In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Schooner Amistad in Shelburne Harbour

Amistad arrived at the town dock in Shelburne today. She's a powerful symbol of courage and resistance to injustice.
Amistad is a replica of the ship which was carrying enslaved Africans out of Havana in 1839. The Africans rose up and took over the ship.
If you don't know the story, Steven Spielburg's movie Amistad is a great way to learn about it. They are showing it in town this afternoon. And there are several other excellent events surrounding the Amistad's arrival. In case you are near Shelburne, you can find out about the week's activities here.
Amistad will be travelling to Cuba later this month, then replicating her historic voyage from Havana to Long Island. There's lots of information about the trip at Amistad's web site.
Today in Shelburne the townspeople marched out to greet her. These are the Third New Jersey Volunteers. That's our solicitor, second shako from the left.
It's always a bit head-spinning for us Yanks, since we think of New Jersey as being on the American side in the Revolution. But in Nova Scotia when we refer to the Third New Jersey Volunteers we mean a regiment of British Loyalists, or as they would have been referred to in the newly independent American colonies, traitors. Head-spinning. But we are on the Nova Scotian side of things now.
Actually, people in Shelburne dress like this a lot. If you are going to live in Shelburne you might as well go ahead and invest in some eighteenth century clothes. You will need them.
There is an organic connection between Amistad and Nova Scotia, and particularly with Birchtown, here in Shelburne Harbour. In 1792 a large group of former American slaves, who had won their freedom and a Nova Scotia refuge by actively supporting the British cause in the Revolution, left Nova Scotia and sailed to Sierra Leone, which was then also the site of a British slave-trading outpost. There they established Freetown and a new community of freedom in the midst of an active slave trade. Over half of those new settlers to Sierre Leone came from Birchtown.
Nearly fifty years later, the Africans aboard the Amistad were enslaved near Sierra Leone and taken to Cuba to be sold.
If you imagine a skein of connection between the American colonies (later the new United States), Nova Scotia, England, Sierra Leone and the slave embarkation points along Africa's west coast, and Cuba and the West Indies where slaves were needed for the sugar plantations, then back to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for cheap salt fish to feed the slaves, you have the bare outlines of a vast global economy based on slavery. Both the Nova Scotian settlers of Sierra Leone and the enslaved Africans who took control of Amistad were courageous people whose personal actions furthered the end of a system so deeply entrenched that many thought it would be impossible to eradicate.

A wonderful book on the end of slavery is Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005). Hochschild is a great story teller, worthy of his huge subject.

1 comment:

Paul Bryant-Smith said...

Great post, Greg. I'm a volunteer crewmember with Amistad and was thrilled to see your coverage of our vessel's trip to Shelburne. Good work!

You'll find some other posts about Amistad and my trips with her to Sierra Leone and Havana at my blog,