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Digging deeper into legend of Somers

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Slave trade: the real Sir George Somers was involved with helping to build the British Empire, which led to the enslavement of millions of persons from Africa and the Americas

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships ...”

— Bob Marley

As someone who has studied many facets of history, there is something extremely wrong when grown persons attempt to rewrite historic facts. A prime example is the following message:

“Cup Match is an event which marks the day that Bermuda was discovered by Admiral Sir George Somers in 1609. It also marks Emancipation Day” — One Bermuda Alliance, 2018 Cup Match message.

A wilful distortion by the opposition party about the true meaning of Bermuda’s emancipation and Cup Match celebrations.

Our Cup Match originated from black Bermudians, children of those formerly enslaved, taking two days to celebrate emancipation at the beginning of August.

The very first cricket match was played in 1902.

For its own reasons, the OBA has attempted to make the emancipation of black people secondary to the exploits of an English privateer/pirate and coloniser.

In Bermuda, our school history books taught only that Sir George Somers was this brilliant sailor whose heroics helped to save persons in both Bermuda and Virginia. The reality is that we must dig beyond the narrative to find more information.

“Long before either was knighted for seagoing exploits in England’s service, George Somers and his friend Amyas Preston were professional privateers.

“They were among hundreds of Englishmen of that day who became involved in the privateering business because of its promise of adventure, glory and quick, substantial profit.

“They set off across the Atlantic, bound for the West Indies, arriving off Dominica in May. After a rest, they sailed southwest towards South America, arriving at a little group of three islands just off the coast of Venezuela, called Isla Margarita, Coche and Cubagua. Venezuelan Indians dove for pearls there. The raiders managed to capture a few Spaniards and their slaves at Coche, then headed across to Cumana, a town on the Venezuelan coast. In the morning, they burnt Caracas and some surrounding settlements to the ground, as they had threatened. Taking whatever they could, they marched back to their ships and set sail for England. Preston and Somers arrived in September 1595, after six months at sea.”

— Bermudian Magazine, July 2013

While Sir George Somers can be credited with founding a colony in Bermuda, that does not negate what he truly was.

There will be those who have, for centuries, romanticised the British Empire and those who helped to build it, such as Sir Francis Drake, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, Sir Henry Morgan and, yes, Sir George Somers.

The unfortunate reality is that colonisation and empire building in the Western Hemisphere was primarily successful owing to the genocide of the indigenous peoples of both the Americas and the Caribbean, and then the subsequent enslavement of millions of persons of African and indigenous descent for nearly 400 years.

Simply put, the history of the British Empire and European colonisation is awash with the blood of millions of innocent people.

As prime example, over 12,000 British ships ¹ transported nearly three million enslaved Africans to their colonies, including Bermuda.

In 1834, The British Government compensated 1,116 slave owners in Bermuda², slave owners with surnames such as Gibbons, Outerbridge and Trimingham, yet gave the thousands of persons of African and Native American decent that were enslaved absolutely nothing.

“The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009. Not only did the slaves receive nothing, under another clause of the Act, they were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters, for a further four years after their supposed liberation.”

— The Guardian, July 2015.

It is understandable that many will be upset to know what the British Empire was really built upon. However, these are the truths that can no longer be denied or hidden from us and our children if we are to move forward with openness and honesty about where we are as a country.

To the issue of Sir George Somers, simply put, European pirates/privateers and colonisers are not to be celebrated, much less to be celebrated during our emancipation observations. It is blatantly disrespectful to the memory of the tens of millions of enslaved persons who died, longing simply to be free.

Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at cfamous@plp.bm. Sources: 1, Slavery.com; 2, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/project/research

Slave trade: parts of Britain’s economy that benefited from the slave trade