On the 8th of March 1744, an explosion ripped through English Harbour. A tent storing gunpowder ignited, killing eight enslaved African men. Their names were Billy, London, James Soe, Caramatee, Quamono, Dick, Joe, Scipio, and Johnno.
Named after the date of the explosion, the 8th of March Project is a collaborative, community oriented, interdisciplinary research project, headed by the Heritage Department at the National Parks. The goals of the project are to recover and commemorate the names and lives of the enslaved and free Africans who laboured in the Dockyard and lived in English Harbour, and to celebrate the continuous cultural landscape that is the English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour communities.
The 8th of March Project seeks to uncover the daily lives of the enslaved and free Africans who lived and laboured in the Dockyard and surrounding areas in the 18th and 19th century. Our focus is to demonstrate the continuous cultural landscape linking the modern population of St. Paul’s Parish and Antigua to the skilled labourers in the past through research, interpretation, and educational outreach. The goals of the project are to establish an accessible genealogical database for the community to search and contribute to family research, build Antiguan capacity through educational opportunities, and commemorate the enslaved and free individuals who made the Dockyard possible.
Spring 2019: Development of the Middle Ground Heritage Management Plan
The Heritage Department conducted a historical, archaeological and literature review of the Middle Ground area above the Dockyard as part of a heritage management exercise. Already well used by tourists and residents for recreation along the very popular Middle Ground Trail (aka Goat Track), the review and subsequent management plan revealed that this area was Antigua’s first black settlement, consisting of enslaved and free Africans labouring in the Dockyard. The management plan concluded with steps to conduct further research to establish a commemorative or sacred landscape interpretation theme for the Middle Ground area over the next five years.
August 2019: Archives Trip
Two members of the Heritage Department were sent by the National Parks to The National Archives in London, UK, to conduct more research into the Dockyard, English Harbour, and surrounding areas. The National Archives hold the military dispatches and report from the Royal Navy and Army stationed in English Harbour in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Aside from digitizing more than 14,000 pages of historical documents, the trip was considered a success after locating and digitizing dozens of lists of names of enslaved and free Africans who laboured in the Dockyard. These lists expanded our knowledge from eight named individuals to well over 700 as of January 2021.
8th of March 2020 Commemoration Event
On the 176th anniversary of the explosion in 1744, the National Parks held a commemoration and memorialization event and unveiled the 8th of March Project. Their Excellencies the Deputy Governor General Sir. Clare Roberts and Dame Roberts attended as the Guests of Honour. His Excellency Ambassador and Chairman of the National Parks Board offered remarks on the momentous occasion.
Heritage Resource Officer Desley Gardner explained the history, research, and project to the assembled dignitaries and guests, formally launching our 8th of March Project. At the end, His Excellency Sir. Clare unveiled a new exhibit commemorating The Eight enslaved men, and the hundreds more who we are working to reveal.
Antigua State College Art Students/Naval Dockyards Society Grant
For the 2021 commemoration event, we are partnering with the Antigua State College Art students under instructor Mr. Mark Brown. We invited the students for a field trip in November 2020, showing them the Middle Ground landscape and explaining the history and goals of the 8th of March Project.
The students were encouraged to take the information presented to them and produce their interpretation of the stories of enslavement, craftsmanship, and daily life at the Middle Ground. The Naval Dockyards Society awarded the Nelson’s Dockyard Museum a £1000 grant to purchase the art supplies for the Antigua State College Art students. The artwork will be displayed in a gallery and put up for auction at the 2021 commemoration event (TBA).