The anniversary of the abolition of slavery, in The Bahamas, was originally called ‘The First of August.’ It would be a few decades before it was reimagined into what is now known as Emancipation Day.
First of August passed with little fanfare and usual observances in the year 1867. Most blacks went about their work day as usual.
The modern descriptive ‘Emancipation Day’ would not be used for a few decades after 1834 (Abolition of Slavery) and 1838 (official end of Apprenticeship). The change from a genteel First of August to a more vibrantly descriptive Emancipation Day may have been spurred on by the growing community, on New Providence of liberated Africans, of various tribal affiliations, who were freed from captured slaves ships, most settling on the capital island. Yoruba, Congo, Egba tribes in Nassau had begun to separate themselves into distinctively named societies in order to preserve their ancestral identity and social hierarchy within the black Bahamian community.
By the year 1880, ‘First of August’ had been long in the memory, now replaced by Emancipation Day which drew hundreds to Bay Street
By Emancipation Day 1880, a number of black Bahamians had separated themselves along their ancestral lines. Blacks, in particular those descendants of liberated Africans had formed themselves into Yoruba, Ebo, Congo and Nangobar groupings and social societies. These separated societies competed for prominence with long established Friendly Societies. As opportunities for blacks in politics, education, business and new professions, began to expand in The Bahamas, many sought to separate and distinguish themselves.
In those first decades on, from the end of slavery in 1834 and apprenticeship in 1838, acknowledgement of this important day for blacks, in The Bahamas, was set in a decidedly pietistic, reverential and admonishing tone. Remembering ones duty to God, Sovereign and Country were repeated themes on First of August.
‘The First of August’ observations were organised by the Friendly Societies and local church organisations. Representatives of the Bahama, Eastern District and Grant’s Town Friendly Societies would prepare a collective address. This address would be elegantly handwritten for presentation to the Governor on the steps of Government House. A procession would begin at the Public Buildings in the town square near what is now the House of Assembly on Bay Street. A procession of people would then make their way to Christ Church to hear a sermon and then to Government House to be greeted by the Governor.
Bahamian Blacks Ask For Equal Treatment Afforded To Other British Subjects Travelling Abroad in First of August Address To Governor John Gregory 1849
Freedoms for liberated blacks in The Bahamas stopped at the border. Blacks travelling outside of the British West Indies, in particular to America, despite their legal liberated status, were at risk of being denied entry, if allowed to enter they could be held or deported, or worse, they were at risk of being captured by the unscrupulous to be sold into slavery.
Blacks and coloureds, irregardless of their nationality or freedom status, were at risk of arrest and imprisonment in any state of the Southern States of America or remaining slaveholding countries. The case of Manuel Pereira, a coloured man, seized from a British ship in distress, which had put into Charleston, South Carolina, highlighted the risk blacks took in travelling outside free states and countries. —-The Nassau Guardian, Wednesday, August 4, 1852.
Despite these known risks, in the formal address presented to Governor John Gregory of 1st August, 1849, James Nabbie, Hamlet Carmichael, William Roach, Anthony Stuart, Peter Mc Naughton, Joseph S. Tatnall, and John Cypher representatives of the Friendly Societies, beseeched Her Majesty Queen Victoria to intercede on their behalf.
When Governor John Gregory responded to the 1849 First of August address, he used a manner akin to that of a benevolent father speaking to his children. Like all fathers, Governor Gregory extolled the high virtues and the harsh facts to the children. This fatherly type, political persona came to enthral the imagination of the black masses. Oddly enough, it became an enduring one which would be reflected in colloquial names of affection and endearment given to future political leaders over the next century and a half in the form of a ‘Pop’ Symonette (first Bahamian Premiere before Independence); ‘Moses’ Pindling (first Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas); and ‘Papa’ Ingraham (second Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas).
“Allow me to address you as a father speaks to his children, and let me entreat of you, as you value your own happiness to bring up your children in the fear of God – to send everyone of them regularly to school – to teach them by your own example the value of time and of patient industry – to tell them that the Almighty expects us all to work either with our heads or with our hands – and to impress upon them early in life the principle of loyal devotion to our gracious Sovereign and of perfect obedience to the laws of the land they live in.” ——-Governor John Gregory, August 1, 1849