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On June 2, 1609, a ship named the Sea Venture set sail for Jamestown, Virginia. On the way, the ship was blown off course by a horrible hurricane. The storm badly damaged the ship and all hands onboard fought off the rising water until the ship ran aground on the island of Bermuda. After salvaging parts of the Sea Venture to build another ship, the stranded group set sail again for Jamestown, arriving in Virginia on May 10, 1610. 

News of the shipwreck and tales of the castaways traveled back to England, due in no small part to a publication by one Sea Venture traveler, William Strachey, who wrote dramatic tales about the adventure, including one incident in Bermuda involving an indentured servant named Stephen Hopkins who was accused of mutiny and narrowly escaped death. 

Stephen Hopkins not only survived the Sea Venture hurricane, but would travel 11 years later on the Mayflower as both a guide and the father to Oceanus, the only child born on the Mayflower while it was at sea. The dramatic life of Stephen Hopkins seems to have inspired our favorite dramatist, William Shakespeare for his play, The Tempest, and specifically the character of Stephano, which came to life in Shakespeare’s performance just one year after the cast and crew of the Sea Venture landed in Jamestown. 

Our guest this week, Andrew Buckley, is descended directly from Stephen Hopkins and has just completed a documentary film on his life. Andrew joins us today to share the story of Stephen Hopkins and walk us through the evidence that suggests Shakespeare’s character of Stephano might have been inspired by the real life of Stephen Hopkins.

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Andrew Giles Buckley, creator and host of the public media series Hit and Run History, is a historical novelist, commercial fisherman, travel book author, opinion journalist and world-class storyteller.

Andrew, a two-time Emmy-nominated producer, founded Hit and Run History in 2008.  In their latest film, Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare’s Shipwreck, Andrew and his crew are hot on the trail of Stephen Hopkins, a Virginia-bound castaway who found his way not only onto the decks of the Mayflower a decade later, but immortalized on stage as the drunken Stephano in Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest.

Stephano premiered on Rhode Island PBS in 2021, followed by stations from Washington, DC to Los Angeles. Learn about broadcasts, screenings, and video-on-demand opportunities to watch the film at hitandrunhistory.com

Official release from Rhode Island PBS: https://www.ripbs.org/blogs/bird-wire/stephano/
Folger Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast feature on us: https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/stephen-hopkins-stephano-buckley

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What I'll be asking Andrew Buckley about this week:

  • William Strachey, himself a poet and playwright, was on board the Sea Venture with Stephen Hopkins. Afterwards, Strachey published his account of his time on the Sea Venture. He called it A True Repertory: A most dreadful tempest, the manifold deaths whereof are here to the life described. Andrew, what year was this published? Was it a popular publication or, more poignantly, were there survivors of the Sea Venture voyage that made it back to London to tell their stories personally? How was the story of the Sea Venture and Stephen Hopkins circulated back in England during Shakespeare’s lifetime?
  • One of the reasons scholars suggest Shakespeare may have been influenced by the story of the Sea Venture when he wrote The Tempest are due to some of the striking parallels between Strachey’s version of the event and Shakespeare’s play. For example, in the play, after the storm tosses the ship, there’s a general upheaval of roles on the ship where a great equality descends among the crew as everyone with able hands is called upon to try and save both the ship and the lives of those onboard. Andrew, did this situation where the nobles are being told off by the ship’s crew, or the nobles themselves stepping up to do the work on the ship, actually happen for the Sea Venture once the hurricane had subsided?
  • Once the passengers and crew find themselves stranded in Bermuda, decisions have to be made about how to continue onwards to Jamestown. During this process Stephen Hopkins' input about then Lieutenant governor Sir Thomas Gates lands him on charges of mutiny. Andrew, why was Stephen Hopkins accused of mutiny and does he face punishment for speaking out against Gates?
  • …and more!

Books and Resources Andrew Buckley Recommends

Here Shall I Die Ashore: STEPHEN HOPKINS: Bermuda Castaway, Jamestown Survivor, and Mayflower Pilgrim. Caleb Johnson, Xlibris, November 20, 2007.

This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving, David J. Silverman, Bloomsbury Publishing; Illustrated edition (November 5, 2019).

Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwreck, and a New History of America’s Origin, Joseph Kelly, Bloomsbury Publishing, October 30, 2018.

A Stranger Among Saints: Stephen Hopkins, the Man Who Survived Jamestown and Saved Plymouth, Jonathan Mack, Chicago Review Press, April 7, 2020.

What's Inside:

  • William Strachey, A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight, in Hakluytus posthumus, or, Purchas his Pilgrimes, compiled by Samuel Purchas
  • 1624 Cover of “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles
  • Captain John Smith's 1624 map of the Somers Isles (Bermuda)
  • Portrait of Powhatan, paramount chief of Tsenacomoco
  • Historic Bermuda Hog Money from 1615

…and more! Sign up on Patreon to see the bonus content and unlock extra history resources related to this episode.

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