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Bermuda

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Bermuda

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

Bermuda was an extremely important British colony situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that provided a place to dock ships, resupply as well as a location to settlements. Eventually it became one of the premier shipyards during the Age of Sail and was well known for the Bermudian sloop, a famous type of sloop that was built from the islands natural supply of hardwood that made faster and stronger ships. Bermuda is also known as Devil's Island, one of the three points of the Bermuda Triangle and is a territory that actually consists of seven main islands and about 150 smaller inlets.

Bermuda - Bermuda Map (1676)

Bermuda Map (1676)

While first sighted by the Spanish in 1515, it was not colonized by the Spanish because it was not on their trade route from Spain to the Spanish Main. However, it was useful for the British as a stop over point to their colonies in British North America and therefore they decided to make a permanent base of operations. Throughout the golden age of piracy between the 1600's and 1734 the island of Bermuda was essential in providing material support to the slave trade and engaging in the widespread sale and use of slaves as well. At some points the slaves on the island outnumbered the Europeans and revolts occurred.

Bermuda was a nice place for pirates to hang out around because it had many small islands that they could hide in and careen their boat away from the colonial authorities. The island did not provide easy access to the traditional Spanish trading routes though. This caused some problems for the local settlers sometimes as pirates would chose to sack Bermuda instead of venturing out and finding Spanish ships. This stopped in 1701 however, when the British realized the importance of Bermuda as a stop over point between the New World colonies and established a permanent base of the Royal Navy and the Royal Army.

In following the trend that occurred at Port Royal, pirates were more likely to get hung during the Post Spanish Succession Period than they were to find a letter of marque and safe haven. However, even throughout the American Civil War the island of Bermuda would provide a staging ground for the Blockade Runners and even later for the Rum Runners of the Prohibition Era.

Origins

Bermuda was first sighted by the Spanish explorer and captain Juan de Bermúdez who spotted the islands in either 1503 or 1515. While being the first to potentially sight them, the Spanish did not claim them but more regarded them as an important geographic marker for traveling across the Atlantic.

The first settlers on the islands were in 1609 when Admiral Sir George Somers was traveling from the first English settlement at Jamestown, located in the Colony and Dominion of Virginia back to England and was wrecked on the island. Their ship the Sea Venture was destroyed but the islands had a plentiful supply of natural Bermuda cedar so the Admiral built a few new ships. He left some of the colonists behind to establish a settlement on the island and he sailed back to England.

Bermuda - Bermuda Map and Fortifications (1624)

Bermuda Map and Fortifications (1624)

The colonists built fortifications on the island because they were fearful that the Spanish would try and uproot them from the location. Somers returned to Bermuda to oversee his developing settlement but in late 1609 he died soon after his arrival. The colonists tried to name the territory Somers Islands but the name never became popular and Bermuda continued to be used to name the islands. The Somers Isles Company would collapse in 1684 partly facilitated by the development of the Bermudian sloop as many of the island's inhabitants took to the seas in order to privateer against French and Spanish trade ships.

Cover of The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, & the Summer Isles - John Smith (1624)

Virginia Company

When the settlement at Jamestown began having conflicts with the local natives the Virginia Company began to look at Bermuda as a new place to develop and sent sixty settlers in 1611 to try and build a more permanent base there. However, upon their arrival the colonists realized it was not as ideal as previously thought and there was a lack of water and also shallow top-soil which would prevent cash-crops such as sugar cane from being grown.

This forced the settlers to be reliant on food to be imported from the colonies of British North America and they supplied sea salt in return. The Virginia Company would rule the colony of Bermuda until 1615 when the Somers Isles Company would assume control over the territory.

Somers Isles Company

Life was harsh for the colonists under the Somers Isles Company who ruled the island with strict policies and authority. Slaves were introduced to the island in 1616 and were brought from the west coast of Africa. Most of the imported slaves served as servants or tradesman because there was not much agriculture on the island.

Instead, Bermuda became one of the premier shipyards during the Age of Sail with its plentiful supply of Bermuda cedar providing the raw materials for the famous Bermudian sloop which was a much improved type of ship. In 1685 the colonists sued the Crown because of the horrible conditions under company rule and the charter was dissolved in 1684 and Bermuda became an official Crown colony.

Influence in Piracy

Many pirates and privateers were born in Bermuda and took to the seas as a profession due to the islands location. Many letters of marque were issued by Bermudian governors as well, as Thomas Tew was given his first commission by Isaac Richier. The commissions given out by the Bermuda governor to attack the French fort at Goree were responsible for helping initiate the first Pirate Round.

Buccaneering Era

The Pirate Round

Post Spanish Succession Period

It is believed that Bermuda was the retirement location for Henry Jennings.

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Sources

Primary Sources

Smith, John (1624). The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles. London.

Secondary Sources