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Time Line

Slavery in Bermuda

 1603 - 1834

Roughly 60 percent of Black Bermudians are of African ancestry, many of whom are descendants of West Indian and West African slaves brought here during the 17th century. The slavery abolishment Act (1833) abolished slavery throughout the British Overseas Territories, including Bermuda. The slave trade had earlier been banned with the Slave trade Act in 1807, The Emancipation Act (the freeing of someone from slavery) was enacted on Aug 1, 1834 in Bermuda and Antigua, with the other British Overseas Territories receiving theirs in 1838.



According to the UNESCO World Heritage, research has concluded, that Fifteen enslaved men of African descent accompanied Juan Bermudez, credited with being the first to explore Bermuda, in the early 1500s.


In 1603, the year Captain Diego Ramirez beached his ship for repairs at Spanish Point, have the first known Black African seaman setting foot in Bermuda,named Venturilla, he was among the crew during the discovery of the islands by the Spanish. We have a Bermuda Government Ferry named after him.


In 1609 have recorded two Indigenous Indians on the Sea Venture, which ship wrecked in Bermuda, with the 1st English Settlers.


In 1616 a Negro and an Indian were sent to the Island as indentured servants to dive for pearls and they became the first permanent black residents.


The evidence concerning lifetime servitude/slavery for blacks and Indians is not clearly defined in Bermudian historical sources. It was during the 1620’s that references to blacks and Indians changed from 7 years Indentured Servitude to Lifetime Servitude. This devastating change brought the black population to the lowest state of servitude, namely Chattel Slavery. When Bermuda needed a workforce, slavery was implemented on the Island, and Blacks and Indians were made to be Company slaves or Free Labour which was essential to the economy.


A 1623 law curtailed the “insolence of Negroes” by instituting restrictions on their movement and commerce.


In spite of the small size of the island, and the limited number of places to hide, there were still a significant number of slave uprising. The earliest revolt took place in 1656. Once the plot was discovered all free blacks and problematic whites were deported to the Bahamas.


Five years later Irish indentures and black enslaved workers plotted together resulting in the establishment of a night watch.


Throughout Bermuda’s history, there were a number of slave conspiracies focusing on freedom as the principal objective. They were always discovered in their infancy and before the onset of violence and bloodshed.


The records indicate that the major revolts took place in 1656, 1661, 1673, 1682, 1730 and 1761. In 1761 a conspiracy was discovered that involved the majority of the blacks on the island. Six slaves were executed and all black celebrations were prohibited. Slave sales were held in St. George’s until 1793, they were banned in 1807 and in 1834 slaves were emancipated



1543. A Portuguese slave ship sank off the South Shore, Bermuda. From this tragedy, the inscription of the "Spanish Rock" at Spittal Pond may derive.


1562. Sir John Hawkins first went to the New World and began the British slave trade from Guinea. But the Portuguese started their slave trade earlier

1603. Diego Ramirez, captain of a Spanish galleon, spent 3 weeks on Bermuda with his crew to repair their ship and sent a description to his superiors in Seville, Spain. A black crewmember was Venturilla. He was sent ashore with a lantern and axe to cut a piece of cedar while the rest of his crew waited on the ship. When on land, he was mobbed by many cahows and yelled to his crewmates for help. They assumed he was being attacked by the devil, rushed to his aid and that night captured more than 500 birds which they ate. All left after repairing the ship. The map created by Captain Diego Ramirez during his visit that year is the first-ever known map showing a representation or shape specifically of the island of Bermuda. He also discovered tobacco growing in Bermuda, at Spanish Point where he landed, named after his nationality. It is possible that the Spanish, well acquainted with tobacco since 1492, planted tobacco in Bermuda during one of their shipwrecks and if so it was probably the better quality Caribbean variety than Raleigh’s Indian tobacco planted in Virginia.


1616. The first slaves were brought to Bermuda from Africa via the West Indies by Captain George Bargrave to dive for pearls because of their skill in pearl-diving. It was believed there was money to be made harvesting pearls off the coast. As it proved unsuccessful, they were put to work planting and harvesting the initial large crops of tobacco and sugar cane. 


1616. Daniel Tucker was sent out by this company as the first Governor under the new charter. He succeeded Moore and ruled Bermuda with an iron fist. He was known to hang people who disagreed with him. He also ensured the construction of another battery below and in front of the original semi-circular platform, on Paget Island. He caused the islands to be surveyed, dividing them into eight tribes, and public lands. These tribes, or proportional parts, assigned to each charter member, were for the most part what are the present-day parishes, being Sandys, to Sir Edwin Sandys; Southampton, to the Earl of Southampton; Paget, to William, Lord Paget; Smith's, to Sir Thomas Smith; Pembroke, to the Earl of Pembroke; Bedford, now Hamilton Parish, to the Countess of Bedford; Cavendish, now Devonshire, to Lord William Cavendish; Mansil's' now Warwick, to Sir Robert Mansil; St. George's, St. David's and adjacent small islands were public lands. The tribes were subdivided into fifty shares of twenty-five acres each. Norwood's second map showing these tribes and shares is the basis of land titles in Bermuda today. Governor Tucker's rule was harsh. The colonists included many criminals and convicts from English jails, so a merciless discipline seemed to him necessary. The severest penalties were enforced, executions, brandings and whippings were frequent. Negro slaves were introduced from Virginia in the endeavor to make money for the proprietors. Progress was made in building the town of St. George. Roads and fortifications were constructed and the land planted with tobacco and semi-tropical fruits.

1617. Slaves were first mentioned in Bermuda records. African and American Indian slaves brought to the islands by early settlers were unofficially counted and were found to outnumber white settlers.

1618. A Flemish or Dutch ship went aground and sank off what is now Wreck Hill in Sandys Parish (then Flemish Hill) on the northernmost tip of the Main Island of Bermuda. According to the late Bermudian author Terry Tucker in her book "Bermuda: Today and Yesterday" a messenger told the governor (one of the six temporary governors of the time whose neglect and self-interest were pushing Bermuda into a state of decline) the Dutch ship had an abundance of treasure. In fact there was just £20, which the governor pocketed. So began the Bermudian tradition of salvaging ships. The captain of the ship was John Powell, once considered a notorious Caribbean pirate. The buccaneer ship had legal status as a privateer. It had sailed against the Spanish under a Letter of Marque by the Dutch prince Maurice of Orange, so was technically not a Flemish ship but a Dutch one. The British Government did not like the presence of Powell in St. George's, Bermuda so Governor Miles Kendall banished him to what is now Ireland Island. It was from there that Powell and crew tried to build a new ship. Powell is alleged to have earlier captured, likely from a Spanish ship, a group of African slaves. As his involuntary crew members, he made them help in his ship-building efforts. (In 1625, he achieved a claim to fame as the European discover of Barbados, with his brother Henry Powell. Barbados had earlier been deserted by Carib Indians). 

1619. The privateer ship Treasurer arrived in Bermuda from Virginia, with Africans brought via Jamestown by Captain Daniel Elfrith (sic?). It was reported that acting Governor Miles Kendall had about 29 Africans from that ship locked up because he believed they were stolen from a Spanish ship in the West Indies. It was later discovered they came originally from Angola. Those who arrived in Jamestown on this ship were the first black African slaves to be imported to the USA. Historians have claimed that Angolan people were stolen from Spanish traders and delivered to Virginia and Bermuda. They were captured during warfare in their home country and placed in the São João Bautista, a Portuguese slave ship bound for the Spanish colony of Vera Cruz in modern-day Mexico. That vessel was attacked by the White Lion and the Treasurer, English privateers, which went to Jamestown and traded Africans for provisions. The Treasurer continued on to Bermuda, where more slaves were landed. Between 1616 and 1619, Bermuda quickly surpassed Virginia in importance to the Crown, and by 1622, Bermuda’s population was greater even though it had only been colonized a decade earlier. 

1623. An Act "to restrain the insolence of the Negroes" was legislated in Bermuda. It forbade blacks to buy or sell, barter or exchange tobacco or any other produce for goods without the consent of their master.

1623. An Act was passed that required boats ferrying passengers to be kept running on regular schedule and in sea-worthy condition. Ferry boats were the only way to get from one island to another.The ferry service was to be maintained each day from sunrise to sunset except for the Sabbath. No fares were to be collected from passengers. To discourage hack boatmen the Act threatened them with a public flogging if they dared extort money or its equivalent from patrons. The service was open to everyone, even to young boys and slaves provided they produced a pass written by their masters. However, at that time, such was the poverty of the colony that in spite of the Act there were times when the boats would lie idle at their moorings because the Government employees hired to operate them had received no salary for two consecutive years.

1623. An Act was passed that required boats ferrying passengers to be kept running on regular schedule and in sea-worthy condition. Ferry boats were the only way to get from one island to another.The ferry service was to be maintained each day from sunrise to sunset except for the Sabbath. No fares were to be collected from passengers. To discourage hack boatmen the Act threatened them with a public flogging if they dared extort money or its equivalent from patrons. The service was open to everyone, even to young boys and slaves provided they produced a pass written by their masters. However, at that time, such was the poverty of the colony that in spite of the Act there were times when the boats would lie idle at their moorings because the Government employees hired to operate them had received no salary for two consecutive years.


1624. Slaves weaved home-grown sea island cotton into cloth dyed with indigo. There was a time in which the early inhabitants had little clothing and cotton was ordered to be grown on every share of land.

1627. Death in Jamestown, Virginia, at the age of 40, of Sir George Yeardley, one of the senior survivors of the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda.  His last resting place is believed to have been in a crypt in the main church in Bermuda’s sister colony of Jamestown. Sir George commanded the soldiers on the flagship Sea Venture, which was part of the Third Supply Fleet sent to the starving colony in Virginia by the London Company. But the fleet was split up by a major storm and the floundering flagship was steered on to the reefs off St George’s in July 1609. Sea Venture survivors worked for the next ten months to salvage what they could from the wreck, and built two smaller ships, The Patience and The Deliverance to go on to their original destination. The crew also surveyed Bermuda and two men were left behind as punishment for mutiny, which marked the start of the first permanent settlement of Bermuda. The two new ships arrived in Jamestown in June 1610 just after a major famine and the supplies helped the colony to survive. Sir George became governor of the Jamestown colony three times and was in charge when the first representative government assembly in British North America convened in July 1619. Bermuda’s House of Assembly sat for the first time almost exactly a year later. Sir George was born in Surrey, England, in 1587. He was also one of the first holders of slaves in Virginia, who are thought to have arrived in 1619. 

1629. Christmas Eve. Bermuda's first slave uprising occurred.

October 1630. Scots exiles were sent to and sold as slaves at the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, Berwick in Maine and Bermuda by General Oliver Cromwell following the Battle of Dunbar (Sept 3, 1650).  He sent them on the ship 'Unity' with instructions to sell them "into perpetual servitude." There is no known surviving listing in Bermuda of such sales.

1644.  A large group of slaves arrived in Bermuda by ship, commanded by Captain William Jackson, whose fleet had made a seep of a number of Spanish-held Caribbean islands. The 36 captured slaves included a number of Indian women.

1656. A slave uprising in Bermuda was foiled, two, Black Tom and Cabilecto, were executed and all blacks previously given their freedom were banished, shipped against their will to Eleutheria in the Bahamas.

1661. In Bermuda,  another conspiracy of slaves - this time, joined by white Irish indentured servants - was foiled. The militia began a nightly watch.

1661. Virginia institutionalized slavery with a law that made the status of the mother determine slave or free status of the child.

1666. Expectation of a Dutch invasion caused mobilization of all slaves, men and boys over the age of 14. They were ordered to carry weapons when an alarm was sounded. The slaves were required to be obedient to their masters and respective commanders “under paine of death.”

1670. The Bermuda legislature began efforts to stop the importation of any more slaves, deemed not necessary for a small island the economy of which at that time was based largely on shipbuilding and sailing.

1670. Population of Bermuda was estimated at 8,000 men, women, children and slaves. The latter were about 25%, triple the number of the 1629 statistics.

1673. Christmas Eve. In Bermuda, Governor Sir John Heydon and his Council found out how six black men were plotting a slave rebellion. At what is now the Foot of the Lane but what was then the bottom of the Laine, six conspirators were branded with the letter "R" for rogue, had their noses slit and were whipped. Others were also whipped and branded. The Government attempted to restrict the importation of slaves and imposed strict controls on the existing slaves.

1676. Bermuda Governor Sir John Heydon banned the future importation of black and Indian slaves at a time when colonies elsewhere were clamoring for a greater supply. Heydon also exiled the island's tiny free black, mulatto, and Indian population by ordering them to leave the island within six months or be re-enslaved. This order, irregularly invoked into the 19th century, sought to conflate race with legal status by eliminating free nonwhites and succeeded in keeping Bermuda's free black population small until the eve of Abolition in 1834. (Despite the deportation and the import ban, the island's black population continued to grow, reaching 1,737 in 1684 to compose a little under a quarter of Bermuda's inhabitants).

1677. In Bermuda, an Act of 1675 prohibiting the importation of slaves is upheld.

1679. The population of Bermuda totaled 8,000 including slaves,  about 1,000 of whom were fit to bear arms.

1681. In Bermuda, an Indian slave named John, the "property" of William Mulligan of Smith's Parish, was convicted of setting his master's house on fire and firing shots at Mulligan's family. John was hanged, drawn and quartered at Gibbet Island.

1682. In Bermuda, a slave conspiracy involving 5 men was discovered and quelled.

1690. Militia Act 1690/91. Another Militia Act was passed in Bermuda, requiring every man, whether free or enslaved, between the ages of 15 and 60 to 'appear at every exercise and muster and provide himself with sword and musket. Slave owners were responsible to provide weapons to their slaves.' Those found negligent could be fined, and those not paying fines could be flogged. King's Castle thus received a guard of four men, under a Lieutenant. Two men were posted at Paget's Fort, and a lookout at the highest point in Saint George's.

1691. Thomas Tew, pirate, arrived in Bermuda from Rhode Island. Some contemporaries maintain that Tew had come to the island to settle permanently on land. But the promise of fortune beyond the horizon lured him. He was an unrefined man with the language and manners of the sea. At first, he entered the somewhat reputable state-sponsored brand of piracy. For 300 pounds he bought a letter of marque – a licence to privateer – from Governor Isaac Richier. Next, he found himself a crew – probably former salt traders tempted by the promise of greater riches. Little is known about Tew’s first voyages on the Amity. Around this time, however, something occurred which would alter the destinies of all sea-faring Bermudians. The Governor of the Bahamas, Ellas Askett, began a policy of seizing Bermudian ships in the Caribbean. Bermuda shares much in common with the Bahamas. During the English Civil War puritans in Bermuda found refuge there when loyalists here drove them into exile. Free blacks also were forced in to exile there during the slave rebellions in Bermuda during the mid-17th century. There are still many Bahamian families, especially in the northern islands, with Bermudian names. But at that time, the tensions between the two colonies threatened war. Governor Askett is recorded as saying: “I have never hanged a Bermudian, but would make no more of it than to hang a dog.” This incident is thought to mark the beginning of Bermudian piracy. Thomas Tew was commissioned to raid a French settlement in East Africa. Somewhere along the way, he offered to his crew to forfeit the protection of the Crown and become pirates. The response has become famous: “A gold chain or a wooden leg, we’ll stand by you!” The only surviving account of what happened next is The History of Pyrates by one Captain Johnson. Scholars have long suspected that this was a pen name for Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe fame), but this is now considered seriously doubtful. “Tew sailed around Africa, in to the Indian Ocean and eventually in to the Red Sea. It was fairly easy for pirates because it concentrated with ships. Tew found an Arabian vessel laden with gold and protected by 300 soldiers. His crew, although outnumbered, managed to capture the ship and the gold it contained. After that, if we follow the Johnson account, Tew then met a French pirate called Captain Misson who persuaded Tew to follow him to Libertalia. It was supposedly a pirate’s utopia in Madagascar where there was no slavery. From there, Tew sailed back to Rhode Island where he and his crew divided their treasure among them. The Bermudian crew, of both black and white members, was given £3,000 each, while Tew took £12,000 for himself. Tew’s Bermudian investors, hearing of their good fortune, soon arrived to collect their share. According to legend, Tew directed them to a beach and instructed them to start digging. They all became very rich men, very quickly. It is believed the Gilbert family used their new-found wealth to purchase a sizeable amount of land in Devonshire.

1700. Beginning of the end of the era of English indentured servants as cheap field and house labor in Bermuda. They were replaced by slaves acquired mostly from Africa via the West Indies, a few from Central America.

1709. Longford House is believed to have been home to the very first resident physician in St George’s. It was built for Doctor Roger Thomas and was worth the princely sum of one pound. It was a prestigious and distinguished ‘mansion’ that lay at the very heart of the old St George’s and boasted a long hall, brick-lined fireplaces and a deep chasm of a cellar. Dr Thomas had emigrated to Bermuda 1709 and his house was one of the most expensive in the capital. (When he died of pleurisy in 1715 the property passed on to his wife Sarah. But it is unclear who occupied the premises after she died three years later as it was probably rented out to visiting merchants and businessmen. The Foote family occupied Longford House in the late 18th century and expanded it to its current size. Lt John Foote had been posted to Bermuda from England with the Independent Company at the tail end of King George’s War. And although he lived in the premises until he died in 1754 he never actually owned the property. His family continued to live there after his death and his son, William, was appointed Clerk of the Assembly. William was also a successful merchant as well as churchwarden and scribe and he purchased Longford in 1781 for £1,000. In the early 19th century it was home to Jehoaddan Lagourgue — the widow of a French St Domingue sugar planter who had lost everything during the Haitian slave revolt and revolution. But this marked the beginning of a long decline and by 1950 the house had become a ruin of no value. Today the shell of the building remains clearly visible, as do the large fireplaces and the cellar rooms. But the site has become overgrown with trees and plants. The roof has long disintegrated and the interior walls of this once majestic old house have crumbled away).

1710. "Verdmont," now a Bermuda National Trust museum, in Smith's Parish, was first built, partly by slaves.

1711. In Bermuda, an Order in Council was issued to authorize the master of any ship greater than 44 feet to use as many Blacks and or slaves as crew as he thought necessary. But it limited the number of whites to six.

1711. So many slaves wore fine clothing and fancy dresses to their own balls and gatherings that the Bermuda Assembly passed a law that forbade masters from allowing their slaves to "wear any silk, lace, ribbon, rings, bracelets, buckles, . . . nor other ornaments." These "merry meetings and midnight festivals" reflected a synthesis of European fashion and African and Native American traditions perhaps best exemplified by the costume, dance, and music of gombey dancers. Despite the reforming efforts of the Assembly, numerous clandestine public houses served rum and bibby (a liquor made from fermented palmetto sap) to black clientele, sites where slave sailors could relax after months at sea. Goods and specie flowing in Bermuda's internal slave economy testify to the success of Bermudian slave sailors in obtaining creature comforts for themselves and for the slave community as a whole, while their celebrations and rituals reveal their ability to create and maintain cultural traditions independently expressed from that of the white families with whom they lived.


1712. When the original owner of Verdmont in Smith's Parish, John Dickinson, died this year, only two years after Verdmont was built, he had 14 slaves, many of them associated with his maritime travels. It is possible slaves may have lived in the lower level of one of the cottages of what was then the Verdmont Estate.


1718. In Bermuda, another slave conspiracy was feared. It was reported that Negro men had grown very impudent and insulting of late. In fact, some slave conspiracies began, known as the "poisoning plots" until 1730.

1719. July. It is believed that in Bermuda black involvement in the maritime trading economy began, arising from a meeting between Bermuda Governor Benjamin Bennett and his Council, arising from reports of a number of white Bermudian sailors colluding with pirates. The concern was that these white sailors, acting as pilots, would lead pirates through the treacherous shoals of Bermuda to the Islands. But of even more concern was the fact that the number of local whites available to defend the island was being depleted by overseas trading. Bennett was particularly worried about the salt rakers in Turks Island. He declared at that meeting that pirates were taking these men and that it was “...very detrimental to the Inhabitants of these Islands”. (Minutes of the Governor’s Council, Bermuda Archives, 1706-21, p. 120). The low white male population and its military implications were likely reasons for Bennett’s plan to arm and muster slaves. By an Order-in-Council it was declared that the number of white men employed in the local merchant marine be circumscribed. It was hoped this would deprive the pirates of potential pilots and at the same time expand the number of men available for the muster. Thereafter, no vessel of 40 feet or more keel and belonging to and departing from the Islands was to have “...any more white Sailors than Twelve...”; and no vessel of 39 feet keel or less was to take out any more than nine ‘white’ sailors. All captains of vessels of any dimension whatsoever could take out “ many Negroes or other Slaves as he or they shall think proper". All sailors taken out by vessels were to be brought back to the Islands by the same vessels on which they left. Hence began the expansion of the international reach of local ‘black’s trading’, as ‘Negroes’, ‘Mulattos’, and ‘Indians’, in bond or free, would begin to slowly expand their presence in the Bermudian merchant marine. Between 1708 and 1720, about 28 percent of the men constituting a sloop’s crew were ‘black’ according to 18th Century documents. This rose to 34 percent in 1720. Those who were employed as mariners within the ‘black’ community were not all Bermuda-born and raised; and among the community of sailors were men with at least a foreign and plausibly Spanish Caribbean heritage. Slave labour shifted from performing diverse agricultural tasks to skilled artisan crafts. A few male slaves had fished, hunted whales, and salvaged wrecks in local waters during the company period, and these early maritime slaves were among the first recruited by Bermudian masters embarking on inter-colonial trade. Other male slaves, particularly boys, learned seamanship when their owners eschewed planting and took to the sea. A third group became sawyers, joiners, caulkers, blacksmiths, and shipwrights and formed the backbone of the colony's shipbuilding labor force. As more and more slaves were integrated into the maritime economy, the shipping fleet swelled and the island prospered from its increased trade. From a white perspective, the shift enabled white masters who went to sea to use their previously underemployed male slaves more productively. 

1719. November 17, the Cobbs Hill Methodist Chapel in Warwick Parish, Bermuda, was built by slaves at night

1725. The "William" vessel was seized by Robert Dinwiddie, Bermuda  Collector of Customs, for smuggling and for having a substantially black crew (3 of 4 crew members). Master of the William was Solomon Frith. He successfully smuggled a hogshead of Virginia tobacco by discharging his white crew at Turks Islands and taking a slave crew on to Virginia. By law, slaves could not testify and therefore he could not be found guilty of smuggling for lack of witnesses. She was acquitted from seizure. 

1726. Governor John Hope Bruce buried his wife, Charlotte, in what by then had become the Governor's Garden in St. George's (later, Somer's Garden) erecting a stone tomb along the garden’s southern wall.

1730. June 6. After being tried on June 1, Slave Sally Bassett, owned by the estate of Francis Dickinson, of Southampton, was sentenced to death and then burned at the stake on a scorching hot day for poisoning several persons including her master Thomas Forster who owned Sally's grand-daughter Beck, his wife Sarah Forster and Nancey, a household bondswoman. Sally was charged with giving Beck the poison that Nancey discovered in the wall of the kitchen outlet. She always maintained her innocence and said God would send a sign to prove it. People then found the Bermudiana flowering out of her ashes and Sally became a focus of the anti-slavery movement. Bermudians refer to a really hot day as a Sally Basset Day.

1730. An Act affecting Negroes and other slaves imported into Bermuda was approved. It levied a tax of £5 on all imported slaves, except those arriving directly from Africa. The Population was then 8,774 - 5,086 white and 3,688 black.

1731. More than half the black population of Bermuda were urged by militant slaves to rise up and attack the slave owners while they slept. But the planned attack was foiled. 

1753. A Dutch ship, the Manilla, was wrecked on the north eastern reefs of Bermuda. She also became known both as the Ginger Beer Bottle wreck. Artefacts recovered from her include tiny glass trade beads, stone ginger beer bottles, pottery and glassware and a quantity of manillas, bronze bangles produced in Europe and used as currency to purchase slaves from African chieftains. Many large iron guns embedded in the reef around the ship and these, along with other items found, led many to claim that the Manilla was involved in the slave trade, an armed escort rather than a carrier of slave cargo, and was returning to Holland from the West Indies before proceeding to West Africa.​

1761. A slave or servile conspiracy was uncovered in Bermuda. Over half of the black population laid plans in a bid for freedom. A slave uprising was deemed imminent. The militia were embodied. Six slaves were executed, including one female. The Legislature reacted by banning all black festivities including Gombey dancing,because the Bermuda Gombey tradition started with slaves, who were allowed to gather on holidays, especially Christmas. However. the ban was later lifted. 

1762. A Watch Law was enacted in Bermuda. Any slave not found by night where they belonged would receive 100 lashes.

1766. Governor George Bruere, earlier concerned about the casual and almost paternal way some slaves were treated in Bermuda and two years after his appointment, made a speech to the House of Assembly in which he proposed the need for stricter controls, including "...haveing the Doors lock'd where they are, under the inspection of a white Person." Familiar with the control of slaves in other colonies, he advised the Bermudians to Bring your Negroes to a better regularity and due obedience... prevent their unlawfull Assemblys, Thefts, and pernicious practices of leaving their Masters Houses and going to meetings... by night." 

1778-1779. British troops were sent to Bermuda, as the result of the local militia failing to deal with the pro-American sentiment. Some took charge of a condemned vessel "Southampton" apparently against the wishes of the customs officers. The first permanent British Army garrison was established. Tensions between locals and the troops often ran high. When the soldiers arrived, they often took Bermudian livestock and firewood for themselves, and as reprisals for the Bermudians aiding the Americans, would seize or burn Bermudian ships, as happened to a Mr Hinson whose £600 ship was burned in 1778. That year, the garrison had claimed an American ship carrying food that had been stranded on a reef in the West End. But the British did not bargain for the piloting skill of a group of slave fishermen. A chase ensued with the fishermen easily winning. They reached the ship first and off-loaded it. The soldiers found the slaves’ empty boat, traced it and discovered it was owned by local resident Hinson. His boat was destroyed

1780s. The Bermuda fitted dinghy started racing. Teams of black sailors who were slaves competed against each other for their master's honor, prize money and often a turtle dinner.

1782. May 9. At sea, late in the US War of Independence, the masthead lookout of the Continental frigate Deane saw a strange sail on the horizon. The vessel with the raked-back masts to leeward was a Bermudian privateer, Regulator. Only fast runners, privateers, and warships cruised the waters off the Carolinas. She was caught on a lee shore with nowhere to run and her sixteen six-pound cannon no match for the frigate's twenty-eight twelve-pounders. Trapped and out-gunned, Captain George Kidd struck his colours and Regulator fell prize to the United States navy. The men of the Deane were amazed to find that 70 of the 75-man crew on the Regulator were black slaves. Kidd and his four officers were the only white men on board. A further surprise occurred at the vice admiralty court trial of the Regulator when, breaking with precedent, the Massachusetts justices offered the slaves among the crew their freedom rather than condemn them, as forfeited chattel, to be sold at auction. To a man, the black Bermudians declined the offer and asked instead to be sent to their island home as prisoners of war on the next flag-of-truce. Rather than embrace the freedom offered to them by this new republic, they chose to return to Bermuda and slavery.


1784. In Bermuda, a slave named Quashi was convicted of murdering his master John McNeill and was hanged on Gibbet Island.

1788. Birth of Bermudian slave Mary Prince at Brackish Pond, on a farm owned by Charles Myners. Her mother was a household slave and her father was a slave in the shipbuilder's yard at Crow Lane. Her story is both the first-hand account of slavery in Bermuda and the first ever compiled by a woman. She was sent to the Caribbean to work in the Turks Islands, then taken to London by new master John Wood, tried to escape, came under the protection of the London-based Anti Slavery Society and her story became famous.

1793. Hundreds of people arrived by boat in Bermuda, refugees from the slave revolts in Haiti and Santo Domingo.


1795. September 30. Vice Admiral the Hon. George Murray, RN, arrived in Bermuda on the 74- gun HMS Resolution. It was accompanied by HMS Cleopatra and HMS Thesly. The warships were piloted safely through the reefs by James ("Jemmy") Darrell (born 1749, died 1815, then a slave) and into what later became known  as “Murray’s Anchorage” in St. George's, near Tobacco Bay. For his skill as a pilot, Admiral Murray later (see 1796) ordered the Royal Navy to purchase Darrell's freedom and appoint him one of the first of the Island’s “King’s Pilots.  Admiral Murray was so impressed with Darrell's piloting skills that he recommended he be freed. He became one of the first to be made King’s Pilot and was the first free man of colour to own his own house in Bermuda. Once freed, Mr Darrell challenged laws that imposed restrictions on free blacks and slaves. He also petitioned against plans that would see a drop in income for King’s Pilots. He died aged 66 in 1815 and his property, located on Aunt Peggy’s Lane, still remains in family hands.


1795. A slave conspiracy in Bermuda was alleged to have been instigated by Haitian Mulattoes who had arrived from Haiti in 1793.

1796. March 1. "I do hereby declare the said Jemmy Darrell to be exonerated and released from all and all manner of Slavery or Servitude whatsoever, and I do earnestly request all Persons to treat him, as a Man actually and bona fide Free." With these powerful words, Governor James Craufurd released him from his enslavement. (He was also made a Kings Pilot on May 23, 1796.) Pilot Darrell's life, however, as a free man was not much different than during enslavement because of legislation consistently introduced to limit rights of the freed slave. He, however, fought these regulations which sought to limit his hard-earned rights. Pilot Darrell earned his freedom through his abilities and steadiness in navigating the British Rear Admiral George Murray's flagship through the Island's reefs to Murray's Anchorage safely in 1795. he Admiral recommended that he be freed and commissioned as a Kings Pilot. Pilot Darrell's freedom, however, brought little relief as Bermudian legislators fearing free people of colour to be the primary instigators of slave conspiracies, continued to curtail their rights.

1796. Bermudian slave abolitionist St George's Tucker wrote and published "A Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of it," in the State of Virginia.

1799. May 10. Rev. John Stephenson, the first Methodist minister appointed to Bermuda, arrived and served with dedication and diligence as he developed a church in the Methodist tradition until his departure on April 11, 1802. A man of warm sympathies and graciousness, with a distinctive preaching ability, Rev Stephenson quickly made friends with all who gathered to hear his gospel presentations, including slaves and free persons, regardless of colour, first in the then-capital of St George’s, where he was headquartered, and then throughout the Island. His refusal to accept Bermuda’s racial divisions soon brought him into conflict with the powerful of the day, many of whom were slave owners. As a result he was arrested on June 15, 1800 for violating a law designed to stop him from preaching to slaves and free persons, regardless of colour, and ultimately spent six months in prison. Undeterred, the Methodist minister continued preaching to anyone to whom he could speak through the bars of his cell on Featherbed Alley.

1805. The Bermuda-built in 1799 sloop of war by then known as HMS Pickle of the Royal Navy played a unique role in the Battle of Trafalgar in which the Royal Navy, with 448 dead  and 1,241 wounded, soundly defeated the French. Their navy had 4,408 dead, 1,545 wounded and lost 23 of their 33 ships in the battle. HMS Pickle, built of Bermuda cedar wood, was the fastest and one of the hardiest ships in the Royal Navy. Thus it was chosen to cover the 1,000 mile journey from Cape Trafalgar to England with exclusive news of the battle. It was a 9-day journey, during which the ship ran into a gale. On arrival at Falmouth, the officer with the dispatch raced to Whitehall in London by horse and carriage. He arrived at 3 am. Prime Minister William Pitt, the King and Royal Family and newspapers, were awoken to hear the news of the victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson. The Bermuda Sloop, developed on the island, was the fastest boat afloat in the 1700s and became highly desirably to seaman, particularly those in illegal trades such as piracy, and for privateering and as advice vessels for the Royal Navy. Bermudians used their ships for commerce and travel between the island, the Caribbean, the continental Americas and wider afield and they were manned by men from all sectors of the community, free and slave, the latter until Emancipation in 1834.

1807. Slave registers, including those in Bermuda,  were made compulsory by the British Government after the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, 1807. They were intended to monitor plantation owners and other masters to ensure they did not buy new slaves.

1808. Methodist minister Joshua Marsden arrived in Bermuda and preached to slaves and encouraged them to learn to read and write, contrary to the opinions then existing.

1810. Ireland Island in Bermuda formally began construction as a Royal Navy Base, to replace Castle Harbour, four years after the Hon. Thomas Grenville, First Lord of the Admiralty, spoke in the House of Commons on the strategic value of Bermuda as a base between British Canada and the West Indies following Britain's defeat in the USA's War of Independence. The Superintendent of New Works, Commodore A. J. Evans, was given instructions to procure as many artificers as possible to work on the site, including black laborers. Enslaved black men from Bermuda appeared in the Dockyard account books. These men were hired by the Government from the colonists who owned them and received their wages, around £2 Sterling a month. These men were lodged in the yards or on board receiving ships.

1811. With the formal abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire including Bermuda, the authorities in London asked the colonies to keep a census of their slave populations as a way of trying to control that trade. 

1812. British Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane formed the Corps of Colonial Marines. Although they were of African descent and many were formerly enslaved in America, these troops received the same training, uniforms, pay and pensions as their Royal Marine counterparts. The Corps of Colonial Marines saw extensive military action from Canada to Georgia in the years 1814 to 1816. These former slaves, who became known from where they were from originally as America Negroes or Florida Negroes or King's Negroes, or French slaves, had all sought refuge under the British flag, Many had extensive local knowledge of tidal creeks and riverine routes of the US South during that period. Because of that knowledge, they participated in numerous battles, skirmishes, and raids during the War of 1812. In 1814 they were sent to Bermuda.

1813. With the start of the American War of 1812 Bermuda's Militia Act, 1813 was passed as a wartime expediency. Once again, Bermuda was empowered to have its own Militia after its importance had been substantially reduced after the end of the American War of Independence and declaration of peace in the 1790s. The Act reorganized Bermuda's nine-company regiment of foot into two battalions. The total strength of the local militia was, by then, nominally 450 men, but, as always, this was, at any moment, effectively reduced by half due to the seafaring occupations of the better part of the colony's men. Evidently, the militia no longer included any of the colony's black population, whether free or enslaved, as Lt. Colonel Francis Gore, on assuming the Governorship of Bermuda, felt it advisable to boost the militia's strength by raising a colored corps, though this was not, in fact, done. Despite the state of the Militia at the War's start, on the occasion of an emergency being declared (when strange vessels were spotted lurking offshore), the colonists responded admirably in full strength, standing watch through the night. The War Office in London had begun the War considering the Bermudians to be of dubious loyalty. This was largely due to the theft of a large quantity of gunpowder from a St. George's magazine during the American War of Independence, in 1775. That powder had been sent to the rebel army of the American colonies, under the Virginian General George Washington, and at his personal request. The close blood-lines and common history of Bermuda and Virginia, particularly, just as many in 1813 as there were in 1775 were also worrying. The Governor was prompted to try to get the Colonial Assembly to en-act a permanent Militia. Throughout the Militia's history, its strength and efficiency had waxed and waned, more with the response to declarations of wars, and to the scarcity of manpower due to the maritime industry, than with any dictum of the Colonial Assembly. The British Army in Britain wanted something a little more reliable. The Colonial Assembly, lacking any strong self-interest, and perhaps wary of obliging itself to the maintenance of a force that, with the growth of the Regular Garrison, must become ever less under its control, would only agree to provide funds on a temporary basis. 

1814. August 1. HMS Tonnant, with Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane K.B. and the frigate "Surprise" with Sir Thomas Cochrane, prepared to sail from Bermuda, destined for Chesapeake Bay. The British Royal Navy fleet was piloted by James Darrell of St. George's aboard HMS Resolution through a difficult passage to Murray's Anchorage until it reached the open sea. It had been ordered to assemble in and sail from Bermuda to successfully attack and burn Washington DC, in retaliation for the American attack on and burning of Yorktown, now Toronto, in Canada. Pilot Darrell — known as Jemmy — is often cited as the first black man to buy a house in Bermuda and it is certain that he was one of the first to own land. He was a slave until then. His nautical prowess led to him becoming one of the Island's first King's Pilots and eventually his release from slavery, aged 47. The father-of-one later campaigned for better pay for pilots and for a change in the law to allow black people to leave their property to their family. After it burnt Washington, it attempted the same thing on Fort McHenry in Baltimore. During that engagement, Francis Scott Key wrote the words of what became the Star Spangled Banner, as a temporary detainee on one of the British warships. The melody is from a bawdy British drinking song by a London based composer. The fleet's voyage ended in Halifax, where hundreds of slaves who had lined the shores of the Pawtuxent River and elsewhere nearby to implore British troops to help them escape from bondage had been rescued and were also on the British warships cheering on and actively assisting the sailors who had set them free, were promptly and officially given their freedom.

1814. August. While still in the Chesapeake Bay, Royal Navy ships in the harbor attracted the attention of a large number of destitute American Negroes, some slaves who had taken advantage of the confusion on land to escape from their bondage. They pleaded for liberty, were taken on board, later transported to Bermuda and offered work, which all the men accepted, to help build the Dockyard.

1814. Late October. American Negroes, some slaves who had taken advantage of the confusion on land to escape from their bondage. arrived in Bermuda from the Chesapeake Bay via the Royal Navy to help build the Dockyard. Most rejected an offer to join one of the British West Indian regiments which had lost many men while fighting in the USA but volunteered to join the 3rd Colonial Battalion of Royal Marines earlier locally raised, which had earlier fought with distinction in Washington DC and assault on Baltimore and area and was commanded by Major Kinsman seconded to the unit from a Canadian base.

1814. December 14. The Battle of New Orleans began. Units the British Army used in the Battle of New Orleans included the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders, who charged the Americans led on by their pipers. Lieutenant C. H. Gordon later described how, within 150 yards of the American lines " a most destructive and murderous was opened on our column of round, grape, musketry, rifle and buckshot, with officers and men mowed down by ranks." The Corps of Colonial Marines, black Marines trained and equipped by the British and freed slaves, assisted Britain’s Southern Coastal Campaign by guarding the British Army’s right flank during the battle.  Although the battle was a decisive defeat for the British, with over 1,000 men killed compared to only relatively few Americans, the war itself achieved an important British military objective. It guaranteed Canada's independence from the USA. It also gave a further impetus for the British, by then free of having to fight a war on two fronts, namely in the USA and in Europe, to defeat Napoleon for the second and last time in Europe.

1815. April 12. Death, in St. George's, of Pilot James Darrell, who piloted his name to fame in 1795. On September 30 of that year, Vice Admiral the Hon. George Murray, RN, arrived in Bermuda on the 74- gun HMS Resolution. It was accompanied by HMS Cleopatra and HMS Thesly. The warships were piloted safely through the reefs by James ("Jemmy") Darrell (born 1749, died 1815, then a slave) and into what later became known  as “Murray’s Anchorage” in St. George's, near Tobacco Bay. For his skill as a pilot, Admiral Murray later (see 1796) ordered the Royal Navy to purchase Darrell's freedom and appoint him one of the first of the Island’s “King’s Pilots. Admiral Murray was so impressed with Darrell's piloting skills that he recommended he be freed. He became one of the first to be made King’s Pilot and was the first free man of colour to own his own house in Bermuda. Once freed, Mr Darrell challenged laws that imposed restrictions on free blacks and slaves. He also petitioned against plans that would see a drop in income for King’s Pilots. He died aged 66 in 1815 and his property, located on Aunt Peggy’s Lane, still remains in family hands.

1819. The British Government in London formally asked all territories of the British Empire including Bermuda to prepare slave registers and submit them to London. This was because although  the slave trade had been abolished in 1811 throughout the British Empire, there had not been much compliance.

1821. The first slave register from Bermuda was prepared and sent to London, in compliance with the British Government in London order of 1819. 

1825. Chief Justice John Christie Esten, who was liberal in his opinions, decided to donate land at Cobbs Hill, Warwick, to provide for a chapel where slaves could worship. The construction was undertaken by Edward Frazer, a slave from Barbados bought by his owner Francis Lightbourne. Construction took 2 years. Frazer was able to exhort black residents of Warwick to work on the chapel. Enthusiastic men and women alike carried stone to the building site from nearby quarries

1827. Two years after Chief Justice John Christie Esten, who was liberal in his opinions, decided to donate land at Cobbs Hill, Warwick, to provide for a chapel where slaves could worship, with construction undertaken by Edward Frazer, a slave from Barbados bought by his owner Francis Lightbourne, Cobbs Hill Chapel opened. Construction had taken 2 years. Frazer had been able to exhort black residents of Warwick to work on the chapel. Enthusiastic men and women alike had carried stone to the building site from nearby quarries.

1827. An Act was passed by the Legislature “to Ameliorate the Condition of Slaves and Free Persons of Colour”, this being the first time in the history of Bermuda that a comprehensive law had been enacted to define the rights of the black population. Although slaves were now allowed to own property under the new legislation, they, along with free Blacks, could not vote in general elections or run as candidates for public office.

1827. A second Bermuda slave register was prepared and sent to London in compliance with the 1819 directive of the British Government in London.

1829. June 24. In London, England, Bermudian-born black slave Mary Prince, through her trusted English intermediary and Member of Parliament, presented a petition to the British Parliament. It read as follows: "A Petition of Mary Prince or James, commonly called Molly Wood, was presented, and read; setting forth, That the Petitioner was born a Slave in the colony of Bermuda, and is now about forty years of age; That the Petitioner was sold some years go for the sum of 300 dollars to Mr John Wood, by whom the Petitioner was carried to Antigua, where she has since, until lately resided as a domestic slave on his establishment; that in December 1826, the Petitioner who is connected with the Moravian Congregation, was married in a Moravian Chapel at Spring Gardens, in the parish of Saint John's, by the Moravian minister, Mr Ellesen, to a free Black of the name of Daniel James, who is a carpenter at Saint John's, in Antigua, and also a member of the same congregation; that the Petitioner and the said Daniel James have lived together ever since as man and wife; that about ten months ago the Petitioner arrived in London, with her master and mistress, in the capacity of nurse to their child; that the Petitioner's master has offered to send her back in his brig to the West Indies, to work in the yard; that the Petitioner expressed her desire to return to the West Indies, but not as a slave, and has entreated her master to sell her, her freedom on account of her services as a nurse to his child, but he has refused, and still does refuse; further stating the particulars of her case; and praying the House to take the same into their consideration, and to grant such relief as to them may, under the circumstances, appear right. Ordered, That the said Petition do lie upon the Table."

1829. A distinctly eccentric man arrived in Bermuda. His name was William Nisbett, an Anglican Church official who had been based in Nova Scotia, as a member of The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. He had been one of those involved in the Society's Madras System schools for Africans in the Canadian Maritime Provinces. He had become disillusioned with his Negro charges in Nova Scotia and had claimed that they were universally superstitious, mad, ridiculous and given to monstrous absurdities in the place of religion. He dammed the Negro Refugees in Canada - those who had fled to Canada from slavery in the USA - for being indolent to an extreme, insensible to kindness, dishonest and untrue and in a deplorable state of moral degradation. In total exasperation, Nisbett quit his work with them, and arrived in Bermuda for what he considered a less fruitless task in a warmer climate where Negroes were considered to be closer to God. He began work in Bermuda with the Society for the Conversion of the Negroes. He began the Nisbett family still in Bermuda today, none of whom are his complexion.

1829. The 118-ton Bermuda-built cedar privateer, completed in 1825, also with the name Pickle in honor of the vessel of 1803, took part in a severe Royal Navy action of the northeast coast of Cuba that resulted in the capture of a Spanish slave-trading ship, the Boladora and the release of 330 slaves aboard.

1830. A third Bermuda slave register was sent to London, in compliance with the British Government directive of 1819.

1831. The History of Mary Prince. The first narrative of Mary Prince, a black woman to be published in Britain. It describes Prince's sufferings as a slave in Bermuda where she was born, Turks Island and Antigua, and her eventual arrival in London with her brutal owner Mr Wood in 1828. Prince escaped from him and sought assistance from the Anti-Slavery Society, where she dictated her remarkable story to Susanna Strickland (later Moodie). A moving and graphic document, The History drew attention to the continuation of slavery in the Caribbean, despite an 1807 Act of Parliament officially ending the slave trade. It inspired two libel actions and ran into three editions in the year of its publication. This powerful rallying cry for emancipation remains an extraordinary testament to Prince's ill-treatment, suffering and survival. Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834. Published again on February 1, 2001 by Penguin Classics, London.

1833. Population of Bermuda was  9,125 (62,400 in 2001). Of the 1833 population, 4297 were white, 3612 were slaves and 1,286 were free blacks.

1834. Prior to the Emancipation of the slaves throughout the British colonies on August 1 this year, legislation was passed locally which virtually doubled the property value qualifications for voting, for running as candidates for House of Assembly seats and for municipal and parochial offices. This across the board increase in property value voting requirements made it quite clear that the Legislature of the day wanted to protect the status quo by restricting the opportunities for the newly-emancipated slaves (and those Blacks who had been free citizens prior to Emancipation) to become directly involved in the management of Bermuda’s affairs. This was borne out by an official dispatch from Governor Chapman, which highlighted the injustice of the new law by observing that, with the new legislation in place, there would be only thirty-four eligible black voters and only three Blacks who would be qualified to run as candidates in general elections. Those Whites who did not own real estate of the required value also suffered from a political impotence induced by the restricted property-based franchise, the number of qualified electors at that time (and well into the twentieth century) amounting to a very small percentage of the total adult population. 

1834. August 1. Slavery, technically over since 1807 in Britain but in fact continued there until 1833, was formally abolished in Bermuda and the rest of the British Empire, with the enactment of the Emancipation of Slavery Act amid great rejoicing from the black population. It was abolished years earlier in the United Kingdom but many overseas landowners and slave owners were so slow and hugely reluctant in complying with the Act that this British legislation from London applying to all Britain's colonies and dominions was deemed to be both necessary and enforceable by law. In Bermuda, many Bermudian slave owners freed their slaves immediately without the interposition of the stipulated years of apprenticeship. Bermudian slave-owners who followed the law received compensation from the British government in London, often via the good offices of Nathaniel T Butterfield who had set up such transaction services in London and between B. C. T Gray London and N. T Butterfield in Bermuda. All former slaves and "freed black" men and women, finally emancipated, were given most rights and privileges enjoyed by the other inhabitants of the colony. All Bermuda slave registers had been mandated by the British Government in London and were required from that date on to be stored appropriately in British Government-approved places and referred to when necessary. But the new-found freedoms did then not apply to voting. An Act to fix the qualifications for jurors, voters, and the electors and candidates for certain offices and positions of trust was introduced. The voting qualification was raised from a property value of £40 to £100, and to run as a member of the House, from £200 to £400. The population was given as 8,818 - 4259 white and 4559 black. There were fewer people in Bermuda than a year earlier. Slaves working at the Dockyard who expressed the wish to do so, were promptly rehired on a freeman's wages.

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