Categorized | Features

Cultural Heritage comes alive in Montserrat

By Lydia M. Pulsipher
lpulsiph@utk.edu

Manor house plan

For those interested in Montserrat’s cultural heritage Monday was a good day to be on island. At 10.00 a.m. on March 14, the Montserrat National Trust opened a viewer-friendly exhibit chronicling the lives of people who have contributed in a variety of ways to the island by simply living their lives in this community. It is to be hoped that exhibits like this commemorating both unknown and famous Montserratians, some who were born here and some who adopted the country in adulthood, will become a regular feature at the National Trust. There are literally thousands of candidates for future exhibits waiting in the wings and with modern technology, these biographical exhibits can be copied and stored as digital files to be enjoyed Online by the Montserrat Diaspora for generations to come.

The brief speeches delivered at the opening were inspiring. President of the National Trust, Dulcie James, began the festivities with a quick thumbnail review of the people honored. The Honorable Minister, Colin Riley, reminded us that Montserrat has a rich history to share with the wider world and that visitors treasure meeting the people of the land in the intimate settings afforded by this unique island. Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor, Sarita Francis spoke of the contributions made by the people memorialized in the exhibit, reminding us of the ways in which the island economy and culture have been enriched by creative and resilient local people and by those who reach the island through residential tourism. Lady Eudora Fergus, Director of the Montserrat National Trust, amused the audience with well-disguised humorous anecdotes about a number of the honorees, making the worthy point that Montserrat highly values its uniquely colorful characters, be they renowned or living unspectacular ordinary lives.

Manor House foundation Carr site

I am back in Montserrat just now to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day activities and to make preparations for the resumption at the end of June of the archaeological digs at the Capt. Wm Carr Estate at Little Bay. This promises to be one of Montserrat’s most interesting heritage sites and again, it is the Montserrat National Trust that is leading the way by sponsoring the research there. Our work is funded by modest grants from Montserrat citizens, by in-kind contributions from the Montserrat Government and American universities, by one anonymous donor with ties to Montserrat and by the scholars involved who work pro bono, digging during July and writing proposals and reports year-round.

As many will remember, Capt. Carr was one of the earliest planters on Montserrat, an Irishman who came over from St. Kitts. He served on the island council in the mid-1600s and was active politically during a contentious era when the English/Irish conflicts of the Cromwellian period spilled onto the shores of Montserrat. Carr undoubtedly employed Irish servants indentured under Cromwell and somewhat later he acquired African slaves. He had these laborers construct a sugar works the ruins of which still sit between what is now the Little Bay cricket pitch and the base of the new raised roadway that encircles the planned new town.  To the practiced eye a number of these structures are still visible: the residence, several adjacent buildings, a cattle mill and a boiling house. The building of the new road destroyed the estate village.

This site is of interest partially because it is such an early attempt at sugar production, but also because our accumulating knowledge of the Carr Estate indicates that very early it was caught up in the just emerging global economy. The artifacts we find at the Carr site come from far and wide and previous research on Montserrat has shown that it was not just the planters who were operating in this world-wide trade, but Irish servants and African slaves were as well. They sold the produce from their gardens and animal raising and from itinerant traders they bought necessities and small luxury goods (mostly glassware and ceramic bowls and cups from China and Europe. The remains of these goods are to be found on the sites of plantation villages around the island.

Readers familiar with the Carr archaeology project probably are wondering why the site sits dormant for much of the year.  Here is the explanation. Like all things in life archaeology is subject to economic constraints. All of us who work at the Carr site (the supervising archaeologists and me, an historical geographer) make our livings as professors in U.S. universities. We volunteer our time during our summer break (July), but to support our families, we must return to teaching from August to June. Because we must leave, we cover our excavations and close up the site to avoid it getting damaged by construction equipment or wandering cattle. The artifacts get analyzed and are then returned to Montserrat (unfortunately until the museum is built, there is not as yet an adequate place to store them safely).

Once we have finished the archaeology, which will take some time, we hope to work with expert museum designers to interpret the site for the public using the latest in museum theory and technology. We envision paths, explanatory signs, stabilized ruins with plaques showing how each building might have looked and functioned and weather-protected kiosks where visitors can view all manner of digitized information including photos of artifacts, with historic and ethnographic data depicted on interactive maps.

This coming summer, we hope to add several components to the Carr Estate project, if the grant proposals we have written in the last several months come through. First, the Montserrat Secondary school program will now include a week–long workshop on archaeology and archaeological methods near the end of June. Students will apply to participate and will receive a small stipend after completing the workshop and working three weeks at the Carr site. For those interested in a science or social science career this should be an experience that will advance that goal. Successful students will get reference .

Second, in answer to requests we heard last July at our presentation at the National Trust on the Carr site archaeology, we will begin a folk geography project that will record oral histories with those who have some knowledge of life during the early-, mid- and late-twentieth century in the Little Bay vicinity, including Potato Hill, Rendezvous, Drummonds, and adjacent places. These oral histories will be linked carefully to a 3D digital elevation model of northern Montserrat, so that the histories will have a strong geographic component. Such folk geographies are gaining currency in many parts of the world because they enable people who are native to a place to influence the mapping of their home territory. Formerly, official maps reflected only the perspectives of government surveyors who often had little or no connection to the place being mapped. Several similar mapping projects completed on Galways Mountain and elsewhere in Old Montserrat during the last years before the volcanic activity, proved very popular with the people who participated in the mapping.

In line with what Minister Colin Riley pointed out in his speech at the MNT opening, all the outsider volunteers who come to work at Carr’s Estate have been enchanted with Montserrat and can’t wait to come back. We have even attracted volunteers from Slovenia (formerly in Yugoslavia, now in the EU) and it looks like we will have another Slovene young woman this coming July.

Be sure to visit the Montserrat National Trust biographical exhibit soon. You are certain to have known several of the people featured. If you are interestedin participating in the oral history project, contact me at Lydia Pulsipher lpulsiph@gmail.com.

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By Lydia M. Pulsipher
lpulsiph@utk.edu

Manor house plan

For those interested in Montserrat’s cultural heritage Monday was a good day to be on island. At 10.00 a.m. on March 14, the Montserrat National Trust opened a viewer-friendly exhibit chronicling the lives of people who have contributed in a variety of ways to the island by simply living their lives in this community. It is to be hoped that exhibits like this commemorating both unknown and famous Montserratians, some who were born here and some who adopted the country in adulthood, will become a regular feature at the National Trust. There are literally thousands of candidates for future exhibits waiting in the wings and with modern technology, these biographical exhibits can be copied and stored as digital files to be enjoyed Online by the Montserrat Diaspora for generations to come.

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The brief speeches delivered at the opening were inspiring. President of the National Trust, Dulcie James, began the festivities with a quick thumbnail review of the people honored. The Honorable Minister, Colin Riley, reminded us that Montserrat has a rich history to share with the wider world and that visitors treasure meeting the people of the land in the intimate settings afforded by this unique island. Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor, Sarita Francis spoke of the contributions made by the people memorialized in the exhibit, reminding us of the ways in which the island economy and culture have been enriched by creative and resilient local people and by those who reach the island through residential tourism. Lady Eudora Fergus, Director of the Montserrat National Trust, amused the audience with well-disguised humorous anecdotes about a number of the honorees, making the worthy point that Montserrat highly values its uniquely colorful characters, be they renowned or living unspectacular ordinary lives.

Manor House foundation Carr site

I am back in Montserrat just now to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day activities and to make preparations for the resumption at the end of June of the archaeological digs at the Capt. Wm Carr Estate at Little Bay. This promises to be one of Montserrat’s most interesting heritage sites and again, it is the Montserrat National Trust that is leading the way by sponsoring the research there. Our work is funded by modest grants from Montserrat citizens, by in-kind contributions from the Montserrat Government and American universities, by one anonymous donor with ties to Montserrat and by the scholars involved who work pro bono, digging during July and writing proposals and reports year-round.

As many will remember, Capt. Carr was one of the earliest planters on Montserrat, an Irishman who came over from St. Kitts. He served on the island council in the mid-1600s and was active politically during a contentious era when the English/Irish conflicts of the Cromwellian period spilled onto the shores of Montserrat. Carr undoubtedly employed Irish servants indentured under Cromwell and somewhat later he acquired African slaves. He had these laborers construct a sugar works the ruins of which still sit between what is now the Little Bay cricket pitch and the base of the new raised roadway that encircles the planned new town.  To the practiced eye a number of these structures are still visible: the residence, several adjacent buildings, a cattle mill and a boiling house. The building of the new road destroyed the estate village.

This site is of interest partially because it is such an early attempt at sugar production, but also because our accumulating knowledge of the Carr Estate indicates that very early it was caught up in the just emerging global economy. The artifacts we find at the Carr site come from far and wide and previous research on Montserrat has shown that it was not just the planters who were operating in this world-wide trade, but Irish servants and African slaves were as well. They sold the produce from their gardens and animal raising and from itinerant traders they bought necessities and small luxury goods (mostly glassware and ceramic bowls and cups from China and Europe. The remains of these goods are to be found on the sites of plantation villages around the island.

Readers familiar with the Carr archaeology project probably are wondering why the site sits dormant for much of the year.  Here is the explanation. Like all things in life archaeology is subject to economic constraints. All of us who work at the Carr site (the supervising archaeologists and me, an historical geographer) make our livings as professors in U.S. universities. We volunteer our time during our summer break (July), but to support our families, we must return to teaching from August to June. Because we must leave, we cover our excavations and close up the site to avoid it getting damaged by construction equipment or wandering cattle. The artifacts get analyzed and are then returned to Montserrat (unfortunately until the museum is built, there is not as yet an adequate place to store them safely).

Once we have finished the archaeology, which will take some time, we hope to work with expert museum designers to interpret the site for the public using the latest in museum theory and technology. We envision paths, explanatory signs, stabilized ruins with plaques showing how each building might have looked and functioned and weather-protected kiosks where visitors can view all manner of digitized information including photos of artifacts, with historic and ethnographic data depicted on interactive maps.

This coming summer, we hope to add several components to the Carr Estate project, if the grant proposals we have written in the last several months come through. First, the Montserrat Secondary school program will now include a week–long workshop on archaeology and archaeological methods near the end of June. Students will apply to participate and will receive a small stipend after completing the workshop and working three weeks at the Carr site. For those interested in a science or social science career this should be an experience that will advance that goal. Successful students will get reference .

Second, in answer to requests we heard last July at our presentation at the National Trust on the Carr site archaeology, we will begin a folk geography project that will record oral histories with those who have some knowledge of life during the early-, mid- and late-twentieth century in the Little Bay vicinity, including Potato Hill, Rendezvous, Drummonds, and adjacent places. These oral histories will be linked carefully to a 3D digital elevation model of northern Montserrat, so that the histories will have a strong geographic component. Such folk geographies are gaining currency in many parts of the world because they enable people who are native to a place to influence the mapping of their home territory. Formerly, official maps reflected only the perspectives of government surveyors who often had little or no connection to the place being mapped. Several similar mapping projects completed on Galways Mountain and elsewhere in Old Montserrat during the last years before the volcanic activity, proved very popular with the people who participated in the mapping.

In line with what Minister Colin Riley pointed out in his speech at the MNT opening, all the outsider volunteers who come to work at Carr’s Estate have been enchanted with Montserrat and can’t wait to come back. We have even attracted volunteers from Slovenia (formerly in Yugoslavia, now in the EU) and it looks like we will have another Slovene young woman this coming July.

Be sure to visit the Montserrat National Trust biographical exhibit soon. You are certain to have known several of the people featured. If you are interestedin participating in the oral history project, contact me at Lydia Pulsipher lpulsiph@gmail.com.