The life and achievements of one of Bermuda’s most celebrated figures were recognised at a service of remembrance in the Town of St George on Saturday.
Descendants of James Darrell gathered at St Peter’s churchyard to honour a sailor and pilot whose navigational skills and seamanship won the the plaudits of the Royal Navy — and his own freedom from slavery — more than 200 years ago.
Mr Darrell, who was born in 1749, subsequently became the first Black man to own property in Bermuda, and went on to advocate for the rights of Blacks at a time when slavery still had a stranglehold on the island and throughout much of the world.
Yesterday’s celebrations were led by the Ven Marie Loewen, interim priest of St Peter’s, who thanked God for guiding Mr Darrell through both the hazardous waters of Bermuda and the more “treacherous seas” of slavery.
Dignitaries in attendance included St George mayor George Dowling III and constituency MP Lovita Foggo.
A tribute was read by Marcelle Williams, one of many of Mr Darrell’s descendants attending the service.
Describing her ancestor as a man of “resilience”, Ms Williams explained to the congregation why Mr Darrell played such an important role in the move towards emancipation.
Describing the actions that won Mr Darrell praise from the British, Ms Williams said: “Pilot Darrell’s extraordinary and historic feat of piloting Rear Admiral George Murray’s flagship, the 74-gun battleship Resolution, into what later became known as Murray’s Anchorage, was an achievement which so impressed the admiral he wrote … a letter to Bermuda governor James Crauford asking him to manumit Darrell.”
Mr Darrell was granted his freedom a year later, in 1796, and went on to become the first of several pilots appointed to serve the Admiralty. He died in 1815 at the age of 66.
Ms Williams added: “Pilot Darrell led petitions advocating for the property rights of Black Bermudians and fair payment of Bermuda’s pilots. He demonstrated resilience and resistance.”
Ms Williams said that Mr Darrell’s importance to the Black community was reflected in the words inscribed on his tombstone, which described him as “a servant of his country who obtained the general approval of his talents and worth” whose name “will be long remembered for his usefulness and integrity”.
After hymns and prayers, wreaths were laid at the graveside of Mr Darrell by Bermuda branch pilots and the Friends of St Peter’s Church.
After the service Ms Williams told The Royal Gazette: “It sends a shiver down my spine to be here.
“I think it’s very important to keep James Darrell’s legacy alive. For years we never knew anything about him but it’s wonderful that we can celebrate him now.”
The Royal Gazette