A Letter from Henry Tucker, August 28, 1789


Arrowing from Bermuda—
“Isle of Devils”
(whose rocks and reefs wreck ships)—
right after the Equinox,
and veering to Nova Scotia,
skirting the Leeward Isles,
I was strengthened in my persuasion
that Bermuda is a “sea-garden,”
a tropical England,
a “Summer Island,”
except that sly types hold the government tiller,
and plunge pirate hands in the public till,
shouting “Free Trade” in slaves
(for they are dissatisfied with profits
from salt and Madeira wine),
and do resort to any pulpit-fraud,
(their piety echoing thunderously),
to seize whatever riches
from whomever
in whatever way…..

I’ll forget these woes.
I have one dream~
to kiss my daughter,
to have my wife again….


I met them, out of Ireland,
off Newfoundland,
and my sweet darling Mrs. Tucker,
surprised by my bronze, Bermudian complexion,
exclaimed to our excited daughter,
“That’s not your papa, Nellie!
That’s a Coloured man!”

She was assured of her error
in our evening intimacy,
and her face shot pure crimson,
while I guffawed like a Bedlam madman:
“Oh, how can a white ever be black?”


On to Halifax—inclement town,
we came,
to streets parading snow and sleighs,
the sound of a million puny church bells tinkling—
as cheery Christians slid (or backslid,
blaming ice
not Vice).

The British soldiers looked like Finns—
furred in beaver at the head
and in buffalo to the toe.

The Haligonian houses and wharves—
all wood—
await a match
to render them Xmas candles.
I’m sure they’ll not wait long:
Halifax is as favoured with fires
as it is with blizzards.

Our Nova Scotian stay was only loss and loss.
We explored a salt-and-vinegar world—
miserable with slush and caustic with ice
and dirty.
(Love itself was covert there:
the streets churned up urchins and sluts.)
Opinions proved as provincial as indigestion.


After weeks of cold that needled us worse
than Bermuda’s mosquitoes
(whose bites whelp blisters as big as buckles),
we set out for our “Devil’s Summer Island,”
but got pitched and bitched in the North Atlantic—
a merciless ocean.
We could not gain softer latitudes quickly enough.

(At night, the black-face ocean was lit
only by stingy stars;
the light was dingy….)

We took the “wine of height”
as soon as was possible,
downing port-and-cheese by candlelight,
salted by the sea.

Not too long after Sable Island,
we reached our realm feeling blessed
(save for the Yellow Fever
that floats in with the Southern cotton).


Now we have darkies,
and Nova Scotia has darkies,
and we all have Christ.
And we all split “fair” from “dark.”
But no one cares for the Nova Scotian Negroes,
despite the black-robed, long-coat traffic
of clergy twixt Halifax (NS) and Hamilton (BDA),
with white Believers assisting brown Bermudians,
but ignoring New Scotland’s scruffy blacks.

It seems Salvation is segregated too.

But we shouldn’t wonder.

Must slaves have souls?

[Southampton (Bermuda) 30 mars MMXII]

George Elliott Clarke Signature


This poem “A Letter from Henry Tucker, August 28, 1789” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 216 (Spring 2013): 138-41.

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