It took more than 35 years, but Jim Lawlor has finally published his book “From Africa to The Bahamas” – a book that he says will assist people with identifying with their ancestors – something he says that was high priority to the African culture. It is his hope that people enjoy reading the book and understand the importance of history and the growth of Afro-Bahamian culture and that history is more than a national history, but a trans-national history with people migrating to and from other countries.
“From Africa to The Bahamas” which he began writing at the onset of COVID-19, covers the growth of civilization in the waxing and waning empires of West Africa. There is a deeper focus on the Akan/Ashanti, Congo, Ebo and Yoruba peoples who were the most populous and influential in Bahamian culture. It also covers the growth of Black and colored people – both slaves and free. The trials of the Nassau Vice Admiralty Court; the trials of Mixed Commission Courts in Sierra Leone and Cuba; the creation of African villages; and Afro-Bahamian culture described by travelers, local official and oral historians.
Lawlor finished penning the recently released “From Africa to The Bahamas” at Easter 2021. His says his initial feeling was one of relief, followed by joy and pride at his accomplishment. That was followed by patience for the editing and laying out stage which culminated in a first run of 200 copies that he now has available for sale.
Lawlor who says he has been curious all of his life, says almost 40 years of research has made its way into his book.
“I feel that I have to get the information out into the public,” said the author who is also the corresponding secretary of The Bahamas Historical Society tasked with answering queries to people researching history or genealogy.
“And my area of study in my BA in combined arts, perspectives on human nature steered me toward understanding people and their needs. The fate of the 849 Africans lay deep in my thoughts for so many years.”
In his research, Lawlor says what he found most fascinating was that a young, Liberated African girl of the Mongola tribe named Myga, married her master and had a child, Mary. And that Stephen Dillet, the first colored man in The Bahamas House of Assembly had a child with Mary called Helen Louise Dillet.
“She married James Johnson, who became the head waiter at the newly built Royal Victoria Hotel (1861). Their son, born in Jacksonville, was James Weldon Johnson [who] became a teacher, studied to be a lawyer and through his musical compositions became a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. To celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900, he wrote what became known as the Negro Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ He was appointed American Consul to Venezuela, followed by Nicaragua. He was close friends with W. E. B. duBois, who persuaded him to become secretary to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). He then traveled widely giving lectures on African history and culture.”
Thirteen months before Lawlor came to The Bahamas on December 27, 1958, he had lived in Zambia for two years. That time he said gave him insight into African culture through coaching and running alongside the athletes.
In 1982, he says his father-in-law, Paul Albury, sent him to the Department of Archives to research and write the religion chapter of “The Harbour Island Story” that he planned to pen. Albury died before the research was complete. But Lawlor says he enjoyed the experience and their conversations. The history he learned and his father-in-law’s enthusiasm, he says, were infectious.
“Although I found some information on the slave population, I had no inkling I would write [‘From Africa to The Bahamas’]. However, I was so keen to be of more help that I started researching from the 1660s at the Department of Archives whenever possible. Time was limited as I was preparing, teaching and marking at high school and evenings at The College of The Bahamas [now University of The Bahamas] and coaching track and soccer.”
Lawlor’s wife, Anne, wanted to present a linguistics paper at the Society of Caribbean Linguists’ 1985 conference to be held at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. She asked him to research the demographics of the people of African descent while she researched the theories of language. Their goal was to find the number and languages of Africans and Creoles in The Bahamas.
Lawlor typed up the 849 names and tribes/nations of Liberated Africans from the first six African slave ships tried in the Nassau Vice Admiralty Court and that were apprenticed here. He says for many years he puzzled how to release this important information.
“When I wrote the 70 articles on ‘The History of Religion in The Bahamas’ and being a very curious person, I researched a yet unpublished paper on the African elements which were incorporated into the Native Baptist denomination. My research has taken me to archives in Britain, America, Canada, Bermuda and, of course, the Bahamas Department of Archives and I always noted the Afro-Bahamian information as I researched for Arthur Hailey on Lyford Cay and Sir Orville Turnquest on the Duke of Windsor.”
Lawlor and his wife researched and wrote the chapter From Slavery to Freedom for “The Harbour Island Story”. He was a research assistant for his daughter, Dr. Lisa Lawlor Feller, for her doctorate dissertation “Crossing Frameworks through The Bahamas in the Age of Abolition: Re-mapping the Nassau Archive 1783-1834”. He is researching to assist her as she is now using and expanding that material to highlight the importance of The Bahamas as a maritime highway in the Atlantic World.
Other books by Lawlor are: The Paradise Island Story, Paul Albury updated by Anne and Jim Lawlor, MacMillan Education, 2004. The Harbour Island Story, Anne and Jim Lawlor, MacMillan Education, 2008. The History of The Bahamas in Pictures, Jim Lawlor, Media Publishing, 2012.
And Paul Albury: A Man and His Writings, Jim Lawlor, Media Publishing, 2013.
“From Africa to The Bahamas” is available for $30 from Jim Lawlor at 325-3157 or email@example.com; or Dr. Lisa J Lawlor Feller at firstname.lastname@example.org; or wholesale at Media Enterprises at 325-8210.