Bermuda History and Culture Facts: between military and tourism!
Bermuda’s small group of islands is rich in history dating back to the 16th and 17th century when it was first discovered then occupied. It was first sighted in1505 by Spanish navigator Juan de Bermudez after whom it was named. It was reported as uninhabited and foot was not set in until 1609 when a London’s Virginia Company ship, the Sea Venture was separated from the fleet and crashed on the dangerous Bermuda’s reefs.
After the crew managed to built two new ships, some men were left on the island to claim it for England and the company. The Virginia Company’s Royal Charter was extended to include Bermuda in 1612. Sixty settlers were sent who in 1614 started the construction of Saint-George, making Bermuda Britain’s oldest colony.
As the island was occupied continuously from 1609, Bermudans usually refer to this date as the origin of their island. However, it will stay part of the Royal Charter of the Virginia Company, then the Bermuda Company until 1684 when it became British Crown colony.
Slaves were brought from Africa to Bermuda from then, but slavery was outlawed in 1807 and all slaves freed in 1834. Today, it is estimated that 60% of Bermuda’s population is of African descent. Bermudians are also descendants of English settlers, Irish and Portuguese immigrants, Irish adventurers, North American Indians…
Bermuda made its débuts into the international stage when the United States waged war to Britain in 1812. The British Navy used the island as a base from which it launched a raid on Washington, DC. Its strategic location in the Atlantic proved useful for Allied military and intelligence operations during the Second World War. Following the Allied victory, a portion of Bermuda (about one tenth) was handed over the US to develop military bases on a 99-year lease. An air base was built on Saint-David’s Island, the current location of the International Airport. This base, as well as British and Canadian ones were shut down in 1995.
The development of the island as a tourism destination is attributed to Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of the Governor General of Canada. Looking to flew the long and harsh Canadian winter, she spent an extended visit in Bermuda in 1883. Quickly, the islands became a fashionable winter escape for British aristocrats and wealthy Americans alike.
Bermuda remains a British overseas territory, with a Governor who exercise executive authority on behalf of the British monarch. Its Parliament dates back to a Royal Assent that granted the island limited self-governance in 1620, making it one of the oldest parliament in the world. The first Constitution of Bermuda was voted in 1967 and has since been amended in 1989 and 2003.