University of Nebraska Press

Bermuda-born Mary Prince (c. 1787–c. 1833) is the first known Black woman to relate a slave narrative. Her story, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, was first published in 1831. Prince, who became a Bermudian National Hero in 2012, is associated with historic Cavendish, once a grand home located in Devonshire Parish, Bermuda. Cavendish presents an opportunity to explore the story of a colonial heritage structure in Bermuda that is connected to the story of Mary Prince and thus to slavery. The oldest part of Cavendish was built in the mid-1700s or earlier. It has undergone several renovations. In 1969 it was converted into a housing complex, yet historic Bermuda cedar and pine remain. Isotopic analysis of timber fragments taken from hand-hewn Bermuda cedar beams and pine planks in the oldest remaining sections of the house indicate that the pine likely originated in Georgia. This finding aligns with the narrative that Bermudians historically harvested timber from the Georgia region of the southeastern United States from the late 1600s—before Georgia was formally chartered as a colony in 1732.


slave narrative, archives, dendrochronology, enslavement, Black history, Black women, Emancipation, Bermuda cedar, pine, shipbuilding, house building, Bermuda, Georgia


In June 2015 the authors of this paper, dendrochronologist Adam Csank and Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, at the time an interdisciplinary PhD candidate, climbed into a taxi at Bermuda's Albouy Point and directed the driver to take them to Cavendish Close, a small semicircular roadway located in nearby Devonshire Parish. Team members of an interdisciplinary research project, Empire, Trees, and Climate in the North [End Page 79] Atlantic: Towards Critical Dendroprovenancing,1 Csank and Maddison-MacFadyen were determined to gather timber fragments from the oldest remaining sections of Cavendish, once a stately two-story Bermudian residence built entirely of Bermuda cedar in the mid-1700s or earlier. Originally framed with Bermuda cedar studs, the intervals lathed and plastered, Cavendish's initial structure may have been in a cruciform shape2 and have had a palmetto thatch roof; but having gone through several renovations over the centuries, it has been altered almost beyond recognition. Most recently, in 1969, Cavendish was diminished to a housing complex of one-story condo units. As with the home, the grounds have also been significantly altered. Where there had once been tall Bermuda cedars, none remain.

Yet, in spite of changes to the old home and its grounds, Cavendish still provides an opportunity to explore the story of a colonial heritage structure in Bermuda. The slave-owning Darrell family, and enslaved persons historically claimed by the Darrell family as their property, once lived and worked at Cavendish. Cavendish's link to slavery is heightened because of its association with Mary Prince (c. 1787–c. 1833), the storyteller of The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, first published in 1831.3 Bermuda-born Mary Prince, who became a Bermudian National Hero in 2012, is the first known Black woman to escape West Indian enslavement, tell her story, and have it written down. Prince's testimony was a successful abolitionist strategy that worked with other abolitionist strategies of the time to pressure British Parliament to end slavery in the British Empire. For this, she and her collaborators, Susanna Strickland and Thomas Pringle,4 may be viewed as early proponents of an ongoing broad cultural moral activism to work for the betterment of others. Mary Prince self-liberated. It was through her act of resistance by telling her story and seeing it brought to print that she worked for the freedom and advancement of others.

Following the thought of David Lambert, as an enslavement site Cavendish presents an opportunity for the "production and reception of geographical knowledge."5 The old home and its environs is a place where, by taking a historical-geographical approach, enslavement in Bermuda may be better understood. Thus, we ask, How does dendro-chronological analysis of timbers used in the construction of Cavendish tell more of the old home's story? and Does an interdisciplinary approach that exhibits boundary crossing between the humanities and natural sciences, [End Page 80] such as dendrochronology, archival work, and the use of literary sources, in this case Mary Prince's slave narrative, allow for a more informed history of place?

sources and methods

Recent original research, books, book chapters, journal articles, memoirs, Mary Prince's slave narrative, and other primary sources were utilized to build context for this paper.6 John Harvey Darrell, an owner of Cavendish in the first half of the nineteenth century, left behind notebooks that provide a glimpse into Cavendish's past as well as the Darrell family associated with the old home. The 1945 article "The Journal of John Harvey Darrell" is composed of excerpts from these notebooks that were compiled by his daughter Harriet H. D. Darrell.7 A second compilation, C. F. E. Hollis Hallett's 1984 Rosabelle: A Diary of the Last Century, provides a backdrop regarding the extent of Bermudian trade patterns in the late nineteenth century.8 Similarly, Maddison-MacFadyen's 2012 article, "Turks Islands' Salt, Enslavement, and the Newfoundland–West Indian Trade,"9 discusses Bermudian trade, specifically trade between the West Indies and Newfoundland. Bermudians, including the Darrell family who owned Cavendish, were established carriers and merchants in this trade and in other trade routes, as well.

Andrew Trimingham's 2004 Devonshire gives an overview of the many old homes and structures located in Bermuda's Devonshire Parish, including Cavendish.10 Importantly, information about the families associated with these structures is included in its pages. Diana Chudleigh's 2011 Verdmont: The Story of a House, Its People & Its Contents, tells the story of Verdmont, an early eighteenth-century home located in Bermuda's Smith's Parish.11 Verdmont has been meticulously conserved and maintained by the Bermuda National Trust and is operated as a museum. Located near Cavendish, Verdmont serves as an existing structure from which to draw comparisons. Edward Chappell's 2010 book chapter "Accommodating Slavery in Bermuda" provides an archaeological analysis of seventeenth-to nineteenth-century Bermuda big house and slave quarter design.12 Chappell concludes that on the whole, Bermudian slave-owners and their enslaved workers lived and worked more closely together than in many other slaveholding regimes but that this finding does not imply that slavery in Bermuda was in any [End Page 81] way more benign than slavery in other territories, such as the American South. Chappell's study aligns with the extensive work of Cyril Outerbridge Packwood, whose Chained on the Rock: Slavery in Bermuda (first published in 1975) gives a detailed examination of Bermudian enslavement from the colony's earliest days.13 Slavery in Bermuda was not softer than in other British colonies or in mainland America.

Michael Jarvis's 2010 In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680–1783 provides a broad overview of Bermuda, her people, and their industries during the period 1680–1783.14 Of particular interest is information about timber and the Darrell and Trimingham families who claimed Mary Prince and her family members as their property. William Zuill's 1946 book Bermuda Journey: A Leisurely Guide Book,15 Henry C. Wilkinson's 1950 Bermuda in the Old Empire: A History of the Island from the Dissolution of the Somers Island Company until the end of the American Revolutionary War, 1684–1784,16 and Wilkinson's 1973 two-volume set Bermuda from Sail to Steam: The History of the Island from 1784 to 1901,17 though written before Jarvis's In the Eye of All Trade, complement Jarvis's work. These four titles work together to provide an extensive and overlapping historical overview of Bermuda into which the story of Cavendish is situated.

Primary sources that cast light on not only the owners of Cavendish but also the lives of enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked at Cavendish are the Devonshire Parish Records, 1663 to 1798,18 the Devonshire Parish Records, 1798 to 1839,19 the Paget Vestry Assessments, 1805–34,20 the Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies for Bermuda, which were recorded in the years 1821, 1827, 1830, and 1833–34,21 and Customs Shipping Inwards.22 The Devonshire Parish Records and the Paget Vestry Assessments include regular assessments that show the monetization of enslaved men, women, and children. The assessments also list the values of land, standing timber, homes, livestock, furniture, ships, and merchandise kept in stock. Taxes were paid on the assets listed in the assessments, and these revenues were used for necessary parish upkeep. The Slave Registers list slave-owners and the enslaved people whom they claimed as their property. They also give the ages of the enslaved people and their occupations, such as domestic workers, general laborers, trades workers, or sailors.23 Finally, the shipping records detail ships, owners, and captains' names, as well as ports of departure and destinations, plus trade commodities, including timber. [End Page 82]

We approached our research questions by conceptualizing Cavendish itself as a boundary object. From the previously listed archival materials, we gleaned information about timber imports, and about the construction materials used in building and renovating the old home. However, we lacked specific information regarding where the extant timbers in the house had originated. "The Journal of John Harvey Darrell" provided information on building materials and how they were used, but the Customs Shipping Inwards records could only tell us from whence materials arriving in Bermuda might have come. Dendrochronology would provide specific information about where the building materials used to construct and renovate Cavendish had originated. This information might confirm, or might possibly add to, the historical narrative of the structure, and it might allow us to say whether there had been renovations to Cavendish that had not been documented. Dendrochronological information would also let us say definitively where, if not from locally sourced Bermuda cedar, the wood used in Cavendish might have come from. It would also provide additional context on timber acquisitions from certain regions. Additionally, the sampling process allowed Csank, the scientist on the project, to introduce Maddison-MacFadyen, the historical geographer, to the methods used to collect the samples for scientific testing.

Using an increment borer, Csank, working with Maddison-MacFadyen as his assistant, collected fragments of Bermuda cedar and pine from the oldest remaining sections of Cavendish.24 Csank then had the fragments analyzed using wood anatomy and stable oxygen isotope analysis. Not only is this study an example of interdisciplinarity and boundary crossing between the humanities and the natural sciences, but we also explored the value of including the literary, in this case Mary Prince's survivor testimony—her slave narrative—in our approach. Our thought was that by combining less conventional methods—enslavement histories and tree ring samples—we might enhance the telling of the story of Cavendish.

First-person testimonies that were either written down by survivors or told to a trusted person who then wrote down and compiled the survivor's story, slave narratives can give guidance to researchers on a number of diverse and far-reaching historical topics. Mary Prince, for example, recollects her life not only as an enslaved domestic worker but also as an enslaved salt pond worker laboring on Grand Turk Island. [End Page 83] Two other examples of British slave narratives, one by Ashton Warner, the other by Olaudah Equiano, provide testimonies on subjects such as the workings of a sugar plantation from an enslaved person's point of view and sea battles witnessed from the decks of Royal Navy vessels.25

a brief history of cavendish

Cavendish is situated in Bermuda's Devonshire Parish not far from Crow Lane, where the three parishes Devonshire, Paget, and Pembroke meet.26 It is unclear when Cavendish was first built, but Judge John Darrell had possession of it in the mid-eighteenth century. His eldest son inherited the old house, and subsequently it and 10 1/2 acres was sold to a first cousin, Richard Darrell, the father of journal keeper John Harvey Darrell. John Harvey Darrell was given Cavendish by his father in 1825 ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 130).

The old house has been through at least five major renovations. We anticipated that evidence of these renovations may be found in the timbers we sampled in different parts of the house. For instance, major structural components may still retain timbers original to the construction; however, floors and walls are more likely to have been replaced. Sometime in its first few decades, sawn Bermuda limestone was added to its exterior walls to strengthen them against hurricanes ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 135). Over half a century later, when Richard Darrell purchased Cavendish, it was in a dilapidated state and underwent extensive refurbishment (135). Several years after that, when John Harvey Darrell owned the old home, an elegant double drawing room was added onto the front of the structure. John Harvey Darrell undertook this addition after he was given possession of Cavendish in 1825, but before 1856 when the historic photograph in figure 2 was taken.27 As with other fine old Devonshire homes obtained by the British military by compulsory purchase, its upper story was removed.28 Then, in 1969, Cavendish underwent further remodeling when it became a housing complex.

John Harvey Darrell relates that when his father, Richard Darrell, purchased Cavendish, the wood constructing it, from cellar posts to roof trusses, was Bermuda cedar. This included all the floors in the house, with the exception of one room ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 135). The one room lacking a Bermuda cedar floor may have had a floor of [End Page 84] some other kind of wood, or it may have been earthen or stone and lacked a wooden floor altogether.

The old house had originally been frame construction, with squared Bermuda cedar studs set at fifteen or twenty inches apart and the intervals between them lathed and plastered ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 135). John Harvey Darrell recalls his father Richard saying that the house had been strengthened with stone walls in an unusual manner in its early days. The roof was not removed, and stone was built up between the studs from the ground to the roof. When this work was complete, the studs were taken away (135). Thus, for a period of time in Cavendish's history, the roof was much older than the outside walls.29

Cavendish's inside doors were also constructed of Bermuda cedar. Each door was formed of "three broad perpendicular cedar planks" ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 135). The two side planks overlapped the one in the middle, and the doors were finished with an "ornamental beading down the edges" (135). Each door had a "transverse cedar board across the top [with its] lower edge cut into [a] flourishing pattern" (135). John Harvey Darrell also relates that enslaved workers waxed and rubbed these doors so that they kept their luster, "an operation only practicable in the times of slavery when labour was cheap" (135). To keep more money in his pocket after Emancipation—August 1, 1834—Darrell replaced the Bermuda cedar inside doors with panel doors made of pine and painted.

Given that Bermuda cedar was highly valued and prized, it seems a contradiction that John Harvey Darrell switched out Cavendish's inside Bermuda cedar doors for pine. For example, correspondence dated 1809 between Joseph Clayton Jennings, a wealthy Bermudian who had chosen a life in England, and his cousin and agent in Bermuda, Richard Darrell's brother Josephus Darrell, indicates the monetary value of standing Bermuda cedar on Jennings's Devonshire and Smith Parish properties to be large. Inquiring about the proceeds of Bermuda cedar cut from his Bermuda estates, Jennings learned that 2,400 trees cut from his Devonshire property brought £750 and that 7,500 trees cut from his Smith property brought £1,750 for a total of £2,500.30 How much more valuable and prized would have been finished Bermuda cedar products, such as ships, furniture, and ornamental inside doors?

From the colony's earliest days, Bermuda cedar was used for both [End Page 85] house construction and shipbuilding, but also for firewood, and this made the species scarce. Although Bermudians replanted their forests, Bermuda cedar was always in demand. Wilkinson writes that in 1788, "a third of the island was under cedars, which, for the most part were scrubby[;] for as soon as a tree reached a useful size, it was cut for building, usually of boats, since cedar was particularly resistant to those worms which were such a menace in Caribbean waters."31 Zuill confirms Wilkinson's statement, writing, "the earliest photographs of Bermuda, taken at the end of the shipbuilding period, show the countryside almost barren of trees."32 Even though Bermudians prized the Bermuda cedar, its economic value and usefulness in shipbuilding were the main reasons that brought about its demise.33

When John Harvey Darrell chose to switch out Cavendish's interior Bermuda cedar doors for painted pine, Bermuda was in economic decline. By 1836, local shipbuilding was reduced and local bankruptcies had increased. To make matters worse, some American banks having Bermudian accounts had failed and food was scarce, "but there was no one to cultivate the land."34 Yet who had cultivated the land prior to Emancipation? Evidently, enslaved cultivators had put down their hoes when they became free.35 John Harvey Darrell put his finger on a main issue, if not the main issue, confronting Bermuda at the time: enslaved labor had been "cheap," but post-Emancipation, labor was paid, and, by pre-Emancipation standards, it was not affordable.36 Skilled workers such as shipbuilders, masons, cultivators, and housekeepers would not work without pay. John Harvey Darrell's modifications to Cavendish kept down his maintenance costs in a hard economic time. Possibly, similar modifications to keep down costs were made by other Bermudians to their homes and to other structures during this time of transition.

The Darrell Family and Enslaved Persons of Cavendish

Richard Darrell and his brother Josephus were elite members of Bermuda's society in the first part of the nineteenth century. The two brothers were involved in Bermuda's maritime economy. For example, their ship President, a 133 3/4 ton brigantine, made fourteen trips to Newfoundland from 1807 to 1811.37 The President also stopped at Quebec City. Bermuda Archive's Customs Shipping Inwards for December 30, [End Page 86] 1816, and May 29, 1817, shows the brothers also operating the brigantine Improvement.38 Bermuda-built in 1815, Improvement made trips to Trinidad and returned from that colony to Bermuda laden with sugar. Thus, the brothers' trade spanned 4,500 kilometers, from Quebec City in the north to Trinidad in the south.39 They were also connected to Great Britain, if not by trade directly, then by their London-based business agents Messrs. James Daniel, Todhunter, Wyndham & Co.40

Richard Darrell was the mayor of Hamilton for forty-one years (1807–48), and he was a well-liked and appreciated member of Bermudian society. Wilkinson points out that he was considered the "father" of his parish, Devonshire, and that he had been annually and unanimously reappointed to office because he had "intellect, the direct approach, a superb command of temper, solid integrity, [and] had rid the town of debt and kept it free."41

Typical of Bermudian elites at the time, the Darrell brothers were slave-owners. Richard Darrell, for instance, claimed eighteen enslaved persons as his property in the Devonshire Parish Records, 1798–1839, for October 12, 1812 (see fig. 1). Some of these individuals were children, but all would have had roles in the household, such as cook, assistant cook, launderer, cultivator, or woodcutter, and they would have lived wherever there was available space in Cavendish and its outbuildings. Edward Chappell notes that "enslaved Bermudians lived everywhere in their owners' households and beyond."42 They lived in attics, storage cellars, cellar kitchens, rear-wing kitchens, separate kitchens, cabins, and other outbuildings, and some slept in passageways, closets, and owners' bedchambers. Cooks and launderers slept near the rooms where they worked, tradesmen were housed in their owners' shops, and sailors slept aboard the ships they sailed.43 This would have been true of enslaved persons living at Cavendish.

Cavendish has the added distinction of being associated with Bermuda-born Mary Prince, who was memorialized in 2012 when she was made a Bermudian National Hero. Although Mary Prince never lived at Cavendish herself, it is plausible that Sue (Susannah), an enslaved woman listed in the October 12, 1812, assessment for Richard Darrell, was Mary Prince's mother.44 It is also plausible that some of the children listed in Richard Darrell's assessments, and in the later Slave Registers under his name, were Mary Prince's siblings and cousins and that some of the adults were her aunts or uncles.45 [End Page 87]

Fig 1. Devonshire Parish Records, 1798–1839, October 12, 1812, p. 100, which includes Richard Darrell's assessment. Government of Bermuda Archives. Photograph taken by Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig 1.

Devonshire Parish Records, 1798–1839, October 12, 1812, p. 100, which includes Richard Darrell's assessment. Government of Bermuda Archives. Photograph taken by Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

Prince had five successive Bermudian slave-owners.46 When she was twelve years old, her family was divided. She and her younger sisters Hannah and Dinah were sold at auction, each to a different slave-owner.47 This was when Mary Prince was sold to Captain John Ingham, her third slave-owner. Because she was ill-used by both the captain and his wife Mary Ingham (née Albouy), Prince ran away, finding refuge in [End Page 88] a small cave located close to her mother at Cavendish.48 "I ran away and went to my mother, who was living with Mr. Richard Darrell," Prince recollects, explaining that her mother "hid me up in a hole in the rocks near, and brought me food at night, after every body was asleep."49 Field-work at Cavendish suggests that the opening of Prince's hiding place may have been from the top but that work undertaken in 1969 partially excavated the small cavern, exposing it from the side. During the 1969 development of Cavendish into a housing complex, a rock wall was shorn to make way for a walkway. The wall now features a cavity large enough to accommodate a human body.

the valuation of bermuda cedar and the commodification of enslaved bermudians

When we think about Bermuda cedar, the products made from it, and the wealth it brought to Bermudian merchants and their families, it is also important to remember how enslaved Bermudians were commodified by their enslavers. Like Bermuda cedar, enslaved persons were given monetary values and could be bought and sold.

Although a great part of Bermudians' wealth lay in stands of Bermuda cedar, an even greater part of a slave-owner's wealth might have resided in the enslaved persons he or she claimed as property. In the October 12, 1812, assessment of the Devonshire Parish Records, 1798–1839, for example, Richard Darrell valued his stand of Bermuda cedar at £75 Bermudian currency, but he put down a greater amount, £80, for Jem, the most highly valued enslaved man he listed.

John Harvey Darrell notes that when his father purchased Cavendish and its surrounding 10 1/2 acres in 1797, "all the timber trees had been cut off the land" ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 134). This suggests that in the case of Cavendish the stands of Bermuda cedar would not be highly valued, and that in this instance an enslaved man such as Jem might be more highly valued than timber. Nonetheless, the eighteen enslaved persons listed in the same assessment for Richard Darrell are together valued at the exact same amount, £580, as Cavendish and its land combined.

The assessment also indicates that enslaved persons represented wealth that increased through reproduction because the value of enslaved children increased as they grew up. For example, the two [End Page 89] children Richard Darrell lists in the October 12, 1812, assessment—"2 children 10"—might have each grown up to be as highly valued as Jem, £80, if they were male, or Susannah, £50, if female.50

Therefore, the reproductive potential of enslaved women was the crux upon which slavery depended because it was through their wombs that the next generation of slaves was produced.51 An enslaved woman, such as the children's mother Susannah, was especially valuable to slave-owners because of the children she might bear. In a footnote appended to Prince's testimony, editor Thomas Pringle indicates that Prince's siblings numbered seven brothers and three sisters.52 If the boys grew up to be valued at £80 and the girls £50, then their combined value would be £740. However, Mary Prince recalls being sold twice for £100, once as an adolescent girl, and then again at age twenty-eight. Therefore, the sum of £740 may be a low estimate.53 Boys were also valuable because they might be trained as skilled artisans. Their slave-owners could put them to work in their own businesses, or they could put them out to work for others and receive their pay.

John Harvey Darrell recollects his father Richard emphasizing the value of Bermuda cedar, remarking that it was "the real staple production of the Colony" ("Journal of J. H. Darrell," 135). He "would tell how many distressed families he had known had been relieved from difficulty by a sale of cedar timber" (135), Darrell recalls. Yet how much monetary gain was brought to a slave-owning family by the sale of slaves, such as when Mary Prince and her sisters were sold at auction?

kitchens of cavendish

Because Csank collected fragments from Bermuda cedar beams in the cellar of Cavendish, activities that may have at one time transpired in that location are important to relate in order to better understand the milieu and experience of the enslaved who, during the time of slavery, may have lived and worked there. The cellar at Cavendish very likely housed enslaved people, and there is a possibility that it may have also served as a cellar kitchen in the past.

The 1856 photograph of Cavendish (see fig. 2) shows a chimney to the left of the cellar entrance. Although the chimney has since been removed, and the cellar entrance remodeled, the chimney's original presence indicates the possibility of a one-time hearth in the cellar. [End Page 90]

Fig 2. Cavendish. Bermuda Historical Society Collection, Bermuda Archives. Photograph taken from the Bermuda National Trust's 2004 book Devonshire, p. 11, authored by Andrew Trimingham, where the caption reads: "A very early photograph (1856) from John Harvey Darrell's own album shows the old part of Cavendish (before its upper story was removed by the military)." John Harvey Darrell added the newer section, the double drawing room at the front of the house. The older section is at the back, with an arrow indicating the cellar entrance.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig 2.

Cavendish. Bermuda Historical Society Collection, Bermuda Archives. Photograph taken from the Bermuda National Trust's 2004 book Devonshire, p. 11, authored by Andrew Trimingham, where the caption reads: "A very early photograph (1856) from John Harvey Darrell's own album shows the old part of Cavendish (before its upper story was removed by the military)." John Harvey Darrell added the newer section, the double drawing room at the front of the house. The older section is at the back, with an arrow indicating the cellar entrance.

The majority of surviving Bermudian eighteenth-century houses have cellar kitchens.54 They were poorly lighted, poorly ventilated, often had uneven floors, and their walls were irregular, making them difficult to clean. Cooks and kitchen workers carried prepared food out of the kitchen, taking the easiest route to the owners' dining spaces. Sometimes this meant taking food and retrieving dirty dishes by way of the front door.

A smaller chimney at the far back of the house indicates a possible kitchen in the rear wing of the old section. Perhaps this is the room that did not have a Bermuda cedar floor when Richard Darrell first purchased Cavendish. The rear wing may have been original to the house, or it may have been a later addition. Cavendish may have also had a separate kitchen from its earliest days. One of the modern housing units at Cavendish incorporates an old chimney with a bricked-over hearth as a [End Page 91] unique feature. It is separate from, and behind the rear wing of, the remaining older section of the house.

Fig 3. The rear of the housing unit at Cavendish that incorporates an old chimney into its structure. The chimney may have been a central feature of a separate kitchen. Photograph by Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, 2015.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig 3.

The rear of the housing unit at Cavendish that incorporates an old chimney into its structure. The chimney may have been a central feature of a separate kitchen. Photograph by Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, 2015.

Separate kitchens were an alternative used by the wealthiest slave-owners early on in Bermuda.55 Verdmont, located near Cavendish, is a case in point. A beautifully kept and restored grand house in Smith's Parish, Verdmont is now owned and operated as a museum by the Bermuda [End Page 92] National Trust. It was built at the beginning of the eighteenth century.56 Lacking cooking fireplaces, Verdmont's owners relied on food preparation to be done by the enslaved in an outbuilding.57 Enslaved workers carried prepared food from the separate kitchen through a side door that opened on the owners' dining space.58

The proximity of enslaved persons to their owners gives perspective on household relations. Cellar kitchens kept enslaved persons separate from their owners' living spaces. Rear-wing kitchens brought enslaved persons and food preparation above ground, but food may have still been delivered to the owners' dining spaces by way of front or side doors. Separate kitchens put enslaved persons in outbuildings, but the owners of big houses with separate kitchens continued to house people in dark cellar spaces.59 Future investigation is needed at Cavendish to establish where there were kitchens, if they were original to the house, or if they were later additions.

cavendish timber fragments

In spite of Cavendish's many renovations, some of the old structure of the home remains, including historic Bermuda cedar used in its original construction. Dendrochronologist Adam Csank was able to take timber fragments from hand-hewn Bermuda cedar beams in the cellar of an old part of the building. He was also able to take timber fragments from a pine floor in its oldest remaining section.

The historic Bermuda cedar beams Csank took timber fragments from at Cavendish are at minimum 265 years old, but they could be upwards of fifty or more years older than this because the exact date the house was first built is not established. The Bermuda cedar speaks of much more than the physical structure used to build the house. It also speaks of the people who built, lived in, and maintained the house—both slave-owners and enslaved alike. Very likely, skilled enslaved men harvested Bermuda cedar trees and fashioned the wood into timbers with which to build the house. Similarly, skilled enslaved men would have worked as carpenters and masons on the construction of the house, and skilled enslaved women would have tended the food garden and worked as cooks, cleaners, launderers, and caregivers.

To source where the pine floorboards used to construct Cavendish originated, Csank collected fragments and then identified the samples [End Page 93] using wood anatomy as a yellow pine. In order to further narrow down the source of the floorboards, stable oxygen isotope analysis of samples taken from the pine floorboards was conducted. Oxygen isotopes have a distinct signature that can be used as a tool to provenance the location of plants and animals. The oxygen isotope values from Cavendish's pine floorboards have values of 28 to 29‰, which is most similar to the isotopic values of wood sourced from Georgia or South Carolina, and this confirms the work of Michael Jarvis and Henry C. Wilkinson.

Fig 4. Adam Csank collecting timber fragments from a Bermuda cedar beam in the cellar of Cavendish. Photograph by Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, 2015.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig 4.

Adam Csank collecting timber fragments from a Bermuda cedar beam in the cellar of Cavendish. Photograph by Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, 2015.

[End Page 94]

Fig 5. Known cellulose δO values from North America. Note our values would plot in the southern part of the US, but not as far south as Florida. Map by Adam Csank.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig 5.

Known cellulose δ18O values from North America. Note our values would plot in the southern part of the US, but not as far south as Florida. Map by Adam Csank.

Both authors indicate that because of timber shortages in Bermuda that arose from an expansion in shipbuilding in the late 1600s, Bermudians engaged in timber plundering along the coastal forest commons in the sparsely inhabited borderland between British and Spanish North America.60 The area these Bermudians frequented for timber was part of what later became the colony of Georgia, chartered in 1732. In the 1750s at least eight Bermudian families relocated to Georgia, bringing highly skilled enslaved men with them to clear tracts of coastal land. Based in and around Sunbury, a seaport town located on the Savannah River, and Bermuda Island located at its mouth, these Bermudians focused on harvesting timber, local shipbuilding, and timber exports to Bermuda and to the Caribbean.61


By taking an interdisciplinary approach that crossed boundaries between the humanities and natural sciences—dendrochronology, archival work, and literary sources, in this case Mary Prince's slave narrative—we were able to present an enhanced storytelling of Cavendish. We found this approach to be advantageous because the result is a more complete story that is attractive to a larger array of readers beyond the fields of dendrochronology and historical geography. In Bermuda, for example, where Mary Prince is a national hero, readers may be particularly interested in the archival information about Prince's mother Susannah for genealogical work. This approach was also advantageous because it allowed for the expansion of skills and knowledge on the part of both researchers. As part of the 2015 Empire, Trees, and Climate experience in Bermuda, Csank, the dendrochronologist, spent time in the Bermuda Archives, and Maddison-MacFadyen, the historical geographer, held an increment borer in her hands for the first time. [End Page 95]

The pine flooring in the oldest section of Cavendish connects the house and the people who lived there—slave and slave-owner alike—to flows of American timber. It confirms the story of Georgia timber making its way to Bermuda, but not only for shipbuilding. The pine floor at Cavendish shows that it was also used in house finishing. Possibly, not only the pine floor but also the pine used in crafting the pine panel doors installed by John Harvey Darrell after Emancipation was sourced from Georgia.

This study brings up a new avenue of research for consideration: How did Emancipation affect timber flows? John Harvey Darrell changed out the Bermuda cedar interior doors at Cavendish to painted pine because post-Emancipation he could not afford the labor required for their upkeep. The doors required regular polishing to keep their luster. Was Darrell's post-Emancipation preference for pine part of a larger trend? Is it possible that with the cessation of unpaid labor, housebuilders and shipbuilders altered the types of timber and the designs they used in their construction projects?

Finally, this study also shows the importance of remembering slavery, in spite of the difficult knowledge it imparts. For example, in the case of Bermuda, where a sale of Bermuda cedar might have relieved a family from a financial pinch, so, too, might have the sale of enslaved persons, as was the case of Mary Prince and her sisters Hannah and Dinah. Both the Bermuda cedar and the enslaved were "staple production[s] of the colony" that could be sold for financial gain. Therefore, when telling the story of a place and its people, it is critical to relate as complete a story as possible, not just a part of the story, even if the telling is a difficult remembrance. As Derek Alderman and Rebecca Dobbs point out, "developing a critical historical and geographic understanding of slavery is not simply an academic project, but also a political one."62 The study of enslavement has implications for social inclusion, identity, and how people define and relate to the past. This is because a root cause of current-day racism is colonial slavery. Perhaps by facing the difficult knowledge of enslavement history, people will alter how they live in the present, and how they envision living in the future.

Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen
Nipissing University
Adam Csank
University of Nevada


1. Empire, Trees, and Climate in the North Atlantic: Towards Critical Dendroprovenancing was a research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada that ran from 2014 to 2017. It brought together international scholars in the humanities and physical sciences to combine historical research, dendroprovenancing, marine archaeology, and geovisualization techniques to critically reconstruct the social and biophysical landscapes of the British North Atlantic.

2. A cruciform house has four wings in the shape of a cross, with one wing functioning as the entrance. Many early Bermudian homes were in the cruciform style.

3. Mary Prince, "The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself," 1831, in Moira Ferguson, ed., The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 57–94.

4. Prince told her enslavement, resistance, and self-liberation story to compiler Susanna Strickland (later Moodie). Thomas Pringle, the paid secretary of London's Anti-Slavery Society, edited the manuscript, and he was also the financial backer of the project.

5. David Lambert, "Afterword: Critical Geographies of Slavery," Historical Geography 39 (2011): 177.

6. It was because of research undertaken for Maddison-MacFadyen's PhD that the connection between Mary Prince and Cavendish was realized. See Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, "Reclaiming Histories of Enslavement from the Maritime Atlantic and a Curriculum: The History of Mary Prince" (PhD diss., Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2017).

7. Harriet E. D. Darrell, "The Journal of John Harvey Darrell," Bermuda Historical Quarterly 2, no. 3 (1945): 129–43. All subsequent references to John Harvey Darrell's journal will be given parenthetically within the text.

8. C. F. E. Hollis Hallet, Rosabelle: A Diary of Bermuda in the Last Century (Bermuda: Island Press, 1984). Rosabelle is based on the diary of Rosabelle Hollis (1850–1934), who began to keep her diary in 1867.

9. Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, "Turks Islands' Salt, Enslavement, and the Newfoundland–West Indian Trade," Newfoundland Quarterly 105 (2012): 40–44.

10. Andrew Trimingham, Devonshire, Bermuda's Architectural Heritage Series (Hamilton: Bermuda National Trust, 2004).

11. Diana Chudleigh, Verdmont: The Story of a House, Its People & Its Contents (Hamilton: Bermuda National Trust, 2011).

12. Edward Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery in Bermuda," in Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsberg, eds., Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 67–98.

13. Cyril Outerbridge Packwood, Chained on the Rock: Slavery in Bermuda, 2nd ed., ed. C. F. E. Hollis Hallet (Bermuda: National Museum of Bermuda Press, 2012).

14. Michael Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680–1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

15. William Zuill, Bermuda Journey: A Leisurely Guide Book (Bermuda: Bermuda Book Stores, 1946).

16. Henry C. Wilkinson, Bermuda in the Old Empire: A History of the Island from the Dissolution of the Somers Island Company until the End of the American Revolutionary War, 1684–1784 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1950).

17. Henry C. Wilkinson, Bermuda from Sail to Steam: The History of the Island from 1784 to 1901 (London: Oxford University Press, 1973).

18. Bermuda Archives, Devonshire Parish Records, 1663–1798, ANG/DV/PV1.

19. Bermuda Archives, Devonshire Parish Records, 1798–1839, DE 3/1/2.

20. Bermuda Archives, Paget Vestry Assessments, 1805–1834, ANG/PA/PAS/A2.

21. Bermuda Archives, Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1821, 1827, 1830, 1833/34, RS 01/01, RS 01/02, RS 01/03, RS 01/04.

22. Bermuda Archives, Customs Shipping Inwards, C11/8.

23. Slave Registers were kept by British colonies after 1807 when the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act. This act meant that it was illegal to import captives from Africa. To ensure this law was followed, the Slave Registers also recorded the increase and decrease of enslaved persons. Even though the slave trade coming off the coast of Africa was illegal, it was still legal to trade enslaved persons within the colonies. This ended on August 1, 1834, when the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act went into effect.

24. Cavendish resident Valerie Richmond provided Csank and Maddison-MacFadyen permission to take the fragments and access to the timber.

25. Slave narratives, a type of autobiographical survivor account, are unique to the survivor relating her or his story. Ashton Warner, for example, the storyteller of Negro Slavery Described, explains the workings of Cane Grove Estate, a Saint Vincent sugar plantation. See Ashton Warner, Negro Slavery Described by a Negro, 1831 (Lavergne, TN: Dodo, 2012), 7–12. Olaudah Equiano, the storyteller of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, who was for a time enslaved by a captain of the Royal Navy, provides vivid descriptions of sea battles, including the 1758 British expedition against Louisbourg. In the Louisbourg section, Equiano recollects being on board the same ship as General Wolfe and also having in his own hand "the scalp of an Indian king, killed in the engagement." The scalp, he recollects, was "taken off by an Highlander." See Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself, 1789, in Olaudah Equiano: The Interesting Life and Other Writings, ed. Vincent Carretta (London: Penguin, 2003), 72–74.

26. At one time, Crow Lane referred to all of Paget Parish, just as Brackish Pond referred to Devonshire Parish and Spanish Point to Pembroke Parish. For this paper, we mean the cove at the head of Hamilton Harbour, also called the Foot of the Lane.

27. Trimingham, Devonshire, 11.

28. Trimingham, Devonshire, 10. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the British military acquired houses situated in Devonshire to be used as defensive positions and/or to house officers and their families. Cavendish lost its upper story sometime in the years 1869–75. The line of fire from Bermuda's Fort Prospect artillery covered Cavendish, and presumably the upper story was removed to give the artillery a clear line of fire (Wilkinson, Bermuda from Sail to Steam, 745).

29. One result of environmental problems of the late 1680s and 1690s caused by deforestation was the loss of natural windbreaks. Hurricanes destroyed many wooden homes. Jarvis points to the hurricanes of 1712 and 1716 being especially destructive and adds that "by the 1720s most Bermudians lived in relatively recently built stone houses" (In the Eye of All Trade, 93). The stone was cut (or sawn) Bermuda limestone. Because Cavendish was built entirely of Bermuda cedar, it may be that it was built prior to the 1680s but survived hurricane damage. The exterior stone walls that were added to the house were undertaken to fortify the house against future hurricanes.

30. Zuill, Bermuda Journey, 106. These high monetary values attributed to Jennings's Bermuda cedar stands are unusual and not representative of the average Bermudian landowner. It may be that Jennings's cedars were left to grow as an investment for the future and were cut to pay off debt or a mortgage. Because Jennings had income from sugar estates in Demerara, he may have been able to let his stands of Bermuda cedar grow and increase in value, where other Bermudians without ready cash may not have been.

31. Wilkinson, Bermuda from Sail to Steam, 23.

32. Zuill, Bermuda Journey, 153.

33. Agriculture also contributed to the demise of the Bermuda cedar. Bermudians' early project was agricultural, and extensive tracts of suitable land were cleared to grow provisions for the colony and for other colonies, as well. Bermudians also tried to grow and harvest money-making plant species, such as tobacco, with the hope that these plant species would bring them ever-renewable profits. Jarvis explains that the Bermudians' early agricultural project ended in the 1690s when they shifted to a maritime economy (In the Eye of All Trade, 97–100).

34. Wilkinson, Bermuda from Sail to Steam, 520–24.

35. Bermuda shipping manifests from the fifty years prior to Emancipation indicate that hundreds of thousands of pounds of onions and potatoes were transported from Bermuda to West Indian and mainland destinations. Margôt Maddison-MacFadyen, "Bermuda Onions," Past Place: The Newsletter of the Historical Geography Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers (2017): 9–10. This indicates that Bermuda, in addition to its shipbuilding economy, was also operating as a provision plantation in at least the five decades prior to Emancipation.

36. The Slavery Abolition Act received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833. It went into effect on August 1, 1834, eleven months later. Included in the act was the requirement for a six-year apprenticeship program, which meant that those who were freed had to continue working for previous slave owners for another six years. The apprenticeship program was contested, ending two years early on August 1, 1838. Bermuda and Antigua were exempted from the apprenticeship program, meaning that unlike former slaves in most British colonies, those who had been enslaved in Bermuda and Antigua were able to stop working for those who had previously been slave-owners on August 1, 1834.

37. Maddison-MacFadyen, "Turks Islands' Salt," 44.

38. Bermuda Archives, Customs Shipping Inwards, C11/8.

39. Though written half a century after the Darrell ships President and Improvement plied the waters of the North Atlantic, Rosabelle Hollis's diary reveals the complex network of trade carried on between Bermuda, the West Indies, and the American and Canadian seaboard that would have also existed in an earlier time. They stopped at, and moved between, almost every island in the Lesser Antilles as well as American and Canadian ports. Rosabelle mentions sixty-six trading vessels in her diary, most hailing from Bermuda. Regarding cargo, the diary's compiler, Hollis Hallett, explains that in the latter half of the nineteenth century, early spring vegetables—potatoes, onions, and tomatoes—were the main cargoes shipped from Bermuda to American ports (Rosabelle, 19). Hollis Hallett also explains that cargo vessels brought molasses, rum, and salt on return trips from the West Indies and lumber and salt fish from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Rosabelle, 19).

40. Wilkinson, Bermuda from Sail to Steam, 398.

41. Wilkinson, Bermuda from Sail to Steam, 595.

42. Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery," 72.

43. Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery," 72.

44. Mary Prince's second slave-owner was Betsey Williams. Because Betsey was a child slave-owner, the enslaved people claimed as her property were listed with her father John Williams Jr.'s assets in the Devonshire Parish assessments. Sue (Susannah) is the only enslaved woman listed in the Devonshire Parish assessments for John Williams Jr. for the dates of May 11, 1790, June 1, 1795, August 26, 1796, and April 27, 1798. Moll (Mary) is also listed consistently, as is her younger sister Hannah and "children." For the August 1, 1800, assessment, no enslaved persons are listed for John Williams Jr. Only his house and land are listed, indicating that the Hamilton slave auction where Mary and her sisters Hannah and Dinah were sold had taken place by this date. However, Sue (Susannah) and two boys, Sam and Dick, do appear three years later on Richard Darrell's August 11, 1803, assessment. Mary Prince recalls her mother having several children, including two boys, while she lived at the Williams household (Prince, "History of Mary Prince," 58). A copy of Mary Prince's baptismal record, located in January 2019 by Maddison-MacFadyen in the National Archives in London, confirms that Sue is Mary Prince's mother. Her name is indicated to be Susannah on the baptismal record.

45. The connection between Mary Prince and her family and the Darrell family is intergenerational and involves the extended Darrell clan: cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents owned Mary Prince and her family (Maddison-MacFadyen, "Reclaiming Histories of Enslavement," chap. 3, 5–33).

46. Prince's first slave-owner was Charles Minors. Betsey Williams, a child slave-owner, was Prince's second slave-owner. Captain John Ingham, Prince's third slave-owner, was also the last of Prince's slave-owners to live in Bermuda. Her fourth and fifth slave-owners, Robert Darrell and John Adams Wood Jr., respectively, both had business interests in the West Indies where they lived. Robert Darrell had interests in the salt industry based at Grand Turk Island, and John Adams Wood Jr. was a large-scale jobber and merchant situated in Antigua.

47. Mary Prince mentions a fourth sister, Rebecca, in the Grand Turk Island section of her slave narrative. Rebecca was not born when Mary, Hannah, and Dinah were sold. Rebecca may be Beck listed in Richard Darrell's October 12, 1812, assessment.

48. Captain Ingham and his wife Mary Ingham tortured Prince. She was pinched, punched, hit repeatedly with a boot, and flogged. She also witnessed the murder of another enslaved woman, Hetty. Hetty died as a result of an extremely vicious attack by the captain. Ingham, a privateer, had taken Hetty, a French woman, as "slave loot" when he had raided an enemy vessel.

49. Prince, "History of Mary Prince," 70.

50. Susannah is initially valued by Richard Darrell at £50, but on his October 9, 1812, assessment her value is £35, indicating that she is elderly or unwell and that her value has diminished. By the December 1816 assessment, Susannah is valued at £15. Richard Darrell indicates that Susannah is Black, Bermudian, a house servant, and "about" 70 years old in the 1821 Slave Register. Susannah does not appear in the subsequent 1827 Slave Register, probably because she had died since the 1821 Slave Register was taken.

51. This was especially the case after the British Parliament passed the 1807 Slave Trade Act, which closed the British arm of the transatlantic slave trade. No longer could "replacement" slaves be purchased from Africa.

52. Thomas Pringle in Prince, "History of Mary Prince," 76.

53. Mary Prince recalls being sold for £57 to Captain John Ingham when she was about twelve years old. Two or three years later, Ingham sold her for £100 to Robert Darrell, a salt proprietor on Grand Turk Island. In 1815 Robert Darrell sold Prince for the same amount—£100—to John Adams Wood Jr. and his wife Margaret Gilbert Wood (née Albouy).

Richard Darrell's Devonshire Parish assessments and the later Slave Registers show a steadily increasing list of slaves. A few individuals disappear from his list between assessments and Slave Registers, just as did the elderly Susannah. Perhaps they, too, passed away. One man, Dick, who may be one of Mary Prince's brothers, is indicated in the 1821 Slave Register to have been a 24-year-old Black Bermudian "seaman" who self-liberated by becoming a fugitive. He ran away.

54. Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery," 71.

55. Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery," 74.

56. Chudleigh, Verdmont, 1.

57. Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery," 74.

58. Chudleigh, Verdmont, 3.

59. Chappell, "Accommodating Slavery," 82.

60. Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade, 237; Wilkinson, Bermuda in the Old Empire, 17.

61. Jarvis, In the Eye of All Trade, 239.

62. Derek H. Alderman and G. Rebecca Dodds, "Geographies of Slavery: Of Theory, Method, and Intervention," Historical Geography 39 (2011): 31.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.