This Day (To an Excellent Lady Edition)

Published:July 15, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1610, William Strachey dated a letter, addressed to an anonymous “Excellent Lady,” in which he spun his now-famous narrative of the Sea Venture shipwreck on the islands of Bermuda. This was actually the second of his two drafts. A first draft, the first page of which is pictured above, was started in Bermuda and finished at Jamestown. The second version was longer and more polished and begun after Strachey had become secretary of the colony.

Both drafts likely circulated among Londoners connected to the Virginia Company, and many scholars believe that William Shakespeare used one of them as a major source for his play The Tempest, thought to have been written in 1610 and 1611. In 1625, the Reverend Samuel Purchas published Strachey’s longer draft as A true reportory in the fourth volume of Hakluytus Posthumus; or Purchas His Pilgrimes. He had obtained the manuscript from Richard Hakluyt (the younger).

For all of its later fame, the Virginia Company actually refused to publish Strachey’s account of the Sea Venture. Although he praised Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers, Strachey was a bit too forthright about the mutinies in Bermuda and highly critical of the Jamestown colonists’ “Idleness” and their leaders’ “misgovernment.” Ironically, he also may have been too effusive in his praise of Bermuda’s prospects for colonization, the English preferring to keep this information close lest it tempt the Spanish into populating the islands.

A version of this post was originally published on July 15, 2012.

IMAGE: First page of the original draft of William Strachey’s Sea Venture narrative, 1609 (The Mariners’ Museum)