Bermuda renames holiday after famous slave

Legislators have voted to change the name of a holiday named in honour of the sea captain who founded Bermuda more than 400 years ago and rename a national holiday after a once enslaved Bermudian who became a heroine of the abolitionist movement in Britain.

The legislation, which was tabled in the House of Assembly on Friday, will see Somers Day become Mary Prince Day.

Mary Prince (Photo: Face2FaceAfrica Society)

Community Minister Lovitta Foggo said the commemoration of Mary Prince, created a national hero in 2012, was “symbolically important”.

She added that the two-day Cup Match holiday’s link to the emancipation of the enslaved in 1834 had been enshrined in its first day, Emancipation Day.

The second day of the Cup Match holiday was named after Admiral Sir George Somers, who ran aground in Bermuda aboard the Sea Venture on July 28, 1609, which led to the permanent British settlement of the island. Somers died in Bermuda the following year aged 56.

It was a one-off official holiday in 1931 and incorporated into the two-day Cup Match public holiday in 1947.

The holiday is accompanied by a two-day cricket between two clubs at each end of the island, St George’s and current cup holders Somerset, which was first played in 1902.

The amendment, which will come into effect on January 1 next year, deleted his name from the date and substituted “Mary Prince Day”.

Foggo told the House of Assembly that Prince was “recognised on the world stage for the crucial role she played in the abolishment of slavery throughout the British Empire”.

Her autobiography, The History of Mary Prince, published in 1831, was a first-hand account of the brutality of slavery in Bermuda.

Foggo said she recognised there were “some who will not be in favour of this change”.

“It is time for historical truths to be told. Mary Prince led the fight for the freedom of enslaved Africans throughout the Caribbean.”

“It is an unfortunate reality that because of our country’s history of racial discord that some Bermudians do not always see the history that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of black Bermudians as belonging to them also.”

She added: “I think it is important to note that the history of Sir George Somers and the founding of Bermuda does not belong to white Bermudians alone — it is the history of all Bermudians.”

The move was backed by government backbenchers Christopher Famous and Rolfe Commissiong, who had called for the change.

Famous, who started to petition for the name change in August 2018, said he was “very proud to see this come to fruition”.

“It is time for historical truths to be told. Mary Prince led the fight for the freedom of enslaved Africans throughout the Caribbean. It is only fitting that we recognise her during our Emancipation celebrations,” he said.