Log In

Reset Password

The hidden story of slavery

First Prev 1 2 Next Last

New material has emerged about Mary Prince, a Bermudian-born former slave whose autobiography stoked the fires of the British abolitionist movement in the 1830s.

Prince's story was little known on the island until it grabbed attention in the 1980s and scuppered the myth that slavery in Bermuda was benign.

Sandy Campbell, a historian and editor at Tecumseh Press in Canada, which published the critical edition, said that a fresh edition of her story, which hit local shelves this week, “makes it more nuanced — it presents her from a different angle”.

It also resurrects the forgotten companion story of her contemporary, Ashton Warner, a fellow former slave whose account has been out of print for nearly two centuries.

“Mary Prince's narrative is very important, and reams have been written on it,” Dr Campbell said.

“But nobody has talked about her and Ashton Warner, which is incredible.”

Prince was inducted as a Bermuda national hero in 2012. Dr Campbell suggested the island should erect a statue in her memory, as was done for Sally Bassett, an enslaved woman burnt at the stake in 1730.

“Like Sally Bassett, she is an individual that emerges from that history of suffering,” she said.

Prince told her story in Britain at the London home of Thomas Pringle, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, where Warner also found shelter.

Both their stories were transcribed by Susanna Strickland, a young writer who became a prominent Canadian author as Susanna Moodie.

Dr Campbell said: “What is important for Bermudians is that Ashton Warner's narrative has not been republished since 1831 and, in her foreword to it, Susanna touches on Mary Prince's story, explicitly calling it ‘the voice of truth and experience'.”

Warner died as his story was being published. Prince remained in England until 1833, but her later life is unknown.

Mary Prince and Ashton Warner: Two Slave Narratives Transcribed by Susanna Moodie includes a trove of letters and poems giving context to the fight against slavery.

Dr Campbell, a scholar of Bermuda's history and a past visiting lecturer at Bermuda College, said slave narratives were “painful for black and white Bermudians”.

“There's a kind of trauma in working with slave narratives,” she said. “They do unearth pain.”

Journalist and author Meredith Ebbin wrote about Prince's book for the Mid-Ocean News after discovering it “totally by accident” in an anthology at a local store.

“The narrative apparently never made it to Bermuda before,” Ms Ebbin said.

The historian Cyril Packwood, author of Chained on the Rock: Slavery in Bermuda, had never found Prince's account in the Bermuda Archives, she said.

Ms Ebbin added: “That book was the first time anybody in Bermuda would have had access to her story.

“It was the start of people being aware of it.

“People didn't talk about slavery. There was a tourism brochure that described slavery here as benign.”

Prince's narrative describes floggings and other abuse, and alludes to her sexual assault at the hands of her enslavers.

Florenz Maxwell, activist, author and member of the Progressive Group that fought segregation in the 1950s, said Prince's account had been the story that “Bermuda managed to hide”.

Ms Maxwell said: “Bermuda was able to keep even racism under cover. People still want to forget it.”

Ms Maxwell, who is a member of the Bermuda Catholic Church's peace and social justice committee, which launched an antiracism campaign this year, said she was “neither pessimistic nor optimistic” about the island candidly acknowledging its racial legacy.

Ms Maxwell said: “Both white and black people have to face the truth. We haven't gotten to the root of the problem.

“My feeling is that if we keep addressing racism just from how harmful it is to blacks, we're not going to solve it. White people have to talk to white people about race.”

She added: “You have to be honest, but you also have to be careful about handling it. Do we really want to see a better world? I think too many people are getting privileges that they don't want to lose.”

The paperback book, edited by Canadian scholars Molly Blyth and Michael Peterman, went on sale this week at The Bookmart in Hamilton for $24.75.

Store manager Martin Buckley told The Royal Gazette: “It should be big.

“We sell a lot of the original book, and did well with a Mary Prince book for children, published last year. The book is popular with both locals and visitors.”

Bookmart manager Martin Buckley with the new edition of the narrative of Mary Prince, alongside the forgotten story of Ashton Warner (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published September 28, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated September 28, 2018 at 10:35 am)

The hidden story of slavery

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon