I do begin to have bloody thoughts.
—Stephano, The Tempest
A midst the plentiful flocks the old discontents continued to roil the most recalcitrant castaways. In late winter once again nervous plotters betrayed a rebellious plot to the governor. The mutineers planned an armed attack on the storehouse that held the company’s food and equipment, according to Strachey. Even as unnamed informants approached Gates in the main camp, mutineers among the governor’s company fled to Somers’s construction site and warned cohorts among the mariners. Together they took to the woods, leaving only a few workers with the admiral at the camp on the main island. With accused mutineers at large, Gates ordered the storehouse protected by armed guards and told everyone in the camp to wear weapons. In the days following the revelation of the latest scheme, suspicion pervaded the camp, each person wondering whether mutineers remained among them.
Strachey was among the most wary, alleging the latest plot was “deadly and bloody” and that “the life of our governor with many others were threatened.” In a revealing statement, Strachey said the conspirators believed Gates did not have the will to “pass the act of justice upon anyone.” The tension broke on March 13. The man charged with treason that day was said to have been stealing tools for the mutineers, but the allegation was likely exaggerated to justify Gates’s severe treatment of a quarrelsome man whose temper emerged at the worst possible time. Gentleman voyager Henry Paine refused to stand his assigned night watch, Strachey said, telling the commander there was no need to guard the storehouse from an attack that would never come. Paine addressed the officer with “evil language,” and when the commander threatened to report the incident to Gates, “Paine replied with a settled and bitter violence and in such irreverent terms as I should offend the modest ear too much to express it in his own phrase, but the contents were how that the governor had no authority of that quality to justify upon anyone (how mean soever in the colony) an action of that nature, and therefore let the governor (said he) kiss, etc.”
The commander made a report to Gates the next morning, complete “with the omitted additions” of words Strachey was too gentile to record. Either Gates’s patience finally ran out or he saw that he no longer had any choice if he was to maintain order. Paine was sentenced to die, and this time there would be no reprieve. “Our governor who had now the eyes of the whole colony fixed upon him,” Strachey wrote, “condemned him to be instantly hanged, and the ladder being ready after he had made many confessions he earnestly desired being a gentleman that he might be shot to death, and towards the evening he had his desire, the sun and his life setting together.”
A resigned and manacled Henry Paine was led into the woods and placed against a tree. Soldiers stood a few paces from and in the twilight shot the condemned man. When death was confirmed, Paine’s body was carried to a freshly dug grave next to that of the murdered Edward Samuel. Paine’s execution had an immediate effect on the company’s perception of their leader. When pushed to the extreme, Gates had finally acted. Mutinous voyagers who had become brazen in their talk now feared that Paine’s execution was the first of many. The response was a new wave of desertions. By Sunday morning, March 18, another band had fled to Somers’s camp. The latest contingent was composed of conspirators with marginal connections to the plot who feared that their foreknowledge would be discovered and prosecuted. Upon their arrival at Somers’s camp they and the remainder of Somers’s work crew fled to the woods together, leaving the admiral alone as the only man ostensibly loyal to Gates. Somers’s role was a complicated one. The admiral was torn between the mutineers’ plan to colonize Bermuda and the sense of honor that bound him to Gates and the Virginia enterprise. True he was now on his own, but he was also in regular contact both with the mutineers in the woods and the governor in the main camp. When the mutineers wanted to send a petition to Gates they brought it to Somers for relaying to the governor. The petition prompted negotiations in the form of letters between the camps over the coming days.
“Whether mere rage and greediness after some little pearl (as it was thought) wherewith they conceived they should forever enrich themselves and saw how to obtain the same easily in this place,” Strachey said, “or whether the desire forever to inhabit here, or what other secret else moved them thereunto, true it is, they sent an audacious and formal petition to our governor.” In the appeal the men laid out their arguments as to why they should be allowed to remain on Bermuda. They asked only what was fairly theirs, they said, namely that they be provided two sets of clothing each from the warehouse and a year’s worth of food.
While the rebels’ petition may have struck Strachey as improper, to George Somers the arguments they put forth were not entirely unreasonable. As Hopkins had argued earlier, the mutineers said the failure of the Virginia Company to provide safe transport to Jamestown had released them from any obligation to the organization. Through their own extraordinary efforts during the hurricane, the petitioners said, they had by the grace of God been presented a new opportunity. Surely the people who suffered the failure could not be faulted for embracing the opportunity. Therefore, they said, Gates should provide them the allocations of food and clothing assigned to them for the Jamestown enterprise, allow them to stay and become Bermuda’s founding settlers, and ensure that the Virginia Company supported the venture by sending fresh supplies to the island.
Gates did not attempt to refute the arguments of the rebels, but maintained his position that everyone on Bermuda was bound by honor and duty to get to Jamestown. No one on the expedition could presume to rewrite the instructions of the Virginia Company without consulting the members, he argued, and in the absence of new instructions they had no choice but to go on to their intended destination if they were able to do so. Jamestown was the place that company leaders, in their wisdom, had decided to focus their resources. Certainly Gates would report to London about the advantages of Bermuda and the company might well choose to establish a colony there. That was a decision for the Virginia Company to make from a settled perspective, Gates said, and not something for their charges to decide in the wilds of an unintended land. On this point the governor would not waver. His company would go to Virginia.
In his response to Somers and by extension the mutineers, Gates addressed what he assumed was a lingering resentment about who would have been left behind on the island. First, Gates said, he would have left the forsaken part of the company enough supplies to sustain them for a year. Then he would have done everything in his power to send relief to Bermuda as soon as possible, either by appealing to the Virginia Company or by drawing upon his personal resources or those of his friends. Gates then spoke directly to the admiral. If the mutineers were allowed to pursue their plan, he wrote, it would be the ruin of both their reputations. Referring to himself and Somers in the third person, Gates said the Virginia Company would place the blame on the governor and the admiral of the expedition, “so weak and unworthy in their command,” rather than on the unruly colonists.
When he reported on the exchange, Strachey maintained the fiction that Somers had no ties to the mutineers, but at the same time made it clear that the friendship between the two leaders was in jeopardy. Gates, Strachey said, appealed to Somers on the basis “of that ancient love and friendship which had these many years been settled between them.” In his usual forgiving style, Gates said anyone who disavowed the mutiny would be granted immunity and all who did not would be treated as criminals. When Somers relayed Gates’s response to the rebel camp, the mutineers faced the choice of either remaining on the island as outlaws or returning to the fold with their criminal liability erased. Apparently at the urging of Somers, all but two chose the offer of amnesty.
“Sir George Somers did so nobly work and heartily labor,” Strachey reported, “as he brought most of them in, and indeed all but Christopher Carter and Robert Waters who (by no means) would any more come amongst Sir George’s men, hearing that Sir George had commanded his men indeed (since they would not be entreated by fair means) to surprise them (if they could) by any device or force.” Waters was the same man who months before had killed a fellow sailor, and so he was now both a murderer and an inveterate mutineer. If any in the company managed to catch him and bring him into the main camp, he certainly would not survive another trial before Gates. Likewise, Christopher Carter had been a member of the first band of mutineers who had been briefly banished to the small island in September. Both their lives would now depend upon avoiding capture, a consequence that drove them into the remotest woods of Bermuda. From their enclave over the coming weeks they would watch the waters around the island for sight of the departure of the newly built vessels.
For all but the two men hiding in the woods, the execution of Henry Paine and the resolution of the mutiny marked an end to thoughts of remaining on Bermuda. Dreams of a life in an ideal island commonwealth rather than an imperfect Jamestown ended when the mutineers returned to their camp tasks. The man who underwent perhaps the greatest transformation in the turmoil was George Somers. While Somers had always voiced a united front with Gates, the circumstances suggest that he gave his mariners and the other mutineers subtle hints that they were justified in proceeding. The execution of Paine and Gates’s decision to stake their friendship and reputations on bringing the whole company to Jamestown apparently convinced him to shift his stance. His thinking remained the same, but no longer would he hint that rebellion was warranted.
The tumultuous events of the execution and final mutiny coincided with the appearance of towering black clouds over Bermuda. A halo around the moon “of a mighty compass and breadth” foretold a violent thunderstorm on March 23. Strachey sat in a palmetto-leaf hut and watched “the mightiest blast of lightning and most terrible rap of thunder that ever astonished mortal men.” At times Bermuda lived up to its reputation as an isle of roaring fire, or, as one English chronicler later put it, “a place heretofore—when the devil had a larger power in those territories—so extremely subject to furious rains, lightning, and thunder that it was called the Island of Devils.” The storm passed out to sea and left a rain-washed Bermuda to the castaways. Mutiny, too, was gone. All efforts now would be toward leaving the island for Virginia.
The rhythm of the seasons continued as life went on in the camps. A second child was born just as Gates negotiated the end of the mutiny. The baby boy began life just before the Annunciation Day thunderstorm and received the rites of the church just after it. “The five and twentieth of March,” Strachey said, “the wife of one Edward Eason, being delivered the week before of a boy had him then christened, to which Captain Newport and myself and Master James Swift were godfathers, and we named it Bermudas.”
The godfathers’ choice of name was a tribute to the first child born on the island who had lived only a few weeks. Bermuda Rolfe had not survived an infancy marooned on a mid-Atlantic isle. The squalling cries of another child were both a comfort and a burden to the grieving parents. Strachey was a godfather to both children and joined in comforting John Rolfe while the women of the camp ministered to his wife in the seclusion of a palmetto hut. The birth of the second child required the attention of the women, but Goody Rolfe was not left alone. Reverend Richard Buck offered what consolation he could. The child was laid to rest in a small grave in the growing island cemetery.
One among the company who was eager to put to sea for Virginia as soon as possible was William Pierce. For eight months he had not known whether his wife and daughter had survived the hurricane on the Blessing . Given the ordeal on the Sea Venture, he suspected they were long dead, but he simply did not know. If they did make it through, they would have given up hope that he was still alive. He longed to go to Virginia to learn the truth, and, if his wife and daughter had made it, to resume life with them.
In preparation for departure the castaways laid away food for the crossing. This meant that gathering efforts were increased beyond subsistence hunting and fishing. Everyone not working on the construction of the ships was put to the task. Five hundred fish were salted and packed in barrels. Among the seafood that would be taken were salted grouper and snapper and live conch in their shells immersed in seawater. The castaways also butchered and salted hogs and plucked cahows for salting. Nearer the launch date the voyagers would catch turtles to be carried live on their backs on the decks.
April and early May brought yet another source of food. Huge flocks of “egg birds,” probably common terns, arrived on Bermuda to nest. The fowl were as tame as the cahows and even more fruitful producers of eggs. On the Bird Islands they nested in immense numbers, Silvester Jourdain said, and the eggs were easily collected. A thousand eggs could be taken in a morning, he said, and another thousand from the same place later in the afternoon. “They come and lay them daily, although men sit down amongst them.” The egg birds were also good roasted, about the size of a pigeon and “very fat and sweet.”
Jourdain and Strachey were among the crews who took the boats to the Bird Islands to collect egg birds and cahows. Sometimes as the hunters rowed, migrating humpback whales were visible off the coast. Strachey alleged that he saw whales hunted by teams of swordfish and thresher sharks—a common maritime myth of the day. More probably, if he really observed an offshore attack, he witnessed killer whales attacking humpbacks and expanded on what he saw using a description in one of the books he carried, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo’s History of the West Indies.
During the trips to the Bird Islands other avian beauties could be observed. One was the graceful tropic bird, which performed acrobatic courtship displays and hunted flying fish and squid by diving on them from as high as fifty feet. When dusk fell the distinctive call of another could be heard. The castaways named the bird the pimlico (now known as the Audubon’s shearwater). Londoners among the voyagers developed a special fondness for the bird because it sounded as if it were calling the name of a crossroads three miles north of the city that was renowned for the nut-brown ale served in its pubs. Hearing the name of a favorite haunt near home was a reminder that palmetto bibby was a barely adequate substitute for English ale. Many realized, too, that they were becoming eager to leave Bermuda.
Construction of the two vessels that would carry the voyagers to sea proceeded during the spring. The hull of the vessel under construction in Building Bay was now fully built, and carpenters were caulking the seams between each board. Rope from the wreck was shredded and the fibers were pounded between the boards and covered with sealant. A single barrel of pitch and another of tar that had been rescued from the Sea Venture were mixed and used to make the seams watertight. An improvised recipe of water, crushed limestone, ground shells, and tortoise oil augmented the traditional material. The carpenters recalled the loss of oakum in the distressed Sea Venture and paid special attention to the caulking process in the construction of the successor vessel.
Sealing was complete by the end of March, though much work remained to be done before the vessel was ready to go to sea. The pinnace would be floated and moved to a sheltered bay before masts, rigging, sails, and guns were installed and limestone ballast put in the hold. While the vessel was still light enough to be moved it was launched from Building Bay. A high spring tide at the end of March was chosen for the event. George Somers and his carpenters came from the building site on the main island to assist. Everyone from the main camp walked down what had become a well-worn path to Building Bay to see the pinnace put to sea. All who watched would soon stake their lives on the seaworthiness of the new vessels, so seeing the first of them ride in the water was of great interest to all.
In the cool air of a March morning the vessel was freed from the stocks by teams of men pushing from shore and pulling on ropes while wading in the shallows of the bay. Still others pulled from boats connected to the craft. With each call by master carpenter Richard Frobisher the vessel inched closer to the surf. Once the hull was partially supported by water, less effort was required. Presently the pinnace slid from the bottom of the shallows and floated free. The observers—especially the mariners among them—were pleased to see it prove stable and apparently seaworthy. Following tradition the vessel was named at its launch. “When she began to swim (upon her launching),” Strachey said, “our governor called her the Deliverance.” Gates chose a name that had been on his mind from the first days after the wreck and through the turmoil of the mutinies: Deliverance—deliverance from rebellion, deliverance from oblivion, deliverance from the Devil’s Isle. Applause rippled through the crowd after Gates made his announcement.
“The thirtieth of March being Friday we towed her out in the morning spring tide from the wharf where she was built, buoying her with four casks in her run only, which opened into the northwest,” Strachey said. “We launched her unrigged to carry her to a little round island lying west-northwest and close aboard to the backside of our island, both nearer the ponds and wells of some freshwater as also from thence to make our way to the sea the better, the channel being there sufficient and deep enough to lead her forth when her masts, sails, and all her trim should be about her.”
The Deliverance would remain anchored until the second vessel was ready to depart in convoy to Virginia. With a keel of forty feet and a beam of nineteen the Deliverance was a little under half the length of the Sea Venture. The new vessel was between seventy and eighty tons burden, which meant it could accommodate just over a quarter of the cargo of the larger vessel. The passenger space tween-decks was only four and a half feet high, though it rose to five at the forecastle. The great cabin at the stern had a relatively commodious six-foot ceiling and was appointed with two windows and a tiny gallery balcony aft. “The most part of her timber was cedar,” Strachey said. “Her beams were all oak of our ruined ship and some planks in her bow of oak.”
Work on the second vessel continued in the coming weeks. The casks of pitch and tar had been spent on sealing Deliverance, so Somers’s crew had to improvise even more creatively to caulk their pinnace. The castaways’ luck held still longer when a beachcomber found a large chunk of wax washed up on the sand. Jourdain guessed that the wax had been bound for manufacture when a ship carrying it wrecked, perhaps near Bermuda but maybe somewhere much farther away. In any case, it was heaven sent, for without it the sealing of the second ship with the homemade limestone mix alone would have been questionable at best. “God in the supplying of all our wants beyond all measure showed himself still merciful unto us,” Jourdain said.
At the end of April the second pinnace was pulled from its stocks and floated unrigged. Fewer were on hand at the main-island site to see the second vessel put to sea. Once again a name was chosen that encapsulated the Bermuda experience of the man doing the christening. Somers named the new vessel Patience, alluding to the personal resource he had drawn upon most in his days on the Sea Venture poop deck and during his mediation between the governor and the mutineers. The Patience was towed to the sheltered spot where the Deliverance was now almost rigged with sails scavenged from the Sea Venture. The second pinnace would be outfitted in the coming days and both would be filled with stores for the weeklong sail together to Jamestown. The Patience was even smaller than the Discovery, with a keel of twenty-nine feet and a beam of just over fifteen. The entire vessel was made of native wood and, save a single bolt, held together with wooden pegs. Somers had done much of the construction with his own hands.
The castaways, through their hard work over many months, now had before them new vessels to carry them across the Atlantic. Over the next three weeks while the Patience was fitted with sails and guns, the castaways packed the camp and transported loads of food and stores to the pinnaces. They would soon leave their sanctuary of nine months. Many had never left England before boarding the Sea Venture. Now they were veterans of sea travel—stormy travel at that—and had many months of wilderness life to their credit. Greater challenges lay ahead. At Jamestown they would be in another wilderness, but in this one they would be under constant challenge from a well-adapted native people. To Machumps, the one Powhatan who would climb aboard one of the two tiny vessels, the trepidation he felt about going to sea again was tempered by the knowledge that after a short time more on the water he would be home.
William Strachey would carry his journal of the storm aboard the Sea Venture. At his first opportunity he planned to use it to write a long letter to his prospective patron, the “Excellent Lady”—probably the Countess of Bedford, John Donne’s generous patron whom he hoped to make his own sponsor. Strachey’s writing abilities had not gone unnoticed on Bermuda. He was now well known to Thomas Gates, having made a special effort to serve the governor. He would ride to Jamestown on the Deliverance with Gates and continue his Virginia project.
In mid-May Gates ordered a memorial set up near the camp to record the presence of the castaways and leave evidence of an English claim to the island. A cedar was selected near the place George Somers had planted his garden. The top of the tree was lopped off to make it less vulnerable to toppling in the wind. A wooden cross was pegged to the tree. At the center a twelve-penny coin with a portrait of King James was attached, and near that a copper plate with an engraved message in Latin and English:
In memory of our great deliverance, both from a mighty storm and leak, we have set up this to the honor of God. It is the spoil of an English ship (of three hundred ton) called the Sea Venture, bound with seven ships more (from which the storm divided us) to Virginia, or Nova Britannia, in America. In it were two knights, Sir Thomas Gates, knight, governor of the English forces and colony there, and Sir George Somers, knight, admiral of the seas. Her captain was Christopher Newport. Passengers and mariners she had besides (which came all safe to land) one hundred and fifty. We were forced to run her ashore (by reason of her leak) under a point that bore southeast from the northern point of the island, which we discovered first the eight and twentieth of July 1609.
Another voyager would leave a personal message behind. Shipwright Richard Frobisher carved a message deep into the trunk of a palmetto tree. The words were in Latin, translating to, “There was built in this place a ship of seventy tons burden by Richard Frobisher, which is destined for Virginia, in order that we all might be transported from this place. In the year 1610, May 4th.”
“From this time,” Strachey said, “we only awaited a favorable westerly wind to carry us forth.” In the second week of May the winds turned and the castaways prepared to depart their refuge. At first light on May 10, Somers and some of his men went out in the rowboats and canoes to lay buoys in the narrow channel that led from the little round island to open water. Everyone climbed aboard the two pinnaces, and the sailors went to work. “About ten of the clock, that day being Thursday,” Strachey said, “we set sail.”