Philippa’s story

The story of Philippa is the only story recorded in detail of one of the earliest – and few – women ever to emigrate from England to the Caribbean.

Her life

Philippa was born in 1607 in Ashburton, on the fringes of Dartmoor - into a life of desperate poverty. Her father worked in the tin mines but when she was seven he just disappeared. Her family survived on just two payments from Poor Relief and whatever work they could find. In 1625 when she was to marry, plague struck: Ashburton was isolated for 18 months and 25% of the population died, including her family, and her husband-to-be. Because she had absolutely no prospects whatsoever she was willing to cross the ocean to unknown lands.

On 20th February 1634, she swore the Oath of Allegiance before a Magistrate in Dartmouth and then embarked on a dangerous voyage to the West Indies. Three months later when she landed on Nevis, Clement Prentis was the first man she met and they married immediately. He owned land on Saddle Hill and that is where she lived and bore her children.

Together they helped create the Nevis, whose anniversary of independence was celebrated in 2008. Their life was so successful that well before Philippa died in 1685, she was no longer a scorned spinster at the bottom of the heap, but a revered matriarch near the top!

Her legacy

Three hundred years later, by unbelievable luck, a gentle Nevisian chanced across her gravestone in two broken, separated pieces. Roland Archibald who owned the same land, still called by its ancient name – Prentis Works – was greatly moved to find evidence about the earliest settlers on Nevis. So on one of the most beautiful sites on Nevis he built a tomb in memory of this unknown woman. Ten years later he met the author, showed her the tomb and started her quest for Philippa.

So who was Philippa? She was a tough, ordinary, extremely poor woman who lived an extraordinary life and defeated all the odds. She was not a famous woman in history and though she helped to create a country, she didn't change her society at all. Yet she witnessed and experienced many remarkable events.

The author, now approaching the age that Roland Archibald was when she first met him, knows that the drama has no ending. For through our descendants the story continues and so long as there are human beings on this earth – whose experiences reflect love and pain, hopes and fears, ecstasy and tragedy – rivers of time will flow for them just as they did for Roland and Philippa. So other chroniclers can take inspiration from other lives lived well – outside of the spotlight which focuses only on famous winners, or desperate losers, or just the noisiest.

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Ashburton viewed from the east

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Philippa's grave on Saddle Hill