Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

Embark – to board a ship

Disembark – to remove or unload cargo or passengers from a ship

Detailed 1781 Map of West Point on the York River, in Virginia. Rochambeau Collection, Library of Congress.

Between 1724 and 1739 at least 18 vessels owned by Englishman William Gerrish engaged in the slave trade. His ships departed from London, sailed to Africa, and transported their human cargo to Antigua, St. Kitts, Montserrat, South Carolina and Virginia for disembarkment. The first ship, at least as identified in the Slave Voyages Database, was called the Negroes Nest. Others were named Flying Horse, Gaboone, Guinea Hen, Hester and Jane, London Spy, Sea Nymph, Speaker, Gally and Tryall. Over 2,933 men, women and children survived the various voyages though that is only a fraction of the original number embarked. 

In 1739, one of his ships, the Black Prince, docked at the York River to sell her cargo. An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette noted that the Black Prince had lately arrived from the Gold Coast of Africa with a choice parcel of slaves to be sold at York Town along the York River. The captain, John Sibson, and crew departed London in May 1738 and arrived at their destination in Africa by September. Trade and re-outfitting was completed by March 1739. In that month the Black Prince departed Africa with 137 men, women and children shackled in the hold or maybe chained on deck. The ship reached York Town in May with 112 enslaved people remaining alive. Selling immediately commenced. By October the Black Prince had returned to London.

Between 1732 and 1739, Sibson served as captain of three slave ships, the Black Prince, the Ann and Elizabeth, and the Sarah and Elizabeth. For each four trips he made with these ships he departed London, traveled to Africa and took his cargo to Jamaica, St. Kitts, the Americas, and the York River. On these four voyages he collected 888 men, women and children. 723 survived the journey to their ports of disembarkment.

Between 1698 and 1762, the York River was a point of disembarkment for at least 163 slave ships whose captains sold 31,056 men, women and children. Again, this number represents only a fraction of the people originally boarded in Africa. One can use the Slave Voyages Database to account for some number of those who died along the Middle Passage. When the ships were emptied of their human cargo, captains sought to fill their ships with tobacco. That goal was not so easily achieved as evidenced by an ad Captain Sibson of the Black Prince placed in the Virginia Gazette:

“I find it has been industriously reported for many Years, that Ships which come from Guinea here with Slaves, are never after in Condition to take in Tobacco; which is very absurd and ungenerous, and great Discouragement to bring Negroes here: But I cannot think any Man, who has any Notion of a Ship, can ever imagine any one will venture his Life and Fortune to Sea in a Vessel that is not Sea worthy. However, to clear up all Doubts of that kind, if any Gentleman has Mind to ship any Tobacco on board me, I will cause a Survey to be made of my Vessel by whom they shall desire. and her Condition shall be reported accordingly. I am the readers most obedient servant, John Sibson.” Records indicate he was successful in his endeavor and did indeed depart with a cargo of tobacco.

William Gerrish died in 1741, a respected West India merchant. There are a number of John Sibson’s to be found in various databases one of whom died in October 1739, the month and year that Sibson returned the Black Prince to London. As for the Africans dispersed throughout the West Indies and the Americas … different methods will be needed to tell their stories by the numbers or otherwise.

Read Full Post »


Read Full Post »



Read Full Post »




… for reflection, in the water of Wright’s Pond in the Middlesex Fells.

Read Full Post »

A long trip is nearing its end. I rest in a place that is stunningly beautiful. It is an unexpectedly thought provoking place. The mountains of West Virginia. I have been here before but never during a campaign year. Trump-Pence signs are on many a lawn, as are surprisingly to me, a few Gary Johnson. No Hillary Clinton signs seen so far. As I interact with people here, I can imagine that she would seem quite foreign. I am reminded of the time I sat in an airport near two older ladies watching a television. George W. Bush was on the screen. He spoke but the sound was on mute. One of the ladies said, “I’d invite him to my picnic. I think I’ll vote for him.” Policy and experience were moot. He came across as familiar and likeable. Clinton does not. Yet Trump does? Fascinating.

I am in an area that is approximately 96 percent non-Hispanic White according to demographic tables. Without looking up the statistic, I suspected such a number. I stand out quite a bit. People stare whenever I step out of a car, walk across the parking lot, sit in a restaurant. The culture here is a bit different than my recent experience in South Carolina. There, even if you stand out as different, the culture is such that you “throw up a hand” or acknowledge a presence in some way. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Here … people sometimes seem startled when I say hello or look at them and smile in greeting. Some will nod back. Others just stare. At times I felt uncomfortable, and it wasn’t just the Confederate flags peppering various places. The flags were old and tattered. Perhaps those were really about heritage and not about the new symbolism of hate.

Sitting in a diner — lovely staff, good food –I watched the local news. On screen, a black man was asked by a white man if discrimination still existed. Everyone who walked through the door glanced at me. That’s fine. Once while working with a youth writing program in Boston, we brought the children across town to do an activity. Afterwards we went for ice cream at a nearby ice cream shop. One of the girls leaned against me. She said, “Cynthia, nobody here looks like me. Like us.” I said, “And that’s okay. To go places and to be different. Let’s pick out our ice cream.”

To go places. To be different. Even if one is not readily welcomed. There is value in that especially in a world where it is too easy to view those who are different, those with whom one has had no personal experience, as … well … those who should be held at bay with walls and exclusionary laws that have been passed in the past and can be again.

Because of the various circles I run in for work and pleasure, sometimes people will say to me, “Cynthia, I think you’re the first black person that such-and-such has interacted with.” I have to hope that I am not the last. And I have to hope that interaction is more than what’s shown on TV and in social media.

This is an incomplete post in the sense that these thoughts and my experiences from this trip are still percolating. We’ll see what the future holds. I’m grateful for the opportunity to wind my way through West Virginia and to glimpse just a bit of its natural beauty.

Read Full Post »

In early August I wrote about an experience on the road between Boston and Rhode Island, an experience that I described to people as being in the midst of a Klu Klux Klan rally where no one wore a hood. You can read that post here if you like.  And though I wrote that post about my experience, my feelings in that moment, I also thought about what were the children in the neighboring cars experiencing, children of any race, what questions were they asking their parents and how were their parents responding. I especially thought that when I saw a little brown boy staring at the pickup truck in the lane next to him flying its huge confederate flags.

the full moon obscured by a screen

I was surprised later to find so little commentary on local news and on the internet about that procession of thirty-plus vehicles in New England with their giant flags driving en masse along I-95. But I guess I was using the wrong search terms. I did not think to use the words: Make American Great Again Convoy, an event that took place July 30 and 31 in Foxboro, MA.

I remember writing that I chose not to photograph anything around me that day on the road. But I do realize that it is important to capture the words and images of such events so that they can be documented and remembered. Since I wrote my original post a video has surfaced. When I first saw the still shots and read the transcripts of what people were saying that day on their CBs, I almost shrugged. I wasn’t surprised and my feelings were justified.

Then I watched the video, listened to the words, and it made me want to cry. Not out of fear but out of sadness at what darkness remains in this world. As young white men laugh about lynching niggers from the nearby trees, using blacks as pinatas, I remembered the little brown boy staring into their trucks. And I thought of a young brown cousin who I’ve been told likes to chase Monarchs at his home in New York, and I thought of my young brown nephew who likes to plant gardens in his home in Virginia. They are too young to fear what has been because they don’t know that part of American history … yet. I thought of what these people must be teaching their children and I hoped that their children somehow would one day hold hands with children of all shades and know that they were the same.

It is almost too easy to blame Trump and yet I do not want to let him and his brethren off the hook for what they have allowed to re-surface, unchecked, in this country. He was the spark for their tinder. The video is 4minutes and 45 seconds. It’s hard to listen to, and in no way kid friendly but it should be reflected upon because the sentiments expressed in the video and in similar gatherings online and in person across this country are not going to disappear overnight or anytime soon. Maybe never.

However, somehow, there is always hope for better.

In 1880, Phillips Brooks, then the Rector of Trinity Church in Boston, delivered a sermon at Westminster Abbey in England. The sermon was titled The Candle of the Lord. It was July 4th that he spoke and for the occasion he added some text to the sermon where he asked the British congregation before him to pray for his young country:

“It is not for me to glorify to-night the country which I love with all my heart and soul. I may not ask your praise for anything admirable which the United States has been or done.  But on my country’s birthday I may do something far more solemn and more worthy of the hour. I may ask you for your prayer in her behalf. That on the manifold and wondrous chance which God is giving her, – on her freedom (for she is free, since the old stain of slavery was washed out in blood); on her unconstrained religious life; on her passion for education, and her eager search for truth; on her jealous care for the poor man’s rights and opportunities; on her countless quiet homes where the future generations of her men are growing; on her manufactures and her commerce; on her wide gates open to the east and to the west; on her strange meetings of the races out of which a new race is slowly being born … “

One hundred thirty years later, I’d say we are a nation still being born.

Read Full Post »

Burial places they certainly are, but across time, cemeteries have also served other functions within our communities — as gathering places for celebration, as gardens of serenity for reflection, as time capsules that help us remember and document the past. In the first of two posts, friend and guest contributor Donna Stenwall shares memories of her visits to cemeteries around the world, respecting their universal solemnity while experiencing the unique attributes of each place.

Detail from Oscar Wilde Tomb, Pere Lachaise Cemetery

It seems strange to say this, but cemeteries have always played a role in my life. The small New England town I grew up in is where it all began. One of my earliest memories is walking by the old cemetery on my way to the library. It was locked every day with the exception of July 4th. That’s when we were able to enter and roam the aisles of the chipped and weathered headstones of the residents that founded the town in the 1600’s. With the names and dates barely visible to the naked eye, this is where we were taught the art of stone rubbing.

The “new cemetery” as we called it was the spot to learn how to ride your bike for the first time without training wheels. We would fly up and down the streets of the cemetery enjoying the freedom of 2 wheels, and all the while passing the graves of neighbors that left us too soon.

Since Massachusetts still had Blue Laws at the time (meaning no shopping on Sunday), the place to take your first spin behind the wheel was the parking lot of the newly built mall on Sunday afternoons. There we got accustomed to the feel of the car, practicing forward and reverse and left and right hand turns. But, to practice that three-point turn on a hill that we would be tested on? It was back to the cemetery!

Gates of Pere Lachaise

Gates of Pere Lachaise

When I began to travel, trips to cemeteries were on the itinerary. During my first trip to New Orleans I mentioned to our host that I would like to visit one of the old cemeteries I had heard so much about. The next day we set out to St. Louis Cemetery #3. It was there that I decided I wanted to be buried in a Mausoleum! Breathtakingly beautiful, I thanked our host for such an experience. It wasn’t until later I discovered that his mother was buried in St. Louis Cemetery and that our visit that day had been his first trip back since she had passed many years before.

My first trip to Paris, with its famous cemetery Pere Lachaise, was long overdue and bittersweet. My husband and I had planned a trip to Paris several times but circumstances prevented us from ever getting there.  With a smile and twinkle in his eye he promised that he would take me to Paris on my 50th birthday. Ah, I thought, the City of Lights I will see you soon!

Heartbreakingly, my husband passed away on July 25, 2005 after a brief illness. Two months later, I celebrated my 48th birthday. When my 50th was approaching my dear friend suggested I think about Paris for my birthday. I wasn’t sure I could do it or even wanted to but with the urging of family and friends I made the trip. Paris was worth the wait and every step I took I knew my husband was with me cheering me on!


As a huge fan of Oscar Wilde, I knew I had to venture out to Pere Lachaise, the oldest cemetery in the city of Paris, to pay my respects. Not the easiest spot to get to, we hopped on the Metro, then a bus, and finally by foot. As we made our way to the other side of the cemetery we stopped to visit with Edith Piaf, Proust, Chopin, Colette, Sarah Bernhardt and Moliere. I noticed several people taking photos of the graves. I was a bit uncomfortable believing that these legendary souls were gawked at their entire lives and that now they should be allowed the peace they deserved.


On our way to the exit it dawned on me that Jim Morrison of the Doors was buried here and we should find his grave. My friend humored me but after ½ hour of roaming (we were notoriously bad map readers), she was ready to give up. I told her to stay put and I would take 10 more minutes. If I didn’t find his grave we would head back to the apartment.  As I was rounding the corner, there, right in front of me was Jim Morrison, surrounded by metal barriers and his own security guard. His grave was strewn with gifts of cigarette butts and empty bottles of Jack Daniels left by the pilgrims that made the trek.

Several years have passed since my trip but I was reminded of my trip to Pere Lachaise when I caught a documentary on the cemetery and its residents. One scene shows 2 elderly ladies sitting on a bench, taking a moment after visiting their husband’s graves. One was buried next to Jim Morrison. When the interviewer asks her how she feels about all the activity near her husband’s grave, she just smiles and states “at least I know he never gets lonely.”

Photography by Donna Stenwall.

Read Full Post »

… in the waters of the pond below.

Read Full Post »

Rocks left on a church table. The little boy handed them to me. Looking at my camera, he asked, “Would you like to photograph these?” “Of course,” I said.


Read Full Post »

I must admit, at this stage in my life, there is no body of water, however large or small, that I will pass without pausing to see what might appear.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »