By Machela Osagboro
A landmark genealogy project is set to take place to link present day Antiguans to the enslaved Africans who played a significant role in the construction of Nelson’s Dockyard.
Hundreds of names discovered in archival research pertaining to the men who helped build the world-famous site are similar to those found in modern-day Antiguan and Barbudan society.
And in tribute to them, an event called ‘Dockyard History is African History’, will be held this Sunday at 4pm on the Dockyard Museum lawn.
“We are trying to start a genealogy project where we are trying to bring together the descendants of these African ancestors and make a connection with the families so we can continue this cultural landscape of the activity in the dockyard and bring it together with what is happening presently,” said Desley Gardner, a heritage resource officer at the National Parks Authority.
An exhibit will be unveiled in preparation for an annual event celebrating Africans’ contributions to the dockyard’s creation. The initiative is co-headed by Gardner, along with Dr Christopher Walters and Dr Reginald Murphy.
The project arose from research at the National Archives in London where historians found that eight men who died in a gunpowder explosion in the 1800s were a part of the labour force that constructed the landmark site.
Following the blast at the dockyard on March 8 1744, the names of eight men were recorded by the plantocracy seeking compensation for the loss of their property.
“These eight men were assisting in the building and some spark in the dockyard ignited the powder tent and the men perished,” Gardner told Observer.
Some of their last names bore similarities to contemporary names like Hurst and Greene.
Gardner hopes the project will forge links between the past and present. She explained why highlighting the histories of these men is important.
“These were skilled workers; these were not just run of the mill men, they were carpenters, they were shipwrights, they were artisans and we still have black Antiguan men today who are still working on these mega-yachts, producing these beautiful works,” she said.
“The connection of these centuries of men contributing to something so iconic is what we really want to bring attention to,” Gardner added.