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I’m West Indian?: Finding My Roots in St. Kitts

one might also begin as a Wilkes and become a Wilkerson because one might literally be Wilkes’ son. In the records, we found a number of Wilkes and Wilkerson’s but none named Smith. Still, the people we might’ve identified could’ve been Smith’s brothers or sisters. According to the records office team, I must now head to St. Croix to investigate my family’s records further.

After that exhilaration – did I mention that I’m an African American studies major and huge history nerd? – Lavern and I walked down to Independence Square, where the slaves were auctioned during the slave trade. The houses that line the square were former slave owner homes, complete with slaves quarters. Lavern said that a friend had converted one of these homes into an office and found slave quarters in the basement. As she worked late nights, she could hear chains rattling, though there were no metal remnants of her ancestors. Lavern’s friend eventually poured concrete over the slaves’ quarters, since she wasn’t about that life. Elsewhere, in the actual Independence Square, Lavern said her grandmother told her stories of people walking in at night and not being able to find their way out. Independence square is only about one-fourth of a New York City block, so it’d be tough to get lost. However, legend says the spirits of old slaves who couldn’t escape the Square thanks to the flesh trade passed that feeling on to the living. Needless to say, I scurried out of Independence Square.

Continuing our tour, we walked down to Port Zante, a cruise ship dock lined with tourist trap shops full of clothing, jewelry and a freelance masseuses – seriously, there was a kid who popped up at several different places we ventured, carrying some aloe plants and oil, like ‘I got them hands for cheap!’ I declined. Between the t-shirts and bathing suits, it’s tough to tell that this area was where the African slaves were transported onto the island of St. Kitts before they were shuttled to Independence Square. But realizing Port Zante’s history was eerie, especially when some of them could’ve been my ancestors. The experience didn’t make me want to buy a t-shirt, I’ll tell say that.

Later, we headed to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a stone structure designed by British engineers and built by African slaves in 1690. British troops fought many battles with the French over sugar cane at Brimstone Hill but after the Treaty of Versailles, the fighting ended and the Fortress was eventually abandoned in 1852. Now, the Society for the Restoration of Brimstone Hill have returned the Fortress to its previous glory, including historical presentations and a few manequins dressed like soldiers and positioned in dark corners that scared a scream out of me. It’s hard to retain your cool when you round a corner and what looks like a dead man is lying on the floor of a dark museum hallway … and then you feel like an ass because it’s a mannequin with a sketchy wig.

Ultimately, I enjoyed St. Kitts, even though I didn’t get to the island of Nevis for a Killer Bee rum cocktail at the Oualie Beach Hotel bar, a haunt of celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Hopefully, my mom and I can make a weekend trip of finding our roots in St. Croix, and then perhaps apply our findings back in St. Kitts. I have to get to the bottom of what flag I should wave at this year’s West Indian Day Parade, Labor Day is fast approaching!

ps. If you’re looking for eats, or sails, check out: 

Ship Wreck: in South Friars Bay, St. Kitts, great rum punch, fish and peas and rice. Plus, they’ve got a prime piece of beach front property to sun after lunch.

Leeward Islands Charters: Lots of fun, with drinks, snacks, music, dancing and shark stories.

Spice Mill: Also on a beach front property, save Spice Mill for the night you want to dress up and eat lobster.

Last 5 posts by Hillary Crosley