How does it come about that a place of slavery can be regarded in a constructive and practical manner? How do the people of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands find the positives at a local site where people were enslaved?
The site is Cheshire Hall, a 200-year old cotton plantation, located off Leeward Highway in Providenciales. Built by American Loyalist Thomas Stubbs in the late 1700's, Cheshire Hall comprises a large manor house, several outbuildings, and slave quarters. At its height the plantation was around 5000 acres in size and employed some 384 slaves to complete all the intensive manual labor. Depleted soil and a massive hurricane in 1813 was the death knell on the cotton business. Loyalists departed the islands leaving hundreds of slaves behind to fend for themselves.
It was customary for slaves to take the name of their owners. It is here we find the link between Cheshire Hall and modern day Providenciales. There are still many residents with the name Stubbs and many first-born sons named Thomas. These are the descendants of the very slaves who sweated in the hot sun out in the fields of Cheshire Hall and when abandoned by their owners managed to survive and make a life for themselves. These are the families who are inspired by the perseverance, courage and strength of their predecessors.
Today the Turks and Caicos National Trust has given the site heritage status with the intention of preserving it and confirming its historic importance. Public tours, interpretative signage, and displays in the National Museum all serve to educate people about the history. While slavery is in the distant past, it is critical to remember it took place and to recognize the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Each year, the first Monday in August is commemorated as Emancipation Day on Providenciales.
"This special time is celebrating the strength of our people," says Ethlyn Gibbs-Williams of the National Trust. "Having come through a tough era of the slave trade and slavery, it is so important impart to people, especially the Turks & Caicos Islanders, where we have come from and to understand who we are as a people".
Cheshire Hall plays a vital role in this education. On display at the National Museum there are records of the names of the slaves, journals detailing their lives, documentation of the Emancipation Act and artifacts all taken from Cheshire Hall.
Slavery was abolished long ago. The Cheshire Hall historic site provides an opportunity to understand and celebrate the strength of the human spirit which is part of the very fabric of the Turks and Caicos Islands.