The Anguillian population is largely of African descent, their roots dating back to the mid-1600’s when distant ancestors were brought over by British colonists to work on the plantations there. Over the years, attempts were made to grow a variety of crops, including rum, sugar, cotton, indigo, fustic and mahogany, but the arid conditions of the island made the plantation economy difficult to sustain.
Many of the British settlers eventually left for other destinations. The African slaves were given permission to maintain their own self-sustaining food plots, in addition to the crops they tended on the plantations . This created a level of independence long before the official emancipation of slavery by the British on August 1, 1834.
By 1838 all slavery on Anguilla had ended and Anguilla became a peasant society living off the land and the sea – a hardworking independent people who now owned the land they lived on. Harsh economic conditions followed for nearly a century, but the people of Anguilla resisted all attempts to relocate them to other Caribbean islands. By the 1900’s many of the islands inhabitants would leave Anguilla for work on neighboring islands like Santo Domingo and Aruba, sailing off in their boats to return weeks or months later, as they sought to provide for their families.
Today, there is little evidence of Anguilla’s legacy of slavery and plantation living. The Heritage Collection Museum houses artifacts that showcase both the harsh conditions and the ingenious and inventive ways in which the people of Anguilla coped and created tools for survival by engendering a unique way of life that they called “the jollification”.
The Wallblake House, and the Warden’s Place in The Valley are the only plantation houses that remain intact, and are available for guided tours. There is even less evidence of the time of slavery, although Miss Margerie’s House, located across the road from the Warden’s Place in The Old Valley, has the former slave quarters attached to it. What is left is a culture of independence, pride and resilience born out of the love, loyalty and conviction of a people determined to survive with little help from the outside.
Each year, on the first Monday of August, J’ouvert Morning celebrates the anniversary of the British Emancipation Act and kicks off the Caribbean’s biggest and best Beach Party. Visitors are welcome to join the fun as thousands of happy carnival revelers dance through the streets of the capital on their way to Sandy Ground/Road Bay for a full day and night of barbecues, boat racing and pulsating calypso rhythms.Even today, with Anguilla’s elegant hotels and restaurants, high profile visitors and world-class amenities, the island’s principal industry leaders remain committed to sustaining Anguilla’s traditions, culture and personality, a personality that is celebrated in the words of the national motto: strength and endurance.
THE HERITAGE COLLECTION
The Heritage Collection is a terrific attraction to tourists interested in learning about the history and culture of Anguilla. From the Arawaks and Caribs through the colonists and to today, the museum's collections include everything from photographs and artwork to tangible items from the past. Visiting the Heritage Collection one develops a deep appreciation for Anguilla, her people and culture.