Bermuda was discovered by the early 1500s, probably in 1503, according to some sources. It was certainly known by 1511, when Peter Martyr d'Anghiera published his Legatio Babylonica, which mentioned Bermuda, and the island was also included on Spanish charts of this year. The discovery is attributed to a Spanish explorer, Juan de Bermúdez. Both Spanish and Portuguese ships used the islands as a replenishment spot for fresh meat and water, but legends of spirits and devils, and of perpetual, storm-wracked conditions (most early visitors arrived under such conditions), kept them from attempting any permanent settlement on the 'Isle of Devils.'
For the next century, the island was visited frequently but not permanently settled. The first two British colonies in Virginia had failed, and a more determined effort was initiated by King James I of England and VI of Scotland, who granted a Royal Charter to The Virginia Company. In 1609, a flotilla of ships left England under the Company's Admiral, Sir George Somers, to relieve the colony of Jamestown, settled two years before. Somers had previous experience sailing with both Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. The flotilla was broken up by a storm, and the flagship, the Sea Venture, was wrecked off Bermuda leaving the survivors in possession of a new territory. The island was claimed for the English Crown, and the charter of the Virginia Company was extended to include it. In 1615, the colony was passed to a new company, the Somers Isles Company formed by the same shareholders.
In 1649, the English Civil War raged and was highlighted this year by the execution of King Charles I in London. The execution would result subsequently in the outbreak of a Bermudian Civil War; it was ended by embodied militias. This created a strong sense of devotion to the crown for the majority of colonist and it forced those who would not swear allegiance, such as Puritans and Independents, into exile in the Bahamas.
In recent years the Somers Isles Company has suppressed shipbuilding on the islands as it needs Bermudians to farm if it is to generate income from the land. Agricultural production has met with only limited success, however. The Bermuda cedar boxes used to ship tobacco to England are reportedly worth more than their contents.
Formation of The Somers Isles Company
The Virginia Company ran Bermuda until 1614, when the Crown briefly took over the Colony's administration. The adventurers of the Virginia Company formed a second company, the Somers Isles Company, to which Bermuda was transferred in 1615. The Virginia Company was dissolved in 1622, with the administration of its continental colony passing to the Crown. The Somers Isles Company, with its separate charter, continues to administer Bermuda.
Bermuda as a company colony
Most of Bermuda is subdivided into eight equally-sized tribes, called parishes. These were named for shareholders in the Company, and are further divided by roads into lots which equate to shares in the Company. The Company's return on investment comes specifically from cash crops raised on the land. A ninth subdivision, the eastern-most parish, is Saint George's, comprising Saint George's Island, Saint David's Island, part of the Main Island, and various smaller islands and islets around Castle Harbour and Saint George's Harbour. This area is held as common, or King's land, and is not subdivided for exploitation by the Company. This is where the capital, Saint George's Town is located. The choice of this location follows the original settlement created by the Sea Venture survivors, and was also determined by the two eastern harbours being the only ones then readily accessible to shipping.
Local government under the company
The Company continues to appoint governors. In 1620, however, a colonial parliament was created, the House of Assembly. Suffrage is restricted to male land owners, and there is no upper house. An appointed council, composed primarily from the leading merchant families of the Colony, fills the role similar to both an upper house, and a cabinet, and is the true repository of power in Bermuda.
The immediate concern of the first governors was (and is) for the colony's protection from a feared Spanish or Dutch attack. Consequently fortifications have been built and militias raised.