Column: 182nd Anniversary Of Emancipation Day

August 1, 2016

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

Today, 1st August 2016 is the actual 182nd anniversary of Emancipation Day, 1st August 1834.

Past political and racial shenanigans caused Bermuda’s machinery of Government to legislate that Emancipation Day would be a shifting date falling in either late July or early August.

However, like Christmas Day or your birthday – except if you were born on any 29th February – 1st August in every year always will be the anniversary of the day, in 1834, that saw thousands of black Bermudian slaves freed from that evil man-made bondage.

On this 1st day in August 2016, Bermudians should set aside a few quiet moments to reflect on the long journey that black people were forced to take as they were chained, put into coffles, and then transported from being free men, women, living on some part of the continent of Africa; and dumped into an evil world.


In those quiet moments, today’s Bermudian should reflect on the fact that thousands of black people died and their bodies, now become valueless cargo, were dumped into the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean in what western blacks now call the Middle Passage.

We should also quietly acknowledge and remember the evil trade in humans that saw the majority of black slaves in Bermuda coming up from the Caribbean with some topping-up from Native American tribes from what we now call the USA.

We should also recall that this year, 2016 is the 400th anniversary year of the recorded arrival, in 1616, of the first black person on these Somer’s Isles [as recounted by Cyril Packwood in “Chained on the Rock.”].

Seven years after first arriving, by 1623, Bermuda’s fledgling Parliament, at that time meeting in the State House in St George’s, began treating black indentured servants as different and sub-human. Bermuda’s fresh new Parliament began enacting ‘special laws’ directed specifically at ‘Blacks’ and ‘Negroes’.

In 1623, in session in the State House in St Georges, Bermuda’s Colonial Parliament passed Act #12. This was an “Act to restrayne the insolences of the Negroes”. As Packwood records: “This was the first law anywhere in English specifically dealing with blacks.” `

As Packwood records, ’slavery’ as we now see and know about it, was in place from 1623 on. From that initial Act #12, and for 336 years, until the Theatre Boycott in 1959, Bermuda’s Members of the Colonial Parliament [MCP’s] created more and more repressive laws that targeted blacks.

In the UK, in 1783, Quakers organized an Anti-Slavery Society. Twenty-four years later, in 1807, they had their first small victory when the UK abolished all inter-country trading in slaves and the then almighty Royal Navy was given orders and free reign to roam the seas and stop and capture any ship of any nation that was found to be carrying human beings intended to be treated as commercial cargo.

In Bermuda, between 1656 and 1673, Mr Packwood records three known slave conspiracies or uprisings. Mr Packwood also describes the period between 1720 and 1730 as the time when several ‘poisoning plots’ were said to be organized by freedom seeking black slaves.

These several plots culminated in Sally Bassett being burned at the stake sometime in early June 1730.

Freedom fighting never really stopped. But the commercial practice of slaves being ‘allowed’ to purchase their own freedom, also became a fact. Between 1753 and 1799, blacks were buying their freedom, running away, and all the while still plotting and being arrested and tried for various plots.

By 1800, a small but distinct community of ‘free blacks’ had bought and, as landowners, occupied land in the Tucker’s Town area.

Between 1800 and 1834, apart from black slaves buying their freedom, and then buying the freedom of other blacks, and blacks running away, relations seem to have settled into a watch and wait period. During this time, preachers from the Methodist Church came to Bermuda and began preaching to blacks and against slavery.

This Methodist action resulted in black slaves and free blacks combining and building Warwick’s Cobb’s Hill Methodist Church – the ‘Church built by moonlight’.

Emancipation Day arrived on Saturday 1st August 1834.

Today, Monday 1st August 2016, I’ll quietly tap into my deep roots. I’ll go to Warwick, and for a few quiet moments, I’ll look at Cobb’s Hill Methodist Church. I’ll go to the Cabinet grounds, and stand before the Sally Bassett statue.

I will pass by the decaying Devonshire ‘Watch House’ that, as a youngster, I was told was used, during slavery times, as an overnight lockup by any white person who found any black person ‘wandering abroad’ after dark.

Devonshire Watch House Bermuda August 2016

This weathered old house, part of my – and your heritage – is on the North Shore Road in Devonshire about 50 metres east of the Barker’s Hill roundabout. It is about two metres off the road, on the sea side. Partly covered by bush, it is barely visible. It’s easily missed if you are zipping by.

On this day in 2016, I hope that you will enjoy and value this one day in the year that is so special to us. I will.

- Larry Burchall


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Comments (15)

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  1. San George says:

    The Bermuda Legislation Emancipation Act 1834 reads:

    Extension of rights, privileges and franchises

    1 All rights, privileges and franchises which upon and from and after 1 August 1834, shall or may be enjoyed by white persons, shall, upon, from and after 1 August 1834, be equally enjoyed by free black and coloured persons; and upon, from and after 1 August 1834, all free black and coloured persons shall be subject to and liable to all the pains, penalties, duties, conditions, restrictions, disabilities and liabilities to which white persons shall be subject and liable.

    • PBanks says:

      So essentially, the government of the day made sure to note that black people were liable to get taxed, etc. from day 1. Sounds about right.

  2. hmmm says:

    “I will pass by the decaying Devonshire ‘Watch House’ that, as a youngster, I was told was used, during slavery times, as an overnight lockup by any white person who found any black person ‘wandering abroad’ after dark.”

    I wonder if that was true…. it would be a huge amount of effort to horse and cart someone all the way to there after dark. would be limited light to use to travel in the dark too. Most people would go to sleep as the night set in as no electricity.

    I wonder if it was some kind of false rumour used to ensure the young family members were home before dark. As it would be dangerous out in the dark with no light back then.

    Perhaps someone was detained there on one occasion or was given quarter there to sleep it off.

    Does anyone have any documents to the house purpose? Would be interesting to find out this part of our history.

  3. Auntie Zuzu Bouche says:

    Dear Mr. Burchall,

    Thank you so much for your article and the history contained therein. Of particular interest for me, is the reference to the Watch House building, which I pass daily on my commute and never knew what it was or why it was there – thank you!

    I, too, will be reflecting on what this day means to me as a young Black Bermudian woman while remembering that the journey of emancipation is still in motion.

  4. wondering says:

    ‘Watch House’ – is that on “Nawf Shoowah”near Barker’s Hill?

  5. ArchaicAboriginal says:

    Most of us were already in the Americas. The narrative that we were all brought to the Americas on a slave ship is false and promulgated by you know “whom”.

    The Americans encountered by the pale European were described as copper complexioned aboriginals, misnomered Indian, black and Negro. Pictures of them showed people that look like us(America, Being an Accurate Description of the New World (1671).

    The paleoamericans(see Naya/Christian Science Monitor were also similar in looks to modern Africans and Australians, East Asia surprising archeologists who expected Mongoloids.

    So no, I don’t subscribe to the false narrative that would hold us in a false paradigm and perpetual victim status.

    We are the original Americans and now have been relegated to foreigner from Africa. Cutting us off from our land and bloodline, the Americas which includes Bermuda.

    Its time we remembered this fact and expand on it. Do away with blaec(OME) victim hood and embrace what we are, a part of the copper colored races of America with a topping off of our cousins from Africa.

    America is a continent unbroken from north to south including the adjoining islands, not a country and we are aboriginal, indigenous Americans.

    • They came before Columbus says:

      Yes this is true! Africans were in the Americas long before any Europeans. North America, Central and South America. Africans circumnavigated from their contingent over to America & also reached the Americas by the trade winds that carried them. “They Came Before Columbus” by Ivan Sertima is an excellent read that discusses this & provides evidence.

    • Onion Juice says:

      The Olmec stone heads found in Mexico proves that Blacks where in America before Columbus or any other European.
      Dont forget your History and know your destiny ………….
      Bob Marley

      • Zevon says:

        Whatever they were, they weren’t Africans.

        • MoreSchismata says:

          Zevon, you’re incorrect. Hamites populated the earth before any other sub species(Caucasoid) of homo sapiens. We are the archaic Americans, Europeans, and Asians. The oldest bones in the Americas share the same phenotype and dental patterns as modern day Africans, Australians and East Asians.

          You are either ignorant or just can’t come to grips with the archeological fact that so called blacks are the original Americans. Do some honest,unbiased research.

          “The complexion of the North Carolina Indians is black,not much different from, that of the Ethiopians,their hair is black and thick and not very long, tied behind the head like a small tail. As for the physique of these men,they are well proportioned, of medium height,a little taller than we are,they have broad chests,strong arms and the legs and other parts of the body are well-composed. They are broad in the face and have big black eyes”. – Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano 1524

  6. rodney smith says:

    The freed slaves had an economic plan on day one . That would mean that they met ahead of time to plan their freedom. If that is true, what are their children doing today to develop an economic plan to control their future? Nothing? We party way too much. The black community needs Leadership .Who will step forward and provide the Leadership that we need? All our accountants , and business managers work for someone else . Few , if any have their own business . Black people, we put our money in banks that don’t lend it back to us. SOMETHING IS WRONG. GO FIGURE ??? Cup Match , generates hundreds of millions of dollars , and we get very little of that. We eat more chicken and drink more alcohol than anyone, but do not control those products . Black people wake up. We need Leadership.

  7. hmmm says:


    “Cup Match , generates hundreds of millions of dollars”

    Where do you get your numbers ?

    • rodney smith says:

      These numbers are put out yearly by our banks. The amount of money in circulation , as we approach Cup match , tells us that people are spending. We play the game, whites own the game. Our fields are sports fields, while other ethnic groups plant their fields , and we buy their produce .GO FIGURE??? BLACK PEOPLE NEED LEADERSHIP.

  8. Mumbojumbo says:

    Promice is not promise…

    They are two different things…as such are connotated diff.