Roughly 60 percent of Bermudians are of African ancestry, many of whom are descendants of West Indian and West African enslaved brought here during the 18th Century. From the maritime legacy of Dockyard to the storied buildings of St. George's, explore the sites where Bermudians of African descent made history.
The National Museum of Bermuda
At the National Museum of Bermuda, head to the first floor of the Commissioner’s House and explore an exhibit devoted to 200 years of enslavement in Bermuda, from the early years of settlement after 1612, through Emancipation in 1834. Showcasing the artisan and maritime occupations of Bermudian enslaved and free men, you’ll find first-person narratives, images, objects and shipwreck artifacts, all detailing the evolution of trans-Atlantic enslavement and its links to Bermuda.
The Sally Bassett Statue
A powerful reminder of the hardships that Bermuda’s enslaved faced, this sculpture by local artist Carlos Dowling depicts an enslaved female ready to be burned at the stake. Her name was Sally Bassett, and in 1730, she was executed for allegedly encouraging other who were enslaved to use poisons to harm their masters. Sally maintained her innocence ‘til the end, and over the centuries she has become a symbol of resilience and defiance in the face of injustice. It is said that a Bermudiana – the national flower of Bermuda – grew from her ashes. The 10-foot statue paying tribute to her stands on the grounds of the Cabinet Building in Hamilton.
Find it at 105 Front St. in City of Hamilton
Cobbs Hill Methodist Church
Cobbs Hill Methodist Church was built in 1827 by enslaved and free blacks who at the time didn’t have their own place of worship. Of course, the enslaved builders didn’t have time to work during the day, so much of Cobb’s Hill construction took place at night in the moonlight – a labour of love if ever there was one. The church’s congregation includes many descendants of the original builders. Join them every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. for a joyful service.
Mary Prince's Home
An abolitionist and autobiographer, Mary Prince was born to an enslaved family in Bermuda in the late 1780s. She later became the first black woman to publish an account of her enslavement experience. Prince was born at Brackish Pond, and this Devonshire home was where she lived.
Barr’s Bay Park
This scenic spot right off of Front Street has deep ties to Bermuda’s African heritage. In 1835, an American schooner named the Enterprise landed here, sent off course by a storm. Onboard were 78 enslaved. Since enslavement had been illegal in Bermuda since Emancipation in 1834, members of a “Friendly Society” in Bermuda took the ship’s captain to court and soon the enslaved on board were given a choice: return to the United States or stay on in Bermuda. Almost all opted for the latter – and their descendants still live here today. A stirring statue and plaque in the park commemorate the event.
“Against Da Tide”
Created by Bermudian artist Bill Mussey Ming, “Against Da Tide” is a sculpture you’ll find on Hamilton’s Front Street depicting six men battling against the tide aboard a small boat. The poem on its accompanying plaque spells out the message of courage and togetherness:
On dis boat of optimism/hope
Sit a crew linked by a rope
With courage n pride
'gainst da tide dey ride
...Holding steady n pullin together
Makin it thru stormy weather
Even dis ill wind
Couldn't alter their course
Because dis vessel's for u-u-n/yours
For 'gainst da tide
Is a metaphor
Find it at 37 Front St. in City of Hamilton
"When Voices Rise" Statue
More than a century after slavery was abolished in Bermuda, segregation remained a scourge for the island, much as it did in the Southern U.S. during the Jim Crow Era. During the Theatre Boycotts of 1959, Bermudians descended from enslaved Africans rose up against racial segregation – and won. This statue in Hamilton’s Wesley Square, created by artist Chelsey Trott, commemorates those acts of civil disobedience.
Built by enslaved labourers in 1710, this historic house in Smith’s Parrish is now a museum operated by the Bermuda National Trust. On the western side of the property, the separate kitchen cottage of this garden estate is a vestige of enslavement – it was once the work site of enslaved individuals.
Tucker House Museum in Barber’s Alley
The Tucker House, built in the late 1700s in the historic Town of St. George, is filled with stories from Bermuda’s past. But one of the most fascinating is that of Joseph Hayne Rainey, a formerly enslaved in the American south who bought his freedom and sailed to Bermuda with his wife during the Civil War. Rainey opened a barbershop in the kitchen of the Tucker House – and indeed, that’s how Barber’s Alley got its name. Cutting hair wasn’t his true calling, however. When the war ended, Rainey returned to Charleston, SC, and in 1870, he became the first African American member of the U.S. House of Representatives and was re-elected four times.
Pilot Darrell’s Square
Also located in St. George’s, at the end of Silk Alley, you’ll find Pilot Darrell’s Square, named for James Darrell, one of Bermuda’s most legendary seamen. While he was a enslaved, he earned fame for expertly piloting the 74-gun HMS Resolution through the treacherous reefs off of Bermuda in 1795. Fame wasn’t all he earned, though. The powers that be were so impressed with his superior navigation skills that Darrell was granted his freedom after his daring feat. He subsequently bought a house in what is now Pilot Darrell’s Square, becoming the first documented black homeowner in Bermuda. His direct descendants still reside there.
Bermudian Heritage Museum
The Bermuda Heritage Museum highlights the social, cultural and political achievements of black Bermudians. During your visit, you’ll learn the history of Cup Match (the two-day cricket game celebrated during the Emancipation and Somers Day holidays), Bermudian black lodges, and the 1959 Theatre Boycott, the event that ultimately ended segregation in Bermuda.
Bridge House Gallery / State House
This beautiful structure in the heart of St. George’s dates back centuries, and served as a home to some prominent Bermudians, including a governor. Now the site of a gallery full of island-inspired works of art, the house was likely built by enslaved labourers.
Jeffrey's Cave, Spittal Pond
Fleeing the confines of enslavement on a 21-square-mile island was not an easy feat. Yet prior to Emancipation, at least one enslaved Bermudian made a brave attempt to do so. This site pays tribute to an enslaved man named Jeffrey, who managed to escape his captivity at this seaside hideaway. Jeffrey survived here, a cave inside Spittal Pond Reserve – the island’s largest nature reserve, for a month before being recaptured and returned to enslavement.
Lost at Sea Memorial
Prior to Emancipation, the island’s enslaved individuals as well as free residents of African descent embarked on fishing and whaling vessels. Voluntarily at sea or not, didn’t matter at sea when it came to many of their fates. Due to rough seas, many were forever lost. This monument pays tribute to those who never returned from sea.
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