Bermuda lies 696 miles due east of South Carolina and in 1775 probably had a similar cross section of colonists, including
a quota of rebel sympathisers as her American neighbour.
That year the British had responded to the growing crisis in the colonies by mounting a blockade of American ports which
resulted in them retaliating with an embargo being placed on all ships of the Empire and a declaration to capture or
destroy any they found near their waters.
This actually most threatened Bermuda's own 120 ships and would have made their already serious food shortage into one of
endangering them with starvation.
The Bermudians pleaded with Congress for an exemption, pointing out a tacit support for their position, but however eloquent
George Washington's letter was to them, it was tantamount to blackmail, for he would only relieve their plight if they
handed over the 112 barrels of H.M. gunpowder, being held virtually unguarded on the island.
Most on Bermuda thought a settlement would soon be made and the confrontation not amount to war, so on the 14th August a
number of their sympathisers stole a 100 barrels of the powder and ferried it out to two awaiting American Warships.
For such Congress did allow trade for a while, but the incident made the
British very suspicious of the islanders and
attempted to control trade
with little consideration for their worsening situation.
In August 1776 Congress instructed the likes of John Paul Jones to make Bermuda 'a Nest of Hornets' for the British, but
this they could never achieve, the nearest they came was when the
frigate HMS Nautilus sent earlier to protect the island, having remained on station for about a year could have been
foxed when two Continental brigs flying British colours had slipped through a gap in the reef gap at
, they looked suspicious so when challenged, ran up the stars and stripes and opened fire at the West End battery, which
overwhelmed was quickly abandoned for the invaders to destroy.
But this was just a decoy to lure the barnacle encrusted desperate for a refit hulk away from
in order to expose it to a heavily armed Rebel sloop Randolph. But with Nautilus unprovoked, local militia
advancing on them, the raiders after six days ashore re-boarded their ships and put back out to sea.
But these waters remained dangerous for the British and supplies to the island were few and far between, so when the first
importation for 6 months in October 1777 (1,000 bushels of corn) turned out to be of only temporary relief the islanders had
little choice but to start running the gauntlet of trading with the southern colonies, exchanging salt for food.
But as the conflict wore on this trade petered out, owing to an increasing revulsion of feeling on the continent against
Bermuda, so it's plight became even more extreme, with not a tenth of the food required arriving.
What was arriving however was a steady stream of Loyalists and rebel prisoners making the dearth infinitely worse.
Also there were only a few troops on the island making it very vulnerable, so in desperation they even asked Britain for
seventy to eighty Chelsea pensioners to help defend against a likely attack, but the British had no one to spare.
Their apprehension was not helped when American privateers started to prey on practically anything that moved, effectively
preventing any Bermuda merchants from being able to operate.
By now four fifths of Bermudians did not even have a mouthful of victuals and were only surviving on a
diminishing amount of that growing on the island, starvation was at hand.
Then when at breaking point, to prevent everybody from dying, hundreds had to be shipped off to Martinique (which was
tentatively British between 1762 - 1814) and on the ships return, supplies were picked up from the only remaining Loyalist
held area with anything to spare, i.e. Georgia.
Even with this, such was the deprivation, the island became inflicted with
diseases, where smallpox became deplorable
through lack of medical attention.
On 1st of December 1779 history could have taken a different turn if HMS Delaware which was ferrying 100 American Volunteers,
sent to defend the island hadn't made it successfully to port and landed the men ashore (with only ten minutes to
spare) and instead been hunted down by the 4 Rebel cruisers (with four times her guns), that had been pursuing her, Bermuda
may well have fallen to America.
Delaware was prepared to go back out again to take them on, as she had fought off such in previous encounters but there was
Just when the islanders thought life couldn't deteriorate further the weather became the worst in living memory preventing
the few supply ships from getting through. A dogged one nearly made it, but foundered on a reef and went down with it's
supplies, fortunately the crew survived but added to the number of mouths to feed.
At this time Washington, who had been relentlessly building up his navy was looking for a decisive victory and had his
Continental cruisers now concentrating on capturing as many British ships as they could.
Fortunately, the Bermuda privateers became even better at recapturing them, but when the French entered the war their
alliance then gave them naval supremacy leaving the Royal Navy stretched as never before.
So with little help at hand, Loyalist privateers started putting to sea to raid American contraband, which in fact saved
the islands from starvation, but when their sallies progressed into taking luxury wares, they became frowned upon and had
to be curtailed.
An American loyalist
William Browne born in Massachusetts 27th Feb 1737
had fallen foul of rebel bigotry and fled to England, where he was called on by Lord North from his (he said) 'profoundest
retreat' to take over as Bermuda's Governor on 16th Dec 1781.
He had been a friend of John Adams who thought him a solid judicious character, which turned out to be correct as on
arriving to take up office, a lesser man would have thought his task insurmountable.
The Islands had a serious lack of food, especially bread and prices were exorbitantly high. The towns were crowded with
Loyalists and rents had risen to unprecedented levels. Both smallpox and typhus were present and unchecked in their
course. His official residence was in such a state of disrepair it struck him with horror. Enemy prisoners where everywhere
notes on everything and the danger of attack was greater than ever before.
Browne set about organising island affairs appointing other Loyalists to key positions, one from Virginia as attorney
general another from Massachusetts as chief justice, he reinstated the local militia officers and made whaling
He took numerous measures and initiatives that went down well with the islanders. He in fact turned out to be a model
governor and the islanders had quickly taken to someone who had suffered so much for his loyalty to the Crown.
He was able to see that the likelihood of America becoming independent meant this enchanting, tranquil, beautiful isle of
pink sand would make it the 'Gibraltar of the west' and imperative for British commerce, so he built up the island's small
Independence was also pretty obvious to the Loyalists and more and more of them arrived and collected at the east end of the
island, but were dispersing to other colonies almost as soon as they had arrived.
At the end of the war when Loyalists were being evacuated from New York he had them re-provisioned before continuing their
With peace declared, Bermuda was quick to restart trade with the USA and he pressed for it to become a free port, for
such he appointed another Loyalist from Connecticut as comptroller.
Browne's summing up at the end of his governorship in 1788 was 'Bermuda is divided on domestic business but is united in
it's loyalty to His Majesty'.
Information source: 'BERMUDA IN THE OLD EMPIRE' by Henry C.Wilkinson 1950