Did you know that British colonies still exist? The oldest came by complete accident. It was due to a hurricane that sent a British flag ship, sailing for Jamestown, off course and into the reefs, surrounding uninhabitable islands, to keep it from sinking, with its hundreds of passengers and sailors, and its supplies. The supplies were needed to sustain the people in Jamestown, who were starving. This delay, of nine months, cost the settlers 440 out of 500 lives.
But that was not the Europeans’ first contact with the island. The island is recorded to have been found by a Spanish sailor, by the name of Bermúdez. This could easily have been Francisco Bermúdez, who sailed on Columbus’s first voyage; Diego Bermúdez, who sailed on Columbus’s fourth voyage; or Juan’s brother, Diego Bermúdez, who accompanied Ponce de Leon on his 1513 voyage. Yet, there is no record written by Juan Bermúdez of his direct contact with the island, until 1515. The problem was that the sharp rocks and the poor soils kept the Spanish from setting up a settlement on any of the islands. And even though it was on a direct path back to Spain, using a Gulf Stream that passed north of the islands, it was too dangerous to occupy. Examples are those of a French explorer, Russell, shipwrecked in 1570, the English explorer, Henry May, in 1593, and the Spanish sailor, Captain Ramirez, all escaping the islands.
On July 24, 1609, the Sea Venture, captained by Sir George Somers, with the London Company, was guided into the reef, so that the hurricane that was brewing behind them would not sink them. This move saved every member on the ship and all their supplies, but destroyed the ship on its way to Jamestown. It took 9 months to build two new ships, the Deliverance and the Patience, out of wood they found on the islands, and divide the passengers and supplies between the two.
John Rolfe and his wife were aboard the Sea Venture, yet he was the only member of his family to make it to Jamestown. He would later fall in love and marry Pocahontas, the Powhatan Chief’s daughter, bringing peace between the colony and the native population.
Though a few men stayed in Bermuda after the two ships departed, nothing was recorded of their stay, and it wasn’t until a year later before Somers could return to find the men thriving. Now the London Company did not have the patent and permission to colonize Bermuda, so they left the islands alone until 1612, when the Virginia Company was given permission to colonize the island. Sir Richard Moore, the first Governor, returned to the islands to find three men still thriving. The colony was not as successful and was handed back to the Crown. It was later given over to Somers’s Company.
Somers subdivided the islands into eight areas, which they called tribes, and allowed 600 settlers, from nine ships, to settle the islands. They began to build forts all around the islands, as their success became well-known. The tobacco, grown in Bermuda, was envied by all other colonies in the area. Exports included sea salt, sugarcane, figs, and pineapples. The people began to establish plantations throughout the islands and in 1616, the island began to import Indian and African slaves to help on these farms. By 1619, Bermuda had over a hundred African and Native slaves throughout the islands. By 1620, all immigration from Europe had ceased, because there was no more land to sell for new farms. The population had increased so much, that colonists were forced to emigrate to other established colonies. The colonists set up their own representative government.
In 1642, the English experienced a civil war in the mainland, which extended out to all its colonies. On the islands, colonists struggled under the control of the King and began to revolt. Puritans and Independents were forced to settle much of the Bahamas, and they were not too happy with the King. In 1649, King Charles was beheaded, and his son Charles II was exiled and replaced by a Commonwealth. In the islands, there was a great division between supporters and dissenters of the Crown, and they took up arms against each other. The new Commonwealth began writing laws that hurt the colonies, including the Prohibitory and Navigation Act, where trade could only be done with English ships. The British Atlantic fleet was sent to enforce the laws, and force allegiance to the Commonwealth.
This was not the only struggle the colony experienced. In 1674, due to four previous slave revolts, a law was put into place that all freed, black indentured servants and slaves must be returned to slavery. In 1682, a new revolt was being planned by a Jamaican slave, named Tom, when two Bermudian slaves turned him in.
Bermuda was a common port for privateers, until Spain and England signed a peace treaty and all privateering was to cease. Those privateers, without many options outside of privateering, turned to piracy. They continued to operate out of Bermuda, mostly from the pirate-claimed island of New Providence. There are fifteen recorded privateers that sailed from this port and attacked the Spanish, using the Gulf Stream just north of the islands to return to Spain. Their crews were a mix of both colonists turned pirates, as well as free and enslaved labor. Bermudian pirates continued to operate, loyal to the crown, until the time of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, where they would assist the British Royal Navy against the Colonists.
Bermuda has a rich history of success and struggles and continues, to this day, as a British colony, struggling for its independence and to be recognized as a sovereign nation. Because of the many benefits of being part of the British Empire, though, they continue to harbor much support for the British connection.
Activity: Bermuda Cooking - Bermuda Johnny Bread These are simple household ingredients: ¼ cup of sugar (use a ¼ cup) 1 ½ cups of flour (use a 1 cup and ½ cup) ¼ teaspoon of Salt (use a 1/4 tbs) 2 teaspoons of baking powder (use a 1 tbs) 1 egg ½ cup of milk (use a ½ cup) 2 tablespoons of butter (amount found on wrapper)
1) Mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. While mixing, slowly add egg and milk, mixing until batter consistency is smooth, and well blended.
2) (Under parental guidance) Melt butter in a frying pan. Spoon a third of the batter into the pan. Fry on low heat until brown. Flip it to toast the other side.
3) Split bread in half, and serve with butter and jam. The island was filled with fruits and sugar, so this was an easy meal to make.