NEVIS’ ELLIS ISLAND: PRESERVATION, NOT DESTRUCTION

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To the Editor:

In the late 1600’s through the mid 1700’s, at a time when Nevis was the headquarters of the Leeward Islands, all British ships coming to the Western Hemisphere had to clear customs in Nevis.  This included the ships that carried the human cargo of enslaved people from Africa.  They were carried on ships of the Royal African Company, a company registered in England and established in Nevis and Virginia.

The enslaved ancestors of Nevisians as well as other West Indian countries and the Americas, after surviving the horrendous ‘Middle Passage’, set foot on solid ground after months at sea and wallowing in their own waste at the Nevis port of entry.  The pier was located near to the site where Unella’s Restaurant is located today. There was a seawall built in Charlestown approximately 20 yards from the Main Road.  The sea wall contained a small passage way or threshold where individuals could pass from the beach to the town. This particular threshold was where all the enslaved had to cross on their way to a holding area, which today is behind the walls at Crosses Alley.  Manacles (known as Manillas) from this time period and found at this location can be seen at the Alexander Hamilton Museum

In 2001, an archaeological dig was conducted at this site by a team of students from Southampton University, UK, led by Dr. Roger Leech.  They were able to uncover several stone objects, which include the threshold, a well and other portions of wall.  The owner of the land had given permission for this dig and had given instructions to Dr. Leech to leave the finds uncovered.

There was some concern and or disapproval by some business owners in the area about leaving a gapping hole in the ground in the town area.  It was thought it would become a collection point for water and thus, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. It also became an eyesore because of the gathering of people on Friday evenings at the bar across the street. This caused the area to contain a great deal of litter.

The NHCS has always maintained that the area has historic value. In 2007 a request was made to the land owner, through his Nevis attorney to place a banner at the site in commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.  Permission was granted.

Just last week it was observed that the lot was being filled in.  The NHCS was never informed.  Several attempts were made to contact the land owner’s Nevis representative, but were met with “he’s not available”, “he’s stepped out” or “he’s on the phone”.  Messages were left for a return call, but none were received.  The director of the NHCS was just driving by on Saturday when he saw the banners being hauled away in the bucket of a backhoe.  He stopped the backhoe and retrieved them.

The NHCS will write a letter to the owner and ask, “What is the intended use for the land?  If there is no intent to build on it, or if it will be built on some time in the future, will the owner allow the NHCS, at its expense, to landscape the lot; add benches, trees, flowers and signage?”

The United States has preserved Ellis Island to commemorate those people who have come to its shores for religious reasons and freedom of speech.  Nevis, the landing site of enslaved Africans should have its own “Ellis Island”, the first place that enslaved human beings were able to rest and collect their thoughts and maybe breath a sigh of relief, thinking that they are back home in Africa.

This is sacred ground and should be treated with reverence.  Please, give us your support with making this happen for Nevis.  If you are interested and want to help, contact the NHCS at 469-5786.

John Guilbert

Nevis