Excavation shines light on need for designated memorial
It was sad to hear in the news today of the discovery of bones on Watford Island at the West End Sailboat Club, close to the Watford Island Military Cemetery, and I am glad that a halt has been called to the excavations as investigations are carried out.
The general theory put forward is that these bones are the remains of 19th-century soldiers and convicts, or possibly unmarked graves from outside of the cemetery. What is left unsaid, and an inconvenient truth, is that these unmarked graves are possibly the ancestors of many black Bermudians living today — as from 1810, enslaved African-Bermudians and free men of colour worked during early construction of the Dockyard, performing skilled and unskilled labour under the supervision of English engineers.
It was not until 1824 that convict labour was brought to the island, and even after that the convicts worked alongside enslaved African-Bermudians.
During enslavement between 1616 and 1834, thousands of enslaved African-Bermudians — men, women and children — died and were buried, but where are they? Except for a small Slave Graveyard at St Peter’s Church in St George and the Slave Graveyard at the Warwick Rubber Tree, bulldozed to make way for a car park in the 1970s, we have no idea where they are buried.
The location of these cemeteries of thousands of people have disappeared into history. Elders have mentioned oral knowledge of possible other cemeteries for the enslaved around the island — one in St David’s, another near Somerset Long Bay, and no doubt some were buried on the large properties of their slave masters.
As a country, we need to honour and memorialise those enslaved peoples who built this land, and whose lives, loves and work were often so rapidly discarded and forgotten after their death. Their enforced labour built this country, the endless and gracious, old Bermuda stone walls that encircle so many old homes, the beautiful old homes in St George’s and elsewhere around the island. For hundreds of years, they were the skilled sailors, pilots, farmers, designers and construction workers of this island, their expertise, craftsmanship, artisanship and skilled labour not only creating homes, but also beautiful furniture, ships of all sizes and a multitude of other items necessary to our remote island home.
We owe them much.
It is time that we designate a place for a memorial to the ancestors and tell the story of their courage, stoicism, resilience and resistance against their oppression, while creating things of beauty for us all to witness today.
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