25 July 2021: Well, July is almost done and August and what follows is looming. Where does the time fly to!
Bermuda has long been a favorite vacation/honeymoon spot for Americans and it is likely that most who go there have little idea of the history of this little island some 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina. From Military History Now, the following edited report.
BERMUDA does not exactly loom large in the annals of military history. When most people think of the small, mid-Atlantic, British territory, they mostly imagine pink sand beaches, cruise ships and the picturesque streets of the capital Hamilton.
Yet despite its diminutive size and reputation as a tourist destination, almost from the time it was first permanently settled in the 17th Century, the island of Bermuda has been involved in a number of conflicts between major world powers. [Ed: there are several others offered in this article, but we don’t have room to discuss them all; here are some significant ones that had an early impact on the United States.]
The American War of Independence
In 1775 the rebellion of Britain’s American colonies was fully underway. But from the very outset of the rebellion, colonial forces suffered from a critical shortage of gunpowder. Continental Army supreme commander George Washington hoped to secure a stockpile from Bermuda’s merchants, with whom American colonists had been trading for years. British policy however was to cut off all trade with the American colonies. Reeling from the embargo, islanders hatched a plan to seize gunpowder from a lightly guarded magazine in St. George’s and sell it to the rebels. In the early morning hours of Aug. 14, 1775, a group of locals under the command of a Bermudan official and militia colonel named Henry Tucker, broke into the arsenal and stole 100 barrels of gunpowder. The casks were rolled down the hill to waiting dinghies, then rowed out to two waiting American ships. The stolen powder would prove critical to the fledgling rebellion. Despite aiding in the establishment of American independence, Bermuda remains to this day connected to Great Britain. The island’s archives still preserve a letter of thanks from General George Washington to the people of Bermuda for their assistance in 1775.
The War of 1812
A generation after the War of Independence, Britain and America found themselves embroiled in yet another conflict. Situated just 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda was on the front lines of the contest. Indeed, during the War of 1812, the Admiralty moved the headquarters of its Western Atlantic Fleet from Halifax to Bermuda. A large dockyard was also built there. Britain also constructed a string of fortifications on Bermuda in the event the United States tried to seize the island. In fact, so impregnable were the defences there, Bermuda became known as the “Gibraltar of the West.” The famous summer of 1814 British invasion of Maryland and subsequent capture and burning of Washington D.C., along with the siege of Baltimore (later immortalized in the Star-Spangled Banner) were launched from Bermuda.
Similarly, the spoils of war were brought back to Bermuda when the task force returned. Part of the booty included two large paintings of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. These paintings, which were captured by Continental forces during the Revolutionary War, were found in a warehouse close to what would later be the White House. Both can now be found in the Bermudian legislature, which after Westminster is the oldest parliament chamber in the Western Hemisphere. To this day, the paintings flank the Bermudan Speaker’s chair.
The U.S. Civil War
Bermuda also played a role in America’s Civil War. A key part of the Union strategy was to blockade major Confederate ports to deprive the Rebellion of its economic lifeblood – cotton – while preventing the South from obtaining vital supplies. To penetrate the Union cordon, Confederate shipyards produced streamlined, steam-powered vessels that became known as Blockade Runners. The vessels, their holds crammed with goods, used their speed and the cover of darkness to slip past Federal warships. Many would make port in Bermuda to unload cotton and take on supplies for the Confederate war effort. In fact, Bermuda became such a hotbed of trade with the South, the Union eventually parked a warship off the entrance to St. George’s harbour. Unable to effectively close a foreign port, goods and wealth continued to flow in and out of Bermuda.
So friends, when you visit Bermuda on holiday, think of the history there and pay a visit to the excellent museum of the island's history - which of course, is maritime history.
Until next time,