June-August, 1609: Colonization of Bermuda
On June 2, 1609, a seven-ship British fleet departed London carrying 600 passengers and supplies destined for the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. This was the maiden voyage of the fleet’s flagship, Sea Venture, England’s first large, purpose-designed, emigrant ship (A large, brand new ship departs England for its maiden voyage to America. If that isn’t foreshadowing, what is?). The Sea Venture carried several notable passengers, namely, the new governor of Jamestown, Sir Thomas Gates, the admiral of the Virginia Company, Sir George Somers, and the writer, William Strachey.
Two months into the fleet’s, mostly unremarkable, journey, a hurricane washed over the fleet. The storm separated the ships, but six of them arrived at Jamestown throughout the following week. The Sea Venture, however, was not one of them. Blow off course during the storm, the ship appears to have been caught in the maelstrom for a full day. According to William Strachey, the Sea Venture weathered the storm surprisingly well at first. Strachey’s optimism vanished quickly. The new ship had a critical flaw. The timbers had not set thoroughly, and the rough seas forced their caulking out.
The storm finally passed, but the Sea Venture‘s leaks picked up speed. Crew and passengers bailed feverishly, the Admiral jettisoned the starboard guns… and that’s when a second hurricane rolled over the beleaguered ship. Admiral Somers manned the helm throughout the storm, and Strachey wrote, “For four-and-twenty hours the storm in a restless tumult had blown so exceedingly as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence…the waters like whole rivers did flood the air…winds and seas were as mad as fury and rage could make them.”
Two days later, water had risen by nine feet in the ship’s hold. Crew and passengers could not bail faster than the Sea Venture leaked. On 28 July, lookouts spotted a rocky coast surrounded by protruding coral reefs. Knowing the ship would soon sink, Admiral Somers deliberately rammed the Sea Venture aground onto a reef. The ship “fell in between two rocks,” and, somehow, all of the passengers and crew evacuated to the nearby island. The land was surprisingly fruitful, and over the next nine months, the marooned settlers and sailors built two new ships, the Deliverance and the Patience. Each of these ships reached Jamestown in 1610, but several passengers chose to stay behind. This marked the beginning of the colonization of the Bermuda Isles.
Eventually, William Strachey returned to England where he shared his written experiences with his friends, one of whom was William Shakespeare. Most Shakespearean scholars believe Strachey’s account of the incident is the source for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.