Thomas Doty – Storyteller

1609: The Tempest


Hired as a minister's clerk on a voyage to take the new governor to Jamestown, Virginia, Stephen Hopkins was aboard the Sea Venture when it shipwrecked in Bermuda on July 25, 1609. His young nephew Edward Doty was with him. While stranded on the island, the castaways survived on sea turtles, birds, and wild pigs. They experienced what were described as strange and supernatural events on this "Isle of Devils" with some politics tossed in.

After six months on the island, Hopkins led others in an attempted mutiny against the governor. The mutiny was discovered and Hopkins was sentenced to death. Hopkins pleaded with sorrow and tears, and managed to get his sentence commuted: "So penitent he was, and made so much moan, alleging the ruin of his wife and children in this his trespass, as it wrought in the hearts of all the better sorts of the company."

After nine months, the surviving crew and passengers had pieced together two smaller ships from Bermuda cedar and parts salvaged from the wreckage and sailed into Jamestown, arriving on May 10. Of the 500 on board the Sea Venture, only 60 had survived.

Back in London, Hopkins told his childhood friend William Shakespeare about his adventure. Along with William Strachey's "A True Reportory of the Wreck," Hopkins' account become source material for Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest." The character Stephano, the boisterous and often drunk butler of King Alonso, is a loose portrayal of Stephen Hopkins.

Strachey described their landing: "We found it to be the dangerous and dreaded island, or rather islands, of the Bermuda.... And that the rather because they be so terrible to all that ever touched on them, and such tempests, thunders, and other fearful objects are seen and heard about them, that they be called commonly the Devil's Islands and are feared and avoided of all sea travelers alive above any other place in the world. Yet it pleased our merciful God to make even this hideous and hated place both the place of our safety and means of our deliverance."

Nearly 300 years later, Rudyard Kipling penned a description of Hopkins telling Shakespeare about his experiences in Bermuda. This was a creative piece, masquerading as a Letter to the Editor, and set in a London theatre in which "Shakespeare plies Stephano with liquor to get his story." It was published on July 2, 1898 in the London Spectator and again on March 19, 1916 in the New York Times. The drunken sailor starts his tale with a description of the island: "It was green, with yellow in it: a tawny colored country ... and the air made one sleepy, and the place was full of noises ... and there was a sou'west wind that blistered one all over."

Hopkins and Doty would again brave crossing the Atlantic when they sailed on the Mayflower in 1620.

The image is a painting showing the wreck of the Sea Venture.