Tag: Virginia

Relics of Empire: Bermuda

Saint Peter's Church, in St. George's, Bermuda...
Saint Peter’s Church, in St. George’s, Bermuda. Although the church, the oldest of the Church of England (now Anglican Communion) outside of Britain and Ireland, dates to 1612, the current structure dates only to 1620. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Bermuda was originally discovered by Spanish navigator Juan Bermudez around 1511, the island went untended and unclaimed for nearly a century. The beginnings of English settlement were established almost by accident when a shipwreck left the flagship of English Admiral Sir George Somers shattered on Bermuda’s reefs in 1609.

Somers’ expedition had set out with the intention of colonizing the New World for Britain. He saw the New World as a potential fresh start for many citizens of Britain’s overcrowded cities. He had engineered the initiative, and the voyage had gone smoothly for the first few days.

The crew of the Sea Venture was en route to Jamestown, Virginia when they met their misfortune of the coast of Bermuda. On July 25, 1609, the ship was caught in a hurricane and tossed hundreds of miles off course, until she wrecked on the reefs of Bermuda’s Discovery Bay.

Fortunately, no lives were lost, and Somers took the opportunity to explore and map the islands. The men built makeshift boats and spent months charting the mainland and its surrounding islands.

Eventually, the crew of 150 survivors was able to build a couple of ships, and in these Bermuda-built ships, the survivors carried on with their voyage to the Jamestown colony. Three sailors were so enchanted by the island, however, that they volunteered to be left behind. These three British sailors became the first European settlers on Bermuda.

Intentional settlement began a few years later, when Bermuda was incorporated into the Virginia Company charter. In 1612, around 60 colonists arrived from England, and they soon established St. George Town as the first official settlement. St. George’s became Bermuda’s first capital, and remains today as the oldest continually inhabited English town in the Americas.

Cover of "The Generall Historie of Virgin...
Cover of “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New=England, and the Summer Isles” (The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Somers Isles), by Captain John Smith, 1624. ‘Graven’ by John Barra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1615, Bermuda was handed over to the Somers Isles Company. Shortly thereafter, Bermuda officially gained status as a British colony, when the first parliament convened in 1620. In 1684, King Charles II appointed Sir Robert Robertson as the colony’s first governor and designated Bermuda as British Crown Colony.

Colonization continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, bolstered in part by the slave trade. Most slaves were brought in from Africa, though quite a number of Scots were sent for their part in fighting against Cromwell, and many more Irish slaves followed in 1651. Fortunately, all slaves on Bermuda were freed under the British Emancipation Act of 1834.

Bermuda gained particular prominence during the American Revolution. Since Britain lost its colonial ports, strong naval bases were established in Bermuda.  The island also went on to play a key role during WWII as a base for refueling and a hotbed of espionage.

As the island gained prominence over the years, its relationship with England gradually shifted. After nearly two hundred years of occupation, the British government decided to grant the colony self-government. In 1957, Britain withdrew its armies.

Bermuda has long held status as Britain’s oldest colony. Today, Bermuda is not officially a country, and while it is self-governing, it forms part of the Commonwealth. As such, the island’s Governor is appointed by the Crown and Britain directly manages internal security and police systems. As a British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is represented by Britain in all foreign affairs.

Economic Migration: Jamestown, Virginia

In May of 1607, three British ships landed on the shores of Virginia. On board the Discovery, the Godspeed and the Susan Constant were men, boys and crew members who hoped to better their fortunes in the New World. The ships were loaded with all the supplies they thought might be needed in establishing a colony. The settlers had high hopes as they set out, spurred on by visions of the “mountains of gold” that the Spanish had found. Little did they know what hardships they were set to face.

Obverse and Reverse of the Seal of the Virgini...
Obverse and Reverse of the Seal of the Virginia Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While other settlements across America had been largely spurred by other (primarily religious) factors, the colony of Jamestown was established entirely for economic purposes. The economic climate of 16th and 17th century England was undergoing great changes. Many farmers had lost their rented lands and had moved to the cities looking for work. Jobs were few and far between, however, and many of these migrants were forced to beg or steal to survive.

A number of enterprising folks began looking for a solution to the problem, and migration to the New World seemed like a viable and practical option. Establishing new colonies abroad was risky and expensive; however, in many ways it seemed the risks were outweighed by the political and economic benefits.

Early in the 17th century, a group of merchants approached King James as the joint-stock Virginia Company of London. In 1606, they were granted the right to establish colonies in Virginia. Rather than the crown footing the bill for the venture, wealthy men put up the money to buy the ships and supplies needed for the voyage and initial settlement.  A large number of Englishmen became stockholders in the venture, and held high hopes that they would see great returns on their investments in the form of gold and other goods like tar, pitch, oil, and citrus fruits.

Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, comme...
Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, commemorated on the Virginia State Quarter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first 104 settlers arrived in Virginia in 1607. A third of these settlers were “gentlemen” who had been recruited by the financers of the expedition. Many were military men who had fought the Spanish or in the Irish wars. Aside from these came a number of skilled craftsmen, bricklayers and carpenters, a blacksmith, a mason, a minister, a barber, and two surgeons, along with other unskilled workers and common seamen.

Upon arrival, Captain Christopher Newport, commander of the largest ship, opened the sealed orders from the Virginia Company and declared the names of those who had been appointed to run the colony. Edward Maria Wingfield was named president of the colony, and the settlers began the arduous task of establishing themselves in the new land.

Others soon arrived; however, life in the colony was more difficult than expected. Soon the colonists were starving, and over eighty percent of the immigrants died within a year. The Virginia Company was still hoping for a return on their investment, so they put out propaganda to entice more Britons to join the new colony. Another 3,750 were sent off to the supposed land “of milk and honey” in the hope of finding profit.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Company saw very little profit for many years. The settlers struggled to find a profitable product that could be exported. Their search for gold was fruitless, lumber was too expensive to ship, and other small ventures saw little success. The settlers established a fur trade with the Indians; however, even this was not financially lucrative until many years later.

It wasn’t until John Rolfe began to experiment with tobacco that Virginia finally began to turn a profit. Once they had learned to grow and cure the leaves, the colonists gave up all other products to meet the rising demand for tobacco in England. The economy in Virginia was revived as this great cash crop finally brought financial success.

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