Award-winning actor Allison Janney unearths Sea Venture ties
A US actor has uncovered her ancestral link to a rebellious figure of New World history from the 1609 shipwreck that led to the settlement of Bermuda.
Allison Janney, from the acclaimed TV drama The West Wing, came to Bermuda courtesy of the US show Who Do You Think You Are?
The series, which traces the ancestries of celebrity guests, brought Ms Janney to the National Museum of Bermuda to learn about her ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, who mutinied against leaving Bermuda for the British colony of Jamestown in Virginia.
The episode aired on Sunday on NBC.
Hopkins, an English minister’s clerk, joined the flotilla led by the Sea Venture, headed for the colony – but ended up marooned on Bermuda after the flagship, captained by Sir George Somers, was caught in a hurricane and wrecked off St George’s.
Sir Thomas Gates, the new governor of Jamestown, organised the building of two vessels, the Deliverance and the Patience, for the settlers to continue west and reach the fledgeling Virginia colony.
But Hopkins insisted on the colonists remaining in Bermuda to found a new settlement.
Gates arrested Hopkins and he was sentenced to death for mutiny. But, ultimately, he was pardoned.
He continued on to Jamestown, where the arrival of food and supplies from Bermuda helped save a dwindling colony on the brink of starvation.
Hopkins lived several years in Jamestown before returning to England and sailing to the New World aboard the Mayflower in 1620, this time to the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts.
“He was the only guy who winds up in all of those first English colonies – Bermuda, Jamestown and Plymouth,” said Michael Jarvis, an archaeologist and professor with the University of Rochester in New York, who specialises in the early history of Bermuda.
Dr Jarvis met with Ms Janney at the museum to “talk her through the Sea Venture story”.
“They flew me down to the island to meet with her,” he told The Royal Gazette.
“They actually filmed it in November 2019, but production was delayed due to Covid.”
Dr Jarvis added: “Bermuda comes off as a pretty cool place in the episode.”
In the 42-minute episode, Ms Janney revealed that her grandparents, named Big Hall and Sippy, holidayed every year in Bermuda – and that her grandmother died on the island during a visit.
She discovered her link to Hopkins with the help of Joseph Shumway, a genealogist with the firm Ancestry.
As a religious figure, Hopkins commanded respect among the passengers of the Sea Venture, who were under a contract with the Virginia Company trading group.
Hopkins argued that because the company failed to get them safely to their intended destination, the contract no longer applied.
He maintained that the settlers were therefore free to establish a co-operative settlement on Bermuda.
Sir Thomas spared him from execution after the other shipwrecked passengers pleaded for his life.
Hopkins returned to England after his wife died, then sailed to the Plymouth Colony, where his knowledge of Native American customs from his years in Jamestown proved useful for colonists.
He ran a tavern there until his death in 1644.
Ms Janney visited Jamestown and Plymouth as well as Bermuda following the course of her ancestor’s life.