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Bermuda, History

The discovery of Bermuda is attributed to a Spanish navigator, Juan de Bermudez, who was shipwrecked here in about 1503. No settlement was established, however, until 1609, when a party of English colonists under the mariner Sir George Somers sailing for Virginia, was also shipwrecked here. In 1612 the island group, known as Somers Islands, was included in the third charter of the Virginia Company, and a second group of English colonists arrived. This charter was revoked in 1684, however, and the islands then became a crown colony. Shortly afterward the settlers imported black slaves and, later, Portuguese laborers from the Madeira Islands and the Azores (Portuguese Acores). During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Confederate blockade runners were based in the Bermudas. At the close of the Civil War some Americans, particularly Virginians, migrated here from the United States; the islands later received Boer prisoners, sent by the British government during the Boer War (1899-1902).

Because of their strategic location, the Bermuda Islands formerly served as the winter naval station for both the British North Atlantic and West Indian squadrons; the West Indian squadron still maintains a station here. In 1941, during World War II, sites on the islands were leased to the United States for naval and air bases for 99 years. Bermuda became internally self-governing in 1968. In August 1995 voters in Bermuda soundly rejected a referendum that would have made the island colony independent of the United Kingdom. Premier John Swan, the leader of the United Bermuda Party (UBP), had vowed to resign if independence was not approved; he stepped down shortly after the vote. After a secret ballot of Bermuda's legislators, Finance Minister David Saul was named the new prime minister. Saul resigned in March 1997 and was replaced by Pamela Gordon of the UBP. In November 1998 the Progressive Labour Party won its first election, with party leader Jennifer Smith becoming prime minister.

 
 

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