Long regarded as a mere rock in the ocean, Bermuda has now Become one of the most desiraBLe traveL destinations in the worLd “A most dreadful Tempest (the manifold deaths whereof are here to the life described) their wreck on Bermuda, and the description of those Islands.” So begins the first recorded account of the settlement of Bermuda, written in 1610 by William Strachey, a passenger on the Sea Venture. It was this ship, carrying supplies and settlers to the fledgling English colony of Jamestown in Virginia, which crashed against the reefs around Bermuda amidst a violent storm and stranded these voyagers on the islands. From such an ominous beginning sprang a new colony — today the oldest British Overseas Territory. A DARk ’n’ StoRmy Beginning Bermuda’s history doesn’t quite begin with the Sea Venture. In fact, by 1610 the islands had been known to Europeans for more than a century. Spanish navigator Juan de Bermudez first sighted the island group, which he named “La Bermuda,” in 1505 on his return to Europe from Hispaniola. He attempted to return 10 years later but was unable to land because of the weather and treacherous reefs. Over the next century, hundreds of mariners would become stranded on Bermuda. Their harrowing experiences, the evidence of cloven hooves on the ground and reports of awful howls at night gave Bermuda the infamous nickname Isles of the Devils. The hooves belonged to wild hogs that were either left behind by previous sailors or swam ashore from shipwrecks; the nightly howls, it is believed, were the cries of the inoffensive cahows, a now-endangered bird species native to Bermuda. Most who survived the wrecks on these shores would later be rescued, including an unlucky Portuguese party from a sunken slave ship that, during its time here, carved a bold legacy into stone. In 1543, these sailors chiselled what is believed to be “RP” — meaning Rex Portugaliae — into what is now known as Portuguese Rock at Spittal Pond: their claim of the islands in the name of Portugal. Despite this claim, Bermuda would remain unsettled (and avoided) until 1609. An Unlikely RefUge In 1609, the English colony of Jamestown in Virginia was in dire straits and needed supplies. The proprietary Virginia Company sent the newly constructed Sea Venture from London with 150 settlers and supplies to help the dying settlement. However, the ship encountered a raging hurricane during its journey. At the helm was Admiral Sir George Somers, whose situation grew more precarious by the minute. Because this was the ship’s maiden voyage, the caulking that held together its timbers had not fully dried. As a result, the raging storm threatened to obliterate the ship. Somers sighted Bermuda and its reefs, and after three days of battling the elements, he intentionally ran the Sea Venture into the reefs to prevent it from foundering. On July 28, 1609, all aboard the ship landed safely ashore. The survivors remained on Bermuda for 10 months, during which the first child was born on the island, Bermuda Rolfe. She was the daughter of Thomas Rolfe, who later, as a widower, would marry the Powhatan princess Pocahontas. The colonists subsisted on wild pigs and used the remains of the Sea Venture to build two smaller vessels: Deliverance and Patience. These two ships left in the summer of 1610, arriving in Jamestown just in time to help the starving settlement. A few men were left behind to retain the claim on the islands. The tale of the Sea Venture gained great popularity in London — it is widely believed that William Strachey’s account inspired William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It also aroused interest in colonising Bermuda, and in 1612 more settlers arrived aboard the Plough and founded New London, later renamed St. George. This was the capital of Bermuda until 1815. Self-Sufficient SucceSS Though off to a slow start and an uncertain economy, Bermuda grew due to its strategic geographical position in the Atlantic and contact with foreign trade. By 1620, Bermuda convened its House of Assembly, now the world’s third-oldest parliament. Finding agriculture to be an inadequate industry on the island, families adopted maritime trade and shipbuilding, eventually running speedy sloops for profitable sidelines as privateers. In fact, Bermuda has often played a pivotal role in United States history as a result of this. In 1775, during the American Revolution, rebels stole more than 100 barrels of gunpowder in St. George and smuggled it out of Tobacco Bay to George Washington’s army — in exchange for continued trade with the Colonies, which had been forbidden. Furthermore, sloops built on Bermuda were illegally sold to the rebellious Colonies, helping them fight the British and certainly influencing the outcome of their revolution. During the U.S. Civil War, Bermudian sloops evaded the Union blockade to sneak goods into the Confederacy. As payment, they received gold and cotton, which they sold in London for 10 times the price. During World War II, Bermuda became a hotbed of espionage. Teams of young women worked as code breakers in the basement of the Hamilton Princess Hotel, now a Fairmont property, to decipher transmissions from nearby German ships and submarines. When planes carrying mail landed in Bermuda to refuel, agents rifled through their bags, looking for coded messages, whilst the pilots enjoyed their coffee breaks. After the war, Bermuda went into business, luring British, American and Canadian firms with its low tax rates and favourable policies. Today, much of the insurance and offshore financial industry is based here, attracting investors from around the globe. This has led to an incredible growth in the local economy, evidenced by Bermuda’s GDP per capita — one of the highest in the world. Also during the 20th century, with the advent of telecommunications and easier travel, Bermuda practically invented island tourism, an industry that is still vital to the economy. This has enabled millions of tourists to travel to the balmy shores of this island paradise. Whereas it was avoided for centuries because of its remote location, today Bermuda draws visitors seeking peace and comfort for that very reason.
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