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Welcome to criminalize a production of QandA Land Audio in partnership with I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to Criminal Here, where we dig deep on crimes past uncover their hidden angles, and right now we are all about the lady poisoners.


I'm Maria Tomoaki. And I'm Holly Fry. This week we're going to talk about Sarah Bassett, who perhaps is better known as Sally Bassett or even sometimes is Bassett.


We're going with Sally because that's how she's known throughout folklore and where she's from.


To many, she's a hero. So Sally was an enslaved woman who was executed in 1730 for allegedly attempting to poison her granddaughter's enslavers.


And today, Sally is a well known figure among Bermudians. And as we mentioned, she is part of the island's folklore. But the historical significance of her story remains open to interpretation, and it differs depending on who you talk to.


So to some people, she could have been an innocent victim, unjustly accused of an act she never committed. But to others, she represents the fight against the injustices of slavery.


One thing is absolutely for certain. The story of Sally Bassetts Life gives us a look into the complex dynamics of race, gender and medical knowledge in the Caribbean and islands nearby during the 18th century.


Today, it's a self-governing British territory, but back in the 18th century, Bermuda was a British colonial island. Bermuda had no indigenous population and its first inhabitants were three survivors of the wreck of the British ship, the Sea Venture, who decided they would stay even when they had the opportunity to leave the island. And three years later, it became a British territory.


It remains so today, although in 16 12 the settlers were British and consequently white. The island's population pretty quickly became racially and culturally diverse. And that was because of two things. One, the slave trade was flourishing at this time in history and to a sizeable influx of immigrants from Portugal in the West Indies also came to the island.


So within about four years of the British settlement, Bermuda became the first British colony with a significant indentured population. It was mainly black and mainly due to the tobacco trade. But by the end of the sixteen hundreds, almost one third of the roughly 2000 inhabitants of a parish called St George. There are nine parishes on the island, and many had been enslaved from Africa.


Today, many of Bermudas sixty one thousand residents could trace their roots to British, African and Caribbean lineage. And Sally Bassett was a woman who was enslaved on the island of Bermuda. But there's no record of whether or not she was born there or she came to be there through the booming slave trade at the time. And actually, there's there's no record at all of when or where Sally was born.


What we do know about her and her story is more from the legends surrounding her then perhaps from the cold, hard facts of her life. But Sally's race is one thing that we do know. And to be black at this time in a British colony pretty much meant you were enslaved.


So let's step back for a moment to talk about how we talk when we talk about slavery, the language that's acceptable among and regarding people of color has evolved over the last century and thankfully continues to evolve.


So historically, the now very outdated term mulatto has been used to describe someone of mixed African and European ancestry, often specifically as a way of describing someone who is believed to be one half African ancestry and one half European ancestry herself a woman of color and specifically mixed race. Sally would have been in this time called a mulatto, and that is how a lot of the writing about her continues to describe her. That term today is considered antiquated and really disrespectful, for one is derived from the Spanish word for mule because that animal is a cross between a horse and a donkey.


And once you think about it in those terms, it becomes pretty apparent why we don't use it.


Yeah, it is super derogatory. Mixed race women at this point in time were considered often to approximate the white ideal of female attractiveness, meaning they often looked white, but they were legally black and they were commonly depicted as seductress and they were vulnerable to being raped by an enslaver or frankly, anybody. They had no power. So you'll hear when we talk about slavery that we've moved away from the idea of the terms slave and owner or master.


Instead, we use language like an enslaved person and enslaver. Otherwise we just continue to reduce enslaved people to a commodity rather than recognizing that it's a person who has had this imposed upon them. Sally's enslavement history begins for us when she was enslaved by a blacksmith named Francis Dickinson that was in Pembroke Parish, which is the busiest and most popular of the nine parishes on the island of Bermuda.


He may or may not have been her first enslaver. Again, there is very little recorded information specifically about her life, as well as many other enslaved people that has made it through the centuries. So when Francis died in seventeen twenty six, his children inherited his property. And that included Sally just a few years later. And now an elderly woman, Sally was considered because of her age, we, quote, useless.


Many enslaved women at this time were skilled as healers. And in addition to their enslavement, they also provided essential care not only to the enslaved community, but they were also called on often to treat the white inhabitants of the island as well. And it was not uncommon for enslaved women to have medical knowledge from West Africa or the West Indies or to learn its traditions just from each other. It was like a pass down form of knowledge. Sure, sure.


And it is said that Sally was allowed to continue her healing practices even though she had become useless in all other ways, according to their judgments anyway.


What we do know is that during the late 17 twenties across Bermuda, the white community was declining to accuse enslaved people on the island of poisoning them.


Whether that was true or not, during this time, there was no way to ensure an enslaved person would not try to poison in enslaver under the guise of medical treatment. But there also really wasn't a good way to discern whether or not a person was the victim of poison or if they were just experiencing a naturally occurring disease.


Lots of similar symptoms.


So many alleged poisoners were actually very important in the households where they lived. They were cooks, they were nursemaids and they had other domestic duties in white homes. It wouldn't have been difficult to sprinkle a little extra seasoning into the soup, if you know what I mean.


Yes, but often they were also scapegoats, I think probably more often than not they were.


Yeah. Yeah.


And because her story can be a bit fuzzy, there are other records which suggest that at some point after Frances Dickinson's death, Sally became considered the property of a new enslaver. That was Thomas Forster. And Thomas was a man of means. He was a white mariner and he was the grandson of the former governor of Bermuda, Josiah's Foreston.


Her granddaughter back was absolutely enslaved by the foster family. For reasons that we cannot even begin to know, just before Christmas in 1729, Sally made a deadly powder for back to use against the forester's. Some speculate something specific must have happened to Beck and others theorize that it was revenge for the punishments that she had already suffered while enslaved. Either way, Sally prepared two bags of poison. She instructed her granddaughter to keep one bag open in the kitchen, presumably so the family could inhale the contents and the other was to be laced into the family's food.


So Thomas and his wife Sarah, fell seriously ill because of the poison as it another enslaved woman named Nancy who discovered what was left in the kitchen. When Beck appeared unaffected by the illness that had struck the foster household, she was immediately accused of poisoning the family and she confessed that, yes, her grandmother had given her the poison.


Fast forward to when this goes to trial. Beckett described the various poisons that Saleh had made for her. It sounds scandalous that she gave up the family matriarch, but speaking out against her grandmother was probably best way of bargaining for her own life, purely as speculation as well.


There is also the possibility that Saleh instructed her to do so for that very reason. Absolutely. According to the trial records, Bassett gave her granddaughter a poison containing rats Baim. And that is, as the name suggests, a rat poison. Manzanilla Root, which is also called by the name Death Apple, and an ingredient known as white toad, which is actually a very interesting addition to the mix. And when we come back from the break, let's talk about why.


Yes. Welcome back to criminality. We're talking about the life of accused poisoners, Salih Basset. So white toad, which we mentioned before the break and which literally came from toads that were white, was not a substance that would have been found in Bermuda at this time, mainly because white toads were not indigenous to the island. It was the skin of these toads that contain toxins and served in small doses. It could act as a fairly benign muscle relaxant, while a large dose is said to have been capable of causing respiratory failure and other serious symptoms, poisonous toads.


And in the case specifically of white toads, they were commonly used in ceremonies in areas of West Africa and their use was carried into the voodoo traditions in what's now Haiti, in the West Indies, throughout the Caribbean.


These traditions were usually known as Obeah, which is something a bit more than folk medicine and a bit different than Western religious practices.


It was commonly practiced among the enslaved communities around the Caribbean islands, and it's thought to have originated in West Africa. Actually, evidence of its practice was found throughout the islands since British occupation began in the 17th century.


And Sallies use of these imported poisons suggests that she, too, was knowledgeable.


Those who practice these traditions were known to aid with romantic relationships, legal troubles and evil spirits.


And they did this using spells or charms called fetishise to fetishes were commonly the things like tinctures that were placed in pouches or mixtures of herbs and dirt, or animal and human body matters such as hair, blood and nail clippings or other bodily fluids that they kept in bottles.


Sometimes it could be an article of clothing worn in a strategic or specific place on the body to to acquire an important ingredient like white toad.


An enslaved person would have to have asked for a favor from a mariner, and that mariner would be able to get it on their routes to West Africa and northern South America, where the toads could commonly be captured or cultivated. What we can surmise here is that Mariner would also have to have been black and enslaved because Sally would never have been able to ask a white mariner for such a favor.


And the Mariner would have been familiar with these ingredients. He probably would have assumed he was supplying a spiritual practitioner a tool against her enemies, not that it would be used as a poisonous cocktail.


Sally's granddaughter, Becky, was not the only person to testify against Sally in court. Sara Forster testified against her at the trial. But because they were both unwell, neither Thomas Foster nor their enslaved servant, Nancy, did nine additional unnamed white. Bermudians also testified against Sally. We do not have an account of what that testimony included. We can only begin to speculate on it.


We do know that Sally's reputation did precede her, though. Roughly 16 years before she was accused of poisoning the foster household, Sally was accused by Captain John Jenning's of threats, property damage and poisoning livestock.


She was found guilty at that time and sentenced to being, quote, whipped through the parish, which was likely a sentence that could have involved more than one hundred lashes at her trial at the state house in St George in June 17 30.


Sally was accused of, quote, horrid villainy and of being, quote, evil and wicked. She was accused of not living in the fear of God, but rather as an agent of the devil. And she was accused of poisoning several people.


She also defended herself in court. When she stood to hear her sentence, she declared she never deserved it. In fact, she declared her innocence until her very end.


And in the end, Sally was found guilty for the attempted murder of Thomas and Sarah Forster and for the enslaved woman, Nancy. And she was also accused of encouraging other enslaved people to poison their enslavers.


Her jury was definitely not one of her peers. It was made up of 12 white men. And it didn't take long for that jury to return with this verdict, which we are guilty and we value her at one pound, four shillings and six pence today. That's about a hundred and sixty U.S. dollars. It probably comes as no surprise that penalties for enslaved people were really harsh and very swift, even for minor offenses. The chief justice sentenced Sally to, quote, be conveyed to the place of execution with a pile of wood is to be made and provided, and you are there to be fastened to a sufficient stake and they are to be burnt with fire until your body be dead.


So in very simple words, she was sentenced to be burned alive. Her grizzly sentence was made especially grizzly, as a warning to others who might have been plotting against their enslavers. And according to her legend, enslaved black mariners communicated the news of Sally's execution at the stake around the islands and in the North American colonies.


Her execution, of course, happened in public at Carolynn at the east end of Hamilton Harbor today.


That is full of yacht marinas on her walk there. It was reported that Sally said to onlookers, quote, No use hurrying folks. There will be no fun till I get there. It was said to be a terribly hot summer day, the day that she was executed, a detail that has actually become part of her folklore. So today you might hear someone on Bermuda call that kind of scorca a real Sally Bassett de.


After a word from our sponsor, we'll talk more about how Sally turned into a Bermudian legend. Welcome back to Criminal Yeah, and the story of Sally Bassett in the days following her execution, Bermuda officials went on to enact new laws that were meant to tighten control of what they considered to be, and we're quoting here, many heinous and grievous crimes as of that secret and barbarous way of murdering by poison and other murders, many times committed by Negroes and other slaves out of her ashes.


That day, according to local legend, a small purple flower now known as Bermudian grew. And it's now Bermuda's national flower.


In 2009, as part of the island's 400 year anniversary, Bermuda's government recognized and memorialized the history of enslavement on the island by erecting a statue of Sally on the lawn of the government's cabinet building, which is the seat of government in Bermuda. Her statue, which is 10 feet tall, is made out of bronze, and it depicts her standing barefoot with her hands bound behind her back and her head raised defiantly toward the sky. It's called The Spirit of Freedom, and it's the work of a Bermudian artist named Carlos Dowling.


And when it was officially commemorated by Premier Dr. Stuart Brown in 2009, it became the first time an enslaved person had been memorialized in Bermuda. But it was not without controversy. Of course not.


Right. Sally's statue has, since it went up, been a source of debate among Bermudians. Some mainly white residents consider it inappropriate because Sally was a convicted criminal. I'm just going to insert my own eye roll here. Yeah, I was doing that myself. Others, most often people of color, argue that Sally was a resistance fighter and should be considered a national hero. And the presence of this statue has opened a heated debate about the nature and legacy of slavery in Bermuda.


I will also say I like the idea that there's never a concept that she could have been found guilty and not have been actually guilty.


Like, that's not right. That was not part of her. Her story is not going to be it.


No. She was a convicted felon, right?


Yeah. Sally. Hey, Maria. So what's up? It's time for what's your poison, right. So to give a little behind the curtain peek, Maria and I have talked about today's cocktail because we we were dithering a bit. Well, I think we had ideas. Yeah.


I mean, the the obvious thing, if you're talking about Bermuda, everybody's going to go rum. So they're probably expecting like a dark and stormy or something. But I didn't want to do that one because it is so expected in two, like there is that whole secondary problem of like the rum, sugar and slave trade all being related throughout the Atlantic. And I thought, let's make mean. We don't have to do that. So we went on the search for other things.


And Maria mentioned that one of the most popular drinks in Bermuda is Maria. Tee it up. Ginger beer.


Delicious, always delicious. Side note to that. Also, a popular drink in West African countries because it's delicious, because it's delicious.


But it also makes me like I've been trying this whole time.


I've been wondering, like with Sally from mixed race, she was likely born on the island, but there's no evidence of that.


And so from all of the healing traditions that she had, I've been trying to figure out, you know, do I play in the West Indies? Do I play in West Africa? And so, like, I just like the idea that ginger beer had some history in both of those places, too. Yeah, yeah.


It's also possible, you know, she could have been born on Bermuda, but if the enslaved population was still culturally from West Africa. Oh, yeah. Yeah, she was raised in that tradition. So there's also that. But back to ginger beer. In fact, it's ginger beer. So I got to thinking as I was looking at some ginger beer about what I had on hand and what might be interesting and a good way to honor Sally. And here is what I came up with.


This is a cocktail I'm calling a white toad, which is perfect because we actually looked up cocktails named white and found very little, if not a one. So it starts not with ginger beer, but with ginger liqueur. And it's just three quarters of an ounce of ginger liquor, one ounce of vanilla vodka to take that er job. Oh that's very nice. And then five ounces of ginger beer and you can garnish it with a thin slice of ginger if you wish.


But I will tell you it's already very ginger and I like it because it has a little bit of bite. But the vanilla smooth's that. Right out, so Idella is a fantastic addition to that, right? It just softens the edges on the ginger a little bit. It's quite delicious. I wanted several, but only had one because I was technically it's work, right. But I will forever I will make this drink again and again because it really did turn out delightfully and I will always raise it and do a quick toast to Sally.


I think it's great as I do. So that's the the white toad go forth and make delightful cocktails. Yes.


Non-poisonous with Criminy Ilya is a production of Shadowland Audio in partnership with I Heart Radio for more podcasts from Shondells and audio. Please visit the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.