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A Tale of Two Colonies

What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?

Virginia Bernhard

Publication Year: 2011

In 1609, two years after its English founding, colonists struggled to stay alive in a tiny fort at Jamestown.John Smith fought to keep order, battling both English and Indians. When he left, desperate colonists ate lizards, rats, and human flesh. Surviving accounts of the “Starving Time” differ, as do modern scholars’ theories.


Meanwhile, the Virginia-bound Sea Venture was shipwrecked on Bermuda, the dreaded, uninhabited “Isle of Devils.” The castaways’ journals describe the hurricane at sea as well as murders and mutinies on land. Their adventures are said to have inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest.


A year later, in 1610, the Bermuda castaways sailed to Virginia in two small ships they had built. They arrived in Jamestown to find many people in the last stages of starvation; abandoning the colony seemed their only option. Then, in what many people thought was divine providence, three English ships sailed into Chesapeake Bay. Virginia was saved, but the colony’s troubles were far from over.


Despite glowing reports from Virginia Company officials, disease, inadequate food, and fear of Indians plagued the colony. The company poured thousands of pounds sterling and hundreds of new settlers into its venture but failed to make a profit, and many of the newcomers died. Bermuda—with plenty of food, no native population, and a balmy climate—looked much more promising, and in fact, it became England’s second New World colony in 1612.


In this fascinating tale of England’s first two New World colonies, Bernhard links Virginia and Bermuda in a series of unintended consequences resulting from natural disaster, ignorance of native cultures, diplomatic intrigue, and the fateful arrival of the first Africans in both colonies. Written for general as well as academic audiences, A Tale of Two Colonies examines the existing sources on the colonies, sets them in a transatlantic context, and weighs them against circumstantial evidence.


From diplomatic correspondence and maps in the Spanish archives to recent archaeological discoveries at Jamestown, Bernhard creates an intriguing history. To weave together the stories of the two colonies, which are fraught with missing pieces, she leaves nothing unexamined: letters written in code, adventurers’ narratives, lists of Africans in Bermuda, and the minutes of committees in London. Biographical details of mariners, diplomats, spies, Indians, Africans, and English colonists also enrich the narrative. While there are common stories about both colonies, Bernhard shakes myth free from truth and illuminates what is known—as well as what we may never know—about the first English colonies in the New World.

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-vii


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pp. viii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-6

Years before the Mayflower set sail, English colonists in the New World confronted Native peoples and set the stage for savagery and slavery. In the early 1600s a series of disasters, miscalculations, and intrigues—each with unintended consequences and unanswered questions—changed the history of the New World and left a...

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1. The Wreck of the Sea Venture

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pp. 7-34

In the teming , brawling, bustling London of the early 1600s, more than two hundred thousand people lived and worked. It was the fastest-growing city in Europe and a major world port. On the wide Thames River, small boats went up and down, oars moving like the legs of water bugs, and east of London Bridge, dozens of large ships rode at...

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2. Bad Blood at Jamestown

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pp. 35-66

By July 1609, when the Sea Venture survivors clambered ashore on a Bermuda beach, conditions for the Virginia colonists had gone from bad (as John Smith had reported in his True Relation in 1608) to worse. Smith was still in Virginia, but he would not be there long. For two and a half years in Virginia, some of the English who had come with...

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3. Troubles in Paradise

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pp. 67-94

Henry Ravens was expendable. No one dared to voice this, not even in a whisper, but every one of the Bermuda castaways knew it. If they were ever to get off these remote islands, someone had to go for help. Virginia was the closest place, but between Bermuda and Virginia lay seven hundred miles of foaming,...

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4. The Starving Time

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pp. 95-117

In seventeenth -century England, most people had enough to eat, however humble the fare. At home, even the poor had coarse bread or porridge, and now and then a bit of cheese or meat. It was not fine, but it was filling. Outside the cities, ordinary people grew their own food and butchered their own meat. Workers in towns and cities often...

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5. Deliverance

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pp. 118-138

In the early spring of 1610 winter’s biting winds were gone from Bermuda, but the castaways’ worries hovered over them like sullen clouds. Would their two small ships ever leave Bermuda? No one could say what might happen if Somers rejected Gate’s offer to make peace. Days turned to weeks as the two opposing groups sparred: Gates’s...

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6. A Tale of Two Colonies

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pp. 139-168

When Adm . Sir George Somers sailed away from Virginia on July 19, 1610, he left a colony perilously near collapse, but Bermuda’s star was about to rise. But for the wreck of the Sea Venture, Bermuda might have remained what it had been for centuries: an uninhabited speck of land thought to be haunted by devils. But for...

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7. The Confluence of Three Cultures

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pp. 169-192

In the spring of 1616 the Somers Islands Company ordered Bermuda’s governor, Daniel Tucker, to send to the West Indies for “negroes to dive for pearls.”1 Tucker (a former Virginia colonist and survivor of the Starving Time) gave the order, and the captain of the...


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pp. 193-214


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pp. 215-220

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272577
E-ISBN-10: 0826272576
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219510
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219519

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 1, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 868217800
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Tale of Two Colonies