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Bermuda's History from 1500 to 1699

How it is linked to events in Europe, the United States of America, United Kingdom and Canada

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By Keith Archibald Forbes (see About Us) at e-mail exclusively for Bermuda Online

To refer to this web file, please use "bermuda-online.org/history.htm" as your Subject

History to 1699 History 1700-1799 History 1800-1899 History 1900-1951 History 1952-1999
History 2000 to 2005 History 2006 part 1 History  2006 part 2 History 2007JanFeb History 2007 March
History 2007 April History 2007 May History 2007 June 1-15th History 2007 June 16 to 30th History 2007 July 1-15
History 2007 July 16th to 31st History 2007 August 1 to 7 History 2007 August 8 to 14 History 2007 August 15 to 21 History 2007 August 22-31
History 2007 September 1 to 10 History 2007 September 11 to December 31 History 2008 to 2010 History 2011 to 2012 History 2013
History 2014        

Bermuda was first sighted in 1505, but not settled

1511 map including Bermuda top right

First known map to include Bermuda (shown as La Bermude, top right. lower case, upside down)

1547-1608. Bermuda remained unsettled

1603 Map of Bermuda by Captain Diego Ramirez

Captain  Diego Ramirez's 1603 map of Bermuda

1609. Bermuda settled by English colonists. Events thereafter

1609. In May, James I issued the second charter to the Virginia Company. Sir Thomas Smith (Smythe) was appointed Treasurer of the Virginia Company.

Sea Venture 16091609. June 2, not long after her launch, the Virginia Company's ship "Sea Venture" sailed on its maiden voyage from Plymouth, England for Jamestown, Virginia. She was built in 1609 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England, and was England's first purpose-designed emigrant ship. She displaced 300 tons, cost £1,500, and differed from her contemporaries primarily in her internal arrangements. Her guns were placed on her main deck, rather than below decks as was then the norm. This meant the ship did not need double-timbering, and she may have been the first single-timbered, armed merchant ship built in England. Her hold was sheathed and furnished for passengers. She was armed with eight nine-pounder demi-culverins, eight five-pounder sakers (cannon), four three-pounder falcons (also cannon), and four arquebuses.  Her uncompleted journey to Jamestown appears to have been her maiden voyage. Sir Thomas Gates was Lieutenant Governor designate. Admiral Sir George Somers, a British naval hero of Lyme Regis, Dorset, The historic English town from where Bermuda's History began (see how Lyme Regis records it under "Lyme Regis and Bermuda") commanded the "Third Supply" Relief Fleet of nine vessels. Captain Christopher Newport was chief officer of the fleet. George Yeardley was then commander of land forces under Gates. 600 colonists included John Rolfe and his pregnant first wife, who died later in Bermuda. The fleet was to relieve the struggling British colony established in 1607 under Captain John Smith after failure of the Roanoke Island venture of Sir Walter Raleigh. It was the largest and most expensive colonization. 

1609. July 28, a hurricane that had begun on July 24 sank one ship and threw the flagship Sea Venture so far off course that it was wrecked on a reef in Bermuda. All 150, including John Rolfe and his pregnant wife were saved. Also aboard the Se Venture was the greatest part of the food intended not for passengers but for hungry colonists at Jamestown. Their food was instead eaten by the passengers wrecked in Bermuda. The colonists later painstakingly rebuilt two boats, Deliverance and Patience, from the wreckage at Buildings Bay, St. George's. All crew and passengers survived the sinking. The list of passengers included Sir Thomas Gates, Governor for Virginia; Sir George Somers, Admiral of the flotilla; Rev. Richard Bucke, chaplain to the expedition; William Strachney, Surrey, Secretary-elect of Virginia Company; Silvester Jourdain, of Lyme Regis, Dorset; Joseph Chard; Henry Shelly; Robert Walsingham, cockswain; Robert Frobisher, shipwright; Nicholas Bennit, carpenter; Francis Pearepoint; William Brian; William Martin; Henry Ravens, master mate; Richard Knowles; Stephen Hopkins; Christopher Carter; Robert Waters; Edward Waters; Samuel Sharpe; Henry Paine, shot to death for mutiny; Humfrey Reede; James Swift; Thomas Powell, cook; Edward Eason; Mistress Eason; baby boy Bermuda Eason, born in Bermuda the previous-mentioned; John Want; Mistress Horton; Elizabeth Persons, maid to Mistress Horton; married Thomas Powell while in Bermuda; Capt (Sir) George Yeardley, experienced veteran of the Dutch wars; Jeffrey Briars (died in Bermuda); Richard Lewis, died in Bermuda; Edward Samuel, murdered by Robert Waters; William Hitchman, died in Bermuda; Thomas Whittingham, later lost at sea with Ravens; Edward Chard; Captain Matthew Somers nephew and heir of Sir George (was aboard the "Swallow" on the same expedition); Robert Rich, the brother of Sir Nathaniel Rich, a shareholder; Christopher Newport, Captain of the Sea Venture, former privateer; Stephen Hopkins; John Rolfe, a young man in his twenties and traveling with his wife. Their baby girl was born in Bermuda, christened Bermuda 11 February 1610 and died shortly thereafter and buried in Bermuda. His wife died shortly after reaching Virginia Spring 1610 and he married Pocahontas in April 1614; Mistress Rolfe, first wife of above; Henry Bagwell, aged 35; Thomas Godby, aged 36; Lieut. Edward Waters, aged 40; Elizabeth Joons, aged 30, servant; John Lytefoote; John Proctor; Josuah Chard; Henry Bagwell;  Samuel Sharp; Capt. Wm Pierce; George Grave; Richard Buck with wife, Miss Langley and four Buck children;  Stephen Hopkins; Wm Pierce. All these first involuntary British settlers in Bermuda, denied for many months the ability to get to Jamestown in Virginia, were extremely fortunate in several major respects. They had arrived on an island with no prior continuous human habitation, just a few signs of temporary earlier castaways, most likely Spanish or Portuguese. They found ready sources of food from coastal waters teeming with fish and other edibles from the sea. Big, fat birds - Bermuda cahows, later nearly extinct - were there for the eating. Feral wild hogs galore, most likely left there by Spanish mariners as a source of food in the event of shipwrecks, roamed the island. Although hot and humid in summer the climate was wonderfully mild in winter, especially when compared to the United Kingdom and Jamestown. Whereas in Virginia, conditions in the first English settlement in the New World were far from glamorous (early settlers in Jamestown were often starving, and forced to eat dogs, mice, and shoe leather to survive devastating winters. A few written accounts take things one gruesome step farther and suggest that some Jamestown colonists even ate their own dead. Native American Indians were constantly hostile.

Spanish hog food for the newcomers

Spanish feral hogs, a choice source of food for the newcomers.

1609. July 30. Seven small ships of the nine that had sailed in the Third Supply fleet (but not the flagship Sea Venture wrecked in Bermuda) arrived at the Jamestown colony with even more new colonists to feed, and few supplies, most of which had been aboard the larger flagship.

1609. Admiral Sir George Somers was rowed around the island and from the trip made the second known manuscript map of Bermuda, (after the one by Ramirez)  which has survived in two copies, one in Bermuda in the collections of the Bermuda National Trust and the other at the British Library.

Somers map of Bermuda 1609-1610

1610. February. Birth in Bermuda of the daughter, named Bermuda, the first child known to have been born in Bermuda, of John Rolfe and his wife Sarah Hacker Rolfe. Rolfe was born in Heacham, Norfolk, England as the son of John Rolfe and Dorothea Mason, and was baptized on May 6, 1585. John Rolfe is one of the most famous of the 17th century new world arrivals. He and his wife were Sea Venture castaways. But Mrs. Rolfe and her daughter Bermuda died less than two months later in Bermuda, some say Jamestown, later. (Mr. Rolfe, as a widower, continued on to Jamestown, Virginia where in 1614, he married native American Princess Pocahontas.)

1610. May 10. The "Deliverance" left Bermuda for the Virginia colony, arriving on 23/24 May at Jamestown, VA. She was about 80 tons, about 57 feet in length with 64 ft foremast,72 ft mainmast, and 44 ft mizzen mast. She carried Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Somers, William Strachey and 100 settlers (all except for three, who as deserters had remained in Bermuda). They included widower John Rolfe who later achieved fame as the husband of an Indian princess, Pocahontas. He made a point of taking with him from Bermuda to Jamestown a quantity of Bermuda-grown tobacco found growing, taken and left there by Spanish and Portuguese mariners who had been there temporarily. Strachey wrote for Sir Thomas Gates, Admiral Sir George Somers and Captain Christopher Newport a thrilling account of the shipwreck off and discovery of Bermuda. Only three members of the original castaways refused to go on to Virginia. They were imprisoned for mutiny but escaped and fled, believed to have been to the Walsingham area of the Main Island. The three who chose to stay, These miscreants were Edward Chard, Robert Waters and Christopher Carter, who were later fancifully but falsely referred to themselves as the “Three Kings of Bermuda”, purely because they were the only known inhabitants for a while. As fugitives, they lived as such, instead of trying to redeem themselves by improving their lot. They grew tobacco at their campsite on Smith’s island, which is confirmed in Jourdain’s writings. He stated that they, Carter, Chard and Waters "made a great deale of tobacco, and if some would come that have skill in making it, it would see very commodious both to the merchant and to the maker of it.” Later, in 1612 when Bermuda was settled by design and not by accident as before, they were caught appropriately punished and deported in irons back to England. 

1610 book Discovery of Bermuda

1610. May 23. The survivors of the shipwreck of the Third Supply mission's flagship Sea Venture finally arrived at Jamestown in two makeshift small ships Deliverance and Plough under the command of Captain Christopher Newport they had constructed while stranded on Bermuda for nine months.  They found fewer than 100 colonists still alive, many of whom were sick. Worse yet, the Bermuda survivors had brought few supplies and only a small amount of food with them, expecting to find a thriving colony at Jamestown. The latter's settlers were faced with abandoning Jamestown and returning to England. It has been speculated but so far this has not been proved that Sir George Somers and John Rolfe (both on the Sea Venture which was wrecked in Bermuda on its way to Jamestown in July 1609) took the Bermuda Tobacco seed (found growing at Tobacco Bay and possibly also planted at Spanish Point, Pembroke, prior to 1603 in Bermuda by shipwrecked Spaniards en route back to Spain from the New World) to Virginia from Bermuda on the two ships they built, the Deliverance and Patience.

1610. May 24. May 24, Lieutenant Governor Gates proclaimed martial law and instructed the colonists to abandon Jamestown. 

1610. June 7, 1610. Both groups of survivors (from Jamestown and Bermuda) boarded ships, and they all set sail down the James River toward the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

1610.  But on June 8 Lord De La Warr arrived with further supplies from England. Virginia was saved

November 8 or 9. 1610. Admiral Sir George Somers returned to Bermuda for needed food, and a few months later died on the island, it is said from a surfeit of pig. His heart was buried in St. George's, and his body later taken and buried in Dorset, England, where he was born. Sir John Smith, the famous explorer and early colonial historian, believed Sir George as an unselfish friend to Virginia. He went to Bermuda to fetch “hogs and other good things” for languishing Jamestown because “his noble mind ever regarded a general good more than his own ends.” Despite his age (nearing 60), he made the “dangerous voyage” in the Patience and, upon arrival, exerted “extraordinary care, pains, and industry” to gather food. But alas, “the strength of his body” was not equal to the “ever memorable courage of his mind.” He died “in that very place which we now call Saint Georges town” after exhorting his sailors “with all expedition to return to Virginia” with food. (The unsubstantiated but oft-quoted assertion that he died “of a surfeit eating Pork” comes from Edward Howe, an English chronicler who was not involved with the voyage.) Somers’s men embalmed the body” and then carried it on to “Whit-Church in Dorsetshire for burial after leaving volunteers Christopher Carter, Edward Chard and Edward Waters behind in Bermuda so as “not to leave such a place abandoned.”  Another account notes however that the corpse of Sir George was not openly placed on board but secretly stowed aboard the Patience in a cedar chest, because “superstitious mariners” would have refused to carry it as the portage of dead bodies was deemed “prodigiously ominous.”

Admiral Sir George Somers, Founder of Bermuda

Admiral Sir George Somers, Founder of Bermuda

Spanish hog food for the newcomers

Bermuda hogs

Spanish feral hogs, a choice source of food for the newcomers.

Government House Bermuda 1612

Government House Bermuda 1612 - sketch

Rich's Mount

Smith's Fort remnants

Smith's Fort remnants

John Rolfe and Pocahontas

An imagined portrait of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. 

1614 Map of Bermuda by Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith's 1614 map of Bermuda

Hogge money 12 pence

Hogge money Hogge money, three pence

1615 Hogge money sixpence, both sides

Hogge money coins of Bermuda from 1615. The bottom photos show the sixpenny piece, shown as the Roman numeral VI, front and rear.

Bermuda Hogs

Bermuda feral hogs. From them came Hog or Hogge Money.

1620 Bermuda Parliament

Southampton Fort, Brangman's Island, completed 1621.

Southampton Fort, Brangman's Island, completed 1621

Generall Historie by Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith's 1624 book

1624 Bermuda map by Captain John Smith, showing forts

1624 map of Castle Roads forts by Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith's 1624 Bermuda map showing forts.


1633 map of Bermuda by Blaeu


1676 map of Berrmuda by John Speed

1676 map showing SAt. George's Parish

John Speed's 1676 Map of Bermuda above and that part specific to St. George's Parish, below



History to 1699 History 1700-1799 History 1800-1899 History 1900-1951 History 1952-1999
History 2000 to 2005 History 2006 part 1 History  2006 part 2 History 2007JanFeb History 2007 March
History 2007 April History 2007 May History 2007 June 1-15th History 2007 June 16 to 30th History 2007 July 1-15
History 2007 July 16th to 31st History 2007 August 1 to 7 History 2007 August 8 to 14 History 2007 August 15 to 21 History 2007 August 22-31
History 2007 September 1 to 10 History 2007 September 11 to December 31 History 2008 to 2010 History 2011 to 2012 History 2013
History 2014        

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Last Updated: December 16, 2014.
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