The Wreck of the Sea Venture
(Page 2 of 4) News of the tragedy reached England when the surviving ships headed home from Jamestown, "laden with nothing but bad reports and letters of discouragement." England's only American colony, readers learned, was beset by Indians, ravaged by sickness, on the verge of starvation, and shorn of legitimate leadership. Its "headless and unbridled multitude," lamented the Virginia Company of London (the colony's supervisory body), had succumbed to "disorder and riot." Company spokesmen blamed everything, directly or indirectly, on "the Tempest."1
Against all expectations, the Sea Venture had weathered the storm—barely. Among the survivors, William Strachey described the experience most vividly in a very long letter (twenty-two folio pages when finally printed), written in Virginia to an unnamed lady in England.2 For three days and four nights, Strachey remembered, all hands—crew and passengers, noblemen and commoners—pumped, bailed, cast trunks and barrels overboard, and jettisoned much of the ship's rigging, while sailors, lighting their way with candles, stuffed the leaking hull with whatever came to hand, even beef from the ship's larder. Many distraught souls, resigned to a watery death, bid their friends farewell or took refuge in drink. But "it pleased God," another survivor gratefully recalled, to push the Sea Venture within three-quarters of a mile of Bermuda, where it "fast lodged and locked" between coral boulders.3 All 150 passengers and crew rode the ship's boats to solid land.
1 Various documents concerning the Virginia Colony, the relief expedition, and the Sea Venture's fate are printed in Alexander Brown, The Genesis of the United States: A Series of Historical Manuscripts Now First Printed, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890). Quotations here are from 1: 333, 347, 348.
2 Soon after his arrival in Virginia in May 1610, Strachey composed "A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight; upon, and from the Ilands of the Bermudas; his comming to Virginia, and the estate of the Colonie then...." Strachey dated the letter 15 July but composed it over several days or weeks before it accompanied Sir Thomas Gates to England. The letter circulated there in one or more manuscript copies before Samuel Purchas published it in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes, 4 vols. (London: for Henry Fetherston, 1625), 4:1734–56. A modernized and annotated version is in A Voyage to Virginia in 1609, ed. Louis B. Wright (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1964).
3 Silvester Jourdain's slim pamphlet, A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels (London: for Roger Barnes, 1610) complements Strachey's longer account but without the latter's exposé of conspiracies in Bermuda and deplorable conditions in Virginia. A Discovery of the Barmudas is reprinted, with modern spelling, in Wright (note 2). A new charter for the Virginia Colony, issued in 1612, put Bermuda within its boundaries, although the islands soon became a separate jurisdiction in the English empire.