"..a bardy view!"

Prospero’s Island ?

When the world thinks of Jamestown, Virginia it should also think of Bermuda. At first glance they would both appear as historically unconnected as Tuvalu is from Trieste, yet both are interlinked, and neither may have survived without the other.

Bermuda was settled by accident rather than desire, unlike Jamestown which had a settlement plan based on economics, English enterprise, and sailing expertise.

The ship Sea Venture, in the van of an English fleet of seven, carrying settlers and supplies on route to the fledgling and failing colony of Jamestown, Virginia, became separated by a hurricane just a week from destination in July 1609.

Suffering extensive damage, and with almost all hope lost, salvation hove into view. Unbeknown to the forlorn crew and passengers, they were to find refuge on an uninhabited island, a mere 22 miles long and one mile wide, which would eventually become Great Britain’s oldest colony.

2015 celebrates Bermuda’s 406th anniversary.

The story of the survivors is fodder for a Hollywood movie and equally enthralling. One of them was non other than the future husband of Pocahontas.

John Rolfe, later to become Jamestown’s original cultivator of tobacco as an export crop, left a wife and child buried in Bermuda, but along with many other survivors managed to reach Virginia a year after the shipwreck.

Bermuda, also known by early seaman as the “Isle of Devils” due to the dangerous reefs around it, and “Somers Isle” after the commander of the original fleet, Sir George Somers – was originally named after the Spanish navigator Juan de Bermudez, after a passing visit in 1503.

It was subsequently to be visited several times over the next 100 years by the Spanish and Portuguese, but superstitious legends prevented them from making a settlement. This has been accredited in part to a bird, the Bermuda petrel, whose diabolical callings invoked images of spirits and devils. It was factors like these, however strange or unlikely, which would allow the English to plant their flag without conflict and have far reaching impact.

Another survivor of the ill-fated venture was William Strachey, an English writer noted as a primary source of the early history of English colonisation in North America.

Along with Rolfe, he too succeeded in eventually reaching Virginia 10 months after the shipwreck, and it is his account of the expedition’s plight, which is accredited to influencing William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest“.

Together with Admiral Somers and Sir Thomas Gates (who was on route to become governor of Virginia and whose skills at salvaging the desperate remnants of the floundering, were to create the first Bermuda settlement), they oversaw the building of two ships, the Deliverance and the Patience, built from remnants of the Sea Venture and the local timber of the Cedar Tree.

When they finally managed to escape the island in May 1610, they carried with them 142 castaways, leaving just a handful behind to hold claim. They had a mission to fulfil – to save Jamestown, whatever the cost.

They arrived at the Virginia colony in May 1610 finding it all but decimated through famine, disease and hostile natives who had all but blockaded them. Only 60 settlers remained alive of the original 500 sent three years earlier. This period is known as the Starving Time.

Nevertheless, through the courage and endeavours of the hardy and convicted survivors of the Atlantic storm ten months earlier, the Jamestown colony survived. Those Jamestown settlers still alive, watching the two ships slowly appear up the sound, must have thought salvation had come. It was the original thanksgiving.

This crucial episode in Jamestown’s history tends to be overlooked. Had the storm of July 1609 succeeded in wiping out the supply fleet, by the time Lord De La Ware’s relief ships arrived in Jamestown in May, 1610 (3 months after Somers’) nothing would have remained.

It was only through the brave endeavours and sense of purpose of Sir George Somers and his committed followers, which held and reinvigorated life into the dying colony, keeping  it sustained just long enough for De Le Ware’s mission to succeed. Somers, returning to Bermuda to collect more food, died soon after through illness.

So enamoured with the island, he had asked for his heart to be buried there. Legend has it that his wish was honoured. His body meanwhile was pickled in a barrel and returned to Dorset, England where it was buried in his home village of Whitechurch Canonicorum.



March 24, 2015 - Posted by | Education, History, Travel, USA | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Fascinating as always, just where do you get all these facts from?


    Comment by spookmoor | March 24, 2015 | Reply

    • I had the bones of this post a few years ago when Bermuda was celebrating it’s 400th Anniversary but the history seemed complicated and I felt it needed more research with a view of condensing it with a simpler explanation. Hence this now. Thanks for your welcome comment.


      Comment by Bar de Ness | March 24, 2015 | Reply

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