Bish Denham, whose mother’s side of the family has been in the
for over one hundred years, was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. She still
has lots of family living there whom she visits regularly.
She says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book.
Columbus named the islands, Sir Francis Drake sailed
through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St.
Croix. The ruins of hundreds of sugar plantations, built with the
sweat and blood of slave labor, litter the islands. Then there were the pirates
who plied the waters. It is within this atmosphere of wonder and mystery, that
I grew up. Life for me was magical, and through my writing I hope to pass on
some of that magic.”
The Bowl and the Stone: A Haunting Tale from the
is her third book and second novel. You can find Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales and A Lizard’s Tail, at Amazon.com.
To learn more about Bish, you can visit her blog, Random Thoughts, at www.http:/bish-randomthoughts.blogspot.com.
She can also be found on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BishDenham/Author
And Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6439315.Bish_Denham
THE LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM
It all began when Columbus, on his second trip in 1493, sailed through a beautiful cluster of small islands. He named them the Virgin Islands, after St. Ursula and her entourage of 11,000 virgins. 180 years later Denmark had successfully colonized the island of St. Thomas, and in 1673 the first slave ship arrive carrying 103 Africans.
In 1718 the Danes took formal possession of St. John, an island of just 20 square miles and three miles away from St. Thomas. With their arrival the plantation era began. Windmills, horse mills and plantation manors were built using the local rock and coral from the sea. Bricks, used as ballast in the ships coming from Europe, were also incorporated. Land was cleared and the steep hillsides were terraced. Sugar cane and cotton were planted. All of this was done with slave labor.
The Enighed (pronounced E-na-head) Estate house, in Cruz Bay, St. John is now a public library.
By 1733 there were 109 plantations on St. John. But it was a devastating year. Slaves, when not tending their master’s fields, had to grow their own food. A drought was followed by a hurricane, then came a plague of insects. These natural disasters destroyed food crops, causing famine and starving slaves began to grow restless.
On September 5th, to keep the slaves from running away, a harsh slave code was imposed. Punishments were severe and included, torture, branding, whipping, and death. These conditions led the slaves to plan a revolt.
In the early dawn of November 23rd , 1733, a group of slaves carrying cane knives, entered Frederiks Fort at Coral Bay which began a long and bloody resistance and took the lives of nearly a quarter of the white population.
The ruins of Frederiks Fort, Coral Bay, St. John. (Jack Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
The Danes, unable to end rebellion asked for help, and in late April of 1734 French soldiers arrived to subdued the revolt. Most of the remaining slaves, rather than surrender, chose to commit suicide and by the end of May, it was over.
Even though it was quelled, it is considered the first successful slave revolt in the New World. And, those six months caused ideas about slavery to slowly change. In 1755, King Frederick of Denmark issued the Reglement, in which slave rights were mentioned for the first time.
In 1802 Denmark became the first European country to abolish the slave trade, which meant that slaves could no longer be brought from Africa. Ten years later, the Danes required all slave children to attend school. Classes were taught in English.
When Britain freed their slaves in 1834, hundreds of slaves from St. John left their homes and families and escaped to the freedom of Tortola, a near-by British island.
Through continued acts of passive and active resistance by the slaves on St. John, and a slave revolt on the island of St. Croix, all slaves in the Danish West Indies were finally given their freedom on July 3rd, 1848. The news reached St. John on July 4th.
After 175 years of struggle to won their emancipation achieve, Virgin Islanders developed a strong sense of pride and independence. Freedom was not “given” to them as the English had done for their slaves. Nor was a war fought for them, as with the American Civil War.
In my book, The Bowl and the Stone: A Haunting Tale from the Virgin Islands, twelve-year-olds Sam and her best friend Nick, are being haunting by a man they assume was once a slave. Nick is even seeming the man in his dreams. In this excerpt they discuss the possibility of his being a slave and of past lives.
Pirates. Explorers. And spooky ghost hunters.
It’s 1962. Sam and her best friend, Nick, have the whole island of St. John, in the U. S. Virgin Islands, as their playground. They’ve got 240 year-old sugar plantation ruins to explore, beaches to swim, and trails to hike.
But when a man disappears like a vapor right in front of them, they must confront a scary new reality. They’re being haunted. By whom? And why? He’s even creeping into Nick’s dreams.
They need help, but the one who might be able to give it is Trumps, a reclusive hunchback who doesn’t like people, especially kids. Are Sam and Nick brave enough to face him? And if they do, will he listen to them?
As carefree summer games turn into eerie hauntings, Sam and Nick learn more about themselves and life than they could ever have imagined.
“He must have been a slave,” says Nick, as if reading my mind.
“Maybe he wasn’t always a slave,” I offer.
He walks backwards, facing me. “What else could he have been?”
“Well, he could have been a free man who got sold into slavery.”
“But couldn’t the same be said of all the slaves?”
“I suppose so. But if his story were the same as all the others, then wouldn’t all the slaves be hanging around as ghosts wanting something? But they aren’t, so his story must be different, or he wouldn’t be showing up. Maybe—”
Nick finishes my sentence, “—he died a terrible, horrible death, like in my dream.”
“Or he’s being punished.”
“Or we knew him before.”
I come to a sliding stop and gape at him. “Are you talking past lives?”
“Think about it. Why is he haunting us, two white kids? What can we possibly do for him? It makes sense to me; that we’re connected to him somehow.”
I roll my head around and puff out air through my mouth. “Too weird!”
“Sure it’s weird, but in my dream I believe I was supposed to stop his death from happening. Maybe if I’d been there, he wouldn’t have died.”
“So you believe the dream is about him dying?”
“And in this past life you may have been responsible for his death?”
He flaps his arms in emphasis, “I’m not crazy, Sam.”
Available now at:
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