[Please welcome Stuart from EpicQuiver.com today,
who shares with us the fascinating history of two amazing women in his family.]
A few weeks ago, I was sharing my net worth with J$, which includes a unique family inheritance of over a million dollars’ worth of diamonds and gold that I have sworn not to cash in for several years.
Jay wondered how my family was able to acquire it all, and asked if I’d be willing to share the background with you here. I agreed, as it is largely because of my personal finance beliefs and my inspiration to reach financial independence and retire early myself. I hope you enjoy the post! – Stuart
FWIW: I do not include these assets in my net worth as they are not liquid, but I am fortunate enough to be able to leverage the wealth to legally claim accredited investor status which is greatly beneficial.
In my very first blog post, I wrote about how our family taught my youngest cousin to save his money from the time he was born, and how he was able to buy his first car in cash when he turned sixteen years old.
People often ask his parents how they came up with such a grand idea to instil money-saving values into their son at a young age. They smile and give a passive answer of sorts because they do not really know what to say.
Our family has always been financially savvy. “Don’t take a loan unless you absolutely have to.” “Save your money and invest!” I can remember hearing these things since I was a child. I even remember opening my first bank account when I was three years old and receiving my passbook. I wouldn’t go so far as to say money management is built into our genes, but our family has always prioritized teaching the children how to save.
In this post, I would like to share with you two stories of the most financially savvy women in the history of my family.
Part 1: From Rags to Riches
As a child, my mom and grandma would tell me the story of my great-great-great-great (seriously!) grandmother, the most badass woman in our ancestry.
In the 1820s, she emigrated from India to the Caribbean on an old French slave ship. Slavery had been recently “abolished” and rebranded as “indentured servitude,” which was pretty much still slavery.
Rather than owning the person outright, a written contract was entered into between the servant and the contract owner in which the servant was legally obliged to work for the contract owner for a set amount of time. During the term of the contract, the contract owner could trade or sell their contract with other contract owners, and therefore trade and sell their slaves servants just as before. These contracts were usually for three- to five-year periods. At the end of the contract, the servant would be set free of their obligation and given a plot of land and money as compensation. (Student loans and how they are easily sold off between lenders reminds me a lot of indentured servitude, but I digress.)
The French, British, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese would convince folks from India and China to go work in a faraway land filled with wonders and magic. They would be contracted for three-to-five years as servants to work the sugar cane fields, as sugar was more precious than gold in those days. In return, they would be given room and board, and after working for the term of their contract, they would be compensated with their freedom and given a portion of land.
My great-great-great-great-grandmother put in her years of service and received her plot of land. Legend has it that she became friends with the local archbishop and borrowed money from the church to start her own business. She ended up building a sawmill and hired other recently freed servants. She then began purchasing the surrounding property, upon which she would build houses for her employees and charge them cheap rent until they could save up their own money to buy property and build houses for themselves. This accumulation of land continued throughout her life to the point that she literally owned her own village.
When she died, she left over a city block of land to each of her eight children.
Part 2: Who Needs Cash When You Have Diamonds and Gold?
When I was a kid growing up in the Caribbean, we would always go to visit my great-aunt Bernice (my grandmother’s sister) who, at that time, lived in Venezuela. Aunt Bernice was my favorite aunt. She was always happy and care-free, flying off to one place or another at a last minute’s notice. No one could keep track of her. Other family members would make comments about how she was irresponsible and you couldn’t rely on her for anything, but I was always enthralled with her travels.
Whenever I visited her in Venezuela, we always had a chauffeur, and I never thought anything of it until I became an adult and realized that it is not normal to have a guy with a loaded gun escorting you everywhere.
I never knew what my aunt did for work—as a kid I never thought to ask. She lived in a simple house and didn’t own much stuff. She was just my awesome aunt who was always laughing and regaling me with stories of far-off places that she had just traveled to.
We eventually moved to the U.S. and I didn’t see my aunt as often. She continued to travel, and would come to visit us in California every few years, always ready with new travel adventures to wow me. “I was in Holland and I met this duchess and she said, ‘Hey, let’s go take a cruise,’ and I said, ‘OK!’ and so we went to the Mediterranean for two months!” These were the types of stories that she told.
It wasn’t until my aunt died in 2012, at the age of 87, that I learned her secret. She had been financially independent and living life to the fullest for over 40 years.
After she died, we flew to the Caribbean to collect her belongings and put her to rest. As we were itemizing her belongings, a family friend stopped by the house and said, “Where are the diamonds and gold?” Wait, what? Diamonds? And gold? What the heck was he talking about? What was she, a pirate with buried treasure? This was the first time I realized I’d never known exactly what Aunt Bernice did. I asked my mom and grandmother and learned the most fascinating story.
My grandmother and great-aunt grew up on the island of Curacao, a Dutch colony that had been a melting pot of European settlers over the centuries. The local language, Papiamento, is a Creole mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, English, French, and some African languages. In school, classes would be taught in different European languages each day. For example, Mondays would be in English, Tuesdays in French, Wednesdays in Dutch, etc. Because of this upbringing, my grandmother and aunt were natural polyglots.
My grandmother went to work for the United Nations as an ambassador, and her sister became a translator for European gold and diamond miners venturing to Venezuela to try their luck at striking it rich. My aunt would accompany the miners to Venezuela and translate for them as they moved throughout the country and at the banks. She eventually became a manager of one of the diamond mines and became close friends with the miners, who would hook her up with nuggets of gold and raw diamonds. She then built a network of jewelers across the globe who would cut the raw diamonds and set them into custom gold jewelry pieces that she would trade or sell to other jewelers in other countries.
After she left the mining business, she continued to barter and trade in gold, diamonds, unique jewelry pieces, and other gems she would acquire throughout her travels, and then trade or sell for higher valued pieces or money in other parts of the world. She continued this type of bartering her entire life and was a secret multi-millionaire who flew under the radar. She owned no stocks or bonds and only carried enough cash to pay for her cost of living. When it came to financial freedom, diamonds and gold were literally this girl’s best friend.
The Path to Freedom Has Many Branches
I love and cherish these stories about my ancestors. Not everyone in our family history has been successful, but these two stories from these two amazing women always remind me that any goal in life is achievable if you set your mind to it. The paths less traveled in life will lead you on more adventures, and greater achievements will be accomplished along the way.
The path to financial independence has many branches, and there is not just one path to success. It doesn’t matter if you start with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, or are handed an inheritance on your eighteenth birthday. If you truly seek a path to F.I.R.E., you will stumble upon a myriad of resources and opportunities to help you along your journey.
I encourage you to keep your eyes open to recognize good fortune when it comes your way, and to take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves to you.
About the author: Stuart is the writer behind EpicQuiver.com. During the day, he pretends to purchase technology that contributes to robotic space exploration and at night he writes about personal finance. Most of his posts center around creatively hiding money from himself, because he is a compulsive spender, and investing money through stocks, microbreweries and crowdfunding platforms.