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An African slave’s epitaph

By CMS in Uncategorised

Norman Hammond has sent us a blog post, an update on his earlier article in Church Monuments.

 

In 2002 Church Monuments (XVII: 119) I printed the epitaph of an African slave woman, Eve Broaster. It was dedicated in the burial ground on St. George’s Cay, an island in the Caribbean off Belize City, where the first capital of the future Crown Colony of British Honduras (since 1981 the independent nation of Belize) was located (Figure 1, from Hammond 2000 Fig.12). The stone was unfortunately destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, but luckily had been transcribed by John Purcell Usher in a private publication of 1907, of which the only known copy is in the British Library (Memorial Inscriptions and Epitaphs, Belize, British Honduras).

It reads:

Sacred/to the memory of/Eve Broaster/a native of Mandingo, in Africa/who departed this life 28th July 1821/aged 65 years/whose inoffensive primeval conduct/endeared her to all with whom she/was acquainted/and as a tribute to her departed/worth/this stone is erected to her memory/by her disconsolate daughter/Ariadne Broaster/This rude stone, what few superb/ marbles can/may truly boast here lies an honest/woman.

 

There are a number of interesting points that I did not bring out in my 2002 article:

(1) The “Sacred” was in black-letter according to Usher’s transcription, Eve Broaster’s name in larger capitals, suggesting a professionally-cut inscription, and its existence suggests that Ariadne Broaster had or was able to recruit sufficient means to pay for it. The quality of the final couplet and some of the phraseology suggests that she composed the epitaph herself. “Primeval” may be intended to evoke the idea of the “noble savage”, while “woman” in the verse couplet adapts the usual “man” at the expense of scansion. In both cases, it suggests that Ariadne had some degree of education. The stone type is not known, but all the gravestones and mural monuments I have recorded were imports: Belize lacked appropriate raw materials (Hammond 1999, 2000)

 

(2) Its presence in the St George’s Cay burial ground alongside such splendid monuments as that of 1806 to Thomas Potts (Figure 1), “Senior Magistrate of this Settlement” indicates that her slave-origin status was no bar to interment there. Although slavery was still extant, even after the abolition of the trade in 1807, and not formally abolished until 1833, the social situation in British Honduras was fluid and tolerant, as John Lloyd Stephens noted (Hammond 1999 note 6).

 

(3) Eve was aware of where in Africa she had come from (Mandingo languages cover an area of West Africa from Senegal and Gambia south to Ivory Coast and inland to Mali) and passed this information to Ariadne. She also knew her age: she was born around 1756.

 

After these notes were written, and almost a decade after my article was published, further information has appeared on Eve Broaster and her family, summarised in the Belize City newspaper Amandala in 2011 and again in 2018.

 

Dr Jaime Awe, Director of the Institute of Archaeology in Belize, reported in 2011 that Eve Broaster had been a slave in Jamaica, becoming free when she moved to the British settlement on the Mosquito Coast of today’s Nicaragua; no source for this is cited. The freedom is disputable: Ariadne’s father is now known to have been John Broster (sic), who died on the Mosquito Shore of Nicaragua in 1779. In his 1779 Will he describes Eve as “my negro woman” and leaves his estate to Ariadne (nicknamed Adney) and her brother, and Eve in Adney’s care, even though the latter was only some six to eight years of age (born 1771-1773; Hyde 2018). This is perhaps because Adney was free-born, unlike her mother. Whether Eve Broaster took her surname from her slave-owner, or whether some kind of marriage occurred, is not known. She would have been between fifteen and seventeen when Ariadne was born.

 

Since the family were in 1779 living on the Mosquito Coast, east of Belize, Eve and Ariadne would have been among the British-descended settlers who were subsequently forcibly moved west under the 1786 British-Spanish Convention, probably in 1787. According to Hyde (2018) the influx of some 2100 “Shoremen” joined a smaller existing “Baymen” population, which took pre-emptive steps to keep political and economic power in their own hands. The Shoremen were settled in “Convention Town”, a new community about ten miles up the Belize River.

 

In Belize, Ariadne Broaster married an Aberdonian  Scot, James Bartlet (ca. 1753-1800) , “many years inhabitant of this settlement” who was roughly twenty years older than her and even some three years older than her mother Eve. He predeceased both women, and was buried on St George’s Cay; an 1872 plan of the burial ground marks his grave and Usher (1907: 49) records the epitaph, but both grave and gravestone have vanished. The marriage – of whatever formal or informal nature – raised his mother-in-law’s social level and may explain why Ariadne was able to bury Eve near him. She had a son, George (born 1795), by James Bartlet; James became known (posthumously, differing from his gravestone) as James Bartlett Hyde and was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Evan X. Hyde (2018), Amandala’s Editor.

 

James Bartlet was clearly a Bayman, from his epitaph, and Ariadne Broaster in linking herself with him thus crossed the community divide, and brought her mother Eve with her both physically and socially to St. George’s Cay.

 

References:

Amandala (anonymous)

2011   Mandingo Eve, the Hydes and St. George’s Caye. Amandala, August 30, 2011.

 

 

Hammond, Norman

  1. Outpost of Empire: Church Monuments in Belize. Church Monuments XIV:

129-139

 

  1. Beyond the Mexique Bay: Church Monuments in Belize, Part II.

Church Monuments XV: 89-102.

 

  1. Corrigendum and Addendum for Vol. XV, 2000. Church Monuments XVI: 136.

 

  1. Church Monuments in Belize: a Final Note. Church Monuments XVII: 118-120.

 

Hyde, Evan X.

2018   From the Publisher. Amandala, May 26, 2018: 1

 

Usher, John Purcell

1907   Memorial Inscriptions and Epitaphs, Belize, British Honduras. Privately printed by Cassell & Co, Ludgate Hill, London.

 

Illustration: St. George’s Cay in the 19th century: plan and the 1806 “Bayman’s Tomb” to Thomas Potts, from the Belize $5.00 banknote. (Fig. 12 in Hammond 2000).


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