OVERVIEW: The African Diaspora Heritage Trail is a project of the Bermuda Ministry of Tourism to identify, conserve and promote historic sites linked with the development and progress of people of African descent in Bermuda.
LAUNCHED: May 2001
HISTORY: People of African decent, whether in Bermuda, the Caribbean or the U.S. are descendants of the African Diaspora propelled by the advent of transatlantic slavery. Current research into historical archives indicates that the discoverer of Bermuda, Spanish navigator Juan de Bermudez, had more than a dozen African slaves on board his ship. No earlier record of African slaves being transported across the Atlantic to the Western Hemisphere has to date been found.
The Enterprise: Bermuda's African-descended population became free citizens in 1834. The Friendly Societies and Lodges, which were operated by Blacks and dedicated to the welfare and advancement of Bermuda's Black population, commemorated the anniversary of freedom with various celebrations including the Annual Cup Match cricket festival. Since 1902, Cup Match has been the premier event held in celebration of Emancipation Day.
In 1835, the American ship Enterprise, carrying 78 slaves from Virginia to South Carolina, was driven off course by a storm. The ship docked in Bermuda for provisions; however, local customs officials refused to let the ship sail again until the Governor ruled on the disposition of the slaves aboard, since Bermuda had freed its slaves in 1834 -- nearly 30 years earlier than the U.S. Emancipation Proclamation. The slaves were allowed to appear before the Governor and choose between staying in Bermuda as free individuals or continue on their voyage to the United States as slaves. All but six out of 78 slaves chose to remain in Bermuda.
St. George's Post Office
St. George's Historical Society Museum
Tucker's House Museum
Cobb's Hill Wesleyan Methodist Church
Royal Naval Dockyard
As many as 13 sites in Bermuda have been identified as historically significant links to the island's Black heritage. A sampling of sites include:
John Stephenson, a Methodist missionary, was incarcerated for six months in what is now the St. George's Post Office for preaching to Blacks. He was released in April 1802.
The barred windows of John Stephenson's cell are displayed in the wall of the Historical Society Museum as well as an inscription left on the wooden floor of his prison cell, which reads "John Stephenson, Methodist missionary, was imprisoned in this cell six months and fined fifty pounds for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to African Blacks and captive Negroes &endash; St. George's, Bermuda, June, 1801".
In 1862, when Confederate authorities began to draft Free Blacks to work on Charleston's fortification during the American Civil War, Joseph Hayne Rainey escaped to Bermuda with his wife aboard a blockade runner. Once in Bermuda, Joseph opened a barbershop in what is now the Tucker House Museum, and his wife Susan set up business as a dress and cloak maker. Rainey later became the first Black man to hold a seat in the U.S House of Representatives. The museum holds copies of several of his speeches.
This was the first organized church for Free Blacks and slaves on the island. Slaves and Free Blacks&emdash;who carried quarried stone upon their backs from the surrounding hills&emdash;labored on holidays and in the evenings by candlelight to erect this Warwick Parish church, which was finally dedicated in 1827 - seven years before Emancipation in Bermuda.
During the War of 1812, "American Refugee Negroes" (Free Blacks and Bermudian slaves), hired as labourers, worked side-by-side to build the most important British naval base in the Atlantic. Still others enrolled as troops to guard the Dockyard.
UNIFIED INITIATIVE: Over a span of nearly four centuries, four million Africans were transported to North America and the Caribbean islands in the transatlantic slave trade, which was the largest forced migration in the world. The Bermuda Ministry of Tourism has proposed a unified, cross-boarder initiative to create a worldwide African Diaspora Heritage Trail to educate visitors, and conserve the essence of African culture and history.
INFORMATION: For more information about the trail, visit www.bermudatourism.com or www.africandiasporaheritagetrail.com.