As is the case for all histories, the prevailing story is authored by the ‘victors’. The party who wins the battle tells what is favourable and omits that which paints him in an unfavourable light. For Bermuda this phenomenon seems to be the case more often than not. We know who discovered Bermuda, who settled it and what the name of the ship they got here on. But we don’t know about the struggles of all of the people who built this nation and the consequences of it can be seen even today with our seemingly ever increasing social and domestic struggles. The problem with this is if you don’t know history, you lack an important part of your identity. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. The history of the Tucker’s Town Community and its demise; while it may not be as ‘important’ to some as it is to others, is a part of Bermudian history. It is a history worth knowing and a history worth sharing as the victors in this instance chose to use the omission method of history writing.
I have to admit that before the Ombudsman’s report; A Grave Error, all that I knew about the pre-Tucker’s Point Tucker’s Town was generally that there was a predominantly ‘freed slave’ community living there and that some way or another the land was ‘taken’ away. I am not a descendant (that I know of) of any of the people expelled from the community or resting in the cemetery upon which the Ombudsman’s report is based and I am sure there are less sanitised versions of what happened floating about among the direct descendants than mine. This piece however is not intended to inflame or anger anyone. It is merely to inform. To share and to enlighten. Why? Because its important for ‘a people’ to know their history. All of it. Ask yourself the following questions:
* How much Bermuda history did you learn in school?
* Is your Bermuda history knowledge limited to Juan de Bermudez, the sea venture, pearl divers, and Sir George Somers?
* And if not, Why?
* Did you conduct your own research? or did you learn it because it was a part of your job description when you were a tour guide that one summer?
*Why can Bermudians tell you all about Stalin and Churchill and nothing about Bermudian leaders?
The reality is WE deserve to know. And we as a people should be outraged that we don’t.
With that being said lets return to the original thought regarding history and victors. In the Tuckers Town instance the ‘teams’ are clear. Old residents vs current residents. Freed slaves vs Hotel developers….
The original Residents…
In the 1800s there existed a small and independent free, mixed although majority black community residing in Tucker’s Town. They lived mainly by fishing and farming. The community grew in number with the addition of freed slaves after Emancipation in 1834. According to the Ombudsman’s report by 1890 there was ‘a tightly knit isolated community of black farmers who replaced the [former] white landowners (presumable via sale). It had two churches, a general store, a school, a cricket pitch, a post office.
The new Residents…
Tourism in Bermuda was booming with more annual visitors in 1911 than citizens. By 1919 the Tucker’s Town area was identified as ‘the perfect mid-Atlantic site for elite visitors’ and in 1920 an application was made in the House of Assembly requesting the “power to expropriate land which they claimed was “backward and underdeveloped… of little economic value…very sparsely populated”. Legislation passed in that year gave the Bermuda Development Company permission to purchase 510 acres of land in Tucker’s Town to develop a golf course, country club, hotels and cottages for tourism.
A number of landowners agreed to sell their land while others resisted (one quarter of the residents) and a petition was presented to Parliament signed by the landowners against the sale. The development company characterised the petitioners as indifferent and failing to ‘grasp the great advantages which will accrue to [them] and their neighbours by the intended development…’ In response to resistance from landowners the Bermuda Development Company Act (No. 2) set out a process for arbitration or compulsory acquisition if arbitration failed.
Those went through the arbitration process and/or did not wish to sell were subject to compulsory acquisition and as a result were offered the ‘least fair financial compensation’. To be clear the result was; those who sold early got better deals. Those who went through arbitration and agreed got less favourable deals and those who even after rejecting the offers refused were still relieved of their property. The most noted was ‘Dinna Smith’; one of the signatories to the petition, who had to be physically removed from her home by the police. Against her will and HER RIGHTS she was carried out of her own house, her house was boarded up and she was relocated to another home in Smiths Parish.
Following the the expulsion of the final resident and the building of the hotel which is now Tuckers Point, the Cemetery was the last relatively intact relic that evidences the communal life of a wholly unique population in Bermuda. The site was listed as a Historic Protection Area in 2008 and it was recommended that the site be listed as a Historical Building to ensure that the site would have an extra layer of protection. However this was not possible according to the Department of Planning. Four years later, based upon a false assumption that the tombs were newly built in 1992, the tombs at Tucker’s point were ‘razed’ to the ground. According to the Ombudsman’s report this was happened because no one double-checked with the Department of Planning to see if altering the structures was allowed.
*Why would ANYONE even need to check?
*Shouldn’t all Bermudians KNOW that this was a burial ground?
Sadly, WE didn’t know. And it’s my view that we don’t know ON PURPOSE. The stories of the people like Dinna Smith and the other residents of this community are rarely told and there is minimal record of how this was allowed to happen. The victors of this battle saw fit to ensure that their transgressions appeared to be legitimate by legislating for the act. They then endeavoured to later ensure that key documents including the 1920 and 1921 Furness Withy & Co. files as well as the 1920 map attached to the August 1920 Bermuda Company Act (No.2) (delineating the size and coordinates of the exempted Chapels, School House and Cemetery) are now ‘missing’ from the Bermuda archives. Its apparent that they efforts were almost effective in that the ‘forgetting’ of this tragedy set the scene for the accidental desecration of the last remaining physical relic of this history.
A man without history is like a zebra without stripes. Just like zebras Bermuda’s stripes are a part of the foundations of its identity and the history of Bermuda is valuable. There are lessons that we can learn from these stories. I would agree with the sentiments of the former Ombudsman Ms Brock that the Tucker’s Town community provides evidence that refutes the notion that blacks in Bermuda over the centuries were passive and mere subjects of slavery and later white Bermudian administration and largesse…During the 1920 episode, they exercised full human agency with a diversity of responses to the changes thrust upon them. Perhaps if we knew more of their struggles we would feel empowered to do the same.
 McDowall, D. Trading Places Bermuda Magazine, Summer 1996
 Raze: to completely destroy, to demolish.