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Barrier-breaking pilot remembered in St George’s

Mario Thompson, Bermuda’s Pilot Warden, presents a picture of James “Jemmy” Darrell to the Reverend Erskine Simmons (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

A memorial service to honour former slave and ship’s pilot James “Jemmy” Darrell was held in St George’s yesterday.

Mario Thompson, Bermuda’s Pilot Warden, told attendees at St Peter’s Church that Mr Darrell should be named a national hero for his historical significance to the island.

“There was a petition eight or nine years ago to recognise Jemmy Darrell as a national hero,” he said.

“His story that you have heard, and your presence here, suggests that we really need to get together and recognise Jemmy Darrell as a national hero.”

The comments came at a ceremony attended by Bermuda Sea Cadets, family and descendants of Mr Darrell, members of the Corporation of St George, Renée Ming, St George’s North MP, and people from the sailing and maritime world.

A slave for most of his life, James Darrell was granted his freedom at the age of 47 because of his outstanding skills as a pilot. He was one of Bermuda’s first King’s pilots, as well as the first known Black person to purchase a house.

Mr Darrell was granted his freedom after he manoeuvred Rear Admiral George Murray’s 74-gun ship, HMS Resolution, into a deep anchorage — now known as Murray’s Anchorage — on the North Shore near Tobacco Bay, St George’s.

The challenging feat impressed everyone including the admiral, who described Darrell as having “great merit for his ability and steadfastedness”.

He recommended that the Government purchase Mr Darrell’s freedom as an example to others who might also be inspired to become King’s pilots.

As a free man of colour, he challenged laws that imposed new restrictions on free Blacks and slaves, and also petitioned against proposals that would have led to a drop in income for King’s pilots.

Romano Ramirez, a descendant of Mr Darrell, said his ancestor was a man of character who made the most of a challenging situation and went on to use his freedom to fight for others.

“As a free man, he fought first for the rights of other individuals to receive better pay and so Black people could pass on their land to their offspring,” he said.

“He was a respectable man. He had character.”

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Published April 14, 2024 at 10:30 am (Updated April 14, 2024 at 7:19 pm)

Barrier-breaking pilot remembered in St George’s

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