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Generations of Values – Shifting the Perspective


by Bertram A John Ph.D. 18.APR.08

We are a remarkable people. But we have become so torn apart by the crassness of our political organization that we are at risk of losing touch with the strengths that have always attended our development.

Back in the early nineteenth century, when the direct ancestors of most living Vincentians were still enslaved, a young boy went through a life-altering nation-transforming experience.{{more}} Ashton Warner lived for a while in Kingstown. His freedom was purchased by his aunt Daphne Crosbie, who was herself born enslaved. Her commitment to the freedom of her nephew entitles her to the status of National Hero, in my view. Here is what her nephew’s biographer, Susanna Moodie, says about Daphne:

Though born a slave, and consequently labouring under every disadvantage of colour and education, she possesses a spirit of disinterested benevolence that might do honour to any nation and to any rank. We find this affectionate and generous woman devoting all her little property to the emancipation of her former companions in bondage; first procuring the freedom of her aged parents and kindred, and then labouring with Christian love to redeem others who had shared with her the sorrows and the shames of servitude.

Does this not sound like the spirit of a great, noble, evolved human being? Not surprisingly, her nephew Ashton was also possessed of similar character. He had been free for a while, and enjoying the security and warmth of a loving family. Then he was recaptured and taken back to Cane Grove estate, in “Buccumah Valley,” despite the best efforts of his family. Ashton was industrious. He learned the skill of barrel making. As a cooper, he escaped the harshest conditions of field slavery, but he observed well, made note of the daily hardships of those who toiled from sun-up to sun-down, and vowed to lift up his people. By the time he was in his early twenties, he escaped his enslavement, and made his way to England, where he became involved in the Abolition Movement. His story was instrumental in making the case that our people helped establish, that slavery in all its forms is a crime against humanity. The story of Ashton Warner’s extraordinary life can be found here

Ashton Warner’s family was no less ambitious than current Vincentian families; their values and standards ensured success in the movement of our people out of the dehumanizing context that slavery produced. The lessons that this family teaches are no less valuable to us than the most valiant of Chatoyer’s campaigns. Moodie reflects on Ashton as follows:

Having once tasted the sweets of liberty, he is the more capable of discriminating between the advantages conferred by it and the evils arising from its deprivation. We find him regarding a state of freedom as the greatest of all earthly blessings, and asserting his independence with the resolution and spirit which a sense of justice and a love of liberty alone can give. But in Ashton the inextinguishable spark of liberty, once kindled, repels all the threats of managers and overseers to degrade him to a slave. He feels his importance in the scale of humanity, and we find him, while but a boy, asserting his natural rights as a man.

Such strength of character is rare indeed. Ashton reached beyond himself into the consciousness of his fellow Vincentians, as well as the English elites, to express the fullness of humanity that each person possesses. Enslavement reduces all humanity. This is a spirit nurtured by a family that understood what human development is all about. We should measure our current leaders by their ability to mirror such strengths, and to produce such results.

I was fascinated by the stories of a great aunt who, legend has it, delivered most of the babies north of the Dry River, and many in the Georgetown area, in the pre -war years. She told us stories of walking for miles in rough terrain, and in all sorts of weather to carry out duties that could not be delayed, or passed on to someone else. As she saw it, when we seek the best in ourselves, we discover our worth.

When we share our best with each other, we create the fulfilled community.

My great aunt, like so many in her generation, understood intimately that the foundations of a healthy society comprise those values that make it possible for any individual to predict with reasonable certainty that he or she will be protected, respected, corrected and elevated by those who are entrusted with the administration of those functions.

Values are eternal. Those that provide success and harmony remain the same today as they were for Daphne Crosbie, whose descendants remain well represented in the Vincentian culture.