Monday, October 15, 2007

Cheshire Hall Plantation trip

(I pulled this information from several sources and added our perspectives to it as residents here. We took the photos yesterday)

In the middle of the “business and government district” in Provo are two hills. “District” is a flexible word, don’t read too much into that. From the main road across the island (Leeward Highway, and “highway” is another one of those flexible words) right behind the Myrtle health center and the St. Monica church, adjacent to where this nations first actual real hospital is planned, you can see some old stone ruins on the hill tops. There’s a road sign that says “Cheshire Hall”, but that road doesn’t go there. Since we have been here, we have read various references to Cheshire Hall. We knew it was the ruins of a plantation, but that’s all we knew about it.

Yesterday, a hot, sweaty Sunday afternoon with nothing else planned, we decided that after two years, it was time to go take a look. We packed a cooler with drinks, loaded up the dog and drove over. The first thing we found was that the ruins were “closed”, a chain across the little road that leads to them. We circled around the hills in the Land Rover, finding a few thousand potholes we hadn’t met before, searching for a back way in. We spotted some likely paths, but they were steep, and so overgrown with brush, cacti, and sharp boulders that we figured the direct approach would save us some time, skin, and blood. So we parked in the health center parking lot and basically, trespassed. (Hey, we are children of the 60’s, its not unheard of.)

The ruins are enclosed by a rock fence, obviously very old, that is six to eight feet high in many places. We found a spot where it was lower, where someone had taken it apart to put a chain link fence up, and after looking around to see if we were being observed, we climbed the wall.

After a short uphill walk through some shady , steep, stony paths:

We came to the top of the hill. The people who are slowly restoring this piece of TCI history have done a good job so far, clearing paths and cutting brush. The hilltop is at least an acre, and covered with the ruins of the Stubb’s Great House, storage buildings, and a lot of unidentified foundations.

The Great House is on the breezy rise of the hilltop, overlooking much of western Providenciales and a valley below, which was likely once used for raising food crops or livestock. Sections of the original stone wall still trace the plantation's boundaries deep in the bush.

The Great House, front steps:

I have found out, now, that Cheshire Hall was built by Loyalists in the latter part of the 1700’s. The Loyalists were original American colonists ( English) who remained faithful to England during the Revolutionary War. By 1778, when the British armies pulled out of the southern states, thousands of Loyalists abandoned their holdings there and fled, along with their slaves, to British-held Florida and later to the Bahamas, which then included the Turks & Caicos Islands. The white plantation owners lived in, and ran their business from this Great House. Where white slave owners once walked, slept, and planned, now a little Jack Russell Terrier sniffs out lizards to chase:

Trees now grow up through pantries, and kitchens, and storerooms in the once Great House on the hill:

Much of the ruins are still overgrown, and not easy to walk among:

And they are pretty effectively guarded by cacti….this is NOT someplace you would want to go stumbling around in when it was dark…unless you like puncture wounds:

The Loyalists (or more accurately, their slaves), built a few grand plantations here to grow the highly prized Sea Island Cotton, preferred by the expanding textile industries in England. This one changed hands between brothers in 1810, and from what I have read, it seems it was pretty much doomed by 1812, when the soil was played out after years of growing cotton, and a fierce hurricane swept through these islands in 1813.

Although the land was initially productive, a combination of thin soil, infestations of chenille worm and red bug and the Great Hurricane of 1813 cut short the life of these enterprises. The Loyalists departed or died and left behind the buildings , and some 1,200 slaves were left to fend for themselves. These slaves are the ancestors of much of the populations of North and Middle Caicos and Providenciales. They were supplemented by a boat load of captured Africans on their way to the US who were shipwrecked on East Caicos in a boat called the Trouvadore, that’s another story I will tell when we get more involved in that project. The search for that boat is still ongoing, and we are in very close contact with the people involved.

Facing due north at the top of the hill is a cannon that protected the planters and their slaves from unwelcome attack. It was most likely originally mounted on a wooden trolley, so it could be wheeled to wherever it was needed. The wood, of course, is long rotted away, but the cannon was recovered and sits on a small structure:

I have read that a number of small cannon balls were found buried in the sand on the site. I also read that. the buildings' original walls were made from soft limestone blocks mortared with sand and quicklime. This material was ingeniously made by burning huge piles of conch shells in kilns, then mixing the ash with water to form the white plaster that covered the buildings' exteriors.

Other structures in the plantation ruins include the base for a cotton press, used to press oil out of cotton seeds:

There are other ruins here, including the base of a cotton gin, slave quarters, and various storehouses and outbuildings. We did take a lot more photos than this, but this should basically give you a pretty good idea of what’s at Cheshire Hall. The National Trust people here are slowly trying to save whats left of the plantation ruins, and doing a good job. There is a lot of work yet to do.

What stories these stones could tell, of a people taken from Africa to an English Colony, that went through a war of Independence, and then were moved again to a small sun baked island. And then, essentially, left to fend for themselves. Abandoned.

Now, here's the part that really brings it home to us. The English Loyalist and slave owner who owned this place was named Thomas Stubbs. By 1810, Thomas Stubbs gave up on the TCI and sold Cheshire Hall to Wade Stubbs, his brother and owner of Wade Green plantation on North Caicos. At his death in 1822, Wade Stubbs' Cheshire Hall holdings were approximately 5,000 acres and he left behind 384 slaves.

While Thomas Stubbs owned the plantation in its heyday, on the night of 9 September, 1800, fourteen slaves escaped in a small boat. Stubbs offered a reward of $500 for their return, but there is no record indicating if they were ever found.

In the slavery days, it was common for important slaves to be named after their owners. We all know of Washingtons and Jeffersons and now I know that the name of Stubbs goes straight back to the very founding years of the USA, the American Revolution, when slaves were taken from the cotton plantations of the USA by Englishmen loyal to the King of England, and moved to work in the hot sun of the Caribbean growing cotton.

There has been an unbroken string of Thomas Stubbs since the 1700’s, here on Provo, And following tradition, each generation named its first-born son Thomas. By the 1960’s, a hundred and forty years after the Cheshire Hall plantation slaves were abandoned and left to their own devices to survive, the population of the entire island was down to a few hundred descendants of slave families. One of these families were the Stubbs who of course essentially inherited the largest chunks of the most attractive land on the island, including large parts of Leeward where there was enough topsoil to grow some basic crops.

The roundabout ( rotary) where we turn off Leeward Highway is named the Thomas Stubbs roundabout. There are Stubbs Cay, Stubbs Creek, and Stubbs Cove, that we know of, so far. And the thousands of acres of almost worthless island land inherited by descendants of slaves are now finally worth some serious money. From $ 150K up to over a million an acre. Big chunks of this island are still owned by people who we know as sailors, fishermen, conch divers, and friends. The families went through some tough times trying to survive. Famine, hurricanes, it wasn’t easy. But they are sturdy stock. They are doing okay, now. They do not have to pick cotton. But they do still eat conch. And have been known to talk gullible Gringos out of their fish.

And although we had no clue about this part of TCI history until after I started looking into Cheshire Hall last night to explain these photos to you, we think we have a better feel for it now. The Stubbs family that we have just naturally become friends with because of common shared interests,openness, similar senses of humor, and mutual respect can trace their history all the way back to the American Revolution.

And we have the privilege of being shown big parts of this little nation by our best friend here, a descendant of slaves who has taken us under his arm, introduced us to his brothers, cousins, and friends. We fish together. He helped us recover an anchor. We toured Salt Cay with him, and he gave us advice on where to build on this island he knows so well. We have been to his home, and he to ours many times. We have seen where he was born, heard amazing tales of oceangoing adventures, and have met his mother. We have some trips planned with him coming up. He goes by his nickname, Preacher.

But his given name is Thomas Stubbs.

Now I don't know about you, but we think that is way freakin' cool.

Funny thing about Preacher...yesterday morning, before we even thought of checking out Cheshire Hall, I was wondering aloud to La Gringa what Preacher was up to.....and less than an hour later he called. He was on North Caicos and was wondering if we were still on Pine Cay, I think he was angling for a fishing trip.


La Gringa said...

This is still one of my favorite posts.

I just read it again. We never got any comments - maybe you had to be there?

Anonymous said...

Surely didn't have to be there. That is pretty cool.

Wakey said...

I'm loving this blog!

I'm curious about whatever yall care to share with us.

I think many of us are living vicariously through you, via this blog.

PS I even read captions for pics that are no longer here haaaha

I'll be bummed when I catch back up to current posts..