The Sea Venture was a seventeenth-century English sailing ship, the wrecking of which in Bermuda is widely thought to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. She was the flagship of the Virginia Company, and was a highly unusual vessel for her day.
The Virginia Company 
The proprietary Virginia Company of London had established the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, and delivered supplies and additional settlers in 1608, raising the English colony's population to 200, despite many deaths. The entire operation was characterized by a lack of resources and experience. The Company's fleet was composed of vessels which were less than optimal for delivering large numbers of passengers across the Atlantic Ocean, and the colony itself was threatened by starvation, diseases, and warfare with native peoples.
Despite the delivery of supplies in 1608 on the First and Second Supply missions of Captain Christopher Newport, it seemed certain, at that time, that without a major relief effort, the colony at Jamestown would meet the same fate as two earlier failed English attempts to settle in North America, the Roanoke Colony and the Popham Colony.
The investors of the Virginia Company of London expected to reap rewards from their speculative investments. With the Second Supply, they expressed their frustrations and made demands upon the leaders of Jamestown in written form. They specifically demanded that the colonists send commodities sufficient to pay the cost of the voyage, a lump of gold, assurance that they had found the South Sea, and one member of the lost Roanoke Colony.
It fell to the third president of the Council to deliver a reply. Ever bold, Captain John Smith delivered what must have been a wake-up call to the investors in London. In what has been termed "Smith's Rude Answer", he composed a letter, writing (in part):
"When you send againe I entreat you rather send but thirty Carpenters, husbandmen, gardiners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers up of trees, roots, well provided; than a thousand of such as wee have: for except wee be able both to lodge them and feed them, the most will consume with want of necessaries before they can be made good for anything."
Smith did begin his letter with something of an apology, saying "I humbly intreat your Pardons if I offend you with my rude Answer..."
There are strong indications that those in London comprehended and embraced Smith's message. Their Third Supply mission was by far the largest and best equipped. They even had a new purpose-built flagship constructed, the Sea Venture, placed in the most experienced of hands, Christopher Newport.
The construction of the Sea Venture 
In response to the inadequacy of its vessels, the Company built, probably in Aldeburgh, the Sea Venture as England's first purpose-designed emigrant ship. She measured "300 tunnes", cost £1,500, and differed from her contemporaries primarily in her internal arrangements. Her guns were placed on her main deck, rather than below decks as was then the norm. This meant the ship did not need double-timbering, and she may have been the first single-timbered, armed merchant ship built in England. The hold was sheathed and furnished for passengers. She was armed with eight nine-pounder demi-culverins, eight five-pounder sakers, four three-pounder falcons, and four arquebuses. The ship was launched in 1609, and her uncompleted journey to Jamestown appears to have been her maiden voyage.
The loss of the Sea Venture 
On June 2, 1609, the Sea Venture set sail from Plymouth as the flagship of a seven-ship fleet (towing two additional pinnaces) destined for Jamestown, Virginia as part of the Third Supply, carrying 500 to 600 people (it is unclear whether that number includes crew, or only settlers). On July 24, the fleet ran into a strong storm, likely a hurricane, and the ships were separated. The Sea Venture fought the storm for three days. Comparably sized ships had survived such weather, but the Sea Venture had a critical flaw in her newness: her timbers had not set. The caulking was forced from between them, and the ship began to leak rapidly. All hands were applied to bailing, but water continued to rise in the hold. The ship's starboard-side guns were reportedly jettisoned (though two from the port-side were salvaged from the wreck in 1612 to arm the first forts) to raise her buoyancy, but this only delayed the inevitable. The Admiral of the Company himself, Sir George Somers, was at the helm through the storm. When he spied land on the morning of July 25, the water in the hold had risen to nine feet, and crew and passengers had been driven past the point of exhaustion. Somers deliberately drove the ship onto the reefs of what proved to be Bermuda in order to prevent its foundering. This allowed all 150 people aboard, and one dog, to be landed safely ashore.
Deliverance and Patience 
The survivors, including several company officials (Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates, the ship's captain Christopher Newport, Sylvester Jordain, Stephen Hopkins, later of the Mayflower, and secretary William Strachey), were stranded on Bermuda for approximately nine months. During that time, they built two new ships, the pinnaces Deliverance and Patience, from Bermuda cedar and parts salvaged from the Sea Venture, especially her rigging. The original plan was to build only one vessel, the Deliverance, but it soon became evident that she would not be large enough to carry the settlers and all of the food (salted pork) that was being sourced on the islands. While the new ships were being built, the Sea Venture's longboat was fitted with a mast and sent under the command of Henry Ravens to find Virginia. The boat and its crew were never seen again. Some members of the expedition died in Bermuda before the Deliverance and the Patience set sail on 10 May 1610. Among those left buried in Bermuda were the wife and child of John Rolfe, who would found Virginia's tobacco industry, and find a new wife in Chief Powhatan's daughter Matoaka (Pocahontas). Two men, Carter and Waters, were left behind; they had been convicted of unknown offences, and fled into the woods of Bermuda to escape punishment and execution. The remainder arrived in Jamestown on 23 May.
Sir Thomas Gates had a cross erected before leaving Bermuda, on which was a copper tablet inscribed in Latin and English:
- In Memory of our deliverance both from the Storme and the Great leake wee have erected this cross to the honour of God. It is the Spoyle of an English Shippe of 300 tonnes called SEA VENTURE bound with seven others (from which the storme divided us) to Virginia or NOVA BRITANIA in America. In it were two Knights, Sir Thomas Gates, Knight Gouvenor of the English Forces and Colonie there: and Sir George Somers, Knight Admiral of the Seas. Her Captain was Christopher Newport. Passengers and mariners she had beside (which all come to safety) one hundred and fiftie. Wee were forced to runne her ashore (by reason of her leake) under a point that bore South East from the Northerne Point of the Island which wee discovered first on the eighth and twentieth of July 1609.
This was not the end of the survivors' ordeals, however. On reaching Jamestown, only 60 survivors were found of the 500 who had preceded them. Many of these survivors were themselves dying, and Jamestown was judged to be unviable. Everyone was boarded onto the Deliverance and Patience, which set sail for England. The timely arrival of another relief fleet, bearing Governor Baron De La Warre, which met the two ships as they descended the James River, granted Jamestown a reprieve. All the settlers were relanded at the colony, but there was still a critical shortage of food. Somers returned to Bermuda with the Patience to secure provisions, but died there in the summer of 1610. His nephew, Matthew, the captain of the Patience, sailed for England to claim his inheritance, rather than return to Jamestown. A third man, Chard, was left behind in Bermuda with Carter and Waters, who remained the only permanent inhabitants until the arrival of the Plough in 1612.
The Sea Venture sat atop the reefs off Gate's Bay long enough to be stripped of all useful parts and materials, not only by her crew and passengers, but by subsequent settlers; what was left of her eventually disappeared beneath the waves. Two of her guns were salvaged in 1612 and used in the initial fortification of Bermuda (one was placed on Governor's Island, opposite Paget's Fort, the other on Castle Island). After the wreck's submergence, her precise location was unknown until rediscovered by sports divers Downing and Heird in October, 1958. Despite the lack of artifacts to be found, she was positively identified in 1959, in time for the 350th anniversary of the wrecking.
The Sea Venture was also the namesake of a cruise liner which operated between the USA and Bermuda in the 1970s for Flagship Cruises, before being obtained by Princess Cruises, which renamed her the Pacific Princess. She was subsequently used in the television show The Love Boat.
In fiction 
- The wrecking is believed to have inspired William Shakespeare's The Tempest. This tradition has been confirmed by a detailed comparison to survivors' narratives, which shows that the account of William Stratchey, True Reportory of the Wrack, and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight, was the primary source Shakespeare drew upon. The connections between the wreck and the play have been vigorously attacked by proponents of the Oxfordian theory, which asserts that the true author of Shakespeare's plays was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as it positively dates the writing of the play to 1610-1611, years after the 1604 death of de Vere. 
- Bermuda resident and novelist, F. Van Wyck Mason, wrote a fictionalised account of the wrecking, The Sea 'Venture, first published in 1961.
- 20th-century American author Scott O'Dell wrote and published a fictionalized account of the Sea Venture shipwreck called The Serpent Never Sleeps.
- Children's author Clyde Robert Bulla wrote a fictionalized account of the Sea Venture voyage called A Lion to Guard Us. It focuses on three children sailing to Jamestown to find their father.
See also 
- The Virginia Company
- The Virginia Company of London
- Somers Isles Company
- History of Bermuda
- Colony and Dominion of Virginia
- Jamestown, Virginia
- History of Virginia
Two survivors wrote accounts of the wrecking:
- A Discovery of the Bermudas, by Sylvester Jordain
- William Strachey
Many other references include:
- Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of The Bermudas or Somers Isles, 1515–1685, Major General John Henry Lefroy.
Two recent histories are:
- Sea Venture: Shipwreck, Survival, and the Salvation of the First English Colony in the New World, by Kieran Doherty
- A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest, by Hobson Woodward, Viking, 2009.
A booklet was produced after the wreck was rediscovered in 1958 and identified in 1959:
- The Sea Venture Story, P.M. Wright.
P.M. Wright refers to: Shippes of the Reign of James 1st, Volume XIX, Royal Historical Society, by Marsden.
Further reading 
- A. Bryant Nichols Jr., Captain Christopher Newport: Admiral of Virginia, Sea Venture, 2007
- David A. Price, Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of A New Nation, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003, chapter 10
- Bermuda Forts 1612-1957, by Dr. Edward Cecil Harris. Bermuda Matitime Museum Press, 1997. ISBN 0-921560-11-7.
- "WPA Guide to Virginia: Virginia History". University of Virginia. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- "Smith's "Rude" Letter to the Virginia Company (1608)". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Horn, James (2006). A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, pp. 158–60. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-03094-7.
- Evans, Cerinda W. (1957). Some Notes On Shipbuilding and Shipping in Colonial Virginia. Williamsburg, Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corp. p. 7.
- The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles: With the Names of the Adventurers, Planters, and Governours from Their First Beginning, Ano: 1584. To This Present 1624. With the Procedings of Those Severall Colonies and the Accidents That Befell Them in All Their Journyes and Discoveries. Also the Maps and Descriptions of All Those Countryes, Their Commodities, People, Government, Customes, and Religion Yet Knowne. Divided into Sixe Bookes. By Captaine Iohn Smith, Sometymes Governour in Those Countryes & Admirall of New England Captaine Iohn Smith, 1624, page 175
- Vaughan (1991), p. 41.
- Evans, Cerinda W. (1957). Some Notes On Shipbuilding and Shipping in COlonial Virginia. Williamsburg, Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corp. p. 5.
- Vaughan, Alden T., and Vaughan, Virginia Mason (1991). Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History, pp. 38–40. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45817-X.
- Bermuda Forts 1612-1957, by Dr. Edward Cecil Harris. Bermuda Matitime Museum Press, 1997. ISBN 0-921560-11-7.
- McKenna, Robert (2003). The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy, p. 276. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-141950-0.
- Shakespeare Authorship: "Dating The Tempest", by David Kathman
- Roots Web. Ship Passenger & Immigration Lists: The Sea Venture.
- Nautical Archaeology of the Americas: Sea Venture, 1609.
- Bermuda Online: Admiral Sir George Somers colonized Bermuda.
- Chesapeake Bay Journal: Lessons from Jamestown 1609-1610: starving in the land of plenty