Country Profile and History

Geography: Bermuda is an isolated island chain 580 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and about 1000 miles north of the Lesser Antilles. The Gulf Stream which flows between Bermuda and the north American continent keeps the climate temperate. The Islands are composed of limestone from shells and coral built atop ancient volcanic peaks rising to about 200 feet below the ocean surface. There are about 150 small islands, the seven largest of them are connected by bridges and causeways. Total land area is 20.59 sq. miles.

Studies of Bermuda have helped to decipher the geologic history of the region. Bermuda is a volcanic cone capped with limestone. A broad plain rising 6000 feet from the ocean floor is surmounted by a volcanic cone 6000 feet high. The cone was submerged and a thick layer of limestone deposited, now forming the surface rocks. The geologic history of the islands was confirmed when a well was drilled in search of water. The well penetrated 380 feet of limestone, and then into weathered basaltic material, earlier washed by the sea. Below this was the top of the cone. The limestone, by fossil content, dates to the Oligocene Age (1962, FM Bullard,"Volcanoes", pp99-100).

Time: GMT -4. EST +1. Daylight Savings begins the first Sunday in April until the last Sunday in October.

History: In the 16th century Spaniard Juan de Bermudes discovered the islands. He visited there in 1503 but failed to claim them for his country. It was not until 1609 that British Admiral Sir George Somers' flag-ship the "Sea Venture", on its way to the colony of Virginia with supplies and settlers, was caught in a hurricane and separated from the 9 ship flotilla, wrecking on Bermuda's reefs. This providential mishap led to British colonization of the Islands in 1612. The Islands were named the Somer Islands, often mispelled the Summer Islands. In 1620, the House of Assembly was formed, giving some measure of internal self-government. They won a charter for self-government on dissolution of the Somers Island Company in the late 1600's.

For more than three and a half centuries Bermuda has remained under the flag of Great Britain and Bermudians are proud of the fact that their country is the oldest British Colony with a House of Assembly since 1620.

By 1687, Bermuda and Virginia shared a monopoly on the tobacco trade; yet the quality of the Bermuda variety was poor

An agricultural-based economy didn't appeal as much to Bermudians as did the call of the horizon. From the beginning, they regarded the ocean as the ultimate road to prosperity, and whenever possible pursued lucrative opportunities through a trading triangle -- Bermuda, the West Indies and the continental colonies

As owners and slaves strengthened their ties to the sea, reliance on cedar was crucial. The richly scented wood rather quickly evolved from mere practical resource into the sinew of economic and cultural prosperity.

In 1684, when the British government took over the charter of the Bermuda Company, the island's sailors of fortune had established a reputation where they "were feared by merchantmen more than those of any other nation." Between 1685 and the middle of the eighteenth century, hundreds of local seamen turned to this endeavor with gusto. Some became highly successful. One of them, Nathaniel North, retired to become a rajah in Madagascar.

During the American Revolution a score of swift, copper-keeled sloops were operated as privateers, and in one month alone, September 1782, captured 20 ships. But the island became even more directly involved. A trade embargo declared by the Continental Congress against Britain and her colonies put Bermuda in a tenuous position. Squeezed by the hostilities, well-established and viable trade contacts along the eastern United States were in danger of perishing. Inability to obtain food and other essentials put the islanders so near starvation that many considered deserting the country.

A small delegation journeyed to Philadelphia to plead for Bermuda's exclusion from the embargo. Appeals fell on stony ground. Dominant in the salt trade, the islanders offered to supply as much as the States wanted. The response was quick. There was no pressing need for salt, they were informed, but if, by some good fortune, arms or gunpowder were somehow substituted. . The delegation returned home. On August 14, 1775, one of the largest gunpowder storehouses in St. George's was raided, virtually under the nose of the governor. A hundred barrels of powder were rolled down to Tobacco Bay and rowed out to two American ships anchored just offshore. When dawn broke over the town, the gunpowder was on its way to George Washington's men, who put it to good use in driving the British out of Boston. The unwritten deal of gunpowder for provisions was honored. The embargo on Bermuda was lifted.

In 1784, the first newspaper began publication (Bermuda Gazette) and the first postal service was begun. In 1813 the Bermuda Postal Service was established. In 1815 Hamilton became the capital of the Islands.

In 1834 slavery was abolished.

In 1849, the first 58 Portuguese immigrants arrived from the Madeira Islands. The "Great Drought" hit Bermuda in this year. The Scotish Black Watch Regiment, stationed in Prospect, Devonshire dug a well on North Shore for drought relief. The well still bears the name of the Regiment.

Early in the 1800s British naval power in the North Atlantic was consolidated by the construction of the Royal Naval Dockyard (often simply called the Yard) at Bermuda's most western end. With two bases already established at Antigua and Halifax, the Yard provided a valuable third prong. The construction of storehouses, repair slips, timber yards, foundries, fuel tanks, engineering shops, boat sheds, living quarters for men and officers and, later, a school and hospital, generated the largest military defense utilization of money, manpower and materials in nineteenth-century Bermuda.

In 1871, the Causeway was completed, a 1km link between St.George's Island and the Main Island.

In 1872, Bermuda's first black newspaper, The Bermuda Times, was published.  In 1883, In a general election, W.H.T. Joell was elected Bermuda's first black Member of Parliament.

In 1887 - 1890, Bermuda's first telephone and cable services were installed.  1904 saw the introduction of electricity.

In the 1930's Bermuda began promoting itself as a summer tourist resort. 1931-1948 Bermuda Railway  was in operation.

Government Bermuda is a self-governing British dependent territory. It has an elected government headed by an elected Premier. There are three political parties. The party winning the majority of seats in each constituency ( elected to to each parish) is in power. A Governor, representing the Queen overlooks the government and is in charge of external affairs. Bermuda is ranked as the third richest country in the world, and the wealthiest in the British domain.

Language: English

Population: Approx. 60,000 residents (1998).

Bermuda Historical Timeline