Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bermuda connections

Everyone in Bermuda knows that discovery happened by accident in 1609 when Admiral Sir George Somers commanding HMS Sea Venture ploughed into a reef off what is now commonly known as the Club Med beach in St. George's.  It happened during a tempest -- actually THE Tempest as recorded by Shakespeare -- so you can't really blame him, but it is the details I find fascinating.

And by the way this is not a blog about Bermuda.  It is a blog about the founding of America.

Forget Christopher Columbus.  He never landed in the US.  His discovery launched the Spanish American colonies not the lower 48.

The Portuguese started it.  Trade with the east has been going on forever.  Europe had acquired the taste for silks and spices, but they were so expensive.  And the trade was controlled by the Muslims and their Venetian lackeys.  During our 2011 trip to Kotor in Montenegro Ali and I discovered that that port was the end of the Silk Road, being a very deep water port and one substantially controlled by Venice.

So having dispelled the flat earth theory and managed the first circumnavigation of the world, the Portuguese also discovered you could go straight to the place of production and cut out all those pesky non-Catholic middle men.

So they did.  Then it was the Spanish to South America and the French to Canada.

The English however were still struggling with the end of the Reformation and the religious struggles that followed.  Elizabeth I would have liked to do something but was limited to allowing privateers like Drake and Frobisher to become a nuisance to the Spanish.  In the process they gained valuable geographical information and Sir Walter Raleigh named the part of the American coastline between the Spanish in the south and French in the north Virginia, in honour of the queen.

Her cousin James became King in 1603 joining the crowns of England and Scotland in the process settling a number of issues: he was Protestant so that was that; James was also practical so stopped persecuting Catholics; he also had sons so the dynasty was secure; and he made peace with Spain so that worry was over too.  But he was also concerned that the never ending troubles had created a surplus of men that needed something to do.

It was also around this time that the merchant class was starting to gain a voice and that voice said let's look overseas before everything is gone.

It was also the beginning of joint stock companies -- precursor to today's companies.  It was a way to raise capital from a variety of people, some active investors, some passive.  The East India Company started then as did the Virginia Company.  King James granted a royal charter giving exclusivity and the planning began.

When you learn about the mishaps and the near disasters that ensued, you may be tempted to think that a bunch of gnarly sailors and adventurers simply hopped onto a ship and rolled up in Virginia and set up.  Not a bit of it.  The planning went on for more than a year.  One of those hardy first batch, the renowned Captain John Smith, left little money but a dozen volumes of notes, diaries and books detailing the immense amount of work that went into that planning.

An actor portraying Captain John Smith's landing at Jamestown in May 1607... 400 years later in 2007 when the Queen attended too

Bottom line though is they also had no real idea where they would end up, what or who they would face, and what they really needed to do to make it all work.

History shows that they did but it's the journey that is the fascinating bit.

It all happened in Jamestown, Virginia.  About 2 hours down the road from Charlottesville on the I64.  Viv and I went there yesterday.

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