July 25 - Sea Venture Runs Aground!

Posted on July 25, 2020

The Sea Venture was quite a special ship - the first single-timbered merchantman built in England, AND the first ship built and used especially for emigration.

Emigration from England (as I bet you guessed) to the New World. Specifically, to Jamestown, Virginia.

You see, this was in the very early 1600s - Shakespeare's time! This was the time of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. The Pilgrims hadn't yet sailed to Plymouth, let alone celebrated a Thanksgiving feast. 

The investors who had paid for the 1607 and 1608 expeditions to found and supply Jamestown were getting demanding...They demanded that the settlers - who were dealing with the all-too-real possibility of starvation, with disease, and of course with strained relations (and outright warfare) with the native peoples (whose land they were stealing!) - the investors demanded that the settlers take time off from trying to survive to send back a lump of gold, specifics on finding the South Sea (the expectation being that there really SHOULD be an easy way to sail west to the
Indies!), and a survivor of the Roanoke Colony (no survivors were ever found). John Smith wrote back with counter demands: carpenters, husbandmen, masons, diggers, gardeners, fishermen, blacksmiths...

The investors apparently heard Smith, and in 1609 they outfitted the Sea Venture and eight other ships with the largest and best equipped mission so far. It included from 500 to 600 people as well as supplies. 

But the Sea Venture never reached Jamestown. The fleet ran into a storm - maybe a hurricane - and the ships were separated. One ship sank, most were able to struggle through the storm and eventually reach Jamestown.

The Sea Venture was so brand new, the timbers had not set, and the ship began to leak. After three days, with all hands working to bail the water out of the hold, and a few guns being tossed overboard to lighten the load, it became obvious that there was no way to save the ship. Sir George Somers decided to deliberately drive the ship aground to save everyone's lives.

Aground where? It turns out that the Sea Venture had come upon a coral reef off the shore of eastern Bermuda. The 150 people and one dog landed safely ashore, where they were stranded for nine months!

What do you do when you are stranded on an island? These shipwreck victims used parts of the Sea Venture - especially the rigging - and Bermuda cedar (actually a juniper species) to build two new ships! And eventually they left for, and actually arrived in, Jamestown in May, 1610.

By the way, do you remember that I mentioned that this was the time of Shakespeare? Some people think that the Sea Venture's adventure was the inspiration for Shakespeare's play The Tempest

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