Sunday, November 25, 2012

I am Thankful for...A History Lesson!

My American family tree is pretty tiny.  I am only a third-generation American on my mother's side.  My father's side goes back farther, but only about a hundred years or so.  I have some neat family stories.  I'm just not sharing them right now.

My children, however, have a LONG and STORIED genealogical history in America.  My mother-in-law is a member of the DAR and other historical societies.  Yeah, there is some serious history there!  For instance,  do you know what this ship (The Mayflower):


This country (Bermuda):

and This playwright (William Shakespeare):


Have in common?  You don't?  Hmmm...  Well, I'll tell you!  It's him:

This is Stephen Hopkins.  He joined the passengers of the Mayflower with his family.  My children are related to him as well as his daughter, Constance, who was 14 at the time of her first and only trans-Atlantic crossing.  I mention that it was her first crossing because it was her father's third.  Steven Hopkins originally traveled across the Atlantic to settle  in the Jamestown colony.  However, that is where the country of Bermuda comes into the story.  Back in 1609 Steven Hopkins boarded a ship, the Sea Venture, headed for the Jamestown colony and bound to the Virginia Company for a period of time in exchange for his passage and land in the New World.

Bermuda's 1987 commemorative $5 coin shows wreck of the Sea Venture Source
Here is a brief history of the ill-fated voyage of the Sea Venture...

The Sea Venture was one of a group of nine ships that departed in June of 1609.  The voyage passed uneventfully until the flotilla was about one week away from their destination.  At this time a vicious hurricane struck the group of sailing ships.  Eventually all but two of the nine boats reached Jamestown.  One of the two boats was lost at sea and the Sea Venture which was shipwrecked.  Where was it shipwrecked, you ask?  Bermuda, of course.

At this time in history Bermuda was uninhabited because it is surrounded by shallow water that made travel to the island extremely difficult in the large sailing ships of the day.  Colonizing nations hadn't bothered with Bermuda because it wasn't easily accessed from any point.  While this is a good defensive position to have, it is highly inconvenient in all other aspects of colonization (particularly trade).  Bermuda was also viewed as a highly supernatural place.  For the superstitious sailors living four hundred years ago, that was a deal breaker.  They just gave Bermuda a wide berth on their way back and forth across the Atlantic. 

The former passengers of the Sea Venture had no choice but to make their way ashore on Bermuda.  That is where their captain aimed their battered and broken ship.  Once there, they found plentiful food, mild weather, and abundant resources.  They set to work immediately building two new pinnacles to carry them to Jamestown. Stephen Hopkins was a bit of a revolutionary thinker at this time, but he was able to talk his way out of serious trouble (i.e. a death sentence). 

The passengers' time in Bermuda was not without perils, souls were lost, hardships abounded, but overall, those Bermuda castaways lived an easy and worry-free existence when compared with the trans-Atlantic crossers from the other ships that actually arrived at their destination.  The Jamestown settlers were suffering through the "Starving Time" while the two small ships were being readied and stocked in Bermuda. 

When the pinnacles Deliverance and Patience arrived in Jamestown in May of 1610, laden with food and supplies they had gathered from Bermuda, their arrival was viewed as a miracle.  The souls on board the Sea Venture were thought to have been lost so to have them arrive bearing desperately needed food was a remarkable sight indeed. The experiences of the Sea Venture's crew were sent in reports to England and were distributed widely in London.  One person who was very interested in the account of the Sea Venture was William Shakespeare who, it is believed, utilized many of these real-life experiences as a foundation for his fictional play The Tempest.

You can read about the whole adventure in Hobson Woodward's book:  A Brave Vessel: The true tale of the castaways who rescued Jamestown and inspired Shadespeare's THE TEMPEST.

I read this book with my book club.  We enjoyed it very much.  The best parts are surely the adventurous parts surrounding the hurricane and life in Bermuda! 

Less than two years after his arrival at Jamestown, Stephen Hopkins returned to England because his wife had died and he was needed to care for his young children.  His previous experience in America was most likely the reason he joined (or was recruited to join) the passengers on the Mayflower a few years later. He was not traveling to America with his family to find religious freedom as the Pilgrims were.  The knowledge Steven Hopkins gained while in Bermuda and Jamestown was seen as a great asset to a group of religious separatists who had never been outside of Europe.  Steven Hopkins saw it as an opportunity for a better life for both himself and his family.  With that hope, Steven, his second wife and their family became passengers of the Mayflower.

Upon his arrival in Plymouth, Stephen Hopkins was chosen as the first mayor and also an ambassador to Indian relations.  One of his house guests you might recall - Squanto.   Yes, that Squanto!

For more information about Stephen Hopkins, you can read:   Here Shall I Die Ashore: STEPHEN HOPKINS: Bermuda Castaway, Jamestown Survivor, and Mayflower Pilgrim

It is a great read about an interesting, important man in American history!  I am so excited that my children are related to him!  His life is a great example of perseverance in the face of adversity!  

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