Key Text: A Witches Legacy

Sir Henry Hesketh Bell was born in the United Kingdom in 1864, decades after slavery had "officially" been abolished in 1807. Still, he was appointed as a colonial overseer of both the Bahamas and Dominica during his career. During his time in the Caribbean, he authored memoirs and novels, including the A Witch's Legacy. Sir Bell was quite interested in magic and Obeah, with many of his texts, both fiction and non-fiction, centered on the practice in varying capacities. This includes the works: Obeah: Witchcraft in the West Indies (1889), Love in Black(1911), and Witches and Fishes (1948). Sir Bell's publishing years spanned over nearly 50 years, and he comes in at the ending threshold of what the ECDA considers the early Caribbean, with his last published work coming in 1949, and his death in 1952-- long after he had returned to London, England from the Caribbean.

First published in London by William Clowes and Sons in 1893, A Witch's Legacy tells the story of the 'charismatic' and harsh, yet prone to melancholy and sentimentality, Jack Moseby Esq., a once very wealthy man and plantation owner that experiences money troubles and other uncertainties. With the help of those he enslaves and other freed Blacks, Moseby comes into contact with Obeah, and his life is changed drastically by the end of the novel.

Little is known of the specific reception of the text, however, most Obeah themed novels of the same period tended to be widely circulated, but with mixed responses. Sir Bell's novel is at once both late-gothic and pastoral; it pays great attention to the lush and sensual ecology of the Caribbean and puts in into contrast with the wickedness and selfishness of both man and Obeah. The result is a text that is at once alluring and upsetting. The text, which joins the ECDA under our Obeah Narratives Collection, is a short and worthwhile read for any scholars interested in the fictionalization of Obeah and a practical (and seemingly accurate) description of the Caribbean landscape.

The cover of the first edition of A Witch's Legacy, published in London in 1893. Image sourced from the University of Chicago's library archive.