By: Wallace Williams March 14, 2007
The following biographical sketches and portraits were featured, in part, on several hundred free posters of ”Transfer // 07 – 90” exhibition, an interactive project hosted at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts, March 16th, 17th 2007. In its second year, “Transfer //07 – 90” provides virtual online access to the first recipients of US 1918 Travel Passes, giving the history back to the people for ongoing historical discourse.
Co-collaborators on this project were: Janet Cook-Rutnik (Visual Artist, St. John), and Edgar Endress (award-winning New Media artist & Art Professor, George Mason University, Va.); Lori Lee (Scholar/writer) and Edgar O. Lake (award-winning novelist, poet).
Annesta Francis – Portrait
Annesta Francis, is the 109th applicant for a US Travel Pass in St. Thomas. Yet, she is a native of St. Croix, and, at 23 years old already a veteran cook – saucy, even in the pucker of her eloquent mouth – setting out on August 5, 1918, from her residence at Commanding Gade No. 10. Whom does she cook for - humming those early-morning church tunes over stew; or, baking home-made bread?
She can hardly wait to see the written phrase (“and is an American citizen…”) written on her own Travel Pass. But, at the Administration Building, the Naval Police clerk prophetically retraces his mistaken spelling of the word (American) in the pivotal phrase: “and is an American.” He first spells it (Amercan), no doubt a phonetic contraction - but, doubly so - and at Annesta’s expense. He also mistypes her name (Anesta), although it is Annesta – for that is how she signs her name.
Annesta has already left her native island home, St. Croix, though not forgetting the churchyard of St. Patrick’s Church, West End. Reverend George Englert has sent her Extract of Baptism, five months before – less six days. Days really matter, particularly for someone already in-transit, and before she gives the certificate to the police clerk, Ensign Theile, she notices, there too, her name is written with one “n.” No matter. Clothes, and traveling papers, both to gather: iron and fold.
She presents two pictures across the polished mahogany desk: her picture shows a tear-filled left eye; the right one seems proudly defiant and determined of her mission to improve her station in life. Her baptism shows that Annesta is the daughter of William and Margaret Francis, with baptism sponsors (and doting God-parents) Joseph James and Rebecca McBean. At five months old, Annesta was already crying at the world, even as Reverend Verlooy had softly poured water across her veined forehead.
Annesta’s black hair is adorned with a vermillion-with-orange stripes satin bow. It is neatly parted in rolling black waves, much like the steamship, Marina, would be bound for “Porto Rico” on the following day. She had carefully put on her silver choker, and on a second turn, affixed her prized silver and ivory pendant. It sits snugly at the plump base of her neck, anchoring the vortex of her shoulder-wide collar. Only her pair of pearl earrings outshines the white of her eyes. She sits before the navy clerk, thinking of her aunt, Helen Boynes, living in Santurce, Puerto Rico, to whom she will travel the following day. She had memorized the address, Stop 15 Monserrate Street, House # 19, pinning a copy of the document in her purse. In less than a month, Annesta would secure her own residence at 16 Stop Casse No. 4, in Santurce.
Whom has Annesta left behind? Her niece, Wilhelmina Lancaster, three years older than she, residing at Kongens Gade No. 4. Wilhelmina is a laundress with equally determined eyes and a sealed mouth. Her hard-worked 5 feet 1¼ inch frame - merely 1 and ¾ inches shorter than her aunt. In Puerto Rico, would Annesta look forward to the mid-day stroke of the bell tower at the stately old Catholic church in Le Palmas, now almost devoid of any memory of Las Islas Virgenes? What of midday mass, once a commonplace privilege for both Annesta and Wilhelmina in St. Thomas and St. Croix? Those genuflections - both theirs and now, ours - offer timeless votives for these far-off sojourners.
Juliana Francis, a 28 year-old left her native St. Croix to find work on St. Thomas as a House-worker. On September 5, 1918, she walks from No. 17 & 18 Berge Gade, to the US Naval Government Secretary’s office in the Administration Building, downtown Charlotte Amalie, to complete her Travel Pass application.
Juliana’s parents, William Francis and Joanna Germain, were members of St. Patrick’s Church of West End. She and can see the ghostly Slips on Hassel Island, mountains of coal awaiting the steamers of the various Packet Lines. Already, Juliana has seen enough calamity: The 1916 Hurricane fell on October 9th and 10th. The December, 1916, coal workers Strike, the seamen of the Valkyrien, young Marines carrying the wide baskets of coal on their backs. The First World War was gripping the mood on the island.
For the first eight months of 1918, deaths from contagious diseases have been rampant and eerily competitive on St. Thomas and St. Croix: on each island, eleven deaths resulting from Dengue Fevers, six deaths from Pulmonary Tuberculosis, and five deaths from Typhoid. All residents of St. Thomas between 5 and 45 years of age have been vaccinated.
Two days before Juliana set out to complete her Travel Pass application, the sailing sloop, La Gracia, returned from neighboring Tortola, filled with “Excursionists,” who had left to celebrate Labor Day. There was a Serenade, cricket match, a concert, and another evening of entertainment.
Yet, Juliana had not risked the excursion trip to Tortola. Instead, she had been preparing clothes for herself and Leandra, ironing and folding their best pieces.
Later in the morning, Juliana would hug the shade of the curving alley, to buy two tickets for Steerage Class on the Parima, a steamship due from Surinam and bound for New York City. Thoughts of her god-parents, Andrew Ditty and Alice Benny, tearfully came to mind. Juliana checked her purse for the two photographs required for the Travel Pass.
The photographs show a brutal desire and fierce protection for her daughter, Maria Juliana Leandra Greaux, a five-year old, sitting on her knee. Both wear a crown of thick hair, braids form an enduring crown: Mother and child as portrait.
No doubt retrieved for the occasion, a single strand of beads falls softly over Juliana’s richly embroidered dress collar, an eerily-shaped noose in once-brutal times. Her application’s declaration (“for the purpose of visiting a friend”), is belied by the formality which followed, (“Mrs. Elaine Christian”).
As Juliana passes a makeshift news-stand, a torn poster catches her eye with a poignant announcement: “Lecture, Monday, September 30th, at 8:30 p.m. Under the auspices of the American Historical Research Society, in the Hall of the United Labouring Association, on Subject: The early political, social and industrial conditions of the American People.” A series of lectures promising “to open your eyes to things American.” The advertisement’s tag-line haunted her deepest desire: “Be present and then decide what can be done for our island home.”
She had saved a January 30th, 1918 newspaper dispatch from New York, tucking it in the bottom of her valise:
“European food experts are agreed
that the entire world will be brought
to the verge of starvation if the
European war continues to more,” Dr. Maurice Egan U.S. Minister to Denmark
said last night. “The northern European
neutrals,” Dr. Egan declared, “are in dire
straights. Food is so scarce in Denmark
famous Danish wolfhounds are being slaughtered for food.” Dr. Egan, who recently returned from Copenhagen for a
rest, warned the people of the U.S. against German espionage and declared that
every citizen should wake to its danger.
He added that “the people of Denmark
now are living practical slavery and that the same is true of other European neutrals.”
Rudolph Ulysses Lanclos
The cool gaze of 19 year-old Rudolph Ulysses Lanclos. His bowler hat – perhaps shale-stone gray with black ribbon trim – but, now sporting a fiery brown, sits smartly above his ears with tilted jaunty pride. Two things betray his vaunted intent in sailing to New York City aboard the steamship, Saga: his stated purpose so disarmingly casual: “visiting a friend Allan O’Neal, at 164 West 144 Street;” and his right lapel sporting a small shamrock fraternity pin. From his tab collar hangs a white silk tie, a veritable shaft of light illuminating his eyes.
Ulysses (for that is the name I’m using for this traveler across Time), leaves us designated as a Clerk, but appears as a “Dentist/Doctor” in the 1930 Census, when he returns to St. Thomas to work in the Municipal Hospital. He comes from a remarkable family: His mother, Hildah, is a homemaker; his father, Hubert, was a bookkeeper; one sister, Rosamond, was a teacher; another sister, Evelyn, was a telephone operator. Indeed, one of Hildah’s - and Hubert’s - grandsons was Rudolph Galiber. Ulysses, then, belongs to that long line of returnees connected to our present-day medical corps: descendants of these estates’ grandmother mid-wives, and Aid societies, long remembered in the Virgin Islands.
One gains particular democratic insights from the watershed of faces, recipients of the 1918 US Immigration-issued Travel Passes to persons residing in the newly purchased United States Virgin Islands.
In the currency of heritage exchange, these applicants were among the first Virgin Islanders to formally engage with the new empire, The United States of America, encrypting their biographies, their variegated social intents and purposes for leaving their homelands. Thus, the Nativity of so wide a pan-Caribbean field of 1918 applicants is a remarkable footnote to an emerging Virgin Islands democratic vision. Details of familial ties, occupation, age and institutional memberships verifying their identities belie the immutable strata of kinships, culture, and heritages that offer portals into genealogical contours and inter-island legacies. There are other buried constellations, in fact: a rich assortment that includes the maritime records of ships’ names and dates of departure to sundry ports. There are Letters of Recommendation, Baptism Certificates, Marriage Licenses and Police Declarations with administrative and civic vernaculars of their own; each with marginalia and innovative addendums related to the change of status of these islands and jurisdictional matters of colonial agencies. The tournament of officials’ names denoting past colonial authority now stand as a footnote of diminution.
A sobering and little-discussed caveat lay strewn in the vestibule of History: the compiled list of persons who declared their desire to preserve or retain their Danish citizenship. One sees the proverbial needle’s eye errantly lodged between the vestibule’s floorboards, parents and their unsuspecting children unwittingly exercising a dubious Right, whether born in Denmark or these islands.
But it is the photographic image of the Travel Passes – the first formal engagements of an impending US Citizenship – that speak most eloquently across Time. They are, unquestionably, among the first expressions of our 20th century Modernism. Aside from evidencing a curious sartorial elegance and group portraiture, they objectify our hopes and dreams in realm of The Gaze; our encounter with moving image technology beginning with the steam-engine estate-workers of the mid 1850s, and later, with Lindbergh’s pan-Caribbean landings of the Jazz Age.
Edgar O. Lake firstname.lastname@example.org