American way of life indebted to Bermuda
America will celebrate its 400-year anniversary of colonisation through Virginia. The executive branch has mobilised a committee to recognise African inclusion, and Bermuda is integral to its existence. We often hear of Plymouth Rock and the pilgrims, but the British colonisation began nearly a dozen years earlier with the Virginia Company and then the Somers Isle investment that facilitated the settlement of Virginia.
The freak discovery of Bermuda ultimately saved that fledgeling Virginia community and bolstered the investor’s confidence, hence the subsequent investments that brought into focus Plymouth Rock. A very pivotal relationship developed between the founding pioneers of Bermuda and the annexation of the Americas.
In many ways, the founding fathers of Bermuda were also the founding fathers of the Americas; one only need to study the life of Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, and one of the five-factor families of Bermuda. Needless to say, the founding of America was in its beginning very much a maritime affair and Bermuda sat proverbially as the eye of the storm. In the words of Captain John Smith: “Bermuda is an excellent bit with which to rule a great horse.”
The introduction of Africans from Angola somewhere between 1616 and 1620 added a new dimension. Clarence Maxwell has researched this subject and would submit that these catholicised Africans were skilled tradesmen and masons, which debunks the narrative of captive bushmen being used as simple servants. Aside from farming, they were employed in the structural development of the island as well. They were first engaged as indentured servants and many attained freedom under that system. Chattel slavery was introduced in the middle of the 17th century when by then this Portuguese group of Africans had acclimatised to Bermuda, were nativised and had already produced the second generation.
It could easily be argued that Bermuda set the blueprint and legal framework for chattel slavery for the British, who would adopt these methods in the Americas.
Events in Bermuda impacted on developments in America. The founding of Bahamas and the subsequent founding of Charlotte, Carolina, was a direct result of two boatloads of Bermudians being expelled for religious reasons, among which was also a number of free blacks. No one needs to dig too deep to uncover the deep association of Bermudian families with the Carolinas.
All through history, whether we talk about the gunpowder hoist during the War of Independence or the number of American ships that Bermudian privateers destroyed. One estimate suggests that out of 1,000 destroyed American ships, Bermuda privateers were responsible for 60 per cent of them. The law of the sea required a ratio of 5:1 black to white, meaning that much of the plundering was done by black seamen entrepreneuring as privateers. Bermudian seamen were engaged as slaves in both the War of Independence and the Civil War.
These are the stories scarcely talked about but very much part of Bermuda and American history. We will be acknowledging a day of celebration for the Portuguese community, whose beginning is 1857, without realising that the first blacks who helped to build this community between 1616 and 1620 were also Portuguese.
The question is, will they be included in the celebration? Will their story be told or will we stick to the later agricultural narrative?
The 400-year anniversary gives us the forum to put the historical account into proper perspective.
If we don’t stand to be included, no one will stand for us; and if we don’t recognise our own history and our value to the equation, no one will inform us. Bermuda deserves a spot at the table for any celebration of the founding of America. It is an indelible fact, but we must claim it. We have the historians and researchers past and present who can qualify the case for Bermuda; we just need to co-ordinate the effort.
There is a sidebar to this issue, which speaks to the unique history of Bermuda and a culture that was welded by our need to survive as a small jurisdiction. We did not have the luxury of massive estates of land, but in our beginning, we had the freedom from all the hostilities other countries were confronted with.
We led the tobacco trade until other plantocracies became more stable and firmly established. Then we switched to a maritime economy and became masters of the sea in this hemisphere. We did this amid slavery where we generated merchant slaves whose talents exploded after emancipation. But one cannot take away what they accomplished in spite of slavery.
We as native Bermudians also have the blended DNA of all the factor families, plus the Angolan and Native American steaming through our blood, and as a people we are a perfect captive specimen of the foundation of Bermuda and America.
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