Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Bermuda!

On this day exactly 400 years ago, the Plough brought Bermuda's first 50 deliberately sent colonists and anchored in Smiths Sound in mid-afternoon. The Three Sailors living on Smiths Island (whose house we're hunting for) made themselves known once they had ascertained that the ship was English and friendly (rather than Spanish and hostile). They celebrated together by going ashore at the first landing place they sighted (probably Vaughan's Bay in St. David's) and prayed and gave thanks for their safe arrival. From that moment in 1612 through today, Bermuda has developed, evolved, changed with the twists and turns of four centuries of world history, and become a whole lot more crowded, but Smiths Island retains a lot of the character of earliest Bermuda - a few unpaved paths, a handful of houses, and neighbours who know each other very well. Although there are far fewer cedars than there was in 1612 (thanks to the 1940s blight which killed off 99% of this quintessential native tree), palmettos abound.
Smiths Island from near Vaughan's Bay - the Plough sailed this channel a little after noon on July 11, 1612
To get a better sense of the first day of Bermuda's settlement, I've plotted the Plough's likely course on this 1898 map:
I wonder if it was as blisteringly hot then as it was today? Little breeze and flat seas. Strangely, today passed with very little fanfare - the "wench-ducking" reenactment in St. George's proceeded as usual without change in script and the waters where the Plough actually sailed were deserted except for the odd fishing boat going out to blue water. I admit that the 1612 arrival is far less dramatic than the Sea Venture wreck and castaway sojourn, but for all the drama of the 1609-10 temporary stay, it had very little lasting effect on Bermuda's subsequent development as a colony or society - an exciting but quite disconnected prelude before the real story starts - with the Three Sailors, Governor Richard Moore, and his fifty followers. And the Religious and Civil Covenant they mutually pledged to follow, some eight years before the more famous Mayflower Compact of Plymouth Plantation was made.

For a few weeks, Smiths Island was home to Bermuda's entire population while the ambergris near-civil war raged and was won by Governor Moore. The Plough settlers set to work building houses and a town - probably on the high ground above The Narrows - before Moore chose to relocate his base of operations north across the harbour to where St. George's grew up as his town and capital. Maybe a future field season can hunt for this brief town site by The Narrows...

I spent this historic day in St. George's washing artifacts in the archaeology lab and licking my many wounds from yesterday's Epic Journey to the eastern tip of Smiths Island - a story for tomorrow's blog.

The real commemorations will all take place this weekend - all of St. George's many fine museums are open - most with free admission, and I'll be giving two talks on "Earliest Bermuda, 1612-1625" at 11 am and 2:30 pm at the World Heritage Center. On Sunday, we've secured a boat to shuttle the public to see Oven Site and CHB Site at Smiths Island, after which the hard work of filling in the units we dug will begin.

For more information and a schedule of the various commemoration events, check out:

And happy birthday, Bermuda! If only we'd thought to bake a huge Bermuda-shaped cake and top it with 400 candles...

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