Fort St. Catherine

The 'miracle' of the Sea Venture immortalized

Sir Thomas GatesPhoto Kageaki Smith

By Meredith Ebbin - Bermuda Sun

The shipwreck that led to Bermuda's settlement had broad implications for the New World. A monument to the eclectic band of sailors who made history was unveiled yesterday in St. George's.

On June 2, 1609, a fleet of nine ships set sail from Plymouth, England, headed for Jamestown, Virginia, leaving in its wake the hopes and dreams of an entire nation.

The ships were packed with passengers and supplies for the Jamestown colony, which was founded two years earlier.

Jamestown was another disaster waiting to happen. The English had made numerous attempts to establish a foothold in Americas, where the Spanish reigned supreme. All had been spectacular failures and Jamestown was headed in that direction.

As every Bermudian schoolchild knows, seven weeks later, on July 28, after a brutal storm lasting four days, the Sea Venture was wedged onto a rock off Fort St. Catherine and the 150 passengers, two of them pregnant women, scrambled ashore, wet and bedraggled, but miraculously alive.

The expedition leaders — Admiral Sir George Somers, captain Christopher Newport and Sir Thomas Gates, the governor-designate of Virginia, were inexplicably, all sailing together aboard the Sea Venture.

Others making the journey were writers Silvester Jourdain and William Strachey, whose first-hand accounts of the shipwreck and the survivors’ 10-month sojourn in Bermuda gave renewed hope to Virginia Company investors and became the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Passengers who went on to earn a permanent place in New World history were John Rolfe, Stephen Hopkins and Anglican minister, Rev. Christopher Bucke.

Much lower down on the social scale, in a world in which class and rank were paramount, was Christopher Carter. He is the only one of the 150 passengers to have stayed put in Bermuda and is considered the first Bermudian.

Yesterday afternoon, at a ceremony organised by the Corporation of St. George’s and the St. George’s Foundation, a monument etched with the names of 50 people whom historians have definitely identified as Sea Venture passengers was unveiled at Barry Road, St. George’s.

Historian George Cook, a retired president of the Bermuda College, has made it his mission to track down and compile the names of passengers — a journey that has taken him to Virginia to inspect 17th century census records.