Bermuda Islands
Named for Juan de Bermudez, a Spaniard


The Bermuda Islands were named for Juan de Bermudez, a Spaniard, who discovered them early in the 1500's. The Sea Venture, a ship carrying colonists to Virginia, was destroyed at sea near the islands during a storm on July 28, 1609. For a time, the colony was called Somers Islands after Admiral Sir George Somers, the captain of the Sea Venture. The town of St. George was also named in his honor. The reef on which the ship crashed still bears the name of Sea Venture. Bermudians celebrate Somers Day on July 28. The passengers of the Sea Venture remained for a time, but all except two of the group sailed to Virginia in 1610. These two became Bermuda's first permanent settlers. The others found the Jamestown settlers near starvation. Somers returned to Bermuda for supplies but died a few days after his arrival. His ship left another settler and returned to Virginia.

King James I of England awarded Bermuda to the Virginia Company, about 1610. The company sold its rights in 1613 to a group of English merchants. In 1684, the English Crown took over the administration of the islands. St. George served as the capital until the seat of government was moved to Hamilton in 1815.

English settlers in Bermuda kept black Africans as slaves. But the slaves did not work on plantations, as they did in Caribbean countries and in the Southern United States. Instead, they worked as domestic servants and performed various crafts, such as boatbuilding.

During the 1800's, Bermuda carried on a thriving merchant trade with the West Indies and the North American continent. The salvage of ships destroyed by storms in nearby waters also contributed to Bermuda's income. After Gibb's Hill Lighthouse was erected in 1846, fewer shipwrecks occurred. The lighthouse still stands near Port Royal Bay. Blockade-running for the Confederacy became profitable during the Civil War. Some Bermudians made fortunes as privateers. During the Prohibition period in the United States (1920-1933), some Bermudians smuggled alcoholic beverages into U.S. ports on the Atlantic Coast.

Bermuda was the site of a U.S. naval base during World War I and of U.S. air and naval bases during World War II. Today, a U.S. Navy base operates about 2 miles (3 kilometers) south of St. George. It also serves as a commercial airfield called Kindley Field.

Bermuda's economy and government are controlled by the white minority. During the late 1960's and the 1970's, many blacks protested against this control. The protests included outbreaks of violence. In 1973, the governor of Bermuda, Sir Richard Sharples, a white, was assassinated. A black rebel confessed to the assassination and was convicted. He was hanged in 1977.

As in the past, blacks today hold most of the lowest paying jobs in Bermuda. But their political power has grown since the 1970's. Racial relations in Bermuda have also improved since the 1970's.

Contributor: Gary Brana-Shute, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Latin-American and Caribbean Studies, Foreign Service Institute, Washington, D.C.


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