The Joseph Haynes Rainey Story -Bermudian brother for a short while

Brother Joseph Haynes Rainey

Joseph Haynes Rainey was born in Georgetown County South Carolina on  21st June 1832. He was the son of two mulatto parents who were slaves .While Joseph was a young child, his father purchased the freedom of the whole family. Joseph was now free but this did not alter his situation because he was free in name only. He could not attend school because it was a criminal offense to teach black children. Joseph’s thirst for knowledge could not be quenched and he was able to secure a limited education through private instructions. Joseph’s father was a barber who passed his trade on to him. This trade would prove to be invaluable to Joseph in later years. When he was fourteen the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. There was a great demand for barbers in Charleston and both Joseph and his father gained immediate employment. In 1859 he journeyed north to Philadelphia and met and married a young lady named Susan, she was originally from French West Indies. Upon returning to Charleston he was threatened with imprisonment for unauthorized travel to a free state. Intervention by some of his closest friends prevented the threat from being carried out. Times were changing and conditions were getting worse throughout the South. The entrance to Charleston Harbour was fired on 12th April 1861 and the Civil war began.  Joseph was conscripted as a steward on a confederate Blockade runner. Charleston was one of the chief ports for the blockade runners between the Confederate States, Bermuda and Bahamas. He became familiar with both of these British Colonies. In 1862 the Confederate Authorities drafted all free black men to work on the entrenchments. Joseph knew conditions would get worse especially for blacks be they slave or free. It was then he seized the first opportunity to make his escape. Capitalizing on his blockade experiences Joseph and Susan escaped to Bermuda on a blockade runner. Since St. Georges’ was the hub of the blockade running business Joseph settled there. The Rainey’s found St. George’s a fascinating community unlike  Charleston, here all blacks were free. Rainey took full advantage of his freedom by participating in many activities open to him.  He became a member of the Grand United Order Of Oddfellows Alexandrina Lodge #1026 in the city of Hamilton, Bermuda He quickly rose through the ranks of the Order. He was a signatory on a letter to the President Abraham Lincoln in thanks for emancipating the slaves after the American Civil War. His wife Susan was not idle during their stay in Bermuda she sat herself up as a dress and cloak maker. In 1865 an epidemic of yellow fever hit Bermuda this resulted in the blockade runners shunning not only St. Georges’ but the whole Island. Joseph’s business suffered. Hamilton was now the place to seek employment. Rainey served as a Barber and bartender at the Hamilton Hotel. Soon after shocking news was received of President Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination in 14th. April 1865. So touched was the Brethren of the Order that over 150 Brethren of the Alexandrina Lodge #1026 met and unanimously passed a resolution of condolence relating to the assassination. The resolution was made by Past Grand Master Brother Joseph J. Richardson, supported by Senior Grand Master Brother Joseph Henry Thomas and seconded by Brother Joseph Haynes Rainey. As much as Rainey loved Bermuda he longed for his home South Carolina. Life in the States was changing, the newly freed blacks were running for and holding office. Rainey was always interested in Politics and the temptation to return was too strong to resist. Before leaving Bermuda he published a thank you notice in the Colonist 25th.September 1866 to thank the people of St. Georges’ for their patronage bestowed on he and his wife. In the fall of 1866 they sailed for Charleston South Carolina. The demand for talented educated blacks was great especially in politics. He quickly joined the newly formed Republican Party. He rapidly became a leader in the black community and was made a member of the executive committee of the state of the Republican party. In July 1870 he was nominated by the Republicans to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives. He was duly elected by receiving 9000. votes out of 17,193 votes cast. He became the first black to serve as a representative from South Carolina to the 41st Congress. The Alley where Rainey cut hair in St. Georges’ Bermuda is now known as Barber’s Alley. Joseph died on 2nd. August 1887 at age 55. We remember how Joseph and Susan touched the lived of Bermudians and that he became the first black member in the House of Representatives of USA by way of Bermuda. Recently in February 21 2022 the US House of Representatives unveiled a room to honour the former Bermudian Barber who became the first Black person to win a seat in Congress. House members met descendants of Joseph Rainey to open the Joseph H. Rainey room in the US Capitol, where Congress meets. The plan to rename one of the rooms in the Capitol was announced two years prior after Congress celebrated the 150th anniversary of Mr. Rainey’s election. Mr. James Clyburn, House Majority Whip noted “This is a proud moment for the House of Representatives. He added Joseph Rainey’s courage and willingness to be the voice of South Carolina’s 1st. district for eight years in the face of rampant voter suppression and intimidation is a testament to why Joseph was honoured. We are proud to state that Joseph’s legacy lives on, in Bermuda as well and is rooted in our history for all to remember.

Researched written and submitted by Joy Wilson-Tucker  Author & Historian.