British Guiana (Guyana): A Red Thread Weaves Through My Life

QUESTION: What do the following things have in common?

College paper

Jim Jones

Madame Rosalie de Leval

Tikwis Begbie

C. J.

Pittsburgh woman

Rien at Mt. Washington, N. H.

USA Today, June 22, 2012, pp 4D

Silver Green Turtle Soup Ladle

ANSWER: They are all part of a continuous Chinese red thread that is woven through the tapestry of my life. You know—that red thread of Asian myth that has been reinterpreted to mean that relationships between people are meant to be, and if thwarted, the proverbial thread would not, could not, be broken. The persons would eventually come together.

Each event and/or person is connects the tiny country of British Guiana/Guyana to me by an invisible thread that I never could have foreseen when I began my journey of writing a historic romance novel.


The surprise journey began with the writing of a paper on race relations in Surinam, the immediate neighbor of British Guiana (Guyana).

It was a paper that my professor graded shorter than I felt it was worth, about a country next to Guyana, the country that was brought into a discussion nearly fifty years later.


The next time British Guiana passed by was the horror of Jim Jones, which I won’t go into that except to say that

America’s perception of Guyana is colored by cult leader Jones, who in 1978, incited more than nine hundred followers to commit suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced beverage. Today, this small country is utterly lacking in Kool-aid irony…Ask random people here what “drinking the Kool-Aid” means, and they mostly just shrug. Jones’s dark legacy barely resonates here.

However, it’s the first thing many Americans think of when they hear of the country formerly named British Guiana. Through the years I’ve read the articles, listened to the news stories, and watched the movies about Jim Jones. It wasn’t a pretty story!


Sometime around year 2000 Madame Rosalie de Leval brought British Guiana back into my life. She was a French émigré who, to escape the French Revolution, came to the United States. Almost immediately she became involved an unsuccessful land speculation deal in Maine (with General Henry Knox and William Duer), married a Netherlands ambassador, and ended up on a plantation in British Guiana. She was introduced into my life because she allegedly gave my ancestors, Louis and Mary Googins des Isles, the land they lived on.  Since then I’ve been working on a historic romance novel on this story.


Which leads me to the next person on my list, Tikwis Begbie, who was discovered by a friend who helped me with research for my novel. Tikwis focus was saving historical British Guiana records from destruction. In her files she had records of van Berckle adn Madame, which she sent to me. Another strange thread emanating from a distant land. I owe her a debt of gratitude for her contribution to my  work.


The Guyana Flag. Also known as “The Golden Arrowhead”, the national flag of Guyana was adopted in May 1966 when the country achieved independence from the United Kingdom

The thread next wove from lands afar to my nextdoor neighbor, where I attended  party.

One of the guests, C. J., offered to help prepare a photograph on my laptop. While doing so, he asked me about my novel, which I stated went around the world—Boston, Philadelphia, France, Ohio, Maine, British Guiana…

When I mentioned British Guiana he jumped at me.

“It’s not Gi-ana,” he snapped. “It’s Gee-ana. My ancestors are from there.”

Not being good at languages and truly not knowing, I acquiesced on the pronounciation and asked him about his ancestry.

He told me that his ancestors were the first slave traders in that country.

“What year was that?” I asked innocently, receiving the answer that it was in the mid-1800s.

“Then your ancestors weren’t the first slave traders in British Gee-ana.”

“Yes, they were.”

“No,” I argued back. “Wait. I’ll return in a few minutes.”

I took off across the road to get my research material on Rosalie. It clearly stated that she and her husband were involved in the slave trade in the early 1800s.

Returning with my evidence, I shared it with C. J. He was devastated.

“You’ve just ruined the foundation of my family ancestry,” he stated.

I felt bad, but I didn’t ruin his ancestry. The facts did.


One day, while shopping in Westmoreland Mall, I was in a line in the food court. Behind me was a petite, elderly woman walking with a cane. I invited her to join me for lunch.

As we shared sparing details of our lives she told me that she lived at least thirty years in the top echelon of British Guiana.

“Can you answer a question for me? How do you pronounce the name of the country?”

Her answer clarified the situation.

“When it was British, it was pronounced Gi-ana,” she said. “But when the country recently changed names, it became pronounced Gee-ana.”

I needed to get back to C. J. He needed to know we were both right.

Go into the wild in undiscovered Guyana

On June 22, 2012, the red thread appeared again, this time in the newspaper USA Today, a freebie with the hotel room we rented enroute home from an Ohio visit with our son, Nolan. While relaxing over my breakfast coffee a headline caught my attention: Go into the wild in undiscovered Guyana

I read that tourism is relatively new to Guyana. Its only north-south road between Georgetown and the Brazilian border, 320 miles unpaved, is a fourteen hour bus ride. Wildlife provides the entertainment for visitors. To read the rest of the story, click on link 1 in the source list following additional reading.


Monte and I stopped to view Mt. Washington while in New England. Another group of tourist did the same—they were from the Netherlands. I asked them about Franco van Berckle, the second Dutch ambassador to the United States (1794ish). I even showed them several paragraphs from my novel-in-progress, which I had actually been reviewing while we were driving. Frans, the father, said he was willing to look up some information for me, since I cannot read Dutch. Yet another resource for deciphering the background of my novel!

USA TODAY, JUNE 22,2012, PP 4D

At the hotel we stayed at I opened up the complimentary newspaper to an article on Guyana and tourism. What a surprise to pull me back into the writing the novel that life happenings had drawn me from!


Just today, July 11, British Guiana again became a focus of my attention. My researcher friend Fran called to tell me that she’d mailed me a link to an auction site that listed a very interesting item: A Rare George III Silver Green Turtle Soup Ladle of Caribbean Interest, c. 1800.

The ladle, in the form of a green turtle, bore the following engraving on the interior of the turtle shell: With every Sentiment of Respect from Francis de Ridder, To the Hon F P van Berckel 1807, Friends form’d in ‘Union’ of heart and aims, Prove firm supporters of each others claims, Victorious Virtue warms Thy gen’rous breast, Be thine ‘enjoyment’, and perennial ‘Rest’. A note on the item stated that The depiction of a Caribbean sea turtle in a silver form is exceedingly rare. The ladle is valued at six to nine thousand dollars.

When I talked to Fran later she said she’d found at least one, if not two, more auctioned van Berckle items. We’ve concluded someone had a collection and is slowly selling it off.

I called the auction company, which, as I predicted, wouldn’t reveal the name of the seller. Instead I whipped off an email for them to forward to the seller suggesting a sharing of information, with the hope that s/he would respond by contacting me.


Thus, the red thread continues to weave its way through my life as I attempt to write my historical romance novel. My friend Peg calls it serendipity.

I agree. And I wait for the thread to weave its next person, item, or event into my story.



MADAME ROSALIE BACLER de la VAL: A Character Sketch:


Doing Historical Research in Philadelphia:



2  Flag and maps


One response to “British Guiana (Guyana): A Red Thread Weaves Through My Life

  1. Pingback: Weaving the Threads Through 8 Parts in One Post | Carolyn's Online Magazine

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