Week 3: Gerace Research Center and The National Archives of The Bahamas

January 10th, 2013

Ariel Harris ’13, Triggs International Fellow in History

My last week in Nassau was just as smooth as my first week on Nassau. But this time I was on my own (w/o Prof. Stewart) back in the Archives and in the streets of Nassau. Fortunately, I still have assistance, and I gained good friend and good company. I have experienced nothing but good hospitality from all The Bahamians I encountered. I arrived back to Nassau on a Saturday and was in the church house on Sunday morning. My new found friend Monalisa from The National Archives of the Bahamas invited me to church. I was extremely happy I attended. When the Pastor did his alter call I remained in my seat, but the holy spirit moved him to call me to the alter. The Pastor prophesied over my past life experiences and over my future endeavors. I couldn’t believe it! I had never me this man before in my life, but I knew I was exactly where I was suppose to be. To receive a spiritual message from a complete stranger from across the country I felt like all my academic plans were in place and in order.

After church we went to the Pastor’s house for dinner and joined some out of town guest from Maryland or D.C., can’t remember the region, but the first lady of the church works for the Ministry of Tourism and invited them over for dinner. We talked American politics, Bahamian politics, and Bahamian culture. I learned a great deal about how some Bahamians view the Republican party of the U.S. and our current President. I also learned more in depth about the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement of the Bahamas.This discussion provided me with insight and perspective on topics that I rarely discuss in the U.S., I felt privileged and honored to be engaged in the conversation. The very next day I was back in the archives, but only for a two hour  since it was the day before Christmas Eve. I only had time to read one of the books I didn’t have an opportunity to read a book on the Turks & Caicos Island and their plantation period. The next day was Christmas day, and I went to visit a friend’s family for the holiday. That night I got to experience what Bahamians call the greatest show on Earth! Junkanoo is annual parade that happens at midnight, Christmas day and ends on the day after Christmas at 6a.m. I’ll let the images below speak for me, because words will not do my experience justice. Since the archives was closed I rested on the 26th and got mentally prepared for the next two days that I would be in the Archives.

I learned a lesson from my first visit and came back as prepared as I could be while on San Salvador. I made a list of documents (in priority order) that I was interested in researching fand got on my job on the 27th. This proved effective and time efficient. I was able to complete my list in one day sitting. This visit proved rewarding on so many levels! After reviewing the Freed slave Registers of 1733- 1834, I found that Charles Farquharson freed one slave in 1825 by the name of Charlotte Farquharson. This discovery could prove beneficial to my project in a few ways. One, because I had never read her name or manumission mentioned in any of the literature on Charles Farquharson. Two, because this was one of the goals of my project- to discover, construct, and recreate the lives of the voices of the enslaved Bahamians who were lost. I learned that the record of this slaves manumission could be found at the Register General’s Office. I hitched a ride from Monalisa to the office right before it closed at 4:00p.m. on the following day. I was informed that the record “book: R3 p.105 # 49” symbolized that she was granted land by the crown.

I was unable to obtain the record, but luckily Monalisa is allowed to complete the search for free because of her position at the Department of Archives. So I’m hoping that her search enhances my senior thesis project.

Since this is my final entry I would like to take the time to publicly thank all those who assisted me in developing and funding this project. First off I would like to thank my donors for believing in Cornell students and funding fellowships that help develop our academic goals and our professional future. I am thankful to the Fellowship committee for trusting that my project deserved the Cornell Fellowship. I am grateful to Prof. Stewart, and Laura Farmer for the month long editing process of my proposal. I appreciate Prof. Stewart, Mrs. Stracahan, Monalisa, and The National Archives of the Bahamas staff for assisting me in my research on Nassau. I really appreciate the Gerace Research Center staff for assiting me with my plantation visits, prints, and connections on the Island that informed my project especially; Tyrone Pratt, Mrs. Velda, Mrs. Rochelle, Mrs. Erma Pratt, and Li Newton. The Bahamas was a great place to complete my research because of their culture of hospitality.

Signing off, an extremely proud Cornell Fellow!


Junkanoo Dancers


Week 2: Gerace Research Center and The National Archives of The Bahamas

December 27th, 2012

Ariel Harris ’13, Triggs International Fellowship in History

This week was full of library research, field research (oral history interviews), more plantation ruin visits, and planning out my Neo-slave narrative. I also had the opportunity to go fishing on the ocean. The best part about this week was my oral history interview with Miss Pratt. This was the most rewarding experience I’ve had on San Salvador. My opportunity to conduct an oral history interview almost slipped away, but I was blessed to have connected and befriended a few natives of San Salvador that helped me pull it off. Prior to my arrival on Dec. 8 to San Salvador Ms. Marcia Musgrove from Nassau, Bahamas informed Prof. Stewart and I about a great opportunity to interview a long term resident of San Salvador, Bahamas named Ms. Hazel Edgecomb (age 89). Ms. Marcia interviewed her a few years back to inquire about her own family history and discovered that Ms. Hazel could recall her lineage back to her great-grandfather who was brought from Africa. I could not wait to interview her, but to my disappointment I would not get the opportunity.

Once I arrived on San Salvador and had the opportunity to inquire about her whereabouts I was told that she had traveled to Nassau to spend the holidays with her family. I knew of no other person of her age on the Island that could provide me with such a rich history. Bummer, I know. Fortunately, a friend of mine that I remained in contact with from my previous visit introduced me to his mother. Tyrone Pratt’s mother, Miss Erma Pratt is 75 yrs old and she is responsible for rejuvenating my spirits after the disappointment of missing Ms. Hazel. After briefly meeting Miss Pratt for the first time we scheduled an interview session and met two days later to conduct the interview. Upon my arrival to her home I could tell she was a bit nervous. I expected this may occur, so I planned ahead and brought lunch for the both of us to break the ice. I also wanted to pay her in the traditional griot/storyteller fashion in which the recipients of oral history compensate the storyteller or African griot with food.

We sat and ate in silence for a few minutes, and I allowed Miss Pratt to gauge me as a person and ask any questions that may have concerned her. I then began by ask her about her day and informing her of the purpose of the interview and explained my project. I observed right away that Miss Pratt was a religious woman. She was born and raised Catholic on San Salvador. We completed our interview a little under three hours. We discussed bush medicine, her ancestral history, Bahamian food traditions, and Obeah (dark medicine or magic used to harm individuals). We shared tears, pictures, and heart wrenching stories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Miss Pratt opened her home. heart, and family up to me as a foreign research and for that I am forever grateful.

A few professional skills were gained from this opportunity. I learned to conduct a productive oral history interview. I learned to enhance my interpersonal skills by working with Miss Pratt as human being and not as foreign specimen for my research. I also learned to work through disappointments and hope for the best in times of distress and disappointments.

  Miss Pratt telling me about Obeah medicine.

Miss Pratt and I.

Charles Farquharson bakery oven.

Week 1: Gerace Research Center & The National Archives of the Bahamas–San Salvador, Bahamas

December 20th, 2012

Ariel Harris ’13, Triggs International Fellow in History

I arrived almost exactly one year later in Nassau, Bahamas to complete research for my senior thesis on December 5, 2012. This time with funds provided by the Triggs Cornell Fellowship I was allowed two days in Nassau to complete research at The National Archives of the Bahamas. After an evening of rest from traveling, our next two days in Nassau were full of adventures. The very next day we walked to the Archives of the Bahamas (in the rain), and upon our arrival and to my amazement the staff had never heard of us! Go figure, I almost passed out!

Mrs. Strachan asked me who I was and what type of research I was completing at the Archives and I tried to refresh her memory as best I could from a few emails I sent to her colleague a few months earlier. It took her some time to recall the notes that were left with her from another staff member, so I calmed down and decided keeping my cool and not passing out was a better option. The archivist and assistants were at our beckon call (Prof. Stewart informed me later that this was not typical Archival behavior) the staff members provided us with all the documents we needed right away.

The first thing that I looked through was the Slave Registers of 1821, upon my surprise the first two documents were slave returns on the very slave I came to complete research for. These documents provided me with information on Matilda’s former slave owners  and  insight to the  region she lived in prior to San Salvador, Bahamas. A flood of happiness rushed over me. I could not believe that first document I looked through was precisely what I needed and I had to maintain composure and continue on with the research. We were limited in time (we only had a day and a half in the archives) and needed to look through as many documents as possible. The staff took to us right away (dare I say it was due to my southern charm) they allowed us access to the original documents (which rarely happens) and copied pages that pertained to our research. I will forever be indebted to Mrs. Strachan, Ms. Monalisa Carey, and all the staff members for their generosity and knowledge that assisted me in this research. Prof. Stewart and I spent the whole day in the Archives (7 hours straight) only stopping for a 15 minute snack break, and we enjoyed every second of it.

The second day in the archives proved much longer and harder to find sources that would inform my project, but we struck gold again when we found Governor Despatches dated May 11, 1832 ( a memo from Gov. Smythe discussing the mutiny of Farquharson’s plantation), excited is not the word to express my feelings. There was a mix of emotions that ranged from exhaustion, happiness, and appreciation for the efforts of everyone assisting me in this project.

Saturday was another travel day, off to San Salvador we went! We dug right in the very next day. Mrs. Li Newton took us to Fortune Hill, one of the plantations that were not accessible upon my first trip, and that adventure concluded with numerous mosquito bites to the face and beautiful pictures of the plantation ruins. I really enjoyed this site, mostly because of the well preserved latrine and the library building. I’m not sure if Fortune Hill will be of much use to my final project but the experience was amazing.

This week’s experience overall taught me that I should always be over prepared encounters such as my arrival to the archives. I feel as though if I had a copy of the email myself, and came with a few things in mind to research the first five minutes of my time in the archives would not have been such of a panic. I also had the opportunity to practice a professional skill of composure (which I have been practicing since my first year at Cornell) under times of pressure the first week of my fellowship. I continued to develop skills of focus and a mindset of perseverance during my first week of the fellowship. These are skills and values that will remain with me throughout my work life and personal endeavors.

This is a library at the Fortune Hill Plantation owned
by Burton Williams who owned over 200 slaves on San Salvador


The Latrine at the Fortune Hill Plantation

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