PETERSBURG AND THE ATLANTIC WORLD
LOCAL HISTORY IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT
History of the Bermuda Hundred

Lauranett L. Lee (Working Draft)

In September 2006 the town of Bermuda Hundred became a registered Virginia Landmark; it was then listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [1] Tucked away in the eastern portion of Chesterfield County is a sixteen-acre village with a long and substantial history.  Bermuda Hundred is comprised of a small residential community with an eighteenth century church, an early nineteenth century schoolhouse, cemetery, historic marker and an excavated archaeological site.   Located where Bermuda Hundred Road (State Route 827) terminates at the James River and nestled at the confluence of the Appomattox and James rivers Bermuda Hundred is a rural, riverfront community with a fascinating history.

During the Proto-historic or Early Contact periods (circa 1600-1611) the area where Bermuda Hundred is now located was the dwelling site of the Appamattuck Indians.  By 1613 it became one of the first settlements of the Virginia Company.  Bermuda Hundred was the largest Virginia settlement between 1613 and 1617 and home to its Lieutenant Governor, Sir Thomas Dale.  Bermuda Hundred was the first incorporated community in English America, and the site of the first private land ownership by English colonists.  By the mid-17 th century the settlement had become an important site of local mercantile activity.  After 1688, Bermuda Hundred became a town and by 1691 it was designated as an official port.  One of the first major periods of growth came in 1731 with the establishment of a tobacco inspection station.  In addition there were taverns and various commercial establishments.  Bermuda Hundred was the southside seat of the county court until 1749 when Chesterfield County was formed in 1749.  It was nominated to become the new capital of Virginia but Richmond was selected.  When the seat of government relocated to Richmond, Bermuda Hundred lost its place as the primary inland tidal port on the James River.  It did, however, remain as a break-of-bulk point for Richmond and Petersburg.  In 1781 the sack of Richmond by Benedict Arnold led to his designating Bermuda Hundred as a supply base and collection point.  Four years later the Commonwealth of Virginia declared Bermuda Hundred the official port-of-entry on the James River.  In 1790 the federal government followed suit.

One of the earliest post offices, or custom house, was located on the waterfront and custom searchers were designated for the port.   Although no longer the largest regional market, Bermuda Hundred found a new identity as the break-of-bulk port of entry.  Commercial growth along Water Street at the docks is evident from archeological excavations.

During the Colonial period the town had been one of the region’s principal slave markets.  By the late 18 th century, a demographic shift occurred and Bermuda Hundred attracted a growing free black population.  They attended the Bermuda Hundred Church, which had been founded in 1640.  In 1850 the Bermuda Hundred church congregation divided along racial lines.  The church was retained by the black members of the congregation while white members founded Enon Baptist Church a short distance inland. Bermuda Hundred Baptist Church is the second oldest in Chesterfield County, the first being First Baptist Church Midlothian.

Bermuda Hundred was not immune from the ravages of the Civil War. [2] Archeological testing has revealed extensive material remains of the Union camps during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign when  General Benjamin Butler’s troops descended in March 1864.  The United States Colored Troops had a strong presence in Bermuda Hundred.   On May 4, 1864 the 4 th United States Colored Infantry regiment fought at Bermuda Hundred; on May 20 the 1 st United States Colored Cavalry there; on .  On August 24 and 25 the 7 th United States Colored Infantry arrived.  The area was again besieged on November 30 when the 19 th United States Colored Infantry fought; the 39 th United States Colored Infantry 5 arrived on December 1, followed by the 19 th United States Colored Infantry on December 4 and the 23 rd United States Colored Infantry on December 13. [3] Bermuda Hundred was an important ancillary station and the port facilities were used almost entirely for military ends.  When the Union Army moved into Bermuda Hundred freedom-seeking enslaved people found a refuge of sorts.  By 1865 the majority of the residents were African-Americans.

With the advent of the steam-powered Atlantic coasting passenger and cargo ships the port was revitalized as a steamship wharf.  As well, the local fishing industry began to grow.  In 1883, the Bright Hope narrow-gauge railroad terminal was constructed at Bermuda Hundred. The Bright Hope, also known as the Tidewater and Western, carried lumber, coal and flour from the Piedmont to be loaded on schooners and freighters for ports throughout the world. [4]

One of five known cemeteries is found within the boundaries of the village.  During the 1930s WPA worked recorded the presence of early 19 th century inscribed stones.  In 1938 the Bermuda Hundred Chapter, the Daughters of the American Revolution recognized the significance of the historic area and erected a carved stone monument on the southwest corner of Water Street and Bermuda Hundred Road.  In 1940 the last store, post office and ferry discontinued services.

The opportunity for further research exists.  Elders in the community remember an earlier time when the village was more vibrant.  Collecting the oral history will preserve their memories of this rural, riverfront community. Past archeological excavations also hold promising prospects.  The names of soldiers who were wounded at Bermuda Hundred offer an opportunity to remember those who fought during the Civil War.



[1] See the Virginia Department of Historic Resources file # 020-0064 for the historic district designation; see file # 020-5370 for the archeological and architectural resources .

[2] For a list of wounded from Bermuda Hundred during the Civil War see news/wounded-frrom-bermuda-hundred.html

[3] See http://www/coax.net/people/lwf.CWBATTLE.htm

[4] When the rails of the Tidewater and Western were removed during World War I, Bermuda Hundred was cut off from the remainder of Chesterfield County by land routes.

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