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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1609- Colonization of Bermuda

On June 2, 1609, the Virginia Company of London sent a fleet carrying 600 passengers and supplies to secure the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. The largest of the ships, the Sea Venture, carried both the governor of the new colony, Sir Thomas Gates, and the admiral of the Virginia Company, Sir George Somers. As the fleet drew near the Azores, a storm separated the ships. All ships but the Sea Venture made it to Jamestown, and it was presumed lost. The ship was not lost, but endured a treacherous journey. As the Sea Venture continued to sail west, it had the misfortune of being struck by yet another hurricane on 25 July. The deputy governor of Virginia, William Strachey, describes the event: “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.”

The crew worked chaotically during the hurricane and tirelessly pumped water out of the ship for three days following. The damage was so great, however, that water levels would not decrease. The ship had became “shaken, torn, and leaked”. The crew and passengers were exhausted and discouraged. On 28 July, just as the ship was about to sink, it came upon a rocky coast. It was the islands of the Bermudas, or “Island of Devils,” as declared by Juan Bermudez, the Spanish explorer who had come upon the island in 1511, but refused to colonize it. Mariners often avoided the infamous area, as it was a place of “gusts, storms, and foul weather” that some believed was inhabited by evil spirits. The true source of Bermuda’s infamy lay in the coral reefs that surrounded the island. It was these reefs, not devils, which were responsible for numerous shipwrecks along the island’s shores. Admiral Somers deliberately ran the Sea Venture aground onto one of these coral reefs in an effort to save those onboard. The boat “fell in between two rocks”, and remarkably, all of the people on the boat were saved.

The wreckage of the Sea Venture on the reefs of Bermuda inadvertently marked the island’s settlement by the British. The settlers and crew found the land to be quite fruitful, and would spend nine months on the island. As the men enjoyed bountiful food sources and adequate shelter, they built two new ships, the “Deliverance” and the “Patience”, to continue the journey to Jamestown. Although these ships did eventually set sail for the Virginia colony on May 10, 1610, some passengers stayed behind. Even Admiral Somers eventually returned to the island and remained there till his death.

Fast Facts:

  • William Strachey’s account of the storm quickly circulated amongst his friends, one of which was William Shakespeare. The wreck of the Sea Venture off the coast of Bermuda is thought to have been the inspiration behind the playwright’s “The Tempest” (even though the play took place in the Mediterranean).
  • One of the settlers to leave Bermuda after the shipwreck was John Rolfe. In Bermuda, he and first wife welcomed a baby girl, who unfortunately died on the island. Shortly after arriving at the Jamestown settlement, Rolfe then lost his wife. Within a few years he would meet and then marry the Indian princess, Pocahontas.
  • In 1615, the Somers Isles Company was formed to operate the English colony of Somers Isles, also known as Bermuda, as a commercial venture. Today, Bermuda is still a British Overseas Territory and acts as a popular resort destination.


Emanuel, Kerry A. Divine Wind. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. 49-52.

Wright, Louis B. A Voyage To Virginia In 1609. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1967. Pp 105-116.

Glover, Lorri and Smith, Daniel Blake. The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown- the Sea Venture castaways and the fate of America. Henry Holt and Company, New York. 2008.

“The Somers Island Company”, Wikipedia

“William Strachey.” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

“Bermuda.” Wikipedia. 2010. Web.