They Were Here
This womxn is my great great (maternal) grandmother Virginia Clarissa Theus Fairweather. She was born free in Nassau, Bahamas in 1838. Fairweather is the Scottish-Belizean paternal name she inherited when she married my great great grandfather, who was a badass in his own rite but I'll talk about him later.
My family has had her portrait for some time, but anyone who could speak on her life prior to moving to Belize is long gone and her story was not passed down to my mom.
Now, forgive me because this post is going to be about amateur ancestral sleuthing but we can't all be Ben Affleck denying our white enslaver ancestor when we're given the awesome opportunity to learn about ourselves on "Finding Your Roots"—which was temporarily suspended as a result. Enslaver relative strikes again!—on PBS.
Our assumption has loosely been that Virginia descended from pirates (have you read about this crazy little island?!), west African womxn or men, and the Lucayan peoples who were indigenous to Nassau. I'm 2% South East Asian and I figured either she descended from a South East Asian pirate or an indigenous person and that is why her features are what they are. But here the plot thickens.
The British Empire was a lot of things I haven't the time to go into now, but, of those things, meticulous record keepers was one. So considering enslavement was only "truly" abolished in the Caribbean in 1833, there would and should be documentation of Virginia's parents as they would have been born enslaved if they were from that Island. The Empire had been disrespecting the shit out of the island and the islanders since about 1670, after all. But no. No records. And here is where spirit comes into play.
My sister's name is Jjiibwa. It's a Ugandan name from the wrong clan—we're Mamba (lungfish) and her name is Nsese (grasshopper)—and it's spelled incorrectly for Luganda as her name should have been spelled Gibwa. My mom's Belizean obviously and was not particular about these things.
So G's (ha, yes) name is spelled more like the Native American tribe from the region of Lake Superior, the Ojibwa; she also looks a lot like our great great grandmother Virginia Clarissa Theus Fairweather and there were no words, no pictures and no documentation to be found of GGGMa Virginia's parents even though they were born during the enslaver trade on a small colonized island.
As a spiritual person who does card readings by working with ancestral energy/knowledge and who notices odd synchronicity when it floats through my purview, I wasn't satisfied to let GGGMa Virginia's story go without further investigation.
For this amateur sleuth, investigation looked like this . . .
I accumulated those lists over months and even sent my cousins and aunt on a legit hunt to find birth records in Nassau when they were visiting the island.
It may or may not surprise you to find out that before a certain date, in every colonized country one can only find birth records by going to Churches (the United Kingdom included). But this can get tricky in a country where there are nearly as many churches as the US has McDonald's (this is probably an exaggeration, but it sounded good in my head as I wrote it).
Point is Nassau has mad churches and, when you are not sure what denomination your ancestor came from, it doesn't allow for narrowing the search down very much. Point is they visited a grip of churches and had to get special permission to look at documents from prior to the late 1800s. Point is they couldn't even find GGGMa Virginia's birth certificate. (They had 2 days to do this so obviously it bares repeating).
But in researching Nassau I found this interesting thing I never knew before. Nassau had both Lucayan people and, specifically, settlements of escaped black Seminoles from the Florida and Georgia regions.
"Hmmmmmmm?" Oh yes.
And . . .
It amazes me still that these people are known by an indigenous word for a colonized idea; but I am further amazed by how closely related the Maroon people of the Caribbean and the Seminole have always been considered. So I got back to Googling and found these:
Now, there were millions of indigenous peoples in what is now called the Americas. My mother is already descended from both Mayan and Moskito peoples, which are just the indigenous ancestors that we know of. My mother's mother's family was the Mayan side. The first Fairweather to live and survive what was British Honduras married a Moskito womxn, who was (obviously) renamed "Sarah Unknown Last Name," in 1775.
It's a miracle we know that much. And, to be clear, it's a privilege of what was a very privileged class in Belize. That is, the Fairweathers. For example, Virginia's husband was one of the first "colored" lawyers in Belize all the way back in the 1860s. This is him:
That being said, Great Great Gma Virignia is something else.
I have always been proud of being a 1st generation "American," mostly because I have always thought it fascinating that my parents could be born on two different continents and yet find themselves in the same club in Harlem where my family's story began.
I have also always been proud that I grew up in a house with 3 cultures, 3 RiTs and 3 worlds. Although life missed me on the 3 languages. Regrettably.
But how do I describe what one who always thought they were 1st generation US-American (because obviously there are other "Americas" that this country is very much attached to) does when they discover they are very likely a descendant of the particular enslaved trade of the United States of Amerigo Vespucci?
Well, I contemplate it.
There is a lot to be said spiritually regarding the conditioning, genetic encoding and stigmatization of those who descended from the West African people who were enslaved by Europeans. And while I can speak on those things, I did not actually inherit much of that conditioning and stigmatization.
There is, in fact, an enterprising spirit in every single immigrant who moves—whether out of hope or desperation—to another land. Even the colonizing ones. And it is my belief that the enterprising spirit overrides nearly any other kind of genetic coding.
That is why European descendants have forgotten they are European descendants. That is why the United States continuously forgets that America is named after an ITALIAN named Amerigo Vespucci (eat that, Columbus, you perpetual punk bish). And that is why the children of people who move to a new land will always feel removed from the narrative of the lands their parents moved from.
That is the point of migrating for a better life, isn't it? So we can eventually forget the horrors of the lands we came from.
That is why when enslavement was "abolished" in the Caribbean in 1833, MANY descendants of indigenous peoples and escaped West Africans stowed away and rowed away into the waters to find better lives on freer islands. And, frankly, the United States does not have a RiT of Maroon culture (unlike Jamaica, Brazil and so many other places) so where were the descendants of black natives to find refuge? Enslavement wasn't "abolished" in the United States until 1865.
Between 1831 and 1850 the Seminoles and all other Southeastern tribes were put onto the Trail of Tears by that major douche-bag Andrew Jackson. 6000 of them died in route only to arrive on reservations where TO THIS DAY indigenous people are not entitled to an electorate, a police service, a hospital, public transportation or anything else that is considered up "to code" in what we call modern-day United States.
The FBI investigates murders and rapes on indigenous lands. Guess how high a priority indigenous peoples are on their agenda? Guess how many indigenous people are SOUGHT OUT for rape, abuse and other illicit actions simply due to the fact that there are those who are aware they are without lawful protection because of that clause that made them "Sovereign Nations?" One of the millions of things in the United States's record that sounds good but is genuinely bullshit.
So, yes. To find out that I am a descendant of an indigenous person from what is modern-day United States is something quite different than discovering one of my ancient ancestors is Southeast Asian (though I also find that to be cool af).
The truth is I am a West African descendant either way. That doesn't make the West African ancestors of Gma Virginia any less remarkable or interesting. It simply means that without them I would still be privileged to be a descendant of a West African. But with them I am privileged to be the descendant of a true indigenous person of the United States.
I have always stan'ed for Native American peoples. I have lost Instagram acquaintances over them, argued with my own parents about whether Native peoples or enslaved West Africans received the most bullshit hatred from colonizers, I have spent time on various reservations and I have checked many a Halloween or festival beezy wearing a headdress.
I still do not understand how any words but "blatant racism" explain how there are still teams called the "Atlanta Braves" or the "Cleveland Indians." I do not understand how anyone would celebrate a top-tier grundle like Christopher Columbus aka Geography's Bitch. I do not understand why these people do not garner the absolute consideration and respect that they most definitely deserve.
Yet, knowing that my Great Great Gma Virginia Clarissa Theus Fairweather was likely born free because of the enterprising spirit and grit of her parents—likely either one Seminole and the other West African or both mixed or one mixed—fills me with even greater pride in my ancestry.
Amazingly, my ancestors were here before me. Not only in time, but geographically. They were here. They made me possible. They escaped enslavement! They cast their chances onto the ocean and against all odds gunning for them they landed in Nassau where they gave birth to the very awesome, very free-as-her-birthrite, Virginia Clarissa Theus Fairweather.
This is a story about my ancestors. Know that I recognize them because I am proud of them. They made me possible and so they made me, me.
Happy Indigenous Peoples day! May their spirits and their descendants be heard. Eternally.