Ahead of Emancipation Day to remember the end of slavery in Bermuda, legislators on the island have renamed a holiday after Mary Prince, a former enslaved Bermudian who became a famous figure in the abolitionist movement in Britain.
The holiday was previously known as Somers Day, in honor of Admiral Sir George Somers, who “ran aground in Bermuda on July 28, 1609,” leading to the permanent British settlement of the island.
Now, Somers Day will be renamed Mary Prince Day after the formerly enslaved woman who was instrumental in creating awareness about the status of slavery in the British colonies, culminating in the total abolishment of slavery in August 1833.
In Bermuda, Emancipation Day is observed in August on the first day of a two-day annual Cup Match-inspired public holiday. Sommers Day is observed on the second day of the Cup Match holiday.
But last Friday, legislation was tabled in parliament – the renaming of Somers Day to Mary Prince Day. The amendment, which will come into effect on January 1, deleted Somers’s name from the date and substituted “Mary Prince Day.”
“As you will be aware, Cup Match is currently comprised of two consecutive holidays: Emancipation Day as the first day of Cup Match, and Somers Day as the second day of Cup Match. Cup Match is unarguably one of the most important holidays in the Bermudian calendar,” said Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sports Lovitta Foggo in parliament.
“National days are an important part of our cultural identity: what we celebrate and how we celebrate speaks directly to who we are as a people. Bermuda’s Emancipation Day, as established by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, commemorates the day that people of African descent in this country were recognized as citizens rather than as property; no longer forcibly working for others, or legally sold as an object, rather than accorded basic rights as a human being, though it is recognised that the struggle still continues.
“For these reasons, Mr. Speaker, it is fitting that the second day of Cup Match be renamed after our National Hero, Mary Prince, who is recognized on the world stage for the crucial role she played in the abolishment of slavery throughout the British Empire, by telling the painful story of her life.
“The origins of Cup Match lay squarely in an observance of Emancipation, and by returning Cup Match to the observation of Emancipation and the abolition movement, that it was always meant to be, we show both a respect and understanding for that pivotal moment in our history as Bermudians.”
Before Britain totally abolished slavery in 1838, it’s parliament received quite a number of petitions to stop the transatlantic trade. Among these petitions was one from Prince, then a Black British woman who had been enslaved in Bermuda.
Prince was born to enslaved parents in Bermuda in 1788. Just like her mother, she was the slave of Charles Minors. Still an infant, she was purchased by Captain George Darell, as a gift to his granddaughter Betsey William.
After Captain Darell’s first wife and mother to William died, he sold Prince and her siblings at an auction to finance the wedding to his second wife.
Prince ended up with Captain John Ingham’s family, where she was responsible for duties in the house, child care and taking care of animals. She was just 12. The Inghams were one of the cruel masters Prince had to work for. She was pinched, whipped and kicked by Ingham and his wife.
Prince ran back to her mother but she was taken back to the Inghams by her father. She stayed for a few years before she was put aboard a ship to Grand Turk Island.
After a few years, moving from one slave owner to another, Prince ended up in London with her new owners, the Woods family. She was married, much to the ire of the Woods. Once in London, she escaped and became free…but only in London. There was no way she could go back to Antigua and still remain a free woman.
As a free woman in London, Prince was helped by quite a number of people, receiving clothes, money and even paid work. She was eventually taken in by the Anti-Slavery office in Aldermanbury.
Her priority was to go back to Antigua to her husband and family, but she could not do that even after Thomas Pringle and George Stephens tried to negotiate for her freedom with the Woods family.
John Adams Wood Jr. refused to let her go on any terms.
It was then decided that her case must be presented to the British Parliament. On June 24, 1829, her petition was presented to parliament. However, it was unsuccessful.
Following the petition, the Wood family traveled back to Antigua and Pringle had to employ Prince after she lost the job she held before the petition.
More efforts were put in seeking her freedom, with the abolitionists in London sending mail and using their network to talk to Wood Jr.
Following the events of her life and the tussle with the Wood family, the story of Prince was published in a pamphlet as a way to highlight the different issues slaves in the British colonies faced.
She became the first black woman to narrate a slave story titled, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself.
Progressive Labour Party backbencher Christopher Famous, who started the petition to rename Somers Day to Mary Prince Day, 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 recognize her during our Emancipation celebrations.”