemann and Ms. Keishunda Curtis who are working as research assistants. There is going to be a book!
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, a Going Global Grant administered by the Memorial University of Newfoundland's International Centre, and a Bowring/Harlow Scholarship and a Dean's Excellence Award also administered by the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
I have done my best to cite any material drawn from other sources. Please extend the same courtesy in return. All materials—words and images—appearing on this site are copyrighted.