Benjamin Benson: An overlooked Bermudian freedom narrative

Having researched The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave exhaustively, among other nineteenth century first-person narratives during my grad school days, this is exciting news for me. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Bernews reports on A Narrative of the Life of Benjamin Benson, Who Was Born a Slave on the Island of Bermuda… (1847).

The National Museum of Bermuda [NMB] has published an article entitled ‘Benjamin Benson: An Overlooked Bermudian Freedom Narrative‘, which provides details about the narrative of the life of Mr Benson — who was born enslaved in 1818 — noting that the “edition exposes aspects of slavery in Bermuda that are little documented” like “mass sale to Americans on the eve of Emancipation.”

The NMB website said, “The History of Mary Prince has long occupied a prominent place in the history of Abolitionist literature in the Atlantic World as one of the most influential autobiographies written by a formerly enslaved woman.

“Mary Prince’s roots in Bermuda are well known. There is another printed freedom narrative not previously associated with Bermuda, however, that illustrates a man’s perspective on slavery in the island and in the maritime economy. This account languished in obscurity, self-published in London in 1847 by an English physician named Andrew Welch.

“Benson provides a few biographical details about his early life, but much remains still unknown, including the origins of his surname. He “inhaled his first breath of life as a slave”, born 16 December, 1818, at St. George’s, too early to appear in surviving parish registers.

“He did not know if his parents were “lawfully married”, a vexing subject in Bermuda during the years following Emancipation. He recalled that his father was African-born, trafficked to the Caribbean before Bermuda.

“His mother was born in Long Island, New York, and sold at age 12 to a man named Davenport in Bermuda, almost certainly St. George’s merchant John Davenport or his father Robert. Perhaps she was the woman named Judy, Lilly, Philippa, or less likely the young Nancy, listed in John’s possession in the 1821 Slave Register.

“If his mother remained in Davenport’s control, Benjamin may have been born in Esten House on King’s Square in St. George’s, bought earlier in 1818. His parents had 21 children together, including twins, “one or two” dying as infants but most surviving to adulthood.”

“His memory of childhood was punctuated by the traumatic sale of his father, a brother George, and sister Judith, sold away to Georgia when Benjamin was just eight. One brother, Robert, was sold away to Wilmington, North Carolina, from where he escaped to New York before moving to Trinidad under an assumed name. Another, Anthony, was freed by the bequest of “Miss Davenport” upon her death at age 18.”

You can read the full story — which is very in-depth – here on National Museum of Bermuda‘s website.

Source: https://bernews.com/2022/07/benson-overlooked-freedom-narrative

[Shown above: The cover of the 1847 edition.]

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