Walter Adolphe Roberts (1886 - 1962) - The National Library of Jamaica

Walter Adolphe Roberts (1886 - 1962)

Walter Adolphe Roberts, historian, poet novelist, journalist and patriot was born 1886 in Kingston, Jamaica.  He was the son of Adolphus Roberts a clergyman Curate of the Kingston Parish Church, Chaplain at Port Royal and Rector at Luidas Vale.  His mother Josephine Fannie (nee Napier), was of French ancestry.  Walter Adolphe spent his early years at his home near Mandeville, Manchester where he received his early education.  He was entirely educated by private tutors, mostly his father.  He spoke both French and Spanish which assisted him in his many travels to France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Latin America , the U.S.A. and Britain .

In 1902, at age 16 he became a reporter for the Daily Gleaner and by 1903 was sub-editor of the Leader, a weekly founded by a former editor of the Gleaner.  He left Jamaica in 1904 for the United States to pursue a career in journalism.  Between 1914 and 1916 he became the war correspondent in Europe for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and in 1918 he was appointed editor of Ainslee’s Magazine, a fiction monthly and remained in charge for three years.  During his stay in New York he edited various periodicals including Brief Stories and the American Parade.

In 1917 he married Katherine Amelis Hickey but the marriage ended in divorce in 1923.

His first literary publication Pierrot Wounded and Other Poems appeared in 1919, followed in 1928 by Pan and Peacocks, The Mind Reader in 1929, The Moralist in 1931, Sir Henry Morgan: Buccaneer and Governor in 1933 and Semmes of the Alabama in 1938.  In 1931, he produced Mayor Harding of New York under the pseudonym Stephen Endicott.  During the 1930s he turned seriously to writing books, adopting as his special field the history, politics and literature of the Caribbean area.  In 1940 he published what is his most widely known historical work The Caribbean: the Story of Our Sea of Destiny.

Of paramount interest to him was Jamaica and her problems and in 1936 he founded the Jamaica Progressive League, an association of Jamaicans living in the United States dedicated to achieving self government for Jamaica.

Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s he continued writing and publishing novels, poems as well as historical works.  In 1941 The Pomegranate appeared, followed in 1942 by The French in the West Indies , Royal Street in 1944, Brave Mardi Gras in 1946, Lake Pontchartrain , all these centering on life in New Orleans.  In 1948 Creole Dust and Lands of the Inner Sea came out.  The Single star was published in 1949 and tells of Cuba during the War of Independence (1895-98).

From as far back as the 1950s Walter Adolphe became president of many organizations in Jamaicaincluding the Jamaica Historical Society (1955-57), Jamaica Library Association (1958), The Poetry League of Jamaica and the Natural History Society of Jamaica.  He was also chairman of the Board of Governors to the Institute of Jamaica at the time of his death, September 14, 1962 at the age of 76.

Awards and Medals

  • 1941 – Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in recognition of his achievement in Literature.
  • 1950 – Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Order of Merit from the Cuban Government.
  • 1954 – Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in recognition of his ‘notable contributions in the field of History and Literature’.
  • 1955 – Honoured by the City of Kingston and given symbolic ‘Key to the City’. 
  • 1957 – Citation by the School of Inter-American Studies of the Ministry of Florida for outstanding contribution in the field of Inter-American relations.  In that year also presented with scroll by the Jamaica Progressive League, honouring him as its founder on their 20th anniversary.
  • 1961 – The Queen honoured him by bestowing the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
  • 1977 – Given the posthumous award Commander of the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government.