[personal profile] vicki595

Chapter 2
"You can go to heaven if you want to, I'll stay here in Bermuda."
                                                                                                       - Mark Twain


        WITH a subtropical climate, pink sand beaches and cerulean blue ocean waters, Bermuda must have certainly seemed liked heaven to the Bird family when they disembarked the Queen Anne in early August 1707, having boarded the 120 foot barque seven weeks previously on a dismal, wet day in Portsmouth.

Bermuda had been inadvertently settled almost a hundred years prior to the Birds' arrival on the island. On July 28, 1609, the flagship of the Virginia Company, the Sea Venture, had been wrecked on reefs to the east, after a storm had forced its separation from a relief fleet heading towards Jamestown, Virginia. The Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers, had been at the helm and had purposely driven the ship onto the reefs, after the Sea Venture had fought the storm for three days, leaking rapidly. Water in the hold had risen to nine feet by the time land was spotted, and by driving the ship onto the reefs, Somers prevented it from foundering, saving all 150 crew and passengers aboard.

These survivors would spend ten months on Bermuda, forming the start of the new colony. As well as constructing two ships, the Deliverance and the Patience, from the spars and rigging of the wrecked Sea Venture and local timber, they built a church and houses. In May 1610, the two ships set sail for Virginia, leaving behind a couple of men to stake a claim to the island.

When news reached England of the exploits of the Sea Venture's survivors, the Royal Charter of the Virginia Company was officially extended to include Bermuda, which was subsequently known as the Somers Isles. The Virginia Company ran Bermuda until 1614, when it surrendered it to the Crown, believing it to be a poor investment and making Bermuda the first legal offshore colony of Britain. In 1615, shareholders of the Virginia Company formed a second company, the Somers Isles Company, and for £2,000 took over the Charter in order to develop Bermuda as a profit-making enterprise. The Company would continue to administer Bermuda until 1684, when it was dissolved and administration reverted back to the Crown. This would prove to be a watershed in the colony's history, with the Bermudians abandoning the tobacco agriculture forced upon them by the Company, and instead turned to the seas. This economic shift was a revolution which would fundamentally transform Bermuda's society and landscape, and this maritime culture would further shape and influence a young Sue Bird.

The journey to Bermuda seems to have been the start of Sue's lifelong love affair with the sea. The official log of the Queen Anne makes a number of references to the inquisitiveness of the Governor's daughter, with her father's new position likely to have resulted in crew members perhaps having more patience with the young girl. Most of the information about the family's journey comes from a single missive by Nancy, one of the few surviving communiqués sent after they left England. The letter was sporadically added to as the voyage progressed, signing off with palpable relief once they returned to land.

Bermuda records show that the Birds were not the only passengers travelling to the island on the Queen Anne. Unlike the forbidding conditions in Jamestown, which would sometimes garner only convicts and other "undesirable" colonists, Bermuda was considered to have superior living conditions, which attracted a higher class of arrivals. Other immigrants to Bermuda were part of the military company stationed there for protection. The first fifty full time soldiers, the Independent Company of Foot, a detachment of the Coldstream Guard, arrived in 1701, due to the imminent war between Britain and France. Many of these men would never return to their home country, instead choosing to remain on the island even after they had bought out their commissions.

Lieutenant Dennis Lobo was one of these men, and his wife, Ruth Ann, and two younger children were also making the journey on the Queen Anne. Their daughter, Rachel, would marry Lew Perkins, the Birds' tutor, in 1709 and it is likely that they first met each other while on the ship together. The younger son, Isaac, was recorded as a cabin boy, likely working to help finance the passage for his mother and sister. The Lobo family would continue to be a part of the Birds' lives for the rest of their time on Bermuda, with Ruth Ann regularly coming to call on Nancy.

Nancy had not enjoyed the crossing, complaining of the "unnatural movement," and it was a feeling shared by the girls' governess, meaning that Sue and Jennifer were often without supervision. Jennifer provided no worries for her mother, being "quite content to sit with a book," but Sue was "another story completely." She quickly made firm friends with Isaac, which prompted Nancy's introduction to Ruth Ann. Although Nancy had been disinclined to allow Sue's association with the young boy, she was a little more reassured after the meeting with his mother, calling her a "well-spoken, quiet woman who sympathizes and seems to comprehend my concerns over Suzanne's unladylike behaviors and interests."

Ruth Ann was actually in a unique position to understand Nancy's problems. The Lobo's son, Isaac, was really their daughter, Rebecca. It is unknown if Sue knew about her friend's true gender while they bonded on the Queen Anne, but she would definitely become aware of it when their paths crossed again ten years later.

Much to Nancy's apparent relief, Ruth Ann would offer to keep an eye on Sue, although she would be unable to prevent her from making friends with another young sailor, Don Staley.

If Nancy had been upset at Sue's friendship with Isaac, it was nothing compared to her reaction to Sue's relationship with an actual sailor. She would ask Harold to intervene, feeling that Sue would be more likely to listen to her father, but as a career sailor himself, Harold did not see anything wrong with his daughter associating with Staley.

Considering her level of interest, it is perhaps not surprising that Sue expressed her intention to become a sailor, much to the expected horror of her mother. Nancy would repeatedly inform her that such a desire was "utter nonsense," and again appealed unsuccessfully for her husband to intervene. Harold, according to Nancy, would simply laugh and say that "it is merely a passing fancy, inspired by our current surroundings, and once we reach the islands, she will turn her sights to other desires and aspirations."

But, the influence of the sea on Bermudian lives would simply further influence and encourage Sue's dreams.

Sue's life on Bermuda was markedly different than the first few years of her life back in the English countryside. Due to the of the lack of land, the high density of the population would make it difficult for Nancy to try and isolate Sue from those she would deem unsuitable for association with her daughter, as she had attempted to do so in England. Bermuda also had a highly youthful population; due to low infant mortality rates, coupled with emigration and a higher adult mortality, children consistently made up at least 40% of the population. A charming and gregarious child, Sue was never short on playmates.

Because of the importance of the sea, all Bermudian children learned how to swim, fish and sail at an early age. The timing of the Birds' arrival allowed for both Sue and Jennifer to spend the remainder of their first summer in Bermuda being introduced to these skills considered fundamental by the colonists. Sue had an advantage over her sister, having already learned how to swim in her uncle's lake earlier in the year, and she quickly progressed to basic sailing techniques. Although Nancy had reservations about her daughters undertaking what she considered to be distinctly masculine pursuits, she was aware that by forbidding Jennifer and Sue to participate, she would likely be severely limiting their potential for social interactions amongst their peers.

However, Sue would not limit her social interactions to children Nancy considered her peers. Bermudian households were racially mixed, so children of all races grew up side by side, living in the same houses. Slavery, while present, was less prevalent than in other colonies and the Caribbean. Children attended racially integrated schools, which were attended by both boys and girls and studies have suggested that gender division, which would occur between the ages of ten and twelve, was more pervasive than that of race. The majority of men in Bermuda made their living from the sea, and were united by the dangers they would face daily whilst onboard their ships. For Sue, neither race nor gender apparently made any difference with whom she formed friendships. Very little is known about the specific children she socialized with, as Nancy's surviving letters made no reference to any of them by name, and due to the high percentage of children, narrowing down potential friends from Bermuda records is practically impossible.

Although it would perhaps be expected that as the governor's daughter, Sue would be kept away from the majority of the population, Nancy's unhappiness about Sue's friends seems to indicate that the opposite was true. "Suzanne is once again out sailing with one of those children I spoke of in my last letter. I do not know what she sees in them, as she far exceeds them in intellect and standing," she writes in July 1708. The last letter she speaks of is one of those missing, along with any further details about "those children."

One place where Sue was able to meet such a wide variety of children was during her first experience of public schooling. Although a number of children on Bermuda were educated at home, many attended schools run by the island's clergymen, a few professional schoolteachers, or by single women and mothers in informal classrooms. Harold felt that it was important for his daughters to be able to socialize and connect with the whole strata of the population, and the established school system was one way in which they could achieve that. At twelve, Jennifer was at the age where most were leaving school, and her previous work meant that she was academically far ahead of her contemporaries. Instead, she would only go to the local school in St. George to teach classes in Latin for an hour, twice a week, despite her relative youth and would continue to work at home under the supervision of Mr. Perkins and Miss Dailey.

For Sue, it was a little more complicated. The curriculum was predominantly focused on reading, writing, religious education and some mathematics, supplemented with Latin and a foreign language, depending on the educator. Like Jennifer, her previous work put her far ahead of her age group in most of these subjects, so Sue would find herself working with ten year olds; something which pleased Nancy, even as she paradoxically disagreed with Harold's decision to place Sue in the school in the first place. However, Sue's previous schooling could not help with other subjects which Bermuda schools would also offer their pupils, in light of their future occupations, including how to keep merchants accounts and the art of navigation. But her natural intelligence and competitive nature ensured that she would remain top of all her classes.

Sue's learning would also not end at the schoolroom's door. Although Cannizarro had not followed the family out to Bermuda, Harold was insistent that she continued to learn how to handle a sword. Bermuda records show the arrival of Sue's new instructor, Brian Agler, in June 1707, on the Elisabeth, which had sailed out of Bremen. It is not known how Harold originally found and engaged Agler. A master of Kunst des Fechens, the "Art of Fencing," Agler had previously been teaching a school in the German city state of Wittenberg, where he had been famed for his dedication in promoting the importance of defense. The quality of instruction he would provide to Sue can be inferred from the stringent and high requirements for any fencing master to open a school in Germany at that time.

One of the main components of the Deutsche Fechtschule [German school of fencing] was that a combatant must always strive to be in control of the engagement, and this was apparently an area where Sue thrived. The German system also placed much emphasis on simplicity, speed and efficiency, and Sue was able to quickly master those concepts as well. A sole surviving letter from Harold to his brother, written in the spring of 1710, contained a whole page of boasting about Sue's prowess with a sword. Harold also reminded William how Sue had bested his son years previously, declaring that, "I doubte that James would be any more competitive against her now, for there is not a boy on the island who dares to cross blades for her, having all lost more times than they would care to recall."

Agler's arrival also added German to Sue's curriculum, in order that she would be able to read Fechtbucher [fencing books] in their original language. Jennifer would also join in these language lessons, a curious turn, Nancy remarked, as it was usually Sue who would copy her sister, rather than the other way around. Nancy was dubious in the usefulness of learning German, but apparently Jennifer was "growing weary of only studying the same subjects and wishes to further expand her knowledge even further."

Nancy would soon grow to dislike their German lessons, as it was not a language she spoke herself, and once they reached a reasonable degree of fluency, the sisters would often use it to communicate between themselves. Strict language rules were therefore implemented inside the governor's household, with only English, French and Italian, the languages Nancy herself spoke as well, permitted, unless it was for academic purposes. Sue and Jennifer would have plenty of opportunities to speak and learn other languages outside of the house however; many Bermudian sailors were also multilingual, having realized the advantages it provided them when trading, and they would try to pass it on their children when they were home. However, it is unlikely that any could rival Sue and Jennifer in the breadth of languages they would cover throughout their educations.

Despite their educational, and in Sue's case, physical achievements, Nancy still worried about her daughters' futures. Miss Dailey still enforced her high standards of manners and strict dress code on the girls, but Nancy feared that they would be considered too educated and Sue's physical prowess would discourage, rather than encourage, potential suitors. "I had hoped that Bermuda would be a fresh start, especially for Suzanne. Instead, she has only continued to placate her father's whims that she is actually a boy and no man would surely consider her for a bride, despite, I will admit, her emerging beauty. But even that is so often marred by marks from her various pursuits." Sue was barely nine years old when her mother wrote that letter, but at a time when most married young, it was old enough for her mother to be concerned that marriage was not a subject her youngest daughter appeared to have any interest in.

Jennifer was fifteen and, despite her mother's fears, was being courted by a young apprentice silversmith, John Harrington. Most Bermudian youths married for love, owing to the erosion of social distances between classes on the island, and there is no indication that this match was an exception to that norm. With a stricter belief in class stratification, Nancy was a little unsure about Harrington, although she accepted that he cared a great deal for Jennifer and that he definitely had a talent in his chosen profession. She was won over, however, when Harrington presented her with a gift of "a delicate silver bracelet upon which dangles a tiny charm in the shape of a quill, so that, Mr. Harrington says, I shall always have a part of Jennifer with me."

Ultimately, Nancy would not be separated from Jennifer, as tragedy would soon strike the family when Harold contracted an unknown disease, suffering from pains in his head and then in his stomach. Diseases with such symptoms were recorded as generally killing in five days, and Harold passed away mere days after Sue's tenth birthday in October 1710.

Harold's will, which was signed just prior to his death, details the arrangements for his family. In Bermudian law, widows received absolute ownership of one third of her late husband's property, while the other two-thirds were to be divided equally among the children. However, in their wills, Bermudian men rarely granted outright ownership of property to their widows, although they had no such qualms about giving land to daughters. Although the Birds had spent their time on Bermuda living in the Crown-owned governor's mansion, Harold had purchased a smaller house outside of St. George the previous year, and once both daughters came of age, the house was to be shared between them as long as they both lived on Bermuda. Should one emigrate, then the property would pass into sole ownership of the one who remained.

Jennifer was, by this time, formally engaged to Harrington, and it was agreed that following their marriage, Nancy would live with the young couple, with her keep being provided by Harold's naval pension. Most likely to avoid burdening the young silversmith further, Sue was to be placed in the care of an old childhood friend of Harold's, who, as Deputy Governor, would also succeed him in Bermuda's government.

Despite his name, Geno Auriemma, was like Harold, the younger son of minor English aristocracy, and had grown up on a neighboring estate to the Birds in Nottinghamshire. His mother had been the only child of a Neapolitan nobleman, and it had been a condition of the marriage that should a second son be borne of the union, he would bear the name of his Italian grandfather and inherit his titles.

It is not known how well acquainted Sue had previously been with the Auriemma family, which comprised of Governor Auriemma, his wife, Kathy, a daughter of one of the major Bermudian families, their two young daughters, Jenna and Alysa, and their infant son, Michael. However, the four years she would spend under Auriemma's supervision would be some of the most influential of her life.

Prior to moving to Bermuda in his mid-twenties, Auriemma had spent many years in Italy, studying with some of the finest masters in the Italian School of Fencing, becoming known as a master teacher himself. Harold's will had explicitly stated that Sue's education was to continue as it would have done had he lived, and with Agler wishing to return to Wittenberg, Auriemma would personally take over Sue's training. The Italian system is considered to be 'counter-offensive,' blurring the line between offensive and defensive actions, rather than relying the sharp distinction drawn between them, which had been the case with the previous schools Sue had been trained in. Under Auriemma, Sue would learn that every offensive action has a defensive component, and that every defensive action maintains and helps to set up the offense.

Sue would first start writing letters to her sister during her time with the Auriemmas. Following their marriage in the spring of 1711, Jennifer and her new husband moved to Philadelphia, where Harrington was to take up an apprenticeship. As per Harold's will, Nancy remained with her eldest daughter and new son-in-law, even though they were leaving Sue behind. However, being separated from Nancy did not seem to bother Sue, whose letters to Jennifer often included only cursory queries regarding her mother's health and would ask her sister to pass on information and affection on Sue's behalf. That, along with the fact that no letters from Sue to Nancy still exist, can perhaps be seen as an indicator of the lack of closeness between them. She did, however, miss her father dreadfully, even as she confessed to Jennifer that sometimes she found herself forgetting him.

However, Sue was not left alone with the Auriemma family. Miss Dailey remained in Bermuda, continuing her lessons with Sue, as well as helping Jenna and Alysa, who had both started school that year. She was soon considered an "indispensable element" to the household and would remain with them until her retirement, long after Sue herself had left the island.

Chapter 1
Chapter 3
Table of Contents



April 2011

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