Thursday, 7 June 2012

Delighting In Your Company - Caribbean Background

Alas my love you do me wrong,
To leave me so discourteously,
While I have loved you well and long,
Delighting in your company.  

These words from a fifteenth century song, Greensleeves, were a part of the inspiration for my paranormal novel with time travel, Delighting In Your Company.
My heroine, Amalie Ansett, finds herself in the unenviable position of falling in love with a ghost.   Jonathan Evans was a plantation owner on the small Caribbean island of St. Clement’s in the early 1800’s.   He died suddenly and violently and has walked the island ever since as a ghost, or, as the people there call the dead who walk, a 'jumbie'.  

Amalie can see and hear and touch him as no one else has in two hundred years.   It is up to her to help him find out what happened all those years ago.   Why he is alive but not alive, dead but not dead.  

The island in my book is based on a real one, St. Eustatius.   I’ve had a home there for many years.   Details in my book about jumbies and Obeah, the ancient religious practice brought by the slaves from Africa, are based on stories I’ve heard many times from local friends.   There is a White Wall Road.   And there is, according to local lore, a ghost who walks White Wall.   The “real” ghost, however, is a woman.   In my book I’ve chosen to change her into a man.  

There are other differences, as well.   My book is fiction after all.   While St. Eustatius is Dutch today, I’ve chosen to make my fictional island, St. Clement’s, English.   I did this because in 1807 the British Parliament enacted a law prohibiting the transportation of slaves into and out of all ports in England and all British possessions.   At that time St. Eustatius was a British Island.  This had a profound effect on the economies and social structures of the British Caribbean Islands, and it is a key factor in my plot.  

While I’ve been steeped in Caribbean culture for many years, I learned much in the course of researching the Caribbean of the eighteen hundreds.   I have a large collection of books on the history of the Caribbean, some of them very old, and these were invaluable.  
Museum on St. Eustatius
Delighting In Your Company is a fantasy.   A figment of my imagination.   But the scenes of a slave auction and of an Obeah Ceremony are taken from the works of nineteenth and early twentieth century writers, and the hand written records of slave sales that my heroine finds are, with minor changes, the ledgers I have seen in the Museum of the St. Eustatius Historical Society.  

This book almost wrote itself.   Once I became immersed in the tale, all that I love about the Caribbean Islands and their culture and peoples simply took over.  

I hope you will enjoy reading Delighting In Your Company as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

In the following scene, my heroine, Amalie, is transported in time and is observing a slave auction.   

In the basement room, Amalie contemplated the papers strewn around the wide pine table.   There was a large, leather-bound ledger sitting on top of them.   She hadn’t noticed that yesterday.   Where had it come from? She opened it and started to read the faded ink entries. 

To her shock she discovered it was a ledger of slave sales, with descriptions and prices. 
  • 1 male and 2 females, household slaves to Jeremiah Johnston ….   425 guineas.  
  • 2 field workers to Emerson Gainsborough….   250 guineas
  • 6 field workers to John Taylor….   1250 guineas
The room spun around her.   She grasped the edge of the table to keep from falling as consciousness faded.

She was in a harbor full of wooden ships.   A crowd of men, from the look of their clothing, planters, shopkeepers and businessmen, milled about the dock, shouting to one another, pushing and shoving, vying for position.   The cacophony was ear splitting.   A large vessel was pulled up to the pier.   Naked male slaves, their ankles chained together, were shuffling down the gangplank and being herded into a holding pen.   The smell of their fear and hopelessness hovered in the air.  

Amalie heard a voice raised above the clamor and turned to see an auction block.  

“And here we have a fine specimen from the Gold Coast.   You all know there ain’t no stronger or better field workers than these.   Turn around, boy.   Let’em see you.   So what am I bid? Come on gentleman.”

Bids started coming, fast and furious.   

Horrified, Amalie watched as the young man was led away by the successful bidder.   

When she turned back to the auction block she saw that it was occupied by an emaciated boy barely into his teens.   Even in the hot tropical sun he stood shivering as the crowd jeered and the auctioneer turned him around for prospective buyers to examine.
“I’ll admit he ain’t much, but he might be some use as kitchen help.   Don’t know how he got into this batch.   Was supposed to be all field workers.   What am I bid? Come on gentlemen, got to move along.   Don’t nobody want this scrawny piece o’ nigger flesh?”
There was a moment’s silence.   Then from the back of the crowd, near where Amalie stood invisibly, “I’ll take him.   Ten guineas.  ” The speaker was a boy no older than the one on the block.
“Ten guineas?” the auctioneer sneered.   “Might as well give ’im away.   What am I bid, gentlemen?”
The crowd was silent.   The boy reached into his pocket and counted out a handful of change.   “Ten guineas and twelve bob.”
Someone in the crowd called out.   “Jonathan Evans.   Your pappy know how you’re squanderin’ his money?”
The crowd broke into raucous laughter.
“Never you mind.” The auctioneer took control.   “The boy’s money’s as good as anybody else's.   You got yourself a slave, boy.   Come and git him.”

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The Memory of RosesDelighting In Your Company
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Blair McDowell