Over a period of almost four centuries, 50å-100 million Africans were transported to North America and the Caribbean Islands in the transatlantic slave trade, which was the largest forced migration in the world. A Diaspora, like the ethnic group with which it is identified, requires the recognition of a boundary; those on one side are associated with the homeland, if there is one, and those on the other side are in the Diaspora. African Diaspora is a story of how Africanså—though scattered and dispersedå—managed to retain their traditions and reform their identities in the New World.
The Bermuda Department of Tourism has proposed the concept of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail as a unified crossborder cultural tourism initiative to educate visitors, enhance the economic viability of African Diaspora countries, and conserve the essence of African culture and history. This crossborder tourism initiative will build long-term relationships among Bermuda, the Caribbean, the African nations, and North America.
More on Bermuda:
Explore our colourful history on the African Diaspora Heritage Trail - On our Island, the people are as proud as they are friendly. And why not? Dating back to the 1600s, our heritage mingles African, Caribbean, Native American, and British roots. For our Black population and visitors alike, history comes alive on the African Diaspora Heritage Trail. Highlighting many fascinating points of interest, this self-guided tour crisscrosses the Island—bringing Bermuda’s important role in Black history to life.
A historic event: freedom and the Enterprise - In 1835, the American ship Enterprise, carrying 78 slaves from Virginia to South Carolina, was blown off course during a storm. It docked in Bermuda for provisions to make its journey back to the mainland. However, since Bermuda freed its slaves nearly 30 years before the creation of the U.S. Emancipation Proclamation, local customs officials refused to let the ship set sail again until the Governor ruled on the disposition of the slaves aboard. The incident ended with a choice for the slaves: stay in Bermuda and be free, or continue the journey to slavery in the States. All but one family of six became Bermudian citizens—and today, many of us trace our heritage to those 72 freedom-loving souls.
Celebrate freedom - In 1834, Bermuda’s Black population became free citizens. We commemorate the event each summer with a gala celebration featuring open-air concerts, exotic foods, Gombey dancing, and much more. The highlight of the event? Our beloved Cup Match cricket tournament—a two-day match between our East and West End clubs. It’s more than a game—it’s one of the Island’s most eagerly anticipated parties. Come join us in the fun!
Gombey Dancing: A vivid African custom - During your stay, you may be treated with an exciting and expressive feast for the eyes and ears—the Gombeys. This colourful troupe of masked dancers wearing dramatic peacock headdresses and elaborate capes have their roots in Africa (the word “Gombey” is probably derived from a Bantu or Akan word meaning “drum”). The bows and arrows carried by Gombeys were most likely inspired by early Native American slaves. The dancers portray biblical and other stories as they wind their way through the streets and are backed by percussionists who set the rhythm with kettledrums and snare drums. Making their first appearance in Bermuda in the 1700s, the Gombeys are a brilliant cultural symbol—their artistry brought from native soil, kept alive in slavery, and blossoming in freedom.
From the West Indies to Bermuda on a wave of oppression - The first Blacks and Native Americans arrived in Bermuda in 1616, because the Governor of Bermuda erroneously believed that pearls existed in abundance in Bermuda and that Blacks must be secured from the ‘Savage Islands’ to the south to dive for them. Soon more Blacks and Native Americans were introduced to the Island, first as indentured servants, later as slaves. The majority of the early slaves came from St. Thomas and Barbados, but very quickly the area of their origin expanded to include other Caribbean islands. Today, the descendants of people from Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad, Saba, St. Kitts, Nevis, and the Turks and Caicos Islands enrich the fabric of our community.
Far from home: Native Americans in Bermuda - Just as there are Bermudians with African American slave ancestry, there are other families who can trace their roots to Native American tribes. Beginning in the mid-1600s, significant numbers of Native American captives were sent to Bermuda to be sold as slaves. The wife of a Pequod chief was even sold on the auction block among other captives. Over the years these men and women integrated into the local community and today, many Bermudians are descended from Mohican, Narragansett, and other Native American tribes—especially on St. David’s Island.
The story of Sally Bassett: A common form of punishment throughout the slavery period was whipping, but crimes of a more serious nature invariably incurred the death penalty—sometimes with little proof of guilt. One of Bermuda’s most infamous executions was that of Sarah (Sally) Bassett in 1730. Sally was a slave accused of poisoning her granddaughter’s owners, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Foster, and another slave named Nancy. A number of witnesses were rounded up to give evidence against the old slave who, having no lawyer to defend her, argued her innocence in vain. Sally was sentenced to be burned at a stake erected at Crow Lane. On her way to her execution, she is reputed to have admonished crowds rushing to witness the event to take their time because in her words, ‘There’ll be no fun ‘til I get there.’ Legend has it that when Sally’s ashes were later examined, a purple iris called Bermudiana had sprouted through them and flowered.
The diary of Mary Prince - Written records of the horrors and indignities of slavery by slaves are rare, but one of the best known accounts was written by the Bermudian, Mary Prince. The History of Mary Prince was published in London in 1831—just three years before the British Emancipation of slavery-and its narrative penetrates deep into the heart of the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery. This chronicle is a disturbing and vivid account of Mary’s odyssey from slavery to freedom. Its portrayal of terrible hardship and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit played an important role in the campaign for the abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies.
Joseph Hayne Rainey, a tale of success - During the American Civil War, St. George’s was a hive of activity for Confederate blockade runners. And it was in St. George’s that Joseph Hayne Rainey settled after he made his escape from slavery with his wife on one of these ships. Joseph and his wife integrated well into Bermuda society—Joseph even achieving a seat in the House of Representatives. He opened a barbershop in what is now the Tucker House Museum and his wife Susan set up business as a dress and cloak maker. A visit to the Tucker House Museum gives you a glimpse into the lives of this courageous and successful couple.