Tempting Providence in the Caribbean Sea
by dr. edward cecil harris, mbe, jp, phd, fsa
After the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia (1607) and Bermuda (1612), the London entrepreneurs who settled those places turned their attention to other sites for their corporate colonies. One of those locations was Providence Island, later “Old Providence”, so distinguished by the naming of an island of the Bahamas chain, “New Providence”. Isla de Providencia is a possession of Columbia, following the ousting of English settlers in the mid-1600s. One connection Old Providence has with Bermuda lies in the fact that that our third governor Captain Nathaniel Butler (1619–22), became its last governor.
Old Providence rose to prominence in the 1830s, at least in the literary field, as it was assumed to be the shipwrecked spot of an English knight and his female companion encompassed in a work ‘edited by Miss Jane Porter’, with the lengthy title of Sir Edw. Seaward’s Narrative of his Shipwreck and consequent discovery of certain islands in the Caribbean Sea; with a detail of many extraordinary and highly interesting events in his life, from the year 1733 to 1749, as written in his own diary. It was a bestseller in the 1830s: Seaward’s original diary never surfaced, nor Sir Edward.
In the 1841 edition of Miss Porter’s epic, however, a actual shipwreck is mentioned as having taken place, being that of HMS Jackdaw on the morning of 11 March 1835. Later that year, a court-martial was ‘assembled on board HMS Victory, in Portsmouth Harbour