Following in the footsteps of Harley documents our research and travels in writing my latest book, The Adventures of a Black Edwardian Intellectual, The Story of James Arthur Harley. It is a wry look at our experiences, including the sublime, funny, unbelievable, poignant moments in realizing what Harley had undertaken and achieved.
So, who are we? I am Pamela, the author, as my mother calls me, and my mother, Enid, my fellow researcher and traveller in arms. We, tongue in cheek, refer to ourselves as the dilapidated duo, half-dead and bruk up. Why? I have a hereditary blood condition, sickle cell anaemia. The condition has taken its toll on my body, which I describe as the Taj Mahal - crumbling slowly. Most noticeably, I walk with a very pronounced limp. My mother suffered a heart attack in 2013 and, as a result, lost a tremendous amount of weight. We pride ourselves that we're still going and will get there in the end.
A Son of the Soil
The Grand Pineapple Hotel, situated in Long Bay, approximately forty-five minutes from the capital, St John's, had seen better days and, in my opinion, needed updating and refurbishing. But this was not a holiday; it was just a base.
The hotel has, what I called, a wildlife issue. In the morning, birds flew around the open-air restaurant, picking bits of food off guests' plates. Quirky and cute for the first half-hour, they lost their appeal after forty minutes. Guests span around napkins to shoo them off, and the head waitress banged a big stick every couple of minutes to scare them away. In the evening, the hotel restaurant was invaded by wild cats, weaving in and out of diners' legs.
Unlike the other guests, I was here to work, to try and ascertain Harley's lineage and visit the places associated with him.
We made friends with several of the waitresses, explaining the purpose of our visit. We would provide daily bulletins in the morning about where we intended to visit and then update the following day as we apprised them of what had happened. We could see the pride in the waitresses' faces as they confirmed, 'An Antiguan man – who attended Yale, Harvard and Oxford?' One waitress quizzed us, 'what part of Antigua was he from?' 'All Saints,' I replied. 'I'm from All Saints,' she exclaimed, almost doing a celebratory dance around the table. She smiled widely: 'A son of the soil'. A Son of the Soil became the book's second chapter title.
The waitresses became an invaluable source of information, local history, knowledge and gossip, the perfect elements for researchers. They provided us with details of families on the island named Harley, who may have links with our Harley. All the waitresses agreed that Harley's mother, Josephine Eleanor Lake, had originated from Anguilla, as all the Lakes on the island came from Anguilla. An indisputable fact – but no corroborating evidence to substantiate it.
The Reverend Clarence Joseph, the priest at All Saints Church, arranged for us to meet Mr Davies, an elderly gentleman. Mr Davies remembered stories from the old days. He imparted his experiences and recollections of growing up as a young boy in All Saints, attending the church, family rituals, socials, and community cooking. It provided an insight into a community that shared what little they had and supported each other.
From the Grand Pineapple Hotel, the Antiguan National Archives is based in the capital, St. John's, approximately a fifty-minute drive. Armed with a few directions from the waitresses and reliant on Caribbean Sat-Nav – winding down the window and shouting, 'Yoh, how do you get to such a place?' We would reach our destination, albeit with a few missed turns here and there.
The Archives, I had hoped, would provide me with details about Harley's parents and his early life. However, they are inadequately staffed; most records, including the parish records, are not digitized. The opening times are limited, from 8.00 am – midday. The midday closing time curtailed the expectation of spending the day delving through records. Unlike England, where records are requested and brought out from a large basement or cold storage for perusal, one of the two staff members must undertake the research for $20 for each search. They checked parish records by running their finger down the list of names, stopping intermittently to recheck the name. I started by stating Harley's full name, James Arthur Stanley Harley, reduced to James Arthur Harley, and then James Harley. After what seemed like the umpteenth time asking for his name, I just replied: Harley.
I had the names of Harley's parents but no date of birth or place of birth; without this information, I could not access any records. There was little room for varying dates to try and cross-check information. The joy of finding information or some fascinating titbit had been removed, making the research of Harley's family long, laborious, frustrating and tedious.