The Sobers

Barbados

African slaves were brought into Barbados between 1627 and 1750. Barbados slaves were descendants of the Adangme, Ashanti, Dahomeans, Ewe, Edo, Fanti, Ga, Ibibio, Ibo and Yoruba tribes of Africa. (Source: Barbados Museum & Historical Society, St. Michaels Parish, Barbados, West Indies)

Slavery was abolished in Barbados on August 1, 1834. However, former slaves had to serve as apprentices for four years before they were actually freed. The apprenticeship system ended on August 1, 1838.

We Hailed from St. Peter

According to others researching the Sobers family in Barbados, most Sobers originated from the Parishes of St. Lucy and St. Peter.

Our research of the Sobers family begins in St. Peter, migrates to St. Andrew, St. Michael and ends up in St. George, where they leave the Island for places like Panama and America.

The Sobers family begins with Samuel William Sober, somewhere around 1820. Samuel was married to Sally Patience and in 1842 they had a son named John William Sober.

John William Sober was baptized in St. Peter on October 15, 1842. (Source: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, International Genealogical Index, Baptism Record for John William Sober.) He married Elizabeth Mac Clean on December 27, 1860. John and Elizabeth had at least two children, a daughter, Elizabeth Jane Sober, born in 1862, and a son, James Edward Sober, born on September 16, 1863, near the cemetery in the Parish of St. Peter. (Source: Barbados Archives, Parochial Register of Baptisms, Vol. 38, Page 196.)

James Edward Sobers worked as a carpenter and laborer. James married Margaret Elisbeth Vaughan in St. Andrew on May 1, 1884. According to the marriage record, he was living in St. Lucy at the time. His marriage records, as opposed to his baptism record, records his name spelled with a 's' on the end. From this point forward all subsequent records found, show the spelling of the family name as Sobers.

James Edward Sobers and Margaret Elisbeth Vaughan, living in the Parish of St. Andrew, had three sons:

  • James Augustus Sobers, born March 28, 1884 in the Village of St. Simon
  • James Elverton Sobers, born September 12, 1887 in Cheltenhan
  • Ernest William Sobers, born December 4, 1894 in Haggatts

No additional information is known about James Elverton Sobers and Ernest William Sobers.

James Augustus Sobers, a porter and a carpenter, settled in the Water Hall Land section of St. Michael, where he met and married Florence Malvinia Goddard.

James and Florence Sobers - The Early Years in Barbados

James Augustus Sobers, son of James Edward Sobers and Margaret Elisbeth Vaughan, was born on March 28, 1884 in the Parish of St. Andrew, Barbados, West Indies. James married Florence Malvina Goddard, on December 22, 1906 in St. Leonard's Church, in the Parish of St. Michael. Florence, daughter of Joseph Goddard and Elvira Parris, was born on September 22, 1883.

Together James and Florence had four children:

  • Stephen Alfred Sobers, born November 24, 1907, St. Michael Parish
  • Waynett Arthur Sobers, born February 13, 1909, St. Michael Parish
  • Dorothy Cynthia Guycella Sobers, born April 5, 1912, St. Michael Parish
  • Lewis Matthew Wellington Sobers, born May 28, 1916, St. Michael Parish

James Sobers and Florence's brother, Cox Goddard, went to Panama to work on the Canal. Cox was accompanied by his wife Mildred. Florence remained behind in Barbados. Cox's mother lived in the country while Florence lived closer to town. Since it would be difficult for Cox's mother to go to town to use the bank, Cox sent his money to his sister Florence so that she could deposit his money in the bank.

Note: The Panama Canal was built between 1904 and 1914. Nearly 20,000 Bajans were recruited, making them the largest part of the international workforce assembled to build the canal. (Source: "History of the Panama Canal", Chapter: The Workforce, The Panama Canal Commission, www.pancanal.com, Internet.)

James was said to be a bully with a mean temper. He was known to beat his wife and children. One night, while drinking, James Sobers was overheard saying that he intended to returned to Barbados, take Cox's money and open a shop (or bar). When he returned to Barbados from Panama, he was accompanied by his Jamaican girlfriend, who moved in with him and Florence.

True to his word, James forced Florence to take Cox's money out of the bank. Upon hearing the story about James and knowing that he didn't have any money of his own, Mildred returned to Barbados to discover that the money was missing from Cox's account. Mildred confronted James and Florence and asked for the money. But James had spent it all and had no way of repaying it. So Mildred had Florence arrested and put in jail. Richard Jordan, Florence's stepfather, paid the money back to get Florence out of jail.

Meanwhile, Francessa "Brinette" Harewood, Florence's half-sister who had previously immigrated to New York, one night had a dream that Florence was suffering. So Brinette wrote her mother, Elvira Parris, to ask her about the dream. When Elvira wrote back to Brinette, she told her what had happened to Florence. Brinette sent a message back to her mother, telling her to get Florence passage to America.

(Note: Francessa Harewood immigrated to New York aboard the S.S. Vanban on October 11, 1917. Source: Immigration Record for Francessa Harewood, American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island, www.ellisisland.org, Internet.)

So Florence and her mother set out on a plan to get her to America. They got a trunk, stored it at a friend's house, and packed it a little bit at a time. Meanwhile, Elvira, took some money into Bridgetown, and paid a ship's captain, to take Florence to America. When it came time for the ship to depart, Elvira got a donkey cart and took Florence and her trunk into Bridgetown.

On May 3, 1918, Florence Sobers arrived in the United State aboard the S.S. Saga. (Source: Immigration Record for Florence Sobers, American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island, http://www.ellisisland.org, Internet.)

While in America, Florence's sons, Stephen and Waynett (Arthur), and daughter Dorothy, lived with their aunt, Winifred Harewood, back in St. George Parish. Her other son Lewis, lived with his grandmother, Margaret Sobers, in St. Lucy. James Sobers lived in Bridgetown. Florence wrote her mother asking her to get Lewis from his grandmother. So Winifred sent a message to Margaret, saying that her mother, Elvira, was dying and wanted to put Lewis in her will, but she needed to see him first. So she asked Margaret to send Lewis to her, with just the cloths he was wearing and another set of nice cloths that he could wear into town.

So Margaret sent Lewis. After a couple of days, Margaret was in Bridgetown and saw Winifred without Lewis and she became suspicious. The next day, she went to St. George to see what was going on. Margaret was a very loud woman with a country dialect. The family heard her coming as she approached the house. The kids ran around to the back of the house, while Winifred and Margaret had a few words with one another. Winifred told Margaret to get off of her property and to never set foot on it again.

Lewis was now reunited with his brothers and sister and living with his Aunt Winifred and Cousin Cordie.

On October 13, 1923, Stephen and Waynett ("Arthur") joined their mother in America. They arrived in New York aboard the S.S. Vandyck. (Source: Immigration Records for Alfred and Waynett Arthur Sobers, American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island, http://www.ellisisland.org, Internet.)

Dorothy and Lewis followed on June 26, 1929. They arrived in the United States aboard the S.S. Vauban. The shipped docked at Pier 14 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Coincidentally, the S.S. Vauban was the same ship that brought Francesca Harewood to the United States in 1917.) (Source: Ancestry.com. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, http://www.ancestry.com, Internet.)

Little is known about James Augustus Sobers after Florence's departure to America. He is rumored to have had at least three additional children by another woman.

(Source: Elvira DeCordie "Cordie" Lashley, niece of Florence Sobers, on 6/9/97 and 6/19/97, St. Peters, Barbados. Interview. Additional information provided by others.)

Florence and the Children in the United States

In the United States, separated from James, Florence met Thomas Dean. With Thomas, Florence had her fifth and only U.S. born child, Gertrude Grace Sobers. The family settled in New York City.

After the birth of Gertrude and until his death in 1952, Thomas went by the last name of Sobers. All of the Sobers children called him "Poppa". Thomas was described as a quiet man that was good to the children. In the early 1920s, Thomas was hit by a Sheffield milk wagon and partially lost his sight. He continued working and was later struck by a car crossing the street in the '40s. The confusion behind his name, Sobers versus Dean, would later cause problems with his life insurance policy at the time of his death.

(Source: Hope Sobers, 7/4/97, Telephone interview.)

Florence eventually moved to the Bronx where she worked as a building superintendent.

Her son, Stephen Sobers served in the United States Army during World War II. While in the army he fought in Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge. He was a member of the Red Ball Express, which was responsible for distribution of materials. After serving in the war he worked for the U.S. Post Office. Later in his life he worked as a building superintendent on Park Avenue (off of Claremont Parkway) in the Bronx.

Waynett Sobers joined the U.S. Postal Service where he worked for 33 years.

Dorothy Sobers was a beautician. Ella Fitzgerald was one of her many clients. She lived in the same boarding house as the Nicholas Brothers.

Lewis Sobers joined the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He was assigned to the Tuskegee Army Air Corps based in Tuskegee, Alabama, where he served proudly as a Technical Sergeant with the famous "Tuskegee Airmen". As an Aircraft Maintenance Specialist, he supervised training of new men at 1155th Single Engine Flying Squadron at Tuskegee Army Flying School. He was one of the men who dug out and built Maxwell Field in Alabama. Following the war, Lewis worked briefly for the New York City Department of Sanitation before joining the New York City Police Department in 1949. In 1959 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He retired from the Police Department after 28 years of meritorious service.

Gertrude Grace Sobers went onto work as a New York City Policewoman.


Sir Garfield Sobers - Our Famous Cousin

Garfield St. Aubrun Sobers was born on July 28, 1936 in Bay Land, St. Michael Parish, Barbados. Undoubtedly the greatest cricket player of his era (1952 to 1974), he was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to international cricket. In 1998, Barbados declared him a National Hero. Many adjectives have been used to describe him; the great Barbadian cricketer, the greatest all-rounder, the cricketer's cricketer, etc. Certainly, there will be no other like him.

My grandfather, Waynett Arthur Sobers, also a native of Barbados, told us that Gary was a first cousin. While we haven't yet substantiated the information and traced him through the family tree, the family is very proud to claim him as one of our own.

Please visit my tribute to Sir Garfield Sobers, the Great Barbadian Cricketer.


Missing Links

Please help me further my research.

For a number of years, I've been researching the Barbados branches of my family tree. After two trips to the Barbados Archives, I've obtained information on several of my ancestors:

Relation Name Date/Place of Birth
Gr Gr Gr Gr Grandfather Samuel William Sober About 1820 / Unknown
Gr Gr Gr Grandfather John William Sober 1842 in St. Peter
Gr Gr Grandfather James Edward Sobers 1863 in St. Peter
Great Grandfather James Augustus Sobers 1884 in St. Andrew
Great Uncle James Elverton Sobers 1887 in St. Andrew
Great Uncle Ernest William Sobers 1894 in St. Andrew

Any information on the families of these individuals would greatly be appreciated. I'm particularly interested in the children of James Elverton Sobers and Ernest William Sobers.

Information can be e-mailed to me at DLHinson@compuserve.com.


Bajan Genealogy

  • Barbados Genealogy Forum (Genealogy.com)
  • Barbados Family Research
    A reference guide to researching your Bajan family roots.
  • Barbados Message Boards (RootsWeb)
  • Barbados Slave Manumission Records
    Data collected from original records held at the Barbados Department of Archives. The records cover the period from December 1831 to July 1834.
  • Caribbean Family History
    The Web site contains several databases compiled from various sources, to help Caribbean researchers uncover their family history. (Note: The site includes the Barbados Slave Manumission, West Indian Plantation Onwers, West Indian Slave Compensation Claims, and West Indian Tombstone and Burial records formerly available at Tombstones.bb and Plantations.bb)
  • Caribbean Migration
    (From "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience") A large number of people from the British West Indies migrated to the United States beginning in the 1900s. Today, more than 1.5 million Afro-Caribbeans represent close to 5 percent of the U.S. black population.
  • Caribbean Surname Index
    A Discussion Forum containing surname, location, and other "Boards" where registered users may post their relevant information and hope for a response from other family members searching on the Internet.
  • Chronicle Barbados
    Centre for Barbados Studies in History and Genealogy
  • Researching Barbados Family Roots
    Information on the Barbados Archives and Museum.
  • Tracing Ancestors in Barbados
    Barbados based researcher Geraldine Lane has compiled a comprehensive guide to records held on the island and offers a family history research service.
  • Tracing Your West Indian Ancestors
    (Public Record Office Readers' Guide, No. 11)
    An illustrated guide that introduces researchers to the main sources available at The National Archives (U.K.) and elsewhere, including electoral and tax returns, land grants, colonial civil servants, the West Indies regiments and the Slave Compensation Commission.

Barbados

For more information on Barbados visit Hinson's Barbados Resource Guide.


Information from others researching the SOBERS surname:


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Updated April 19, 2014
Donald L. Hinson, Jr.