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Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782
by Virginia Bernhard
University of Missouri Press, 1999
eISBN: 978-0-8262-6007-9 | Cloth: 978-0-8262-1227-6 | Paper: 978-0-8262-2097-4
Library of Congress Classification HT1105.B47B47 1999
Dewey Decimal Classification 306.362097299


Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782, offers a fresh perspective on the complex relationship between racism and slavery in the often overlooked second-oldest English colony in the New World. As the first blacks were brought onto the islands not specifically for slave labor, but for their expertise as pearl divers and cultivators of West Indies plants, Bermuda's racial history began to unfold much differently from that of the Caribbean islands or of the North American mainland.

Bermuda's history records the arrival of the first blacks, the first English law passed to control the behavior of the "Negroes," and the creation of ninety-nine-year indentures for black and Indian servants. When the inevitable reality of slavery took hold in Bermuda, slaveholders realized that they, like their slaves, were not free. Slavery dictated and strained the relationships between whites and blacks, but in this smallest of English colonies it differed from slavery elsewhere because of the uniquely close master-slave relations created by Bermuda's size and maritime economy.

At only twenty-one square miles in area, Bermuda saw slaves and slaveholders working and living closer together than in other societies. The emphasis on maritime pursuits offered slaves a degree of autonomy and a sense of identity unequaled in other English colonies. This groundbreaking history of Bermuda's slavery reveals fewer runaways, less-violent rebellions, and relatively milder punishments for offending slaves.

Bernhard delves into the origins of Bermuda's slavery, its peculiar nature, and its effects on blacks and whites. The study is based on archival research drawn from wills and inventories, laws and court cases, governors' reports and council minutes. Intended as an introduction to both the history of the islands and the rich sources for further research, this book will prove invaluable to scholars of slavery, as well as those interested in historical archaeology, anthropology, maritime history, and colonial history.

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