The three Packwoods
In 1819, Robert James Packwood, aged 29 and enlisted as a seaman on a Bermuda ship, was freed from slavery by a “Decree of the Instance” issued by the Vice-Admiralty Court in the Bahamas.
As a free man, he saved his money and three years later purchased the freedom of his son, Robert Jr for £65 from Margaret Hinson from Smith’s. By 1827, he was able to purchase his wife, Ruth, and his eight-year-old daughter, Rachael, for £90 from the same owner. In 1830, he bought the freedom of his father-in-law, Samuel Smith, for £12 from Henry Hinson. In Cyril O. Packwood’s book, Chained on the Rock, he described Packwood’s accomplishment: “It took £167 to break the shackles of bondage and bring freedom to the Packwood family.”
In 1837, Robert Packwood Sr is recorded as being a Pembroke Sunday School teacher and a prime promoter of day schooling for Black children. He also raised funds to support the Lane School and its headmaster.
The Lane School, located on Crow Lane, was a one-room schoolhouse built by Black masons on Glebe Land provided by the Church of England and supported by the Propagation of the Gospel and the Young Men’s Friendly Institution. The first headmaster was Augustus Swan, whose parents were Peter and Letitia Swan and were described as “free Coloureds” who sent their son to England to train as a teacher.
During the mid-1840s, the Packwoods were involved in the decision to build a new church in Smith’s Parish to be known as St Mark’s Church. The only builder’s name recorded was the “chief workman”, Julian Tucker, whose skill is reflected in the building of the tower and lower spire; however, the Packwoods are credited with completing much of the remaining construction — Robert Sr as a carpenter and Robert Jr as a mason.
The Packwoods continued to seek ways to educate the community and in 1843 organised and funded, with several associates, a circulating library for Black people. The books were housed at the Lane School and later, owing to a great demand, they established another is St George’s.
Robert Jr not only saw the importance of education but also the importance of acquiring real estate. By 1842, he was listed as a trader and had acquired property at 41 Kent Street and in 1846 he purchased 49 York Street, both in St George’s.
In 1843, he became a member of the group to form the Somers Pride of India Lodge No 899 Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, St George’s. Its first formal meeting was held in an old renovated cottage overlooking Penno’s Wharf. Today, the lodge building is located on the corner of York Street and Rose Hill.
It was in 1846 that Robert J. Packwood Jr, listed as a planter, attended an auction in St George’s. He shocked the community by purchasing 65 acres of land from the Cedar Hills and Underwood Estate at Ferry Reach for £604 .
Robert Jr married Elizabeth Mary Ximenez, from Smith’s. They were the parents of nine children. Their daughter, Mary, is recorded as a midwife for Smith’s Tribe. Their first son, Joseph, born in 1841, died of tuberculosis in New York. He was 22 and a recent graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, one of the first colleges in America to admit students of colour. Another son, Richard Arnold, studied medicine at the University of Michigan.
Unfortunately in 1866, Robert Packwood Jr, listed as a mason, grocer, farmer and planter, suffered a stroke at age 51 and died without a will at his Underwood Farm in St George’s, leaving his wife, six children and his parents. His father died 16 years later in Smith’s.
The estate of Robert Packwood Jr passed to his oldest surviving son, Richard Arnold Packwood, MD, who was one of the first Black Bermudian doctors to qualify in medicine after the abolition of slavery in 1834. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1882 and remained there as a member of faculty until he returned to Bermuda and registered with the Bermuda Medical Council in 1884. He was the fourth doctor to appear on the Bermuda Medical Register. In 1901, he married Mary Bozeman Robinson, daughter of Mr and Mrs Joseph W. Robinson, of Bridge Lodge, Somerset Bridge. Joseph Robinson was described as one of Bermuda’s leading Black entrepreneurs, who owned a chain of grocery stores, travelled extensively for business in the West Indies and in 1924 encouraged E.F Gordon, MD to set up a medical practice in Bermuda.
In 1884, Dr Packwood opened his medical practice. He was a private practitioner who maintained an office at his home in Ely’s Harbour, Somerset. He also operated there, amputating limbs, removed tumours and tonsils. Nurse Cordelia Fubler, who trained at the Royal Naval Hospital on Ireland Island, worked closely with him as he travelled around Somerset in a donkey trap that held his medical equipment. He delivered many of Somerset’s residents, including the late Hattie Gilbert. Grafting fruit trees and growing herbs were his hobbies.
Dr Packwood made his will in March 1924, died suddenly in April of that same year and was buried in St James Church Cemetery. He willed his farmlands, woods and buildings — named as Cedar Hills and Underwood at Ferry Reach — in trust to The Berkeley Institute for the furtherance of higher education of schoolchildren in Bermuda. He endowed the Packwood Scholarship to Berkeley for “poor Coloured boys” to attend university in England, Scotland or at Inn of Court. The first Packwood Scholar was T.N. Tatem followed by archdeacon emeritus Arnold T. Hollis. In 1938, Ira Philip and Phyllis Simmons were recipients. Additionally, he requested that his home, “Andover Arbor” in Somerset, be used as a retirement home for elderly women. He was a visionary and realised that in a changing Bermuda there would be a need for such a facility. “Andover Arbor” was renamed The Packwood Home in his memory.
In 1951, a new science block was completed at Berkeley and named after philanthropist and Berkeley supporter Dr Richard Packwood.
A house and land formerly owned by Robert Packwood was sold by the trustees of Richard A. Packwood in 1954 to St George’s merchant Frederick C. Outerbridge and today forms a portion of what we now know as Somers Supermarket.
In 1921, millionaire John Jacob Astor IV died tragically on the Titanic, leaving his son, William Vincent Astor, one of the wealthiest men in the world. Vincent had visited Bermuda, was captivated by the beauty of the Underwood property and wanted to build a holiday home there overlooking the water. In 1933, he purchased 8½ acres of land from the executors of Dr Packwood’s estate. In 1939, he purchased just over ten more acres from the Packwood estate to build a private railway. He was a train enthusiast who built a railway on his estate to connect with the Bermuda railway system. In later years, the Astor property was purchased by the Bierman family.
In preparing for this article, I discovered that my dear friend, 106-year-old Brownlow Place, had been employed as an apprentice plumber in the construction of the Astor mansion.
When Mr Place was about 14, his father took him to see Archie Denman on King Street. Mr Denman employed him as a plumber’s apprentice to work on the Astor project. Mr Place was disappointed, as he had hoped to join his father at the Bermuda Recorder newspaper; however, his father felt he should learn a trade. Every morning, he left his home on Ewing Street at 5am to cycle to Ferry Reach to begin work at 7am. He had to cross the Causeway via a wooden bridge, which at that time connected two rocky little islands later joined as one by the Americans. He had to ride to Longbird Island and partly into St David’s to get to another bridge before cycling on to Ferry Reach. His fellow apprentice was friend and former schoolmate 13-year-old Earl Cameron, who later moved to England and became one of the first Black actors in the British film industry.
Mr Place said the pipes were laid “right out of the ground”. One of his jobs was to melt the lead for the plumbers. Before he left for the day, he was required to collect and secure sufficient wood to maintain the open fire needed to heat and melt lead pellets in a heavy metal pot. The wood had to be adequately covered overnight to keep it dry or work could not progress the next morning. When there was the threat of bad weather, work ceased early as crossing the Causeway on a bicycle could be quite treacherous. He remembered Vincent Astor visiting the property on several occasions to observe the progress and make adjustments to the plans.
Mr Place remained on the job for five years and eventually joined his father at the Bermuda Recorder.
• Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, writer and historian. With thanks to Ronnie Chameau, Joy Wilson-Tucker, Brownlow Place and the late Olive Smith
The Bermuda National Trust’s Architectural Heritage series (Smith’s, Pembroke, St George’s)
Chained On The Rock by Cyril Outerbridge Packwood (1975)
Heritage by Kenneth Robinson, PhD (1979)
Bermuda Index 1784-1914 by C.F.E. Hollis Hallett (Vol 2, 1989)
Paradise Found, Almost! By Vernon Jackson (1994)