Jeremiah Gumbs and Anguillan 'Redependence'
Jeremiah Gumbs – poet, raconteur, resort host and patriot of the Caribbean island of Anguilla – was born on this day in The Valley, Anguilla in 1913.
As a young man, Gumbs worked in sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic and at oil refineries on Aruba and Curacao before leaving the Caribbean for the U.S. in 1938, to study dentistry in Brooklyn. Before long, however, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After his Army stint, he opened a small fuel mechanics company in New Jersey, and eventually became a leading citizen in Edison, serving as one of the founding members of the John F. Kennedy Hospital board of trustees. He never turned his back on Anguilla, however; he tirelessly raised funds for the improvement of schools and medical facilities in his homeland.
In 1959, Gumbs planted both feet back in the white sands of Anguilla when he and his wife opened Anguilla’s first beach-side resort, the Rendezvous Bay Hotel. Today it is not the swankiest Anguillan resort, but it is a most relaxing haven – and the place that to this day remains the most true to Anguilla’s tranquil, off-the-beaten-path milieu.
As early as 1956, however, the United Kingdom, which had ruled Anguilla from afar, joined Anguilla to two of its other Caribbean island charges – St. Kitts and Nevis – as one colonial protectorate. While St. Kitts and Nevis are within shouting distance of each other, Anguilla is located 70 miles to the Northwest, with the islands of St. Maarten, St. Barthelemy and St. Eustatius in between. St. Kitts and Nevis were cozy Caribbean bunkmates, but tensions rose in Anguilla due to its being so far away from its partners.
The last straw for Anguilla was when the United Kingdom granted independence to St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla in 1967. The gesture prompted one of the oddest uprisings of the 20th century, with Jeremiah Gumbs leading the way. While Anguillan rebels launched a military attack on the St. Kitts police presence in Anguilla to show that Anguilla meant business, Gumbs climbed onto the world stage in New York, pleading with the United Nations to let Anguilla separate from St. Kitts and Nevis and return to life as a British colony. With plots being hatched at Rendezvous Bay, Gumbs led a revolution to forsake independence and become a colonial possession once more.
By degrees, the Anguillans got their wish. In 1979, the island adopted its first constitution; in 1980, it was formally divided from St. Kitts and Nevis; and in 1982, the Anguillans finally received clear, unambiguous status as a British dependent territory.
In his later years, Jeremiah Gumbs became the king bee of his resort, paddling around in the surf at Rendezvous Bay with his golden retrievers Prince and Earl, and offering impromptu poems to his guests.
My wife (then girlfriend) Kerstin and I were looking forward to staying at Rendezvous Bay and meeting Jeremiah Gumbs in the spring of 2004, but unfortunately, it was not to be. Jeremiah Gumbs passed away less than a week before we arrived (on April 8, 2004), and in a nod to their devotion to each other, his golden retriever Prince apparently followed quickly after him. Only Earl remained when we checked in, and it was heartbreaking to see him, standing in the surf up to his chest, baying after his departed playmates in the hazy afternoon sun. Despite the fact that Mr. Gumbs had passed away, however, we knew we could see his handiwork in the little bit of paradise in the Caribbean that he had built and lovingly preserved over the course of his life. And Earl did stop by our bungalow for an occasional visit.