The Annual Commemorative Service for King’s Pilot James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell was held yesterday [Apr.14] in St. George’s, with the service celebrating the life of the freed slave who become the first black man to own a home in Bermuda.
The Vestry And The Friends Of St. Peter’s Church, the Pilot Warden and the Branch Pilots Of Bermuda hosted the service at his grave in St. Peter’s Graveyard, St. George’s, as well as placing wreaths over board at Murray’s Anchorage.
Approximately fifty family members and friends gathered at the graveside to honor Mr Darrell. Reverends David Raths and Erskine Simmons officiated the service and Senior Branch Pilot Mario Thompson addressed the crowd. TS Admiral Somers Sea Cadets were smartly represented and provided an honour guard at the ceremony.
The first black man to own a home in Bermuda, James “Jemmy” Darrell was a slave who was ‘owned’ by Captain Francis Darrell of St. George’s. Some researchers believe that Darrell [who was light-skinned] may have been Francis Darrell’s offspring.
In May 1795, James Darrell piloted Admiral George Murray’s ship, the 74-gun HMS Resolution, into Murray’s Anchorage on the North Shore near Tobacco Bay, St. George’s. The Admiral was so impressed with Mr. Darrell’s skill that he recommended that he be granted his freedom, and Governor James Craufurd released him from his enslavement on March 1, 1796.
Shortly after being freed he purchased a house in St. Georges on what is now Pilot Darrell’s Square. He was made a Kings Pilot on May 23, 1796. Kings Pilots were premiere pilots whose main responsibility was to pilot British naval ships through the Bermuda reefs.
Mr. Darrell’s life as a free man was not much different than during enslavement due to legislation introduced to limit rights of the freed slaves. He consistently fought these regulations which sought to limit his hard-earned rights, writing petitions asking for better pay for pilots, as well as for the legal right for blacks to will their property to their wives, children or relatives. Mr Darrell died at age 66 on April 12, 1815.
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