The first European known to have reached Bermuda was the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermúdez in 1505, after whom the islands are named. He claimed the islands for the Spanish Empire. Bermúdez never landed on the islands, but made two visits to the archipelago, of which he created a recognisable map. Shipwrecked Portuguese mariners are now thought to have been responsible for the 1543 inscription on Portuguese Rock (previously called Spanish Rock). Subsequent Spanish or other European parties are believed to have released pigs there, which had become feral and abundant on the island by the time European settlement began. In 1609, the English Virginia Company, which had established Jamestown in Virginia two years earlier, permanently settled Bermuda in the aftermath of a hurricane, when the crew and passengers of the Sea Venture steered the ship onto the surrounding reef to prevent its sinking, then landed ashore.
The island was administered as an extension of Virginia by the Company until 1614. Its spin-off, the Somers Isles Company, took over in 1615 and managed the colony until 1684. At that time, the company's charter was revoked, and the English Crown took over administration. The islands became a British colony following the 1707 unification of the parliaments of Scotland and England, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain. After 1949, when Newfoundland became part of Canada, Bermuda became the oldest remaining British overseas territory. After the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Bermuda became the most populous remaining dependent territory (from 2002 overseas territory). Its first capital, St. George's, was established in 1612.
Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez. It is mentioned in Legatio Babylonica, published in 1511 by historian Pedro Mártir de Anglería, and was also included on Spanish charts of that year. Both Spanish and Portuguese ships used the islands as a replenishment spot to take on fresh meat and water. Legends arose of spirits and devils, now thought to have stemmed from the calls of raucous birds (most likely the Bermuda petrel, or cahow) and the loud noise heard at night from wild hogs. Combined with the frequent storm-wracked conditions and the dangerous reefs, the archipelago became known as the Isle of Devils. Neither Spain nor Portugal attempted to settle it.
Settlement by the English
For the next century, the island is believed to have been visited frequently, but not settled. After the failure of the first two English colonies in Virginia, a more determined effort was initiated by King James I of England, who granted a Royal Charter to the Virginia Company.
It established a colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Two years later, a flotilla of seven ships left England under the Company's Admiral, Sir George Somers, and the new Governor of Jamestown, Sir Thomas Gates, with several hundred settlers, food and supplies to relieve the colony of Jamestown. Somers had previous experience sailing with both Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. The flotilla was broken up by a storm. As the flagship, Sea Venture, was taking on water, Somers drove it onto Bermuda's reef and gained the shores safely with smaller boats – all 150 passengers and a dog survived. (William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, in which the character Ariel refers to the "still-vex'd Bermoothes" (I.ii.229), is thought to have been inspired by William Strachey's account of this shipwreck.) They stayed ten months, starting a new settlement and building two small ships to sail to Jamestown. The group of islands were claimed for the English Crown, and the charter of the Virginia Company was later extended to include them.
In 1610, all but three of the survivors of Sea Venture sailed on to Jamestown. Among them was John Rolfe, whose wife and child died and were buried in Bermuda. Later in Jamestown he married Pocahontas, a daughter of the powerful Powhatan, leader of a large confederation of about 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes in coastal Virginia. In 1612, the English began intentional settlement of Bermuda with the arrival of the ship Plough. St. George's was settled that year and designated as Bermuda's first capital. It is the oldest continually inhabited English town in the New World.
In 1615, the colony was passed to a new company, the Somers Isles Company, named after the admiral who saved his passengers from Sea Venture. Many Virginian place names refer to the archipelago, such as Bermuda City, and Bermuda Hundred. The first English coins to circulate in North America were struck in Bermuda.
The archipelago's limited land area and resources led to the creation of what may be the earliest conservation laws of the New World. In 1616 and 1620 acts were passed banning the hunting of certain birds and young tortoises.
In 1649, the English Civil War was in its seventh year and King Charles I was beheaded in Whitehall, London. Related tensions resulted in civil war on the island of Bermuda, where the majority of the colonists developed a strong sense of devotion to the Crown. Bermuda's civil war was ended by militias, and dissenters such as Puritans and Independents were pushed to settle The Bahamas under William Sayle.
The rebellious Royalist colonies of Bermuda and Virginia, as well as Barbados and Antigua, were the subjects of an Act of the Rump Parliament of England, which was essentially a declaration of war. The Act, prohibiting Trade with Barbados, Virginia, Bermuda and Antigua, specified that:
due punishment [be] inflicted upon the said Delinquents, do Declare all and every the said persons in Barbada's, Antego, Bermuda's and Virginia, that have contrived, abetted, aided or assisted those horrid Rebellions, or have since willingly joyned with them, to be notorious Robbers and Traitors, and such as by the Law of Nations are not to be permitted any maner of Commerce or Traffique with any people whatsoever; and do forbid to all maner of persons, Foreiners, and others, all maner of Commerce, Traffique and Correspondency whatsoever, to be used or held with the said Rebels in the Barbada's, Bermuda's, Virginia and Antego, or either of them.
All Ships that Trade with the Rebels may be surprized.Goods and tackle of such ships not to be embezeled, till judgement in the Admiralty.; Two or three of the Officers of every ship to be examined upon oath.
The Royalist colonies were also threatened with invasion. The Government of Bermuda eventually reached an agreement with the Parliamentarians in England which left the status quo in Bermuda.
of 12 November 1796, calling for privateering
against Spain and its allies; it has advertisements for crew for two privateer vessels.
In the 17th century, the Somers Isles Company suppressed shipbuilding, as it needed Bermudians to farm in order for it to generate income from the land. The colony of Virginia far surpassed Bermuda in both quality and quantity of tobacco produced. Bermudians began to turn to maritime trades relatively early in the 17th century, but the Somers Isles Company used all its authority to suppress turning away from agriculture. This interference led to the islanders demanding, and receiving, the revocation of the Company's charter in 1684, and the Company was dissolved.
Bermudians rapidly abandoned agriculture for shipbuilding, replanting farmland with the native juniper (Juniperus bermudiana, called Bermuda cedar) trees that grew thickly over the entire island. Establishing effective control over the Turks Islands, Bermudians deforested their landscape to begin the salt trade. It became the world's largest and remained the cornerstone of Bermuda's economy for the next century.
Bermudian sailors and merchants relied on more than the export of salt, however. They vigorously pursued whaling, privateering, and the merchant trade.
The Bermuda sloop became highly regarded for its speed and manoeuvrability, and was soon adapted for service with the Royal Navy. The Bermuda sloop HMS Pickle carried despatches of the victory at Trafalgar, and news of the death of Admiral Nelson, to England.
Bermuda and the American War of Independence
Bermuda's ambivalence towards the American rebellion changed in September 1774, when the Continental Congress resolved to ban trade with Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies after 10 September 1775. Such an embargo would mean the collapse of their intercolonial commerce, famine and civil unrest. Lacking political channels with Great Britain, the Tucker Family met in May 1775 with eight other parishioners, and resolved to send delegates to the Continental Congress in July, with the goal of an exemption from the ban. Henry Tucker noted a clause in the ban which allowed the exchange of American goods for military supplies. The clause was confirmed by Benjamin Franklin when Tucker met with the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. Independently, Tucker's sons St. George and Thomas Tudor confirmed this business arrangement with Peyton Randolph and the Charlestown Committee of Safety, while another Bermudian, Harris, did so with George Washington.
Three American vessels, independently operating from Charlestown, Philadelphia and Newport, sailed to Bermuda, and on 14 August, 100 barrels of gunpowder were taken from the Bermudian magazine, while Governor George James Bruere slept, and loaded onto these vessels. As a consequence, on 2 October the Continental Congress exempted Bermuda from their trade ban, and Bermuda acquired a reputation for disloyalty. In late 1775, the British Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act to prohibit trade with the American rebelling colonies, and sent HMS Scorpion to keep watch over the island. The island's forts were stripped of cannon, such that by the end of 1775, all of Bermuda's forts were without cannon, shot and powder. Yet, wartime trade of contraband continued along well established family connections. With 120 vessels by 1775, Bermuda continued to trade with St. Eustatius until 1781, and provided salt to North American ports, despite the presence of hundreds of privateers.:389–415
In June 1776, HMS Nautilus secured the island, followed by HMS Galatea in September. Yet, the two British captains seemed more intent on capturing prize money, causing a severe food shortage on the island until the departure of Nautilus in October. After France's entry into the war in 1778, Sir Henry Clinton refortified and garrisoned the island under the command of Major William Sutherland. As a result, 91 French and American ships were captured in the winter of 1778-1779, bringing the population once again to the brink of starvation. Bermudian trade was severely hampered by the combined efforts of the Royal Navy, the British garrison and loyalist privateers, such that famine struck the island in 1779.:416–427
The death of George Bruere in 1780, turned the governorship over to his son, George Jr., an active loyalist. Under his leadership, smuggling was stopped, and the Bermudian colonial government populated with like-minded loyalists. Even Henry Tucker abandoned trading with the United States, because of the presence of many privateers. Loyalist privateers based in Bermuda captured 114 prizes between 1777 and 1781, while 130 were captured in 1782.:428–433
The Bermuda Gazette, Bermuda's first newspaper, began publishing in 1784.
An illustration of the Devonshire Redoubt, Bermuda, 1614
After the American Revolution, the Royal Navy began improving the harbours on the Bermudas. In 1811, work began on the large Royal Naval Dockyard on Ireland Island, in the west of the chain, which was to serve as the islands' principal naval base guarding the western Atlantic Ocean shipping lanes. To guard the dockyard, the British Army built up a large Bermuda Garrison, and heavily fortified the archipelago.
During the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, the British attacks on Washington, D.C. and the Chesapeake were planned and launched from Bermuda, where the headquarters of the Royal Navy's North American Station had recently been moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The harbour at St. George's
In 1816, James Arnold, the son of Benedict Arnold, fortified Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard against possible US attacks. Today, the National Museum of Bermuda, which incorporates Bermuda's Maritime Museum, occupies the Keep of the Royal Naval Dockyard, including the Commissioner's House, and exhibits artifacts of the base's military history.
Due to its proximity to the southeastern US coast, Bermuda was frequently used during the American Civil War as a stopping point base for the Confederate States' blockade runners on their runs to and from the Southern states, and England, to evade Union naval vessels on blockade patrol; the blockade runners were then able to transport essential war goods from England and deliver much needed cotton back to England. The old Globe Hotel in St George's, which was a centre of intrigue for Confederate agents, is preserved as a public museum.
During the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), 5,000 Boer prisoners of war were housed on five islands of Bermuda. They were located according to their views of the war. "Bitterenders" (Afrikaans: Bittereinders), who refused to pledge allegiance to the British Crown, were interned on Darrell's Island and closely guarded. Other islands such as Morgan's Island held 884 men, including 27 officers; Tucker's Island held 809 Boer prisoners, Burt's Island 607, and Port's Island held 35.
The New York Times reported an attempted mutiny by Boer prisoners of war en route to Bermuda and that martial law was enacted on Darrell's Island, in addition to the escape of three Boer prisoners to mainland Bermuda, a young Boer soldier stowed away and sailed from Bermuda to New York on the steamship Trinidad.
The most famous escapee was the Boer prisoner of war Captain Fritz Joubert Duquesne who was serving a life sentence for "conspiracy against the British government and on (the charge of) espionage". On the night of 25 June 1902, Duquesne slipped out of his tent, worked his way over a barbed-wire fence, swam 1.5 miles (2.4 km) past patrol boats and bright spot lights, through storm-wracked waters, using the distant Gibbs Hill Lighthouse for navigation until he arrived ashore on the main island. From there he escaped to the port of St. George's and a week later, he stowed away on a boat heading to Baltimore, Maryland. He settled in the US and later became a spy for Germany in both World Wars. He claimed to be responsible for the 1916 death of Lord Herbert Kitchener in the sinking of HMS Hampshire, the head of the British Army who had also commanded British forces in South Africa during the second Boer War, but this had resulted from a mine. In 1942, Col. Duquesne was arrested by the FBI for leading the Duquesne Spy Ring, which still to this day the largest espionage case in the history of the United States.
Lord Kitchener's brother, Lt. Gen. Sir Walter Kitchener, had been the Governor of Bermuda from 1908 until his death in 1912. His son, Major Hal Kitchener, bought Hinson's Island (with his partner, Major Hemming, another First World War aviator). The island had formerly been part of the Boer POW camp, housing teenaged prisoners from 1901 to 1902.
Economic and political development
Hamilton Harbour in the mid-1920s
In the early 20th century, as modern transport and communication systems developed, Bermuda became a popular destination for American, Canadian and British tourists arriving by sea. The United States Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which enacted protectionist trade tariffs on goods imported into the US, led to the demise of Bermuda's once-thriving agricultural export trade to America and encouraged the development of tourism as an alternative source of income.
In 1930, after several failed attempts, a Stinson Detroiter seaplane flew to Bermuda from New York City, the first aeroplane ever to reach the islands. The flight was not without incident, as the aircraft had to land twice in the ocean, once because of darkness and again when it needed to refuel.
Navigation and weather forecasting improved in 1933 when the Royal Air Force (then responsible for providing equipment and personnel for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm) established a station at the Royal Naval Dockyard to repair float planes (and supply replacements) for the fleet. In 1936, Luft Hansa began to experiment with seaplane flights from Berlin via the Azores with continuation flights to New York City.
In 1937, Imperial Airways and Pan American Airways began operating scheduled flying boat airline services from New York and Baltimore to Darrell's Island, Bermuda. In 1948, a regularly scheduled commercial airline service began to operate, using land-based aeroplanes landing at Kindley Field (now L.F. Wade International Airport), helping tourism to reach its peak in the 1960s–1970s. By the end of the 1970s, however, international business had supplanted tourism as the dominant sector of Bermuda's economy.
The Royal Naval Dockyard, and the attendant military garrison, continued to be important to Bermuda's economy until the mid-20th century. In addition to considerable building work, the armed forces needed to source food and other materials from local vendors. Beginning in World War II, US military installations were also located in Bermuda.
Universal adult suffrage and the development of a two-party political system took place in the 1960s. Universal suffrage was adopted as part of Bermuda's Constitution in 1967; voting had previously been dependent on a certain level of property ownership.
On 10 March 1973, the Governor of Bermuda, Richard Sharples, was assassinated by local Black Power militants during a period of civil unrest.