Back to the Earth
Emancipation was the final nail in the coffin of Bermuda’s dependence on maritime activities. The island had lost control of the salt trade in the Caribbean, along with its monopoly on the carrying trade after conflicts between Britain and America eased and North American traders were allowed back into West Indian ports. The advent of steam power in the 19th century also helped to put Bermuda’s sloops out of business. When slave labor dried up, it was time for Bermudians to find another way of life.
Agriculture, long abandoned in favor of nautical pursuits, became the new focus. Progressive governors advocated that immigrants from farming societies in Madeira and the Azores revitalize local farming in Bermuda. From 1849 onward, the arrival of Portuguese, with their strong work ethic and generations of agricultural know-how, changed the face of Bermudian society and the direction of its economy. Potatoes, arrowroot, tomatoes, and the world-famous Bermuda onion fast became lucrative exports to winter markets in New York and other East Coast centers. Over the second half of the 1800s, farming drove Bermuda’s fortunes. The Easter lily also became a popular crop, and springtime harvests of the waxy white bloom were shipped overseas for sale.
Farming exports began to decline at the start of the 1900s, thanks to protective American tariffs and new competition from mainland farmers. Exports collapsed, though small-scale sales of lilies continued into the 20th century. Once again, Bermuda needed to reinvent itself.
© Rosemary Jones from Moon Bermuda, 2nd Edition