Over the years Bermuda underwent a series of physical and cultural changes, all contributing to the rich heritage that Bermudians experience today. One such major cultural development that has contributed significantly to the face of Bermuda is the migrations of various different ethnicities to the island over time.
Like many other island and regions across the globe, Bermuda was highly affected by the influx of Black people during slavery. The first slaves were brought to Bermuda soon after the colony was established under the administration of its second governor, Governor Daniel Tucker. In 1616 Governor Tucker sent a ship to the West Indies to find Black slaves to dive for pearls in Bermuda. This made the island the first English Colony to import Black people. Over the years more Blacks would populate the island in large numbers, originating from America and the Caribbean, and typically working as either slaves or indentured servants. As Europe’s western expansion increased, thousands of West Africans were shipped to the Americas as slaves. Some of these slave ships are known to have become wrecked on Bermuda’s reefs, with the slaves being sold in Bermuda instead.
Slavery in Bermuda was finally abolished in 1834; two centuries after the first slaves came to Bermuda. However, the effects of this institution have had lasting and far reaching impacts on the cultural landscape of the island. Today a large majority of the Black population in Bermuda can trace its ancestry to the slaves that were brought there centuries ago.
Another group of immigrants that have contributed immensely to the future of Bermuda are the Portuguese. Bermuda’s connections with the Portuguese began over three centuries prior to their initial arrival. During the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries many Portuguese ships, like the Spanish, English and French, were shipwrecked in Bermuda. Bermuda was also a frequent stop for Portuguese seamen. However, it wasn’t until 1849 that the first Portuguese immigrants came to Bermuda seeking a better future away from the poverty of their homes in Madeira and the Azores.
Interestingly enough, while the Portuguese viewed Bermuda as their land of salvation, Bermuda would soon benefit from the contributions and expertise that the Portuguese would make to agriculture on the island. The Portuguese quickly established themselves as willing and highly skilled labourers, whose work proved instrumental to the revitalisation of Bermuda’s agriculture. In 1851, just two short years after the first immigrants arrived, Bermuda sent its largest ever cargo of produce to New York, a tangible testament of the impact the Portuguese farmers had on Bermuda’s agriculture.
By 1878 a total of 350 Portuguese had arrived in Bermuda and their mark was being made on the islands culture. Like those who came from the West Indies, the Portuguese celebrated their distinctive heritage, clutched tightly to their language, cuisine, social events and religious festivals and became an important part of the fusion of culture Bermuda is made of. By the turn of the century, many Portuguese had become naturalized Bermudians and went on to purchase land and invest in Bermuda on many other levels.
Information Provided by: The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs