Students join Spirit of Bermuda to retrace Mary Prince’s steps

Youngsters with a taste for adventure will set sail today to learn about the life and impact of the enslaved Bermudian woman Mary Prince.

In the Wake of Mary Prince, a programme held between the Bermuda Sloop Foundation and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, will today take 17 high-school students to the Turks and Caicos Islands to learn about Ms Prince’s life after she left Bermuda.

Lauren Yelle-Simmons, the education and programmes manager of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, said the voyage would be “an awakening” for the youngsters because of the unfiltered history of slavery in the Caribbean.

She explained: “Because so much of what we hear in history has been modified for political reasons, this will most definitely be an important moment in history for them to learn about.”

Ms Yelle-Simmons added: “I think it’s really important that both Black and White students learn about the realities of what went on.”

Ms Yelle-Simmons was speaking the day before their voyage, as Ernest Peets, the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, presented a cheque for $7,000 to the Bermuda Sloop Foundation.

The pupils will spend three days at sea before reaching Turks and Caicos. They will spend six days touring the islands and participating in lectures about the life and impact of Mary Prince.

They will also participate in activities such as harvesting salt from a salt pan on Grand Turk, where Ms Prince worked and visiting other historical sites.

The youngsters also plan to bring Bermudian limestone on the voyage and exchange it for farmed salt – recreating some of the historic trade that took place between the islands.

The salt will be taken to Eastern Canada later in summer to further illustrate the old trade routes.

Ms Yelle-Simmons said that pupils would learn sailing techniques throughout the voyage, which will build on their resilience and team-working skills.

She explained: “That gives me hope, because the more that they discover themselves and the power of themselves, the more likely they are to succeed and embrace others successfully.”

Ms Yelle-Simmons added: “We’ve taken kids out for four days and they saw themselves doing things they never thought they could do.

“The confidence and the empowerment that develops is tremendous.”

When they return, the pupils will submit what they learned to Cedar and Sail, a website that documents the people, boats and places that shaped Bermuda’s maritime history.

Theodore Francis, an associate professor of history at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, will accompany the fleet and talk them through Ms Prince’s life on the islands.

He told The Royal Gazette that the sites and lectures would showcase Bermuda’s impact on the history of the maritime industry.

Dr Francis added: “It’s a useful way, reading through the history of her life, that we can teach students and just all of us learn a little bit more about the ways that slavery impacted Bermuda’s society and the ways in which her life shows the ways that Black people resisted or challenged the difficulties of slavery.”

He said: “Mary Prince’s life is useful because it just shows you the mobility of Bermudians, Black and White, throughout the world.”

Youngsters from public and private schools will take part in the expedition, as well as several pupils who were home-schooled.

About 80 per cent of the pupils on board are children of colour.

Dr Francis said that the programme involved the DofE to give the youngsters involved an opportunity for adventure as much as learning.

He added that this could open the door for other partnerships with other organisations such as charities and businesses.

Dr Francis said: “This could even be a way to partner with athletic teams.

“What happens if one year we say ‘OK, let’s poll the cricket clubs and see if they’ll send their youth this year’.”

Dr Peets said that the Government was “all for it” when they learnt of the sailing opportunity and hoped the $7,000 donation could fund similar events.

He added: “The experience that these kids are going to get – not just the maritime skills but the skills that they’re going to get around Bermuda’s history, particularly around Mary Prince and how it relates to our connection to Turks and Caicos – I’m just so excited that this story’s being told and they’re learning this at this age.”