John Smith wrote one of the first Histories of Bermuda
(in concert with Virginia and New England)
Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez. 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 for fresh meat and water, but legends of spirits and devils, now thought to have stemmed only from the callings of raucous birds (most likely the Bermuda Petrel, or Cahow), also the loud noise heard at night from wild hogs and of perpetual, storm-wracked conditions (most early visitors arrived under such conditions) and a surrounding ring of treacherous reefs, kept them from attempting any permanent settlement on the Isle of Devils.
Settlement by the English
For the next century, the island is believed to have been visited frequently but not permanently settled. The first two English colonies in Virginia had failed, and a more determined effort was initiated by King James I of England (James VI of Scotland), who granted a Royal Charter to the Virginia Company. In 1609, a flotilla of ships left England under the Company's Admiral, Sir George Somers, and the new Governor of Jamestown, Sir Thomas Gates, to relieve the colony of Jamestown, settled two years before. Somers had previous experience sailing with both Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. The flotilla was broken up by a storm, and the flagship, the Sea Venture, was wrecked off Bermuda (as depicted on the territory's coat of arms), leaving the survivors in possession of a new territory. (William Shakespeare's play The Tempest is thought to have been inspired by William Strachey's account of this shipwreck.) The island was claimed for the English Crown, and the charter of the Virginia Company was extended to include it. St George's was settled in 1612 and made 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 (The Somers Isles remains an official name for the colony, named after Admiral Somers, just as Gate's Bay and Fort Gates are named after Sir Thomas Gates), formed by the same shareholders. The close ties with Virginia were commemorated even after Bermuda's separation by reference to the archipelago in many Virginian place names, such as Bermuda City, and Bermuda Hundred. The first British coins in America were struck here.
Most of the survivors of the Sea Venture had carried on to Jamestown in 1610 aboard two Bermuda-built ships. Among them was John Rolfe, who left a wife and child buried in Bermuda, but in Jamestown, married Pocahontas, a daughter of Powhatan. Intentional settlement of Bermuda began with the arrival of the Plough, in 1612.
Because of its limited land area, Bermuda has had difficulty with over-population. In the first two centuries of settlement it relied on steady human emigration to keep the population manageable. It is often claimed that, before the American Revolution more than ten thousand Bermudians (over half of the population) emigrated, primarily to the American South, where Great Britain was displacing Spain as the dominant European imperial power. A steady trickle of outward migration continued. With seafaring being the only real industry, by the end of the 18th century at least a third of the island's manpower was at sea at any one time.
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 raged and King Charles I was beheaded in Whitehall, London. The execution resulted in the outbreak of a Bermudian civil war; it was ended by militias. This created a strong sense of devotion to the crown for the majority of colonists and it forced those who did not swear allegiance, such as Puritans and independents, into exile in the Bahamas.
In the 17th century the Somers Isles Company suppressed shipbuilding, as it needed Bermudians to farm in order to generate income from the land. Agricultural production met with only limited success, however. The Bermuda cedar boxes used to ship tobacco to England were reportedly worth more than their contents. 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; the Company itself being dissolved.
After the dissolution of the Somers Isle Company, Bermudians rapidly abandoned agriculture for shipbuilding, replanting farmland with the native juniper (Juniperus bermudiana, also called Bermuda cedar) trees that grew thickly over the whole island. Establishing effective control over the Turks Islands, Bermudians deforested their landscape to begin the salt trade that became the world's largest and remained the cornerstone of Bermuda's economy for the next century. Bermudian sailors relied on more than salt, however. they vigorously pursued whaling, privateering, and the merchant trade. Vessels sailed the normal shipping routes, but were required to engage an enemy vessel no matter the size or strength, and as a result many ships were destroyed. The Bermuda sloop became highly regarded for speed and maneuverability. The Bermuda sloop HMS Pickle, one of the fastest vessels in the Royal Navy, brought the news of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Nelson back to England.
After the American Revolution, the Royal Navy began improving the harbours and in 1811 started building the large dockyard on Ireland Island, in the west of the chain, to serve as its principal naval base guarding the western Atlantic Ocean shipping lanes. During the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, the British attacks on Washington, D.C. and the Chesapeake (which prompted the writing of The Star-Spangled Banner) 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.
It was here that the British soldiers assembled before being sent to attack Baltimore and Washington. In 1816, James Arnold, the son of Benedict Arnold, fortified Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard against possible U.S. attacks. Today, the "Maritime Museum" occupies the Keep of the Royal Naval Dockyard, including the Commissioner's House, and exhibits artefacts of the base's military history.
As a result of Bermuda's proximity to the southeastern U.S. coast, it was regularly used by Confederate States blockade runners during the American Civil War to evade Union naval vessels and bring desperately needed war goods to the South from England. The old Globe Hotel in St George's, which was a centre of intrigue for Confederate agents, is preserved as a museum open to the public.
Economic and political development
In the early 20th century, as modern transport and communication systems developed, Bermuda became a popular destination for wealthy American, Canadian and British tourists arriving by frequent steamship service. In addition, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act enacted by the United States against its trading partners in 1930, cut off Bermuda's once-thriving agricultural export trade (primarily lilies and fresh vegetables to the U.S.), spurring the overseas territory to develop its tourist industry.
After several failed attempts, in 1930 the first aeroplane reached Bermuda. A Stinson Detroiter seaplane flying from New York, it had to land in the ocean once because of darkness and then again to refuel. Navigation and weather forecasting improved in 1933 when the Royal Air Force established a station at Bermuda and operated float planes from the harbour in coordination with the British fleet. In 1936 Lufthansa began to experiment with seaplane flights from Berlin via the Azores with continuation to New York City. In the late 1930s, Imperial Airways and Pan American World Airways began operating scheduled flying-boat airline services from New York and Baltimore to Darrell's Island, Bermuda. In 1948, regularly scheduled commercial airline service by land-based aeroplanes began to Kindley Field (now Bermuda International Airport), helping tourism to reach its peak in the 1960s–1970s. By the end of the 20th century, international business had supplanted tourism as the dominant sector of Bermuda's economy (see Economy of Bermuda).
The Royal Naval Dockyard, and the attendant military garrison continued to be an important component of 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, U.S. military installations also were located in Bermuda (see "Military" section, below, and Military of Bermuda).
Universal adult suffrage and the development of a two-party political system occurred in the 1960s. Before universal suffrage, adopted as part of Bermuda's Constitution in 1967, voting was based on property ownership (see "Politics" section, below, and Politics of Bermuda). On 10 March 1973, then-Governor of Bermuda Richard Sharples was assassinated by local Black Power militants during a period of civil unrest in the 1970s.