|A tale of two wells|
|Written by Quincy Lettsome|
|Thursday, 20 September 2012 08:36|
I have always stressed the importance of oral tradition. The younger generation should talk with the older generation and vice versa in order to glean more knowledge about the Virgin Islands’ cultural heritage.
Very often the stories of oral tradition are simple, factual and genuine. While history is mostly true, sometimes there are certain geopolitical perspectives that cloud reality. The story of the Brack Well and the Missy-Butcher Well are based mostly on oral tradition and observation. This story highlights the territory’s rich cultural heritage.
Perhaps it is important to set our literary compass as we review briefly the history of two wells in the East End-Long Look community that have contributed so much, providing water since about 1912. Both wells are located in Long Swamp, which derived its name from a long swamp, part of which is now covered by a bridge. Due to the taste of the water, it was known as Brack Well, not Black Well, as it is sometimes called today. Therefore the residents of Long Swamp, Greenland and surrounding communities were still searching for a source of more palatable water, mainly for drinking and domestic purposes.
Fortunately at this time, a spring was noticed on the property of my late grandparents, Ezekiel “Butcher” and Rossetta “Missy” Malone. This area was examined thoroughly and some digging indicated that it may be a spring. Mr. Malone reported his findings to the people in the surrounding community. Then the young men and other stout-of-heart residents of Long Swamp, Major Bay, Old Plantation, Long Look, Greenland, Vanterpool and nearby localities came to dig the well with basic tools: pick, hoe, shovel and diggerlines.
According to oral tradition, the Missy-Butcher Well was dug in 1912. It derived its name from the nicknames of the two owners. It was exactly what the residents needed at that time: The water was more palatable than that of the Brack Well.
Both wells served residents of Long Swamp and the surrounding communities and boasted a common heritage. The community leaders decided that Brack Well would be used to provide water for livestock, such as cattle, goats and sheep. The Missy Butcher Well, on the other hand, provided water for drinking and domestic purposes.
Brack Well’s source was a mighty spring that gushed down rapidly from the adjacent hills. As a lad I observed that its cleaning was voluntary. The younger men would try valiantly to empty it completely, but the older men, such as the late Alfredo Crabbe and Francis Lettsome, warned them that this was impossible. After trying in vain, the younger men finally gave up the effort and in a short while the water was about at its usual level.
Then in about the 1960s and 1970s — the main time of the changeover from wooden houses to wall houses — there was a construction boom and Brack Well provided all of that water. People brought trucks with drums, donkeys and mules with brickers, but the spring always provided an abundant supply of water.
Then with agriculture at its height as the various herds of cattle came for water, the bulls fought for supremacy and added much excitement indeed.
100 years old
The Missy Butcher Well this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. This well has built up a rich legacy over this century of its existence. Up to about the late 1970s and early 1980s it provided the only source of drinking water for the surrounding communities. Therefore, children, women and men came from the surrounding areas with all sorts of water-carrying implements. During that time the spring was not so powerful, and sometimes residents had to wait until there was enough water to safely take it from the well.
The Missy Butcher Well developed its own unique legacy. When residents came and went, they talked about the latest happenings, but this did not concern the children that much. I was not yet a teenager, but I recall seeing a circular cloud in the sky on a cloudy day. Some of the adults said this was a sign. Later, on a less cloudy day, it was discovered that the cloud had been made by a plane, probably from the United States military base in Puerto Rico.
What mattered to the youngsters were the games that were played near the well. The girls mostly played jacks and pudding. The boys chucked cherry nuts and spun and “canked” locally made tops. Most of the boys preferred playing marbles, and the winners took home the prized “smoothies.”
This is only a small part of the story of two wells that are about 80 to 90 yards apart. They are the result of the toil of the residents of Long Swamp and surrounding areas. Generations who used the water stand squarely on the shoulders of our hardy ancestors.
Today, because of piped water, these wells are not so important anymore. However, they should be preserved, especially to be used in case of disasters or emergencies. It is important that we honour the achievements of our ancestors by building up these wells as memorial to their skill and ingenuity. There are other wells throughout the VI that will similarly enrich the territory’s cultural heritage.