Bermudaís Immigrants

to the Colonies


Reprinted from American Genealogy Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4

Some of our ancestors did not come directly from the old country to American shores. Many English immigrants came into the colonies of South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia from the island of Bermuda. Have you ever thought of looking at Bermuda records for your immigrant ancestors?

Researchers often need to look beyond the "obvious." The obvious does not always reveal the suspected information, resulting in a frustrating dead end.

South Carolina, like most of the colonies that later became states, is not simple to research. Not only was it part of the Carolinas until it was divided, creating both North and South Carolina, but there are other quirks such as land grants and deeds for North Carolina were for lands that actually lay in South Carolina.

South Carolina's Charles Town area (later Charleston) was the immigration port for many new settlers. Often we find when our ancestor search leads us to South Carolina research will reveal our immigrant entered America here.

South Carolina saw many nationalities enter her ports. Many of these were Irish and English. We can't cover all nationalities, but we will concentrate on the English and Irish who came from the island of Bermuda.

Sometimes, we seem to lose an ancestor. We can't find them anywhere. They are somewhere, but where? Try studying the history of the state for clues. South Carolina's history reveals that Bermuda contributed many recognizable family names pertinent to the area.

So here is a short history lesson.

Early explorers included Juan de Bermudez, who gave his name to the isolated group of islands in the mid-Atlantic about 1503. In Queen Elizabeth I's reign, the islands had achieved a reputation for being devil-haunted, mysterious, evil and enchanted. Navigators avoided it! This legend kept settlements from developing the island until the great, furious storm tore the Sea Venture from the ship's course to Jamestown in 1609, with supplies to bring relief to the small group of settlers. The admiral of the fleet was George Somers. The Sea Venture was the ship John Rolfe sailed in along with his first wife and children. (He later married Pocahontas.) But Rolfe was not the only passenger. So what about all of the other passengers? They had descendants also.

As the storm carried the Sea Venture onto the shores of Bermuda, she was crushed and lodged between two huge rocks. The 300-ton flagship was the largest of the ships. Not only were the passengers terrified from the storm and the shipwreck experience, but they had landed on the dreaded Devil's Island of Bermuda. Sir Thomas Gates was in the first boat load of survivors. He named the spot where they landed Gates Bay. One hundred and fifty men, women and children were taken to the shore in the long boat. They found plenty of fish, eggs, fruit and hogs to sustain them. Unlike the legend, it was a beautiful, habitable land.

The passengers immediately thatched cabins. These men and women who set out to colonize Virginia, now set to work under the direction of Admiral Somers, not only to stay alive but also to build ships. Thus began a great tradition of ship building on Bermuda.

A couple wedded, a man was killed and children were born during the nine months before the group finally sailed for Jamestown. What they found in Virginia was not nearly as good they left in Bermuda, for famine and Indians had reduced the Jamestown colony to sixty people.

Later a group sailed for England, leaving on Bermuda only three renegades. Thrilled by the tales these survivors brought home, the Virginia Company obtained the grant of the Bermuda from James I. In 1612, James sent out the first permanent settlers of sixty people, appointing Richard Moore, the ship's carpenter, as Governor. This was eight years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and five years after Jamestown.

Many settlers have deeds found in South Carolina, Virginia and other areas. Many settlers after reaching Virginia drifted into South Carolina. Virginia and South Carolina deeds are full of Bermuda names. They were English and some Irish, but as you can see these immigrants did not come straight from England.

Research Bermuda especially if you have English ancestors. Here are a few recognizable names: Lord De La Warr, Rolfe, Claborne, Baker, Clark, Comber, Coney, Cooke, Copeland, Taylor, Ford, Whittier/Witter, Crafts/Crofts, Harford, Coverly, Hargrave, Newman, Rivers, Harvey, Cooper, Sharpe, Bullock, Dickinson, Cox, Wood, West, Hubbard, Tucker, Newton, Norwood, Nichols, Pitt, Smith, Spencer, Cockerham, Stowe, Stone, and Hall.

  • John Camden Hotten, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality: Emigrants, Religious Exiles, Political Rebels, Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years, Apprentices . . . and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations. Originally published in 1874, this 580-page volume was reprinted in 1983.

  • Julia E. Mercer, Bermuda Settlers of the 17th Century: Genealogical Notes from Bermuda. Originally published as a series, "Genealogical Notes from Bermuda," in Tylerís Quarterly between 1942 and 1947, these installments were reprinted in 1992 as a single volume, retitled, and indexed. The 276-page Mercer work supplements Hottenís book and names some 5,000 of the earliest settlers in the New World.

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