So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Black History Month: All in The Family

This month being Black History Month, my thoughts turn even more frequently to my ancestors who pioneered these parts—Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands—in the 1800s.

Our matriarch, Narcissa Jane, came from Little Rock, Arkansas. She was born into slavery and eventually escaped north with the help of the Underground Railroad. Settling briefly in the midwest before travelling the Oregon Trail by oxcart with other coloured peoples, as they referred to themselves, she and the others made their way to the coast before travelling north by sea to Victoria and then to settle on Saltspring Island.

Narcissa Jane Robinson and great grandchildren, Nov. 1917.
Maple Terrace, Saltspring Island, BC.

Another side of the family, originally from New Orleans and the midwest and of both African-American and aboriginal stock, stayed in California and made enough money in the gold rush to purchase passage north to Victoria.

My ancestors, like most of the coloured settlers at the time, were people of deep religious conviction. The Bible guided and directed their actions in every aspect of their daily lives. They have been movers and shakers in the community, respected business people, hard working tradesmen, nurses, University educators, government workers, etc. Their faith, formed in the Methodist and Quaker (Society of Friends) traditions, respect for the dignity of others, dedication to family and dedication to community and the common good remind me of my responsibilities and guide me in my daily life.

Our family history is embedded in local place names, roads and such. Our family is a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions successfully blended: African-American, American-Indian, Cowichan First Nation, English, French, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and more recently Indian (by way of Guyana).

Left to right: David (family friend), Dad, Dot (friend), Bill (friend),
Auntie Pauline and another unnamed friend.

Nicknames were big in my dad's family. Though accurate, some were not very flattering, so I won't attach the family members' names to whom the nicknames belong: Huggins (because he enjoyed a good hug as a toddler); Tuggie (because as a small child she tugged on everyone's pant leg); Boshie (pronounced baw-shee: combination of the word bossy and the colloquial word for cow); Toots; and a few others. Names are important in our family. Everyone is named for a family member. In many cases, children are named after ancestors at least two generations removed to preserve a namesake's story and the story of the family. Family records are embedded in people's names. Each member of a generation is required to know something about the family story. This is a custom from earlier times because written records in our family did not begin until after Narcissa Jane made it north and westward to freedom.

Great Grandpa Robert F.

Having been raised in the United Church of Canada by parents who were brought up in the Church of England and the Methodist Church, it's fairly safe to say that a variety of perspectives had shaped this blogger before being received into the Catholic Church where those perspectives have received clarification and focus, new depth and breadth.

Reading Material
Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia by Crawford Kilian.
The History of Black Catholics in the United States (Crossroad, 1992), Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis.
Some might be interested to learn that our first Governor, Sir James Douglas, was a person of colour.

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