The History of Bermuda
For very good reason, Bermuda has always glowed with an aura of mystery echoed through the ages.
First discovered by the Spanish navigator Juan de Bermúdez, this gem of an island blessed with warm climes and fertile land was strangely uninhabited. The local reefs made docking difficult, and strange birds made terrifying calls that had many superstitious sailors keeping their distance. Even in the modern age, the infamous “Bermuda Triangle” myth seems to maintain this legend of an arcane land in the middle of the North Atlantic.
The truth, of course, is much more down-to-earth. Since British colonialization in the 17th century, Bermuda has enjoyed a very rich and prosperous history – and much of it remains for visitors to come and see to this day. Long a center of military and political intrigue between great European powers and American interests, relics and landmarks still inform and inspire both casual tourists and serious history buffs. Whether you aim to be educated, be entertained or just relax in majestic settings, there is a treasure trove of past eras on display for all to see. Here are some of the more intriguing points of interest for those seeking to experience the rich legacy of Bermuda:
St. George’s Parish
The far eastern end of Bermuda is home to the lion’s share of the island’s prominent historical sites. And it’s no wonder, as the city of St. George was, in fact, the first capital of the territory, going back to 1612 (the capital was moved to Hamilton in 1815). Fort St. Catherine was established here, whose original structure was already in place by 1614. It was, however, extensively remodeled for hundreds of years after. Today, the imposing edifice still stands in watch situated between St. Catherine Beach and Achilles Bay. Cross the dry moat’s drawbridge and explore the tunnels, towers and ramparts by day – or take a gaslight tour in the evening.
St. Peter’s Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest continuously used Protestant church in the New World. Standing in the beating heart of the city of St. George, this simple but lovely church is a testament to the early settlement of the island. The interior is constructed of exposed cedar beams – a native wood that has since become scarce due to blight – with commemorative plaques resting on the walls. Outside is a graveyard that served the island until a few decades ago. This spot is a perfect place for quiet contemplation and reflection.
Rounding out historical St. George’s Parish are the very streets of the city itself. The so-called “back streets” feature winding alleyways paved with cobblestones, where the spirit of Old Bermuda still feels alive and well. In the Historic section of town, famous wooden stocks menace evil-doers in the King’s Square. The names of the lanes themselves tell the story of the city’s past: Printer’s Alley, where the island’s first newspaper was published; Silk Alley, where prominent women once proudly showed off their finery; and Shinbone Alley, a place where sailors used to go to have fun until their bellies were full of rum. There’s more to explore there, too, with plenty more whimsical street names.
The eastward-hooked western end of Bermuda makes up Sandys Parish (pronounced “sands”), consisting of three main islands. This strategic area played another important role in the area’s history and plenty of sites still stand as testament. Most prominent among these is The Royal Naval Dockyard. Built to repel attacks from colonial rebels in America, Napoleon’s maritime forces and even pirates, the British set to build this enormous fortification in 1809. Today, cruise ships dock alongside this popular attraction. Enjoy commanding views of the ocean and a walk back in time as exhibits show how soldiers worked and lived in the fort. You can also enter the Bermuda Maritime Museum, housed within the complex itself, which converts the greater grounds into a true discovery experience you won’t soon forget.
Further south down Sandys Parish, another impressive military outpost was built for the very same purposes by the British. This time, however, it was the tensions rising due to the American Civil War that caused worry. Scaur Hill Fort was erected in the late 1860s, but an anticipated attack by Union armies never actually arrived. Today, it’s one of the loveliest parks on the island. Offering some of the most amazing views in Bermuda, this is a perfect place for picnicking alongside stone walls and iron cannons.
If you’re wondering why there are so many forts in Bermuda, consider the location and geography of the island. It’s the perfect Midatlantic waypoint between England and North America. It’s also long and thin, requiring that a ring of protection surrounds the citizenry and precious resources which many passing ships could easily plunder. During the 1870s in the capital of Hamilton, Fort Hamilton was built, overlooking the city. Wander down the long tunnels and marvel at how the old dry moat has now been transformed into a beautiful botanical garden. Be sure to take the time to gander at the colorful rooftops of the city down below.
Admiralty House Park is another interesting historical site in Hamilton Parish which rounds things out into the natural loveliness of Bermuda’s shore. Once home to top officers of the British Royal Navy, very little of the structure still stands. One can, however, set out on an expedition to find the few remaining remnants while also stepping into the secret passageways that once offered discreet entries onto the property. At the far edge of the park, limestone cliffs stand vigil over azure waters, which you can jump into, or enjoy the beach at Clarence Cove. It’s a perfect cap to your investigation into the history of the island, which begins and ends at the sea, yet never quite fades away…