A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?

A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?

A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?

A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?


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.


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 legacy that shaped attitudes toward race and culture in America for four hundred years. This book explores seventeenth-century narratives, letters, public records, and the recent work of historians and archaeologists to compel us to look again at what we know—and what we may never know—about America’s beginnings.

In the past few years, colonial historians have begun to widen the focus of their studies to a larger perspective: the transatlantic world. It is no longer enough to examine the history of a particular colony, or, indeed, the history of the United States, within its narrow boundaries on the map. As the globe shrinks due to modern technology and communications, its history enlarges. Earlier generations were content to know America’s history as the narrative of European (mostly English) settlers who came to the New World in search of freedom and a better life. Often omitted from this narrative were the histories of Native Americans who were forced off their lands and of Africans who were brought to the new land against their will. Overlooked as well were the histories of other nations whose aims and actions were inextricably bound up—and sometimes in conflict—with those of the English. the history of colonial America is not as simple as it used to be.

Besides learning to paint on a larger canvas, colonialists must deal with a perennial problem: evidence. Whereas historians of later periods are faced with the task of selecting from a wealth of evidence—documents, newspapers, journals, photographs, films, and audio recordings—colonial historians have the opposite problem: too little material. They must seize upon every scrap of evidence they can find, constructing their histories . . .

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