The Cayman Islands National Museum is celebrating the repatriation of a household artifact originating from Cayman’s very early days which is now part of its collection.
Dating from 1745, the 24-inch high, hand-carved mortar made from a single Cayman mahogany log was used by several generations of the McLaughlin and Watler families to grind guinea corn and other wild grains.
The mortar was donated to the museum on Feb. 1 by Everette Humphrey, a former high school science teacher from Flint, Michigan.
According to a press release from the museum, the mortar dates back to a time when the islands were known as the Caymanas and were largely unoccupied. In that era, English planters from Jamaica received patents of Crown land to settle and develop the land in Cayman, which at that time had a mahogany industry.
Mr. Humphrey noticed the mortar on a trip to Cayman several decades ago at the home of East End resident Olympia Watler.
“That old thing is no good anymore. It is cracked and leaks,” Mr. Humphrey recollected Ms. Watler saying to him in 1973 when he told her he was interested in purchasing a traditional Caymanian mortar.
Dr. Philip Pedley of the National Archive found out from Ms. Watler that the mortar had been in the family and used ever since her ancestor made it out of a log he cut in the bush in 1745.
“She had it sitting on her front porch with a potted plant sitting in it,” said Mr. Humphrey, who bought the mortar from her for $34.
According to Mr. Humphrey, Ms. Watler was pleased with the transaction, as she reportedly said, “Now I can buy some sugar and make some cookies for the chilens.”
Now, four decades after buying it and taking it back to Michigan, Mr. Humphrey decided to bring it back to Cayman and donate it to the museum.
“We are especially grateful to Mr. Humphrey for recognizing the importance of this object and for his love and dedication to preserving it,” the Museum states in the release.
“Without Mr. Humphrey’s intervention, this piece of history would surely have been lost. Today, it is one of the oldest tangible objects from our early history.”
Mr. Humphrey also donated a pestle fashioned in 1973 for the mortar and a partial cart and winch for making rope, obtained from Adina “Tooksie” Whittaker of Breakers.