Tour of segregated graveyard shines light on Bermuda’s history
A year ago Reverend Lorne Bean started a tour at St Peter’s, where the churchyard tells the story of Bermuda’s “chequered” past.
Built shortly after the island was settled in 1612, it shows a clear divide: the western section was reserved for slaves, free Blacks and Indians and the central section for Whites; the eastern section was for members of the military.
“I talk about human history, chequered as it is,” said Mr Bean, who began the tour after the history walk he’d run for eight years was shut down by the pandemic.
A self-described “nerd and bookworm”, he was fascinated by stories of warfare as a child but fell in love with Bermuda’s history once he got older.
The late Phillip “Phoopa” Anderson, a Corporation councillor who ran the Visitor’s Service Centre in St George, encouraged him to put his knowledge to work.
Mr Bean’s walks were drawing interest until the pandemic shut everything down.
Last summer, aware that St Peter’s finances were suffering as a result of a decline in the number of visitors and churchgoers, he began offering his tour, twice a week.
“I was thinking about how I could assist St Peter’s in its larger mission, as well as how I could keep on doing some of my tours. This was a way for common interests to come together. We have been working with St Peter’s ever since.”
Mr Bean, a pastor at Richard Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church which sits just a few blocks north of St Peter’s on Queen Street, has roots in Sandys. He tells people how every Cup Match, he “cheers for the other side”.
“I always bring that up when I am leading tours. I am not only talking about African diaspora identity, but also where we are as Bermudians. I believe in that saying: ‘we do better together.’”
The tour also highlights a baptismal book which had a line drawn smartly across one page when emancipation took place in 1834.
Above the line is a list of people baptised at the church, stating also whether they were free or enslaved; below the line is a list of baptised people.
“That line is a physical representation of emancipation,” Mr Bean said.
The graveyard tells another story. The general rule for tombstones is, the clearer the inscription today, the better off the person was in life.
“Some of these graves you can tell by the materials and how it has stood up against the elements, how the person’s socioeconomic status was.
“If you were poor you would have a board or something like that. If you were of some means you might get a limestone one that wears away with time,” he said.
The cemetery closed in 1853 after a yellow fever epidemic killed seven per cent of Bermuda’s population.
“There were so many bodies being buried in the graveyard that a terrible smell of decay hung over the town,” Mr Bean said. “The graveyard was closed up and burial was moved to a graveyard outside of the city.”
Some of the earliest people of African descent were contractors, brought here in 1616 as pearl divers, not slaves.
“We came here as free persons,” Mr Bean said. “Slavery followed, and then we emerged from it. But we did not come here as property.
“On the tour, we talk about when slavery became a thing. We talk about the different influences and phases that we went though, such as emancipation.
“After that we take a walk around and talk about how the graveyard came into being, some of the other political developments that happened, right up to the Governor Sharples assassination in 1973 and then also to the 400th anniversary of our Parliament, which happened under Covid-19.”
In his youth, Mr Bean held up figures such as American abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman as his heroes.
He now has heroes from his own country such as James “Jemmy” Darrell, a slave who was freed after he navigated the HMS Resolution through the Narrows Channel in St George’s in 1795.
He then became the first known Black person to purchase a house in Bermuda – on Aunt Peggy’s Lane in St George’s.
He is honoured annually with a ceremony at his gravestone, which sits at the wall of the entrance to the Black, free Black and Indian section of St Peter’s churchyard.
“It is a highlight of the year for me,” Mr Bean said. “Jemmy Darrell became really important to me. It gave me someone to grab hold of, to celebrate what my history was. We get so subsumed by what is happening to our neighbours to the west, but we have our own story.”
His hope is to have more people join him in promoting St George as a destination.
“We are getting our events creeping back and getting our tourists back and people are wandering through,” he said. “That is a really great thing.
“We are a Unesco World Heritage site. That puts us in the same league as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China and Stonehenge. That is the league that St George is in.”
Lorne Bean leads tours of St Peter’s Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am. Tickets, $15 for children under 12 and $30 for adults, are available at bdatix.bm. Private tours are also available: email@example.com.