Bermuda is a group of small, isolated islands about 600 miles off the coast of Virginia. The islands are named for a Spanish sea captain, Juan de Bermdez, who probably spotted them in the opening years of the sixteenth century. Various early adventurers tried to land on the islands, but the sharp reefs and rocks that surround Bermuda discouraged them. At the time of European discovery, the islands were uninhabited, though they became a crucial navigational point on trips between Spain and its colonies in the Caribbean and Mexico.
The Portuguese made a halfhearted attempt at settlement in 1527, but it seems as if the first Europeans to actually land on Bermuda were a group of Portuguese whose ship was wrecked there on a trip between Santo Domingo and Portugal. They promptly built a new ship and returned to Santo Domingo. A party of French sailors shipwrecked there between 1560 and 1570, but they, too, built a ship and sailed for Newfoundland.
The English also came to Bermuda as the result of a shipwreck. In 1609, the Sea Venture, en route from Plymouth, England, to Virginia, began taking on water and was wrecked off Bermuda. The people on board, including notables such as John Rolfe, the admiral Sir George Somers (with his secretary William Strachey), Sir Thomas Gates (deputy governor of Jamestown), and Christopher Newport (head of the first expedition to Jamestown), stayed for nine months, until they had finished two boats.
Then, they made their way to Virginia. Serious attempts at settlement date from 1612, when the Plough, an English ship, landed on purpose, bringing fifty settlers and the colony's first governor, Richard Moore. This was done under the auspices of the Bermuda Company, which, like the Virginia Company in Jamestown, raised money for colonial ventures.
In the first half of the sixteenth century, the English desperately wanted profitable colonial holdings, and they considered Bermuda a key to their enterprise. The history of Bermuda's colonial development is intricately linked with that of Virginia. When relations with the Powhatan Confederacy soured, white Virginians considered planting tobacco in Bermuda.
To this end, African slaves were imported beginning in 1616. Since Bermuda's soil was not particularly rich and the supply of fresh water was relatively limited, commercial agriculture, either in tobacco or sugar, never caught on as it did elsewhere, and most Africans were employed as house servants or artisans. White Bermudians and their black slaves continued to grow tobacco, though it played a decreasing role in the colony's economy.
In 1834, when slavery was abolished by act of Parliament, about 4,000 of the island's 9,000 people became free. Though commercial agriculture failed to reap the massive profits it did elsewhere in England's empire, Bermuda's colonial economy should not necessarily be seen as stagnant. Salt from the Turks Islands, in the Bahamas, allowed Bermudians who shipped the salt to trade for food and other supplies with the mainland American colonies.
Bermuda's economy was also tied to the sea, and its cedar forests provided timber for shipbuilding. Both black and white Bermudians worked as sailors; in fact, Bermuda ship captains were often able to underbid competing Atlantic carriers because they used skilled slave labor. One of Bermuda's main exports during the seventeenth century was people.
Disillusioned settlers from overpopulated areas such as Bermuda and Barbados contributed to the English settlement of Jamaica in particular, but also to places on the American mainland most notably South Carolina, officially founded in 1670. By the 1680s, Bermuda, though it retained strategic importance, was overshadowed by the rest of England's Atlantic empire. Recently, England had taken Jamaica, a profitable sugar colony, from the Spanish, and New Amsterdam, a growing center of shipping and trade, from the Dutch.
The older colonies in New England and Virginia were prospering and attracting many more immigrants. Bermuda became a British Crown colony in 1684. In 1776, when Britain's mainland colonies chose to fight for independence, Bermuda did not.
During the War of 1812, Bermuda was an important staging ground for the British assault on Washington, D.C. and a joint American-British air base constructed on Bermuda aided Allied efforts during World War II. Bermuda continues to rely on Great Britain in matters of defense, security, and diplomacy, although a 1968 constitution provided for full internal self-government, bringing a peaceful end to colonial rule. Matthew Jennings See also: Atlantic Ocean; Trade.
Bibliography Craven, Wesley Frank. An Introduction to the History of Bermuda. New York: New York University Press, 1938.
Zuill, W.S. The Story of Bermuda and Her People.
London: Macmillan Education, 1973. Eight fantastic reasons to head for the Atlantic island of Bermuda … alltravel8Bermuda Introduction: welcome to our Islands! Alltravel8Photos of Bermuda – Bermuda Map and Photos – World Atlas alltravel8