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The fascinating history of Bermuda’s friendly societies

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In the news: An article from 1949 about the Oddfellows friendly society

You might not have heard of a friendly society, but if you’ve ever celebrated Cup Match you’ve experienced their work.

Cup Match began as a cricket game between friendly societies to celebrate emancipation in 1834.

Retired Bermuda College science lecturer Michael Bradshaw will outline the fascinating history of friendly societies in Bermuda at a PechaKucha Night on Thursday.

Today, there are only a handful of friendly societies left on the Island, but there were once around 80. Historically, they were formed in Bermuda to provide the black community with resources and education.

He said friendly societies existed in Bermuda prior to emancipation and were formed by free blacks.

“They were very conscious of the fact that education was important,” he said.

“They didn’t have the access to books that we do now. They had lending libraries among themselves.

“They would assist themselves in reading and writing, and they were also concerned with moral values.”

He wanted to make it clear that friendly societies are not the same as Freemasonry.

“The friendly societies were an effort by the lower classes to develop a mutualistic society to help themselves,” he said.

He said the friendly societies were much more inclusive than the Freemasons, and there was nothing secret about their activities.

Dr Bradshaw became fascinated by the history of the friendly societies after joining the Good Samaritan Lodge in 1981.

“A friend suggested I join a friendly society,” he said.

At first he was a little reluctant because he was unsure if he would be the right fit.

“My friend said, ‘you care about giving back to the community, you are already living the life of a friendly society member’.”

Dr Bradshaw began researching friendly societies and quickly found there was little information out there. He would like to write articles about them and giving presentations to different groups.

“My objective now is to create a greater awareness and reflection on the story while we still have some seniors still living who participated in the heyday of these organisations,” he said.

“Simultaneously, I want to encourage, support and assist any relevant research in this area because it is a basically untouched area elsewhere. The only real work is a foundational book by Joy Wilson Tucker called ‘Bermuda’s Forgotten Heroes: Our Greatest Legacy’.”

PechaKucha Night is on Thursday from 6pm to 9pm at the Vasco da Gama Club on Reid Street. It is free.

Other presenters include Nicola Arnold, Meredith Andrews, Makeem Haz Bartley, Meredith Ebbin, Jessica Lightbourne, Matthew Arnold and Kendra Earls.

Sense of togetherness: The Princess Royal Union Lodge on Cobb’s Hill in Warwick