The first settlers to Bermuda arrived in 1612. Within four years, this became the first English colony to import indentured black people. By 1698 almost a third of the 1,124 inhabitants of the Parish of St George were black, many having been brought from Africa as slaves to be servants. As the slaves and their descendants became Christians, they were entitled to Christian burial in the church graveyard. The western extension to the original graveyard, probably added in the latter half of the 1600s, was set apart for the burial of blacks, free or enslaved.
The historic churchyard, with its separate section for blacks – indeed one of the last graveyards for blacks still remaining in Bermuda – is a vivid reminder of the reality of racial segregation in Bermuda, including in the churches. Not only were slaves and free blacks buried there in the 17th and 18th centuries, blacks continued to be buried in this separate section right up to the closing of the graveyard in 1854 i.e. twenty years after the Emancipation of all slaves.
As in other Bermudian churches, a gallery was built at the western end of the church in the early 1700’s so that servants and Blacks could attend services. Access to this gallery was by a separate doorway at the northwest corner of the church. On display in the vestry is a copy of the baptismal register for August 1st, 1834, when emancipation took place throughout the British Empire. There is a line drawn across the page and Blacks baptized after August 1st no longer were entered as “slave” or “free”.
St. Peter’s Church is part of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail, whose implementation was overseen by the ADHT Foundation. Their objective was to produce quality cultural products which expose visitors to authentic African Diaspora history and culture and motivate the local population to actively participate in the preservation and dissemination of their history and culture. Today the ADHT is recognized by UNESCO and visitors to St. George’s can visit the African Diaspora Heritage Trail locations marked with plaques highlighting the histories, influence and contributions of Bermuda’s African-descent population to the island’s community, commerce and culture.
St. Peter’s Church is part of the UNESCO recognized African Diaspora Heritage Trail which highlights the histories, influence and contributions of Bermuda’s African-descent population.
Bermudian AME minister Rev. Dr Lorne Bean conducts an immersive tour which follows the trajectory of Black Bermudians from discovery, through slavery to freedom, and provides an opportunity for visitors and residents to learn about the contribution of Black Bermudians to the island’s culture and heritage. Included is the history of King’s Pilot James Darrell, a visit to the segregated graveyard and the time of emancipation.
Tickets are $30 per person, $15 students 12 and under, minimum booking is four tickets. To book a tour email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The African Diaspora Tour is wheelchair accessible and is supported by the Bermuda Tourism Authority.