Woodward, associate editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, takes his title from lines spoken by the enchanting Miranda in Shakespeare's play: "O, I have suffered/With those that I saw suffer -- a brave vessel/Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,/Dash'd all to pieces." That is exactly what happened to the Sea Venture as, in the last week of July 1609, it was en route from England to the struggling settlement at Jamestown. It was the flagship in a convoy of eight vessels carrying several hundred people -- there were 153 aboard the Sea Venture -- recruited by the Virginia Company, which hoped "this new infusion of people and provisions would fortify their outpost in the New World."
The voyage proceeded without notable incident for two months until, a week's sail from Virginia, it encountered "a kind of storm that few English mariners had seen but many had heard about since Europeans began crossing the Atlantic -- a hurricano of the West Indies." Strachey, who had joined the expedition with plans to write a New World travelogue and thus establish his career, called it "a dreadful storm, and hideous . . . , which swelling and roaring as it were by fits, some hours with more violence than others, at length did beat all light from heaven, which like a hell of darkness turned black upon us." Then, about two days into the storm, a huge wave picked up the ship, separated it from the convoy and left it awash. Only by heroic bailing were the crew and passengers able to keep it afloat, and only by exceptional seamanship and even more exceptional luck was the ship -- still afloat but wrecked beyond any possibility of repair -- steered into safe harbor on one of the islands of the Bermuda archipelago.
Miraculously, all 153 aboard survived an ordeal of almost indescribable horror, though many nearly died of fright. They landed with trepidation, as Bermuda was widely rumored to be "a bewitched place" known as the Devil's Island, but once on land they moved quickly to make the place habitable. They learned that the island's waters teemed with fish, most of them unknown to the English but mostly edible and many deliciously so. Soon, they had created "a tiny village that was well appointed beyond all expectation," largely because the crew had removed many valuable articles, "including mattresses and blankets, furniture, and chests filled with personal goods," from the abandoned ship. People settled in and made themselves at home. Predictably, there were complaints and even mutinies, but the group held together:
"The castaways had been on Bermuda for eight months. Despite the turmoil of the mutinies, they had managed to create an island community that by wilderness standards was remarkably prosperous. Castaway society was a version of English culture with its hard work and class conflict. The unusual elements of island existence, though, were almost all good -- swan spit roasted over a fire, bibby [homemade alcoholic drink] shared around a camp table, birds on the nest at Christmastime, and an existence remarkably free of disease. They had found a wonderful place, and many still did not want to leave."