During the Spring of 2006, I decided to change my name.
I had always figured that my last name, Goodridge, was a slave name. It is my father’s name, his father’s before him, and his father’s before him. All black men. Goodridge certainly didn’t seem like an African name so I assumed that it was a slave name that had been imposed on my ancestors at some point in the past. That assumption was reinforced when I found out (quite randomly) that the drummer for the British rock band “Bush” was a white Brit named Robin Goodridge. My father’s family is from Barbados and Barbados was a British holding in the colonial era so it seemed likely that Robin Goodridge’s ancestors had owned my ancestors at some point. Goodridge is also a pretty common last name among black Bajans which certainly suggested that it had spread through mass ownership.
Though I had always assumed that I carried a slave name, it had never bothered or moved me enough to seriously consider changing my name. But one night in 2006, the stars aligned and I was struck by an intense combination of circumstances and emotion which made me suddenly sickened to carry the name of a slave owner. Who is he to have his name attached to anything that I accomplish in this life? That night, I decided to drop Goodridge. And that’s how Anand Jahi Goodridge became Anand Jahi.
I’ve had a pretty wide range of responses from people when they’ve learned about my name change. Those who knew me best were somewhat surprised but understood. Some have been critical or defensive. Others have joked and asked if I was going to change my name to Muhammad Shabazz X and join the Nation of Islam. People who have met me since I dropped Goodridge are often surprised to learn that that was once my name and say that Jahi fits me. Others still have commended me on my decision and congratulated me on having the courage to go through with it. But the response of one of my friends stuck with me the most. A simple question. “How do you know it went down like that?”
She had a point. While Goodridge certainly is not an African name, seems to have British roots, and could be a slave name to many blacks, it was possible that my family had acquired the name through other means. Specifically, a free black woman could have willfully married a white Goodridge, taken his name, and passed it on to her offspring on down the line to me. That moment planted a seed of doubt in my mind. Maybe I had acted too hastily. Maybe I should have really done my homework, traced the name, and really found out where it came from. Though I believed that it was most likely a slave name, I wasn’t sure.
Last week I visited Barbados for the first time. Once again, the stars aligned and through a series of events that seem too coincidental to be a coincidence, I found myself in the national archives. Long story short (or long story slightly less long) my parents and I visited the archives to try to clarify my father’s side of my family tree. We had limited success. Most notably we were able to find my great, great grandfather’s 1878 baptism record and his mother’s name. But for the most part the search was anticlimactic and I lost interest. But as I sat there scrolling through microfilm I remembered that my original interest in tracing my family history had been to see if I could trace the Goodridge name and see if it was indeed a slave name.
I abandoned the baptism and marriage records and decided to look at wills. I figured that if white Goodridges had been slave owners they would have willed their slaves to their heirs as they would any other property. Slavery was abolished on the island in 1834 so I searched the will index for any Goodridge listings between 1801 and 1830. I found nine but since the documents were so old I was only able to actually review six. Four of those six detailed what was to become of slaves who those Goodridges owned.
The first was William Goodridge’s 1807 will. He wrote that his “negro man slave named Dogo [a Swahili name]” should be sold and the money should go to his daughter. Next was Jane Gibbs Goodridge’s will from 1809 which said that her “two slaves, a negro woman Sisy [possibly a Fante version of the Akan name Akosua] and a negro boy, Quamin [an Americanized version of the Akan name Kwame], upon her death should be sold.” Third was John Michael Goodridge who in 1826 directed that his “negro woman slave named Present be manumitted” after his death.
I was in awe as my mother and I painstakingly deciphered these wills. I was struck that some of these slave had retained African names and generally speechless that these white Goodridges had in fact been slave owners. I was also confused. While this was clear proof that Goodridges had owned slaves, they seemed to be small holders. These wills did not explain why the Goodridge name would be so widespread among black Bajans. The final will cleared that up.
John Goodridge. Will dated 1827. Had owned two sugarcane plantations on the island. He left one to his sisters, Ann and Sarah, and another to his niece, Mary Ann. Included in the plantations were “all the land, slaves, cattle, plantation utensils and everything thereto belonging of whatever kind it may consist.” After a little research I can estimate that between two sugarcane plantations on Barbados, John Goodridge may have owned between 100-400 slaves. All with Goodridge as a last name. That certainly was enough to explain for the proliferation of the Goodridge name throughout the island.
Also striking about John Goodridge’s will was that he left a substantial amount of money and property “to the free negro woman Jenny Blackett commonly called Jenny Goodridge.” Both my mother and I read this to mean that Jenny had been his mistress and probably his slave at one point who he had freed. He left money to “William Goodridge a free coloured boy…John Goodridge a free coloured man…Mary Ann Goodridge a free coloured women…Sarah Goodridge a free coloured girl…Dorothy Goodridge a free coloured girl…Will Goodridge a free coloured boy…Henry a free coloured boy, son of Jenny Blackett…and Elizabeth Jane Goodridge a free coloured girl.” He also directed that his “mulatto boy called Phill Thomas be immediately manumitted and set free from all means of slavery” as well as given 400 pounds. I believe that all, or at least some, of these free blacks and Phill were likely children that John Goodridge fathered with his slaves.
When we had finally finished reading the will I looked down and my hands were covered in ink; 200 year old ink that had quite likely determined the fate of at least one and possibly several of my ancestors. Sick. Shocked. Floored. Affirmed. My mind was all over the place but it wasn’t in doubt anymore. Even though I hadn’t traced my Goodridge name to a specific plantation or owner (I’d like to go back, spend a few more hours in the archives, and see if that’s possible), that seemed to matter a lot less.