Art students join in commemoration of one-year milestone of slave history project

Two members of Team Antigua Island Girls, Elvira Bell and Kevinia Francis, take in the 8th of March display in the Dockyard Museum (Photo courtesy Epoch Communications)
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The Heritage Department of the National Parks Authority (NPA) is once again bringing attention to the 8th of March Project, an educational and genealogical research initiative that has been uncovering important elements of Antigua’s slave history.

According to an NPA release, the ongoing project has also been creating ancestral connections with modern communities in Antigua.

The project was inspired by a tragic event on March 8 1744 when a horrific explosion took the lives of enslaved Africans in the Antigua Naval Dockyard.

The discovery of their names prompted a search by the Heritage Department to deepen its research for more names. The story of these men was discovered within archival records that listed them as property that their owners used to require compensation after the explosion.

The proceeds aided in the establishment of the Antiguan Naval Dockyard. Their names were Billy, London, Johnno, Dick, Scipio, Caramante Quamano, Joe, and James Soe. Through additional archival searches, hundreds of names of enslaved Africans have been uncovered, such as Antigua, Rothsay, Bailey, William, and many more; almost 700 names thus far.

“The 8th of March Project has grown since its launch in 2020. The project has focused on the significant contributions and lives of these African men and hopes to make ancestral linkages, as well as expand the interpretation of Antiguan history, especially as it pertains to the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park,” the release said.

As the project progresses, the focus of educational outreach and the involvement of the local community has increased tremendously.

“This year’s commemoration will be in the form of an art exhibit with artistic contributions from the Antigua State College Cambridge art class. These students are creating pieces inspired by their interpretation and connection with the stories and individuals discussed within the 8th of March Project.

“These pieces will be displayed later this year for the Antiguan community to be able to view once the Covid-19 restrictions allow,” the NPA communique added.

However, the activity is only one part of a whole, where other students with talents in computer science and information technology can transform the archival information into a digital database, easily accessed by locals and the diaspora who are keen to learn about their ancestry.

The NPA expresses gratitude to all those who have lent their support in keeping the fire burning under an initiative that will bring untold benefits to the preservation and promotion of the heritage and history of Antigua and Barbuda well into the future.

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