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BNT signs to be changed to better reflect grim history of enslavement

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Jeffrey's Cave, a Bermuda National Trust historic site at Spittal Pond in Smith's where new signs explain its historical significance in the island's history of enslavement (Photograph supplied)

The way sites of significance in the island’s history of enslavement are presented is to be “reimagined”, the Bermuda National Trust has revealed.

The charity announced the move after it replaced the word “master” with “enslaver”, among other reinterpretations, on signs that set up to explain the importance of Jeffrey’s Cave at Spittal Pond in Smith’s.

Charlotte Andrews, the BNT’s head of cultural heritage, said it was “the first BNT site to be reinterpreted”.

She explained that the changes were decided after “concerns were expressed by the public about the original signage” and consultation with historians, tour operators and others. Other changes in interpretation will also occur in the future.

Dr Andrews said she had seen attempts made to scratch off the word “master” from the old sign.

References to Jeffrey as a “slave” were changed to “a young man attempting to escape his enslavement”.

But Dr Andrews said the new sign did not mean that the review of the site was finished.

She explained that the review of how history was presented was sparked in part by the global Black Lives Matter movement, which became especially prominent in 2020.

Dr Andrews said: “It’s about how we can better interpret and honour the legacy of that site, with the legacy of the slave trade and enslavement.

“We don’t want it to be a closed process. We want to connect with the community, and the hope is to open up the interpretive process.

“We’re showcasing the process of heritage and checking the narrative and the evidence it’s based on, and asking if the narrative is inclusive.”

The text of the original sign at Jeffrey’s Cave at Spittal Pond

The small cavern open to the sea, which can be entered through an opening above, is called “Jeffrey’s Cave”. The name derives from a slave who escaped from his master and hid here for several weeks. The search was abandoned when it was believed he had escaped from Bermuda on a sailing ship. However, the master began to notice the mysterious behaviour of one of his female slaves, who disappeared daily at sunset, always carrying a small package. Accompanied by a friend, he followed her through the woods to the cave in which they found the well-concealed Jeffrey.

Jeffrey’s Cave is part of the island’s African Diaspora Heritage Trail and the Unesco Slave Route.

Dr Andrews said that there would also be investigation into the Portuguese Rock historical monument near Jeffrey’s Cave, as the 16th century site could be linked to the slave trade.

She added she would carry out research to see if the Portuguese sailors who carved into the rock in the 16th century had links to the slave trade.

The BNT is participating in Re-imagining International Sites of Enslavement, or Rise — a year-long programme organised by the International National Trusts Organisation, or Into, and the American National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Into said that Rise was a “knowledge-sharing programme that brings together managers of sites around the Atlantic with a connection to the slave trade”.

The BNT review will involve examination of other sites linked to “enslavement, resistance and empowerment” — including the Verdmont Museum in Smith’s and Tucker House in St George’s.

Verdmont House, a Bermuda National Trust property in Smith’s with strong links to slavery in Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

Dr Andrews said Tucker House commemorated Joseph Rainey, who worked as a barber in St George before becoming the first African-American to serve in the US House of Representatives 150 years ago.

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Published February 22, 2022 at 7:44 am (Updated February 23, 2022 at 1:56 pm)

BNT signs to be changed to better reflect grim history of enslavement

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