History of Bermuda

Bermuda is so much more than the sun, sand and sea that it has become popular for. As one of the oldest remaining British Colonies, Bermuda has a long rich history dating back as far as the early 16th century. The following is a brief history of the island.

DISCOVERY AND COLONISATION

Bermuda was initially discovered by the Spanish explorer, Juan de Bermudez in 1505 as he sailed back to Spain from Hispaniola and it is from him that Bermuda derived its name. Despite its strategic location, Bermudez did not claim the island for the Spanish. Instead Bermuda only served as a landmark for sailors, helping them to navigate their way on their exploits. Over time, the island became encapsulated by superstition, with many sailors believing the land to be haunted or inhabited by demons. It was out of this belief that Bermuda became nicknamed The Devils Isles. Over thirty shipwrecks are known to have occurred before the year 1600, long before the popularity of the Bermuda Triangle myth. These accounts of misadventure helped to confirm the strange beliefs that surrounded the island.

Despite 100 years of various encounters, Bermuda remained somewhat of a mystery to Europeans. By the early 17th century the English had begun to set up colonies in the New World, and it was during a voyage to the, Jamestown Virginia colony that Bermuda became inhabited. Sir George Somers, Admiral of the fleet of ships transporting colonists and supplies to Jamestown, set sail aboard the Sea Venture on June 2nd, 1609. The Sea Venture was the new flagship for the Virginia Company and was leading a fleet of nine vessels, fully equipped with supplies for the settlers in Jamestown. For the 150 plus passengers, this voyage symbolized a life changing journey into the physical and metaphorical New World.

Unfortunately, the Sea Venture was caught in a hurricane and became separated from the rest of the fleet. For five days Somers and his passengers battled the elements in futile attempts to stay alive. Finally, on the sixth day, just as everyone began to lose spirit, Sir George Somers spotted land. While still 700 miles away from their intended destination, the Sea Venture was lodged in the eastern reefs of Bermuda. The castaways were relieved at the feeling of dry land, but became overwhelmed by their preconceived ideas about the bewitched island. To their surprise, instead of devils and witches, the colonists were welcomed with tranquillity, beauty and an abundant supply of fish and livestock. This shipwreck, while devastating, was the beginning of an incredible journey that would forever change the destiny of Bermuda.

Somers and his passengers quickly became busy building two new ships to the carry them on to their original destination. On May 10th, 1610, 10 months after the shipwreck of the Sea Venture, the Deliverance and Patience set sail from Bermuda, leaving behind only two men, Christopher Carter and Edward Waters, who were determined to stay. Two weeks later, Somers and his crew arrived safely in Jamestown and to their detriment found a bleak and miserable group of settlers. Their arrival, with a full stock of supplies, proved to be a pivotal point for the stability of the Virginia colony.

Back in England, news of the Sea Venture escapade had reached officials of the Virginia Company. Tales of Bermuda’s natural beauty and wealth of resources made it apparent that the superstition of the Devils Isle was misplaced. Before long, the Virginia Company decided to explore the potential options that existed for the island, with its many natural and geographical advantages.

Three years after the Sea Venture shipwreck, the Virginia Company’s Royal Charter was officially extended to include Bermuda. The first official group of English settlers arrived on July 11th, 1612 accompanied by Sir Richard Moore, the island’s first Governor. This was the establishment and colonisation of Bermuda.
The settlers designed huts using palmetto leaves, a plant indigenous and plentiful in Bermuda, and dug deep wells into the earth to find a natural water supply. Land was cleared to plant corn and tobacco and the settlers became skilled in fishing and hunting wild hogs, birds and turtles. This small community slowly evolved into the town of St. George’s and became the first capital of Bermuda and is now one of the oldest surviving English towns.

Bermuda remained under the Virginia Company until November 1612, when a corporate restructuring created a new company, the Somers Isles Company. This company, also known as the Bermuda Company, ran the colony until it was dissolved in 1684. During those 72 years the Company struggled with little success to develop a viable economy on the island. The Company system, with its rigid government, proved to be ineffective in Bermuda and the Bermuda Company was finally dissolved, making the island a colony of the British Crown.

Information Provided by: The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs