Dr. Edward Harris, MBE 2017-05-02 10:03:30
BERMUDA'S MARITIME HISTORY HAS TIES TO AMERICA AND SHAKESPEARE. Six hundred odd miles from the nearest land of continental North America, now occupied by the United States and Canada, the tiny island of Bermuda stands alone in the vastness of the Western North Atlantic, a signal lamp to the lucky mariners of the 16th century and a disaster waiting to happen for the unfortunate ones who grounded on its reefs. Nestled in the western reaches of the Sargasso Sea and warmed by the passing Gulf Stream — the largest “river” in the world — Bermuda (sitting atop a 15,000-foot volcano) existed in splendid isolation for a million years, except for crabs, turtles and seabirds, until the late autumn of 1505, when it was discovered by Juan de Bermúdez, a pilot from Spain from whom its name derives. Throughout the next century, ships were wrecked on Bermuda but no permanent colonisation took place. Early in the reign of King James I, however, Britain founded its first permanent settlement in North America, at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. It was in relation to that place that the history of Bermuda became inexorably linked to what became the United States of America, especially after the unpleasantness that ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. In the summer of 1609, the Third Supply mission — a fleet of nine ships including Virginia, which had been built in Maine in 1607 (the first English vessel built in America) — was bound for Jamestown but ran into a hurricane. The lead ship, Sea Venture, was sinking; but the weather cleared and in front of the vessel was Bermuda, the only place of salvation for thousands of square miles of the North Atlantic. All were saved and, building two small ships, they miraculously appeared at Jamestown the following May, a story incorporated by Shakespeare in his last play, The Tempest. That disaster led to the permanent settlement of the island in 1612, under what became the Virginia Company, one of the first of the modern “corporations.” Bermuda remained to a degree a company town, but in taking to the sea, the revolutionary “Bermuda Rig” was invented in the 17th century. That was the method of powering yachts that is universally employed today, even in more technological variants used by sailors of the America’s Cup, to be raced at the island in 2017. After the American Revolution, the maritime history of Bermuda changed even more dramatically, as it became the major British naval base in American waters, in replacement for the loss of harbours on the East Coast of the United States. The island became heavily fortified to protect The Royal Naval Dockyard, but in 1907, a treaty made the Americans and British allies, a fortunate happenstance for the world, given the conflicts of the 1900s. During the Second World War, the U.S. forces built an airfield, which was used by Bermuda for airplane tourism after the war; and the economy of the island boomed. The rest, they say, is history, which is why you are reading this book in your hotel today. Bermuda existed in splendid isolation for a million years except for crabs, turtiles and seabirds.
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