Pilot James “Jemmy” Darrell
Considered to be the first black man to own a home in Bermuda, James “Jemmy” Darrell was a freed slave. Deed polls confirm that 5 Aunt Peggy’s Lane, St. George, was bought and owned by Mr. Darrell in the 18th century.
Mr. Darrell was a slave who was “owned” by Captain Francis Darrell of St. George’s. Some researchers believe that Darrell [who was quite light-skinned] may have been Francis Darrell’s offspring. Historians report that he was quite a valuable slave, worth 100 British pounds.
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 his Mr. Darrell’s skill that he recommended that he be granted his freedom.
Governor James Craufurd released him from his enslavement on March 1, 1796.
“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.”
Shortly after being freed he purchased a house in St. Georges on what is now Pilot Darrell’s Square. It was restored in 1992 by his great great great grandson Romano Ramirez, who lived there.
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 slave. He consistently fought these regulations which sought to limit his hard-earned rights.
He wrote 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.
He died at age 66 on April 12, 1815.
In 2008, the Bermuda Archives held an exhibition’ ‘A Very Manifest Alteration, The life and times of Pilot James Darrell, 1793-1816′.
On April 12, 2007, the 192nd anniversary of Darrell’s death, Premier Dr. Ewart Brown presided over a ceremony in the graveyard for slaves and free blacks at St. Peter’s Church in St. George, in James Darrell’s honour.
In 2009 a reunion of descendants of Pilot James Darrell was held. Hundreds of people attended, including approximately 50 guests who had traveled from as far away as New Zealand.