Located in the Atlantic Ocean far north of the Caribbean is Bermuda – a territory with a long and fascinating history of settlement and maritime culture.
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- Status: British Overseas Territory
- Capital: Hamilton
- Largest City: St. George’s
- Population (2010): 64,237
- Total Area: 53.2 km²
- Official Language: English
- Currency: Bermudian dollar ($) (BMD)
History of Bermuda
Bermuda was discovered in 1503 by a Spanish explorer, and over the next several decades served as a spot for refurbishment of Spanish and Portuguese vessels. Despite this, the Iberian powers did not attempt to settle on the islands.
Instead it was the English who made the first strides to permanent settlement. In 1607 a storm forced a ship to land in Bermuda. Most of the ship passengers later moved on to Virginia (the original destination), but some remained and planted the seeds of settlement – John Rolfe, of ‘Pocahontas’ fame, was one of those who left. In 1612, the establishment of St. George’s (the oldest English town in the New World) signaled a new era for the archipelago.
In the mid 17th century, the English Civil War caused tension for a time as most of the islanders supported the crown. Eventually an agreement with parliament was reached and peace restored. Over the next couple centuries, the colonists remained focussed on eaking out a livelihood from the sea (and contending with occasional overpopulation issues).
Early Modern History and Conflict
By the 17th century, Bermuda had developed a sterling reputation among seafarers when it came to navigational qualities, trade, and shipbuilding. Largely left to its own devices by London, Bermuda traded all across North America, with a hand in everything from lumber to cod to salt. However, this meant that when the American colonies broke away from the Empire, Bermuda lost its key trading partner – leaving the territory to get by as a backwater instead of the mercantile power it had become.
Despite this, Bermuda continued to hold a prominent place in military history. During the War of 1812 it served as an important fortress for the British while Confederate agents and smugglers often used the territory for machinations during the Civil War some 50 years later.
During the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the century (fought between Britain and South African Boers), Bermuda housed many POW’s from the latter. One Boer spy who escaped later became a German spy in the World Wars and eventually was at the center of the biggest espionage case in American history.
Beginning in the 20th century, Bermuda began to grow into a tourist hotbed for North Americans and Brits alike – especially after the territory became reachable by air. Today it continues to attract tourists from all over the world.
While there have been some periods of unrest, Bermuda has remained an important part of the British state – militarily, historically, and in terms of trade and tourism.
Like much of North America and the Caribbean, the culture of Bermuda is very diverse. British culture is arguably the most dominant, but migration from islands in the Caribbean has contributed to a wide range of cultures and ethnicities in the territory. American culture is also reflected prominently thanks to its close proximity.
The flag of Bermuda is a standard British Red Ensign (red flag with the Union Jack in the upper left corner) with the coat of arms of Bermuda on the right side. The coat of arms features a red lion holding a shield with a shipwreck on it.
Many of the sports popular throughout Bermuda come from the British, namely cricket, soccer, rugby union, and tennis. Bermudians are also keen sailors thanks to their maritime history and there are more golf courses here per person than anywhere else in the world.
Geography of Bermuda
It is often thought of as a single island, however the territory is actually made up of a group of low forming volcanoes which create 181 different islands. Many islands have multiple names so depending on who you ask you might get a different answer – so it can sometimes be hard to keep them all straight. The climate is largely subtropical, though not as warm as the more southerly Caribbean islands.
Cities and Towns
The capital of Bermuda is Hamilton, a ‘city’ that is home to barely over 1000 people. Despite the small size, it is the financial center of the territory as well as serving as a major port. St. George’s is slightly larger. Despite being newer than St. John’s (Newfoundland) and Jamestown (Virginia), it has been continually inhabited since 1612 whereas the other two weren’t.
Did you know?
- The fabled Bermuda Triangle is an area of ocean stretching south from Bermuda to the northern Caribbean islands
- Bermuda is the oldest and most populated British Overseas Territory
- The whistling tree frog can be heard at night
- The territory has a history of piracy
- Gosling Brothers rum is synonymous with the island, as is the cocktail ‘Dark ‘N’ Stormy’
- You can snorkel up to 7 miles offshore
- Rainwater is harvested on rooftops
- It has been sometimes called ‘Isle of Devils’
- In the shipwreck that resulted in settlement in Bermuda, all 150 passengers and a dog survived
With an intriguing maritime history and ideal tourist destinations, Bermuda has found a place for itself in the modern world.
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