History of Bermuda

Bermuda has a unique role in history just off the U.S. shores

Photo credit: © Mary Lane | Dreamstime.com

Bermuda History

Named for navigator Juan de Bermúdez who discovered to the islands that make up Bermuda, the islands remained uninhabited until Sir George Somers crashed there in 1609. However, the Europeans were not the first to live on the islands. Bermuda's prime location off of the U.S. coast has helped to shape the country's history since colonial times.

Early History

Arawak Indians were the first to live on Barbados, but they were driven away by 1200 A.D. by the Caribs who invaded from Venezuela. The Caribs then dissipated to neighboring islands before English settlers came to the islands. Some claim that Spanish slavers drove off the Carib Indians.

In the early 1500s, Juan de Bermúdez landed on the islands, but then left. Sir George Somers rediscovered them in 1609, and by 1612 the islands were called the Somers Islands. They were included in the third charter of the Virginia Company and more colonists arrived.

Captain John Powell and his brother brought settlers and slaves in 1625 and formed the first true European settlement. They called the city Jamestown, at the location that is now Holetown. Within three years the population had reached about 2,000.

The early settlers cleared forestland to produce tobacco and cotton. However, by the 1640s sugarcane had taken the place of the other two cash crops to become the main source of income for the colonies. These were the first large sugar plantations of the Caribbean.


The Virginia Company charter was revoked in 1684, and the importation of black slaves began shortly thereafter. However, Bermuda did become a British Crown Colony, which it remained until 1968. Portuguese slaves from the Azores and Maidera islands were also imported after the first slave trade began.

Emancipation of the slaves occurred in 1834, but most blacks continued to work on the plantations for low wages because there were few other opportunities and little arable land that was not owned by Europeans. Those who did leave the large estates often ended up in shanty towns.

Base Station

During the U.S. Civil War in the mid-1800s, Confederate blockade runners used the islands of Bermuda as a base. The islands also received an influx of Virginians and other confederate sympathizers after the end of the war. After the Boer War, the British government sent Boer prisoners to the islands. The islands have also served as a winter naval station for the British North Atlantic and British West Indian squadrons. This is due to their strategic location just off the coast of North Carolina. The U.S. also leased sites on the islands for naval and air bases from 1941 until 1995.

Modern Times

Despite some troubles during the depression of the 1930s, the Bermudian people have made great progress both socially and economically in recent years. The problems of the 1930s provided a catalyst for many reforms, including some which allowed blacks to take a hand in the political process.

One of Barbados' most influential political officials, Grantley Adams, came from this period of reform. He became the first premier of Barbados and was eventually knighted by the Queen of England. Barbados gained some self-government in 1961, and in 1968 became a self-governing dependency of the British government.

Sugar trade began to decline around World War II, but the islands were fortunately able to cultivate a tourist trade, which has driven them forward ever since. Offshore banking and investment have also flourished here.

The United Bermuda Party dominated the political scene from 1968 to 1998, when the Progressive Labour Party took control. Two premiers of the Progressive Labour Party have been in control since that time.

Because they were founded as a British colony, the islands of Bermuda have been relatively peaceful, rarely taking part in battle, but instead serving as a safe haven for U.S. and British ships deployed for battle in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Its unique location has promoted a peaceful state throughout the years.


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