Posts Tagged ‘Nassau’

My Objections to the Removal of the African Statue on Stroud’s Town Clock

April 21, 2022

More iconoclasm driven by current sensitivities over historic slavery and contemporary racism. The local news for the Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire area, Points West, reported that Stroud council was expected to vote for the removal of the statue of an African from the town clock. I’m not surprised, as there were demands last year from a local anti-racist group, Stroud Against Racism, demanding its removal, and I really thought it had been taken down already. Stroud’s a small town in Gloucestershire, whose historic economy I always thought was based on the Cotswold wool trade rather than something more sinister. Stroud Against Racism seems to be a group of mainly young Black people, led by a local artist, who’ve had terrible personal experiences of racism in the town. In an interview on BBC local news, it seemed that they particularly resented the figure as representation of the racist attitudes they’d experienced. They assumed it was a slave and demanded its removal, with one young Black woman complaining about the statue’s grotesque features which she obviously felt were an insulting caricature.

The African ‘Slave’ Figure on Stroud Town Clock

While I entirely sympathise with them for the abuse they suffered as victims of racism and appreciate why they would want the statue removed, I believe it is profoundly mistaken. Firstly, while the local news has been describing the statue as a slave, there’s no evidence that connects it directly to slavery and the slave trade. They know the name of the clockmaker, and that’s it. No evidence has been presented to suggest he had any connection with the slave trade or slavery at all. Further more, there are no marks on the statue to suggest slavery. There are no chains or manacles, as seen in this image of Black African slaves captured by a group of Arab slavers below.

Arab Slave Coffle

Nor does the figure look like the poor souls on sale in this 19th century picture of an American slave market.

American Slave Market

It looks far more like African chief and his people, shown making a treaty with British officers in this painting from 1815, following the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807.

British Officer Meeting African Chiefs to Make a treaty, 1815

As Europe expanded to colonise and establish trading links with the outside world from the 15th century onwards, so Blacks and other indigenous peoples began to enter European art. Sometimes they were depicted as servants and slaves, but at other times simply as symbols of the exotic. See this picture of the 17th century painting, Vanitas, by Jaques de Gheyn.

Jacques de Gheyn, Vanitas, 17th century

The statue also looks somewhat like the depictions of a Black Brazilian family by the `17th century Dutch artist, Albert Eckhout, between 1641-3. These are part of a series of 8 paintings commissioned by the Dutch governor of Nassau, intended to be anthropological studies of Brazil’s non-White peoples.

Blacks also appear as decorations on the musical instruments of the time. For example, negro heads often adorned the pegboxes of citterns, a 17th century ancestor of the guitar. It therefore seems to me that the statue of the Black African on Stroud’s clock is not that of a slave, but simply of the sculptor’s idea of an indigenous Black African. The modelling isn’t very good, but I suspect this is less due to any animosity on the part of the sculptor than simple lack of artistic training or skill. It’s more an example of folk art, rather than that of someone with a proper academic artistic education.

I therefore think that it’s wrong to assume that the Stroud figure is a slave. The assumption that it is seems to be a result of the general attack on anything vaguely connected to historic slavery and the slave trade following the mass protests in support of Black Lives Matter. It also seems to be directly influenced by the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, further to the south.

In fact, I believe that rather than suggesting Black degradation and slavery, the statue could be seen in a far more positive light as showing Stroud proudly embracing Blacks as trading partners as well as symbols of exoticism and prosperity.

Books on Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean Archaeology

December 30, 2017

A few months ago I got through the post the 2017 archaeology catalogue for Eurospan University Presses. Amongst some of the fascinating books listed were several on the archaeology of Black communities in America and the Caribbean. As you’ll see, they’re at prices well beyond what ordinary readers can afford. They’re really available only to the rich and academic libraries. If you’ve got access to one near you, then I recommend you try to borrow it from there. Some universities do lend to members of the public in the summer holidays when most of the students have gone home. It might also be possible to get it on interlibrary loan, although this can also mean a long wait and isn’t cheap either. The last time I enquired about it at Bristol, I was told the price was £5 per book. Which means that if you want to borrow more than one, it can become very expensive very quickly. Dam’ Tories and their cuts! I don’t know, but it may also be that some of these books may be available in PDF form over the Net at a cheaper rate. This isn’t mentioned in the catalogue, but it might be so. Alternatively, you could see if there are secondhand copies on Amazon. On the other hand, it might be worth waiting to see if a paperback edition comes out, which may be cheaper.

Here are the books I found interesting, and the blurbs for them in the catalogue.

Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, edited by Michael J. Gall & Richard F. Veit
9780817319656 Hardback £74.50

Provides insights into the archaeology and cultural history of African-American life from a collection of sites in the northeastern US. This volume explores the archaeology of African-American life and cultures in the Upper Mid-Atlantic region, suing sites dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.

University of Alabama Press.

Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves and the Founding of Miami, Andre F. Krank, 9780813054513, hardback £18.50

Formed seemingly out of steel, glass, and concrete with millions of residents from around the globe, Miami has ancient roots that can be hard to imagine today. This work takes readers back through forgotten eras to the stories of the people who shaped the land along the Miami River long before most modern histories of the city begin.

University of Florida Press.

Honoring Ancestors in Sacred Space: The Archaeology of an Eighteenth Century African Bahamian Cemetery, Grace Turner, 9781683400202, hardback £79.50.

Throughout life, black Africans in the Bahamas possessed material items of various degrees of importance to them and within their culture. St. Matthews was a cemetery in Nassau at the water’s edge – or sometimes slightly below. This project emerged from archaeological excavations at this site to identify and recover materials associated with the interned before the area was completely redeveloped.

University Press of Florida.

The Rosewood Massacre: An archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence, Edward Gonzalez Tennant. 9780813056784, £84.95.

Investigates the 1923 massacre that devastated the predominantly African American community of Rosewood, Florida. The author draws on cutting edge GIS technology, census data, artefacts from excavations, and archaeological theory to explore the local circumstances and broader socio-political power structures that led to the massacre.

University Press of Florida.

Simplicity, Equality and Slavery: An Archaeology of Quakerism in the British Virgin Islands, 1740-1780, John M. Chenoweth, 9781683400110 hardback, £79.50.

Inspired by the Quaker ideals of simplicity, equality, and peace, a group of White planters formed a community in the British Virgin Islands during the eighteenth century. Here, the author examines how the community navigated the contradictions of Quakerism and plantation ownership.

University Press of Florida.

These books sound very interesting. There have been a lot of research into the homes and communities of Black Americans over the past couple of decades. They’ve been excavated in New York, and also the slave communities owned by the Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin. In the case of excavating cemeteries, it’s obviously a particularly sensitive area, and the archaeologists involved have obviously had to be particularly careful in their negotiations of the host Black community and the surviving relatives of the deceased. As you should when excavating any human remains.

From what I gather from reading elsewhere, cemeteries and burial grounds are of particular importance in Afro-Caribbean culture, where it’s associated not only with personal heritage and family history and identity but also occupation of the land.

I remember correctly, the 1923 Rosewood massacre was White supremacist pogrom against the Black community in Rosewood, their politicians and their White supporters and allies. This was before McCarthyism, when the American Left was still very strong, and the Republican party the more left-wing of the two main political parties. The town’s mayor was Black, and the town council included Socialists. Even the Republicans issued a statement condemning the treatment of the poor, the corrupt corporate politics keeping them there, and declaring healthcare and education a right. Obviously the Conservatives and the Klan really couldn’t tolerate that, and stirred up resentment until it boiled over into organised violence.

As for the Quaker plantation in the British Virgin Islands, the Quakers very early denounced and condemned slavery as fundamentally opposed to their principles. John Fox, the sect’s founder, denounced and by their laws no member could own slaves. Nevertheless, the acceptance of slavery was so deeply ingrained in European society, that its rejection was not easy for many to accept. And although they were condemned from owning or dealing in slaves, some Quakers did make their cash through supplying the slave ships. If you want to know more about the Quakers, their ideals in this period, then I recommend you read David Dabydeen’s history of the Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sugar and Slaves.