Bermuda's History and Heritage

 
Although it is heard that the first human visit to the islands of Bermuda took place in 1503 by some Europeans, there is hardly anything known about such visit. In 1511, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr in his publication Legatio Babylonica mentioned about the Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez who discovered Bermuda. But very little is known even about this discovery. 
 
Bermuda's real history started only in 1609 when a group of British colonists landed ashore after their ship got wrecked at a nearby reef. 
 
 
 
In 1609, Admiral Sir George Somers had set sail with a fleet of nine ships from Plymouth of England towards the new English colony Jamestown of Virginia. As the chief, Somers was aboard the flagship Sea Venture along with some 150 sailors and settlers, and a dog. 
 
The fleet was caught in a severe storm on the way and the flagship Sea Venture got separated from the remaining vessels. After a long struggle, the sailors of Sea Venture were somehow able to notice the east-end reefs of Bermuda and were able to steer the ship towards the rocks. 
 
The ship however got wrecked on the reefs, but all on board including the dog were able to come on shore safely. The survivors later built two new ships - The Deliverance and the Patience. The ships were constructed mainly from plenty of available Bermuda cedar and the materials stripped from the Sea Venture itself. 
 
Having constructed the two new vessels, all of them set sail again for Jamestown after 10 months. But Somers left behind two volunteers so that the British claim on the island could continue. And since then, Bermuda has been continuously inhabited. 
 
It is for this effort on part of George Somers that the original name of Bermuda was given Somers Isle which continues to be used as an alternative name for the island. 
 
Sculpture of Sir George Somers in St. George. 
He is known as the founder of Bermuda 
Somers in St. George Bermuda 
 
So what happened after George Somers and his men finally reached Jamestown? 
 
There was actually another disaster awaiting there. On reaching Jamestown they found out that almost the entire population of this new colony who reached there earlier had died out of starvation. There were some 500 English settlers who arrived by ship before them and only 60 of them were still surviving, and most of the survivors were either sick or dying. The food that the new settlers brought with them from Bermuda were too little. Somers decided to return everyone to England. And just then arrived another relief fleet carrying food supplies. So everyone finally stayed back. 
 
 
 
The food that the Sea Venture settlers had brought earlier were mainly pork meet. They found a lot of wild pigs in Bermuda. So how did pigs come to Bermuda? It is said that the previous visitors to the island had left these pigs to breed so that they could be a ready supply of food for passing ships, in case of emergency. This episode of Bermuda pigs had a long lasting impact in Bermuda and got referred later even in their currencies as "Bermuda Hogs". 
 
Somers returned to Bermuda later to get more food supplies for Jamestown settlers. But he fell sick and died in Bermuda. In 1612 for the first time a group of settlers were sent to Bermuda by the Virginia Company of England to begin the official settlement in the island. But Bermudians still consider the year 1609 when George Somers and his men landed, as the beginning of Bermuda's history. And in 2010 they celebrated the 400th anniversary of the island (1609 - 2009). 
 
In 1620 Bermuda became a self governing colony, although it continued to struggle for seven decades thereafter to make a viable economy. The island was divided into nine administrative areas called parishes and an administrative leader for each parish was appointed. Find out how the colony was formed and how the administration was run in Bermuda. 
 
Bermuda has a history of slavery for over 200 years. The first slaves were brought into Bermuda in 1620s soon after the colony was formed. They were mostly African blacks and native Americans. Find out all about slavery in Bermuda. 
 
Do you know that during Victorian time, wealthy fathers used to come from North America to Bermuda. They would look for eligible bachelors working with navy or military to whom they could marry their daughters. Read this interesting story. 
 
Bermuda's first historical event dates back to 1511 when the Spanish captain Juan de Bermudez first arrived and the island was thus named. Know all the significant historical events of Bermuda. 
 
Know all about people of Bermuda, population, language, art, culture, sports and more. 
 
With more than 400 years of rich history starting with British settlement, import of slaves and immigration of many nationals including Portuguese, Caribbean and others, Bermudians have adopted traditions and local customs that have influences from all such communities including in food, dress and behavior. For example typical British afternoon tea is almost a way of daily life for a Bermudian. Their level of hospitality and friendliness is almost unparalleled anywhere in the world. A married couple takes a vow walking through Moongates which is supposed to strengthen the bondage, and many other beliefs and traditions which are quite unique to this island. 
 
 
 
Onions have had a long history in Bermuda and are now part of the island's heritage. Since the time this crop was introduced in Bermuda in early 1600s, it not only became a staple crop in the island, but its high quality started drawing major interest from USA and UK. Bermuda went on to become a major onion exporter and large many farmers in the island turned into onion harvesting to take advantage of this lucrative trade. 
 
It's another story that Bermuda's onion trade finally met with an ill fate and the export did not last much beyond World War-I. But by then the onions had already made enough impact to make the Bermudians feel proud about the crop and so much so that a Bermudian took pride to be called an onion. 
 
There were many Bermudians who made great contributions to the people of the island by bringing in change or by their sheer influence & unique lifestyle. Many of them have gone unrecognized and have been fading away with time. This is an effort to lock in the memory of those heroes and unique characters who the Bermudians have always loved. 
 
Know about constitution of Bermuda including election process, governance, affiliations, membership to organizations etc, and how they evolved and came into effect. 
 
This is a list of Bermuda Premiers who have run the Bermuda Government as the leaders of their party, their early life and political careers. The list starts from 1960s when the first independent government was constituted in the island. 
 
Here is all about Economy of Bermuda and how it evolved over time including its International Business, living styles, jobs, products & services etc. 
 
 
 
Related Articles 
 
 
Visitors' Reviews and Stories 
 
Michael Bradshaw (June 2015) 
Hi, I am Black Bermudian with the usual mix of British- Caribbean- African ancestry to produce the multi-culturalist of today. Your site and almost all others are silent on how Bermuda evolved peaceably and steadily to the friendly bi-racial entity almost classless society we have. Much of this was due to impacts of the trans-Atlantic fraternal organizations known as the 'friendly societies'. They started the Cup match but it is often forgotten. They anchored the transition from a British only to a more cosmopolitan island; from slavery society to a post-emancipation worldview.  They express the links between North American (USA and Canadian) and European peoples with the Caribbean with Bermuda at the centre of the wheel.  
 
Ewelina Suwada (May 2013) 
My name is Ewelina, and I'm a student of Applied Linguistics from European University in Cracow, Poland. I was wondering if it is possible for you to answer a couple of questions: 
1) What are the most important historic facts about Bermuda and St. George’s? 
2) Does the history affect the present? If yes, how? Is anyone trying to remind about the past? Any museums, exhibitions, events, famous people who give Bermuda a great piece of promotion? 
3) Are the tourists interested in the historical part of the island? If they are, in what particular monuments especially? 
 
Raj (bermuda-attractions.com) May 2013 
Hi Ewelina, here are my responses to your questions: 
 
1) 1609 was the year when the real history of the island began and marked the most important historical milestone of Bermuda and St George. This is when the ship Sea Venture of Sir George Somers was hit by a severe storm when he was sailing on a mission from England to colonize Jamestown. But along the way, the storm separated his ship from rest of the fleet. As a result they had to steer the ship towards the nearby island Bermuda, then an uninhabited and unnamed island. While navigating towards the island, the ship was wrecked by an offshore reef close to St George's , however Somers and his 150 crew members managed to reach the shore of St George's and survived. This in fact marked the first human settlement in the Island. Although Somers and his men later built another ship and sailed towards Jamestown, they left behind three persons to retain the claim on the island and later in 1612, the official British settlement began under the command of Sir Richard Moore. 
 
The next major historical time was when slaves were brought into the island in 1620s soon after the British colony was formed. They were mostly West Indians, Latin Americans and African blacks, as well as native Americans, Irish and Scots. Over a period of time the island which predominantly had whites, had an even mix of blacks and whites. Although slaves were all freed in 1834, many islanders today can relate their ancestry to African blacks and Europeans. 
 
Another important historical milestone was the construction of Royal Naval Dockyard in 1809 in Sandys parish. The British had to build this navy base after they lost the American war of Independence. This navy base remained in operation for well over 100 years and through even the World War II until it was closed down finally in 1995. It has now become the major port for the cruise ships visiting Bermuda bringing in loads of tourists. It has many historical buildings, landmarks and museum that reflect the period of Royal Navy and their influence in the island. 
 
2) There are several museums, monuments and exhibits that reflect the rich history of Bermuda. The World Heritage Center in St George provides a complete background and history of St George through its various stages and how it became the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000. It uses many miniature models, videos, dioramas and exhibits to portray this story. 
 
The vivid stories and lives of the slaves during slavery period are captured by many landmarks, monuments and museums that are part of African Diaspora Heritage Trail in Bermuda. You will find  complete information here: African Diaspora Heritage Trail 
 
3) Significant number of visiting tourists take keen interest in the history of Bermuda. They visit the heritage town of St George and go through many historical buildings, churches and museums. Starting from the World Heritage Center, they visit many other popular landmarks. Some of them include: 
 
Model of the ship Deliverance (which was built in the island by Somers and his men to sail for Jamestown), Bermuda National Trust Museum, St Peter's Church, Old State House, St George's Historical Society Museum, Fort St Catherine and more. 
 
To understand the slavery period in Bermuda, tourists trace the African Diaspora Heritage trail and visit all the monuments, places and museums that I have described under the section: African Diaspora Heritage Trail 
 
To know about the Royal Naval Base, its operation and importance to Bermuda, tourists visit the National Museum of Bermuda (formerly Bermuda Maritime Museum). For details, go through: Bermuda Maritime Museum 
 
Hope this helps.  
 
Doug (September 2012) 
My dad was stationed in Bermuda in the 40's . He was a radio man in the Air Force . Any ideas where to go ? Would like to see where he was, he always wanted to go back and never made it. 
 
Raj (bermuda-attractions.com) September 2012 
Hello Doug, The Air Force base in Bermuda was developed jointly by US Air Force and the British Royal Air Force at Kindley Field, St. George where the present airport is located. It came up in 1944 during World War II. This is where most air force personnel were located. There was also a NASA tracking station built at Cooper's Island (in St Davids) where a small number of Air force Radio persons were located. 
 
May be, you would like to visit both these places. Here are couple of links where I've shared our own experiences there: 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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