The 17th century would bring enormous changes to the Western Hemisphere encompassing North and South America, and the Caribbean then commonly called the New World. European explorers and settlers would claim land for economic, sovereignty, political and religious reasons, but the common bond between nearly all was the use of enslaved Africans as the chief labor force to clear land, build cities and harvest the cash crops that would make men and nations wealthy beyond imagination.
Possibly the most important effort towards slavery reparations, unmatched then and hardly recognized today, took place in 1795 when a group of twenty-eight recently emancipated Africans from Jamaica arrived in Philadelphia under a creative and organized plan to provide a form of reparation – for the personal suffering placed upon enslaved Africans by the owner-class of Europe and the Americas
This is more than a story of slavery. “Legacies of Slavery & Freedom: A Family Journey Through the Atlantic World” unveils the true story of slavery, freedom and reparations through the familial experiences of an enslaved African-Jamaican boy listed as “October,” later becoming Robert Barclay. Young October is part of a group of enslaved African-Jamaicans that are emancipated in 1795 by David Barclay of London, a Quaker and later Barclay’s Bank founder. The emancipated group is transported to America through the efforts of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and founders of the first African Episcopal Churches in America.
Little October, along with 27 other enslaved persons were not only emancipated, but also received new lives as free men, women and children in America through a historic reparations plan devised by Barclay and leading Quakers in America and England.
Over two centuries of history unfolds; from the 18th century Trans-Atlantic trade moving from the West African Gold Coast to the slave plantations of Jamaica, to the formations of free African heritage communities in early America and the operation of the Underground Railroad, to serving their country in the Civil War, two World Wars, and life in the early 20th century. The enslaved boy Little October becomes the free man Robert Barclay, and his story is told through family papers, wills, heirlooms, and published historical accounts by his direct descendants. A story of an African heritage family’s journey from slavery to freedom and beyond.
Little October’s story is also a valuable lesson for today acknowledging the age old social justice question, “What is the value of emancipation and freedom without some method of reparations so that the oppressed have equal access to the means to become self-sufficient?” As we recognize in the present day the history of emancipation across the African Diaspora we should also be mindful that emancipation without repairing the hundreds of years and many generations of African heritage people who suffered greatly under that peculiar system is at best, an unfinished effort or at worst, freedom without meaning. Maybe famed African American abolitionist, Fredrick Douglas knew this when he stated in 1876:
“You say you have emancipated us…But when you turned us loose, you gave us no acres. You turned us loose to the sky, to the storm, to the whirlwind, and worst of all, you turned us loose to the wrath of our infuriated masters.”