The identities of all the Africans who built Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua may be lost to history. Their names were diametrically opposed to how they were known and referred to in their African homelands. Their biblical names, as well as names derived from their owners or slave ships, may still be unknown.
According to the BBC, Nelson’s Dockyard, a historical relic that is now a UNESCO world heritage and yachting bay, bears testimony to the sweat and toil of hundreds of enslaved Africans who helped make the dockyard a reality. It has grown into a popular tourist destination that draws a lot of attention in the Western Hemisphere.
The project to find the names of enslaved Africans who worked on the dockyard began with the discovery of the names of eight men who died in a gunpowder explosion at the dockyard in 1744. It was known to the researchers because some plantation owners had taken the time to keep records on it in order to receive compensation for property loss. The victims and their suffering were unimportant.
The researchers reasoned that if they could get their hands on eight names, they would almost certainly find more. The quest for more will determine the heroes who saw Nelson’s Dockyard come to fruition, a safe harbor for Royal Navy warships that offered protection to Britain’s sugar-producing islands.
The researchers wanted to learn more and put names to the enslaved Africans who worked on the historic dockyard. They spent hours poring over archival records at London’s National Archives, resulting in the discovery of 700 names.
Local historians are attempting to trace the ancestors of the enslaved Africans and their connections to modern residents with surnames like James, Henry, Gardner, and Joseph. According to one of the historians, Desley Gardner, the purpose of the exercise is to validate this significant gap in history. He stated that many people are unsure of who their ancestors are in order to draw inspiration from the spirit of the names. He believes it is critical that the forefathers of historic achievements be recognized in modern history for their contributions.
Justine Henry, one of the researchers, stated that he has spent years attempting to determine his ancestry with little success. According to him, the work would allow him to connect with his African ancestors.
Dr. Christopher Waters, the project’s representative for the National Parks Authority, stated that the names of these enslaved Africans have been buried due to the limited research directed to this work. He stated that they were determined to determine whether the names found in the registry were provided by enslaved Africans as part of the system set up to deprive them of their dignity.
He stated that knowing their names is important depending on the situation because those names carried what was left of their dignity. Against this backdrop, artists were tasked with putting faces to the eight people who died in the explosion.