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The Wreck of the Sea Venture and Shakespeares play The Tempest

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  • The Wreck of the Sea Venture and Shakespeares play The Tempest

    One of the great adventure stories of Jamestown days was the Wreck of the Sea Venture.

    On June 2, 1609 seven ships and two pinnaces set out in a fleet from England to Jamestown. The flagship of the fleet was a great vessel the Sea Venture and all of the leaders of the expedition traveled on her.

    A hurricane struck the fleet in late July and the Sea Venture was separated from the other ships and after several days of being in the heart of the storm, she was flung onto the coral reefs of Bermuda, an unpopulated and feared place.

    Fortunately, no one was killed in the shipwreck and the many survivors set out to build two new ships from the remains of the old one and what Bermuda cedar trees they could harvest. There were 150 people on the ship and they found that Bermuda was a paradise, full of wild hogs and tortoises, birds and fish to catch and wild fruit to gather. Some did not want to leave when the time came to take ship on the two new vessels that they were able to build.

    When the vessels sailed they were short one man who had been executed, one who had been murdered, one Indian who had disappeared, perhaps murdered by the other Indian in the party, and two men who refused to sail on to Virginia or who were left behind for being mutinous.

    William Strachey wrote a letter back to England and he told of the terrors of the hurricane and how those on the ship fought to survive. It is believed that William Shakespeare read William Strachey’s account and also a shorter account of the Sea Venture wreck written by Sylvester Jourdain and wrote his play The Tempest based on them.

    It is also believed that one of the survivors of the Sea Venture was Stephen Hopkins, who in 1620 turned up on the Mayflower with his family in the Plymouth Colony. He was a man who helped the Pilgrims to deal with the natives in the area. He was rather a difficult man having been condemned to hang for mutiny on Bermuda, but reprieved. In Plymouth he was often in trouble for assault, not regulating the alcohol consumption in his home and price gouging.

    There is a limited preview on Google Books of two books about the Sea Venture Shipwreck

    Sea Venture: Shipwreck, Survival, and the Salvation of Jamestown
    By Kieran Doherty

    The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America by Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith is also there for a limited preview.

    I have read both books and really enjoyed The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown. The other book was written for teenagers but even at that I did enjoy reading it.

    There is today on Bermuda a house that can be toured that was built in the 1600s by the direct descendants of Christopher Carter, one of the men who remained there. It is called the Carter House.

    The remains of the Sea Venture wreck now lie protected in the waters off the shore of Bermuda.

    Strachey’s account can be read at:
    "A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight" original-spelling version at Virtual Jamestown. "A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight" modern-spelling version at Virtual Jamestown.

    I think that Silvester Jourdain’s account is in "A Plaine Description of the Barmudas, Now Called Sommer Ilands," by W.C., 1613. W.C.'s account includes a description of the shipwreck of Sir Thomas Gates's ship on Bermuda, the resources and advantages of that colony, and additional supporting material written by residents of Bermuda.

    There is a very nice article from the American Heritage Magazine about the Sea Venture wreck at
    Homo homini lupus

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