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As a descendant of enslaved Africans in the New World, ours have been a history of many struggles and triumphs. Whereas over the years there have been several efforts to miniaturise or equalise the horrors of chattel slavery, in efforts to present the black race as lazy and unaccomplished, ours is a legacy, inspite of the pains and sufferings, to be proud of.
I am not proud that my ancestors were enslaved. They did not come here looking for betterment. They were ripped from their lands. I am proud that my enslaved ancestors never accepted the system of chattel slavery that was imposed on them, and they fought resiliently and resisted it at every opportunity until they were all set free. We are proud of their fight. With their bare hands they were able to turn the tides around, making the estates ungovernable for those who enslaved them.
Let us be proud that comparatively the black race has taken the language, the religion imposed on them and demonstrated more humanity than their enslavers. We demonstrated our humanity more than those who sought to deny us ours. Africans are a special breed of people. We forgive those who sought to kill us and our children.
Stories abound around the world where groups have been hurt by others, real or perceived, and there is no forgiveness. Even in Guyana we have our own examples where our dead heroes can’t even rest in peace without children, who don’t know or experience them, regurgitating ‘stories’ as though they were present in time.
Nelson Mandela, after being imprisoned for 27 years on his release, forgave and reached out a hand to the Afrikaans (white) and ran with them in election and brought them into government. We are a special breed of people, and we must be proud. Because when we talk about humanity, we represent it in terms of caring for our brothers and sisters of this world. We represent it.
Many of us do not know our roots. We know that our ancestors were out of Africa, but we have no names to connect us, no photography, no history, no specific place of individual origin unlike others who can tell stories of their ancestors in other lands. We cannot because we have no knowledge, no record.
I am too numbered amongst those who can’t, save for my great-great-great-great grandfather, Cudjoe McPherson, who given his name, which is Ghanian meaning boy child born on a Monday, I have an inkling he came from Ghana. That is as much connectivity to the country that I can confirm.
My connection to the period of slavery is through him, who was a landowner, entrepreneur, literate, and a man of influence in the community. In the immediate post slavery society, he bought plantations which were converted to villages, namely Kingelly and Litchfield on the West Coast of Berbice, among others.
Below I share with you a demonstration of his literacy as captured in this letter written by him on 10th September 1858 to Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the colony of British Guiana seeking clemency for a fellow villager. From the content of said letter we can assume Cudjoe played a leading role within his group, advising, fighting and defending their rights.
We oftentimes are not allowed to see and to think of our ancestors in the light of Cudjoe McPherson, and there are many who would have demonstrated similar drive and abilities. He, a former slave, with no university education wrote the Governor of the land.
On the eve of Emancipation whereas I cannot walk in his footsteps given the context of his existence, his work, wealth and writing I am proud to know that I am of his genes. We must all be proud for he represents the ancestors of all of us here in Guyana.
See letter below, in his own handwriting, is reproduced as far as discernable: –
Litchfield Village W. Coast Berbice
September 10th, 1858
To His Excellency P.E. Wodehouse
Governor and Commander-in Chief in the Colony of British Guiana
May it please your Excellency:
The humble petition of Cudjoe McPherson of Litchfield Village- most respectfully submit:
That your humbly petitioner presume to bring to your Excellency’s gracious notice that a man of this village, Litchfield, was convicted in the Supreme Court of criminal decision for the County of Demerary in the month of January 1854 by the name of John McDonald and has served a sentence of (7) years ——Your petitioner now presume with all humility the state, that the said John McDonald, is now in the (5th) fifth year since conviction: he therefore, with conference on your Excellency [indecipherable word] most respectfully beg, that his case be enter your gracious consideration, now will be place, in the exercising of your clemency to grant the said John McDonald a “Ticket of Leave” for the remaining two years.
Your petitioner also most respectfully beg to state to your Excellency, that the said John McDonald was one among the party engaged, and employed in the expedition of the River Cuyuni last year, and he has also gained the good recommendation of the 2 officers in the charge of them, and that since January last he is until now a (domestic) servant to their resident Commissioner, which such selection are computation of good conduct —-and that there are 2 gentlemen whom he is [indecipherable words]that have promised to him their employment.
Your petitioner therefore on the strength of the same, most humbly respectfully, and earnestly entreat, and implore, your Excellency’s benevolent clemency by granting the unfortunate man an indenture ticket.
Your Excellency’s most humbly petitioner and in duty now will ever pray.
Signed Cudjoe McPherson
Chief proprietor and majority of Litchfield Village W. C. Berbice