Burchall On The History Behind Cup Match

July 30, 2014

[Written by Larry Burchall] Bermuda’s Cup Match holiday is an historic occasion of global importance because it represents, in a sense, the world’s longest strike.

That first labour withdrawal happened on 1st August 1835. Exactly one year after Emancipation Day 1834.

On 1st August 1835, as far as is known, thousands of Bermuda’s ex-slaves, now paid workers, decided that they would not go to work that day. They would take the day off and celebrate Emancipation Day. After that one day work stoppage, they returned to work.

As an isolated community with no reserves of unemployed labour holed up anywhere, Bermuda’s employers had to accept that, grit their teeth, and, the next day, take back their employees.

Employers probably grumbled and mumbled and accused workers of laziness, irresponsibility, and thoughtlessness, but employers had little choice. They simply had to accept the one day work stoppage.

This went on happening every 1st August for decades. The one day celebratory work stoppage expanded into a two day stoppage as the ex-slaves added games and other activities to their celebration and remembrance.

By the 1870’s the work stoppage period regularly included a cricket match with teams selected from various lodges [Friendly Societies]. Also, by this time families had developed the practice of travelling around and setting up camps at the site chosen as the focal point for the celebration.

In 1902, the St George’s and Somerset Cricket Clubs – black clubs both – bought a silver trophy and agreed that annually, they would contest for this Cup during the Emancipation Day celebration period. The cricket game would take place over two days.

So in 1902, the informal ‘work stoppage’ evolved into a planned and well-organized celebration period for black Bermudians. But all of this was being done when the two days off work was still not a public holiday, or an ‘authorized’ work stoppage.

In fact, both days were supposed to be normal ‘working days’. By 1902, this informal ‘work stoppage’ had been going on for 67 years and had expanded from a one day to a two day event, with both days off unsanctioned by either Government or employers.

This voluntary withdrawal of labour without the boss’s permission continued for another 44 years, until 1946. A total of 111 years.

Finally, in 1946, the Government and the ‘bosses’ – in Bermuda one and the same – gave up and passed legislation that declared a national two day holiday over the Emancipation Day period.

The ‘strike’ had gone on for 111 years and ‘Cup Match’ won.

Now all Bermudians and residents celebrate ‘Cup Match’.

- Larry Burchall

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Comments (18)

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  1. Own Goal says:

    Dear Mr Burchall,

    Thanks for this piece as the Premier’s statement gives the impression the annual Cup Match holiday celebrates the British landing on Bermuda

    • hmmmph says:

      Well Own Goal that is exactly what cup match is about – Somers Day and Emancipation Day. Mr Burchall concentrated on one of the days and the Premier told you about both days no big deal – learn your history – is it really that difficult?

  2. say what? says:

    Mr. Burchall – Thank you for the historical perspective. I wonder though that since August 1st 1835 fell on a Saturday, was it really a work stoppage or a regular day off for many that celebrated their picnic and cricket game. It may seem unimportant but I just seek clarification as it may not have been as much a protest against ‘the bosses’ as implied in today’s perspective.

    • hmmm says:

      I wonder if Saturday was considered a work day back then.

      Was it 3 day, 4 day, or 6 day work weeks.

    • Larry Burchall says:

      At that time, the normal workweek was a six day week. Only Sundays off, even as a slave.

      By the late 1940′s, Thursday afternoon “off” was common and the workweek was a five and a half day week; but no pay for public holidays [such as Cup Match].

      The five day workweek, pay for public holidays, health benefits, etc… that you now take for granted didn’t arrive until the late 1960′s; and in Bermuda, you need to thank the men and women of the BIU for that.

      Larry Burchall.

  3. I'm just saying...... says:

    THANK YOU SIR
    we need to know our history not HI-STORY.

    united we stand.

  4. Terry says:

    Won’t be any b****ers and moaners.
    Double time.
    Red Bull all around.

  5. Mr. Burchall I thank you for presenting all Bermudians along with the other people from around the world who are interested in our, “history” / “his-story” reference to the annual event.
    We ALL celebrate these 2 days on the Islands of Bermuda for whatever reason one may choose and there is much rivalry :-) yet it’s one of the only times we,(ironically) witness unity…
    By the way Mr. Larry Burchall,look forward in seeing / reading more articles from you in Bernews

    • Nikki says:

      Pseudo-Unity…one segment of the community displays unity and genuinely relates to the other while many of the other has never even attended Cup Match!

      • hmmmph says:

        So – what does attending Cup Match have to do with unity ?

    • Sickofantz says:

      This is very interesting. I think its important to remember that history BELONGS to everyone. Once a ‘happening’ has occurred it belongs to the whole of humanity. Thus there is no such thing as Black History/White history etc. Without accepting this fact civilisation can’t learn and move along.

  6. i and i says:

    Dat by bowled that ball slow…..so much spin…..so slow…..how slow wazzit?Dat by bowled ,that ball,so slow,….he could bowlit….and if he didn’t like it….he could chse after …retrieve it….and re bowlit!

  7. i and i says:

    First battah out…and he’s walkin funny….he’s zout! He’s got gout and he’s out……..he’s zout! Some body givim a penny…one doze big English penniz.

  8. Bermudian Momma says:

    Thank you Mr. Burchall,
    We need to know more of our Bermudian story!

  9. Future says:

    This is certainly an article that gives perspective.

    One point of clarification: there is a huge difference between being enslaved – what situation you are temporarily in – and being “a slave” – what kind of being you are. I suggest we recognize that Blacks in Bermuda were enslaved but cannot fairly be defined as slaves. This seemingly simple use of words gives birth to all manner of thinking such as “descendants of slaves” etc. which implies enslavement as the beginning and perpetual defining of our very existence.

    Clearly it is not.

  10. lifetime says:

    Thank you so much for this!

    This needs to be taught in the schools.

    It’s vital! Especially now. This generation has no clue about their history. They have been born into Ipads and reality shows.

    Heaven help us.