Cambridge’s Caribbean connection runs deep

A close up photograph of the bottles on one of the blue bottle trees in the "Forgotten Souls of Tory Row" art installation, with a "Black Lives Matter" sign in the background

“Forgotten Souls of Tory Row: Remembering the Enslaved People of Brattle Street,” the installation of bottle trees now on view at the History Cambridge headquarters (159 Brattle St.), was inspired by a custom that originated in Congo in West Africa long ago. The tradition of bottle trees was brought to the Caribbean and the Southern United States by enslaved people and passed down through generations. While bottle trees signify different things to different people, there is agreement that the bottles are placed on tree branches to destroy evil spirits and to capture the energy, spirit and memories of ancestors. 

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‘Forgotten Souls of Tory Row’ art installation remembers enslaved people of Brattle Street

Several blue bottle trees on a green lawn in front of a three story building against a blue sky

Cambridge and slavery are not often paired in the public imagination. Most think of the enslavement of people of African descent as a Southern phenomenon from which the North, particularly New England, was exempt. But slavery was a very real, ever-present institution in Northern colonies and, later, states – including Massachusetts. Recent efforts by academic and public historians to emphasize the role slavery played in the Cambridge area include the re-centering of Medford’s Royall House and Slave Quarters to focus on the experiences of enslaved people on that estate, as well as Harvard University’s recent release of the “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” report. History Cambridge has also been engaged in this important work through our research and public programs, including our Tory Row Antiracism Coalition

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Pierre Fils-Aime

Where is Cambridge from?

Pierre Fils-Aime was born in Saint-Marc, Haiti. He first traveled to the US as a member of Haiti’s national volleyball team, to represent Haiti in an international volleyball tournament at Miami Dade University in Florida. After graduating from SUNY Binghamton with a major in psychobiology, he moved to Boston to be near his sister. He…

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Nicola Williams

Nicola Williams was born in Jamaica, and spent her childhood in both Jamaica and Brooklyn, NY. She moved to Boston the day after graduating college in Upstate New York, and has lived in Cambridge for over 30 years. In 1995, she founded The Williams Agency, a marketing and event planning firm.

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Caribbean Heritage in Cambridge

Oral History Project

The 2018 Caribbean Heritage Oral History Project collected interviews of nine Cambridge people who were born in or have roots in the Caribbean as part of our year of asking “Where is Cambridge From?” Areas of ancestry included Barbados (1), Haiti (4), Jamaica (1), Puerto Rico (1), Suriname (1), and Trinidad (1), and also “from…

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Lynette Laveau-Saxe

Lynette Laveau-Saxe was born in Trinidad and moved to Boston to be with her husband, who was studying anthropology at Brandeis. She is a teacher, actress, mentor, and life success coach and currently produces the Callaloo Express Relationship Show on CCTV. She’s lived in Cambridge for 50 years.

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Jean Dany Joachim

Jean Dany Joachim was born and grew up in Haiti. He visited Boston in 1989 to help care for a sick friend; political unrest in Haiti kept him from returning. He produces the City Nights Reading Series and was the Poet Populist of Cambridge from 2009-2011. He is the current Poet in Residence at First…

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Marie France Santiago

Marie France Santiago was born in Cambridge at Mt. Auburn Hospital; both of her parents are from Haiti. She graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2006 and has a B.F.A. in Fashion Design from Massachusetts College of Art. She started attending the Cambridge Community Art Center at age 5, and is now its…

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Quinton Zondervan

Quinton Zondervan was born in The Netherlands in 1970 and grew up in Suriname. He moved to the United States when he was 15. In 1993 he began studying for his Masters degree at MIT. He is now a Cambridge City Councillor.

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