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man's apprehension, but of presently sinking, THEY RESOLVED TO SHUT UP THE HATCHES, and to commit themselves to the mercy of the sea, and God's good providence. In this dangerous and desperate state, some who had good and comfortable waters, fetched them, and drank to one another, as TAKING THEIR LAST LEAVES, till a more happy and joyful meeting in the other world. But it pleased God in his most gracious providence, so to guide their ship to her best advantage, that they were all preserved and came safe to shore.
“ For Sir George Somers had sat all this time upon the poop, scarce allowing himself leisure either to eat or sleep, cunning the ship *, and keeping her upright, or she must otherwise, long before this, have foundered. As he there sat looking wishfully about, he most happily and unexpectedly descried land. This welcome news, as if it had been a voice from heaven, hurried them all above hatches, to see what they could scarce believe. But thereby improvdiently forsaking their work, they gave such an advantage to their greedy enemy, the sea, that they were very nigh being swallowed up. But none were now to be urged to do his best. Although they knew it to be BERMUDAS, a place then dreaded and shunned by all men, yet they spread all the sail, and did every thing else, in their power, to reach the land. It was not long before the ship STRUCK UPON A ROCK, but a surge of the sea cast
* To cunn a ship is to direct the person at the helm how to steer her. KERSEY.
her from thence, and so from one to another, till she was MOST LUCKILY THROWN UP BETWEEN TWO, AS UPRIGHT AS IF SHE HAD BEEN ON THE STOCKS. And now the danger was, lest the billows overtaking her, should in an instant have dashed and shivered her to pieces. But all on a sudden the wind lay, and gave place to a calm, and the sea became so peaceable and still, that with the greatest conveniency and ease they unshipped all their goods, victuals, and people, and in their boats, with extreme joy, almost to amazement, ARRIVED IN SAFETY WITHOUT THE LOSS OF A MAN, although more than a league from the shore *
“ How these islands came by the name of BERMUDAS is not certainly agreed. Some say, that they were so named after John Bermudaz, a Spaniard, who first discovered them about the year 1522. Others report, that a Spanish ship called THE BERMUDAS was cast away upon them, as she was carrying hogs to the West-Indies; which swam ashore and increased to incredible numbers. But they had been in all times before infamous and terrible to mariners, for the wreck of many Spanish, Dutch, and French vessels. They were therefore, with the usual elegance of the sea style, by many called THE ISLE OF Devils, and were esteemed the hell or purgatory of seamen, the most dangerous, unfortunate, and forlorn place in the world.
* One of the persons on board, whose narrative will be hereafter quoted, says, “only half a mile.”
“ But the safe arrival of this company is not more strange and providential, than their feeding and support was beyond all their hope or expectation : for they found it the richest, pleasantest, and most healthful place they had ever seen. Being safe on shore, they dispersed themselves, some to search the islands for food and water, and others to get ashore what they could, from the ship. Sir George Somers had not ranged far, before he found such a fishery, that in half an hour he took with a hook and line as many as sufficed the whole company. In some places they were so thick in the coves, and so big, that they were afraid to venture in amongst them.-Two of these rock-fish would have loaded a man, neither could any where be found fatter or more excellent fish than they were. Besides, there were infinite numbers of mullets, pilchards, and other small fry; and by making a fire in the night they would take vast quantities of large craw-fish. As for hogs, they found them in that abundance, that at their first hunting they killed thirty-two. And there were likewise multitudes of excellent birds in their seasons; and the greatest facility to make their cabins with palmeta leaves. This caused them to live in such plenty, ease, and comfort, that many forgot all other places, and never desired to return from thence *.”
Such is the narrative collected from authentick papers of those times, and published at Williams
* Ibid. pp. 113, 114.
burg, about sixty years ago, by the historian of Virginia, which I have thought it proper to lay before the reader in the first instance, because it describes this misadventure in a very lively manner, and is extremely well written. But from these facts, it must be acknowledged, no satisfactory and decisive conclusion can be drawn respecting the date of this play, unless it can be shewn that they were known by Shakspeare. I shall therefore proceed to state not only how, but when, he became acquainted with the peculiar circumstances attending this disaster, to which he has alluded in THE TEMPEST; so as by this means, with the aid of other documents, to ascertain precisely the time of its composition.
It has already been mentioned that seven ships of Sir George Somers's fleet got to the place of their destination, Virginia. Having landed about three hundred and fifty persons, they set sail for their own country. Two of them were wrecked and perished on the point of Ushant; and “the rest of the fleet (says a writer of those times) returned to England in 1610, ship after ship, laden with nothing but bad reports and letters of discouragement; and, which added the more to our crosse, they brought us newes, that the ADMIRALSHIP, with the two knights and Captain Newport, were missing, severed in a mightie storme outward, and could not be heard of, which we therefore yeelded as lost for many moneths together; and so that VIRGINE voyage, as I may terme it, which went out smiling on her lovers with pleasant lookes, after her wearie travailes did thus return with a rent and disfigured face, for which how justly her friends took occasion of sorrow, and others to insult and scoffe, let men of reason judge *
The account of this disaster probably reached England some time in December 1609, and was brought either by Captain Smith, the former Governour of Virginia, who left it at Michaelmas in that year, or by the first of the five ships that arrived in an English port. To dispel the gloom which this ill news spread among the undertakers who had fitted out the fleet, the Council of Virginia very speedily issued out a pamphlet, which was published either in December 1609, or early in January 1609-10, with a view of preventing the bad effects that any exaggerated reports of this calamity might produce.
In this piece, after stating that Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Somers, and Captain Newport, with seven ships and two pinnaces, sailed from Falmouth on the 8th of June (1609], they add, that “ in the height of the Canaries, short of the West-Indies 150 leagues, on St. James's day, a TERRIBLE TEMPEST overtook them, and lasted in extremity fortyeight hours, which scattered the whole fleet, and wherein some of them spent their masts, and others were much distressed.” Within three days, (they say in substance) four of the fleet met in consort, and
* The New Life of Virginia, 4to. 1612.