So you’ve got time to kill in Nassau and want to do something besides eat, drink or shop? Here’s your best option: The Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation.
Located in the aptly-named Vendue building –French for ‘sold’– the museum is rightly described as a Bahamian national treasure, an important symbol of how –and on whose backs– the island nation was established. The building dates to the middle of the 18th century and served as a market place where commodities, human beings included, were auctioned and sold. In short, it’s a facility through which most of the islanders’ ancestors passed.
The attractive pink-washed building’s one story single-room exhibit hall consists mostly of large poster-type exhibits, featuring reproductions of period photographs and descriptions of key aspects and periods of the trans-Atlantic slave trade –specific to this part of the Caribbean– that sent more than 12 million Africans to the western hemisphere.
There are few artifacts but they’re effective. Arm and leg shackles, for instance, which are brutal in their simplicity. As is the standard ball and chain, weighing upwards of 45 pounds, which is mounted and displayed on a wooden bust of an African man.
It’s named for Pompey, a slave who led a revolt in 1830 on the Bahamian island of Exuma. The uprising, in which 43 slaves took part, stopped the proposed transfer of 77 people to another island which would have separated husbands from wives and children from parents. His act of defiance marked the beginning of the local freedom fight, culminating in emancipation for the islands’ slaves in 1838. The Pompey Project also has a good summary.
The building itself has struggled.
After slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire by the Emancipation Act in 1834, the building housed several public services, first the telegraph and telephone department and later the offices of the electricity department.
It was transformed into the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation in 1992, only to be twice gutted by fire since, first in September 2001 and again in December 2011. Fortunately, some 90 percent of the museum’s collection was saved, including rare books, photographs, artifacts from the slave period and donated pieces from West Africa. Following a $1.7 million restoration, it re-opened in November 2014.
It’s small enough that a guide isn’t required –a couple staff members will be on site to answer questions– but large enough to pack an historical wallop, illustrating the importance of seeing how those forced into bondage several centuries ago shouldered much of the transformation that occurred in the new world.
The Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation
Bay Street (Opposite George Street)