Eden family finds roots in Cayman

Charles Davis, pictured holding the sword, and his family returned to Grand Cayman to see the home their grandmother had lived in. - PHOTO: SPENCER FORDIN

Their world has been expanded and family tree altered to reveal another branch.

Charles Davis, Charlotte Eden Jackson and Linda Davis Morgan came to Grand Cayman from the United States this week to survey the former home of their grandmother, Francis Mignonette Eden, and to return a family heirloom.

Mr. Davis had recently discovered a pair of ceremonial swords bearing the names Bodden and Eden, and he brought them back to Cayman to donate to Pedro St. James Castle, the restored plantation house of William Eden, built in 1780. Mr. Davis granted the swords to the Cayman government in an emotional ceremony Tuesday and met a few long-lost, distant relatives.

“They don’t belong to me. They belong to the people of the Cayman Islands,” said Mr. Davis, 68, who had found the decorative weapons shortly after his uncle passed away.

“I like to think I rescued them,” he said. “The idea was to get them back to a place where their history could be appreciated.”

Mr. Davis, accompanied by his wife Peggy, came in on a cruise ship, and he was thrilled to tour the grounds of Pedro St. James before the ceremony. Ms. Jackson’s husband, Kenneth, also made the trip, and they spent the day learning about their family history and thinking about the life their grandmother led.

The five visitors, who visited the very site of the house their great, great, great grandfather William Eden had ordered built, soaked in the views overlooking the sea and walked through the halls of the rebuilt Pedro St. James, giving their imagination a jump-start on what life must have been like.

“All my life, I’ve heard about the castle my grandfather built. That was always a princess fairy tale kind of thing,” Ms. Jackson said. “And it’s even more than I expected. When we were standing out there looking at that view, I thought, ‘Wow, how come we haven’t been here before?’ But you’re working and you’re busy and you’re doing things. I think all my life I wanted to come. And now I’d love to come back.”

Mr. Davis said he did not know much about the lives of his Cayman progenitors, and he was thrilled to be able to see the place they had lived. At some point, he said, he would love to learn the origin of his middle name, Woodville.

The house and grounds of Pedro St. James seemed bigger than he expected, Mr. Davis said, and he was not quite certain why his family had left Grand Cayman.

“After the soil was depleted, a lot of the Edens and the Boddens – the landowners – left,” he said. “There was no more slavery, the soil was depleted and there was no more growing cotton. They just went all over the place. A lot of them went to the Bay Islands. They went to Honduras and Nicaragua. I’ve run into several Boddens on trips when I’ve gone down to Honduras. But what made them leave? From the history I’ve heard, there was no more living for them here. Not what they were used to.”

His grandmother, Francis Mignonette Eden, lived from 1877 to 1926, and the children were always aware of her life on Cayman. But the plan to visit did not come until recently, when Mr. Davis was rooting around his deceased uncle’s attic in search of a promised silver coin collection.

He came across two leather scabbards, and when he opened them up, he discovered the pair of ceremonial swords. That got him to thinking about his ancestors and why they carried swords.

“These swords are something that a mariner would wear at a full-dress function,” he said. “They were ceremonial swords, not for swashbuckling. So I was wondering what type of ship would they have sailed on? My mother said that they ferried lumber between Honduras and Nicaragua to the States.”

Ms. Jackson said she had heard that her great grandfather, William Mowatt Eden, had owned a triple-masted schooner named The Storm King, but she has not been able to verify that information.

A lot of new information came from Stacy Eden Hurlston, a tour guide at Pedro St. James. He led his distant cousins through the grounds and gave them some basic facts about the renovations. For Mr. Hurlston, it was an interesting experience to meet people that shared his family line.

“It’s a pleasant experience for me,” he said of meeting his relatives and leading them around their ancestral home. “I’ve met some before that had never been here before. It’s a long story, very complicated, but put it this way: William Eden III was married twice. And they’re from the second marriage.”

Another cousin, Ernest Hurlston, was thrilled to be a part of the proceedings.

“We know that we’re scattered all over,” said Mr. Hurlston, 72. “But to actually meet them, a real living relative who has heirlooms? This gentleman and his wife have a sword that has been in the family for years. We didn’t know anything about it, so it’s exciting to see it after all this time.”

Mr. Davis and his wife live in the Houston area, while Ms. Davis Morgan lives in Alabama. Ms. Jackson and her husband split the year between Calgary and California. Their ancestors had departed Cayman and started new lives in new cities, and for Ms. Jackson, it was a lot to consider.

“It’s just very touching,” she said. “Realistically, our families seem to be getting smaller and smaller. Overwhelming seems like a negative word, but this isn’t a negative feeling. You’re suddenly realizing there are these different people you’re connected to. And they’re so different from you, and they’ve lived such a different life. And they know all these different stories than the ones you know. When we were in watching the movie [about Pedro St. James] and seeing all this additional history, I was starting to tear up.”

Mr. Davis had a similar sentiment. Perhaps he would move here some day, if he could find an affordable place, and if not, maybe he will look into being buried among relatives in the Eden family cemetery.

“I might come back in a casket,” he said. “I can be buried on Westheimer Avenue, one of the biggest avenues in Houston, which means being surrounded by asphalt. I could be in Pleasant Home Cemetery, which is in the middle of nowhere in Alabama. Or I might just come back here and be with the Edens.”

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