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Bermuda Beacon, Part 2 - Richard Norwood
Researching the NORWOOD family in Nebraska, the Mid-Atlantic Colonies/States and the Atlantic/Caribbean Islands
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Bermuda Beacon, Part 2 - Richard Norwood

Bermuda Beacon, Part 2 - Richard Norwood
The Bermuda Beacon; Vol 3, No 4; Alva M. Hamilton; © October 1986; p. 35-39
Richard Norwood, Part 2
by Alva M. Hamilton

Upon his return to England in 1617, Richard Norwood gathered his data together, checked his calculations, drew his map and supervised the printing of it.  It was published in 1622, the same year that, at age 32, he married Rachel, daughter of Francis Boughton of Sandwich, Kent.

They moved to London and remained there for twenty years during which time Richard was mainly based at home.  He spent that time teaching, writing books, and occasionally doing surveys for various estates.

His time away from England was spent briefly in 1623 when he was sent by the Virginia Company, in which he also had a share, to the Netherlands to inspect fortifications and then in April of the year when he accepted an invitation from the Company to visit Virginia, probably as a surveyor.  The trip over was very unpleasant and he did not like the offer he got in Virginia and returned home immediately.

Richard and Rachel had four children, all born in England: Andrew born about 1623, Mathew about 1625, Elizabeth about 1627 and Anne about 1628.

During the years in London, Richard wrote several books which became very popular.  The first of these was Trigonometrie or the Doctrine of Triangles, published in 1631 by W. Jones.  This book had many new editions and reprints over a period of fifty-five years.

It was also during that year that John Speed’s A PROSPECT OF AND THE MOST FAMOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD was published containing Richard’s 1622 map of the Bermuda Islands.  On the back of it was Norwood’s “Description of the Islands”.  He gave there a description of Sir George Somer’s shipwreck and a history of the islands for the next ten years and in keeping with his great interest in and knowledge of botany and zoology, he gave detailed descriptions of the configuration of the islands, the vegetation, soil, climate, native birds and fish, and discussed whales, turtles, prickly pears and insects.

In 1637 his THE SEAMAN’S PRACTICE was published by G. Hurlock.  It became one of his best known works because it was a standard book on practical navigation.  In 1700 the 17th edition was printed, twenty-five years after Norwood’s death.

The remarkable thing about that book was the fact that until it came out, navigators had a very imperfect concept of the length of a degree or a nautical mile.  Norwood’s work to determine these things began by his observing the meridian altitude of the sun at a point near the Tower of London in June 1633.  He repeated this procedure two years later in the middle of the city of York.  He used a sextant with a five foot radius and by carefully measuring distances between his observation points and making corrections to allow for deviations, he came up with a figure only two-thirds of one percent off what is recognized today as the correct distances discovered through modern scientific measurement.  This was a brilliant piece of work on Norwood’s part considering the crudity of his instruments and the fact that no-one else had attempted to do the measurements so vital in navigation.

Richard’s third book, FORTIFICATION OR ARCHITECTURE MILITARY came out in 1639 and in it he referred to his work in the Netherlands.

Even in the seventeenth century plagiarism was a problem for writers.  Norwood was continually annoyed in finding that many of the proofs of his writing were stolen by literary pirates while still in the hands of the printer and there was nothing he could do about it.

About 1635 his father died at the Charterhouse Hospital in London where he was a pensioner.  I’m not sure whether this means that he was nearly penniless, but he must have had a little because Richard was executor of his father’s estate.

In a couple of years Norwood became at odds with the views of some of the bishops whose innovations he opposed and he would have had to answer to them regarding his opposition.  When the Bermuda Company advertised for a schoolmaster, Richard applied for and got the job.

Toward the end of 1637, or in January 1638, the Norwood family set sail for Bermuda.  The children ranged in age from nine to fourteen and if all shared their parent’s cabin, it would have been pretty crowded.  Rachel was very opposed to spending weeks at sea under those conditions and urged Richard to make other arrangements.  Richard managed to get the two boys put into the Reverend Nathaniel White’s cabin.  Sharing his space with those boys did not please the clergyman at all and it led to bad feelings between the men that lasted all the rest of their lives.  For years White waged a bitter vendetta against Richard, mainly on religious issues.

Richard’s first school is believed to have been in Devonshire, but exact location is unknown.  Unfortunately his arrival in Bermuda was at a time when extremists in politics and religion were in power.  Even though he was a moderate in both areas, Richard was constantly under attack by the conservatists and the radicals.

White constantly criticized Richard’s religious beliefs and publicly denounced him as a failure as a schoolmaster, saying that none of Richard’s pupils could conjugate a verb or decline a noun.  White also said that Norwood should stick to teaching and not air his views on religion about which White inferred that Richard knew nothing.

Even without White’s constant harassment, Richard found that teaching was no easy task.  Enrollment fluctuated constantly and attendance was not regular, particularly at shipping or planting time.  He felt that he had to work as hard as if he had twice the number of steady students.

Some good fortune came Richard’s way in 1645 when he was given £150, a share of privateering booty for the Spanish Main.  In those days this was considered a real windfall.

In 1644 another person entered Richard’s life who was as much an irritant to him as White.  An Irish surgeon, John Witter, whom Richard had no use for, secretly married Richard’s daughter, Elizabeth, then only 17 years old.  She had been forbidden to even see Witter and the marriage was a real blow to Norwood.  Richard’s troubles began there as Witter and Norwood were constantly engaged in verbal confrontations.  Witter also kept bringing Richard up on frequent charges based on various pretexts.  Each time Richard had to travel all the way from Devonshire to the court in St. Georges to answer these charges.  It was not easy to get back and forth and cost Richard much time away from his teaching duties.

Although Norwood claimed that Witter treated his daughter abominably, the marriage lasted and Elizabeth bore John seven children.  All seven were mentioned in their grandfather’s will.

Anne, Richard’s younger daughter, also made a marriage disappointing to her parents.  She married Richard Bowen, a man that her parents considered socially beneath them.  Whether this was the reason for Anne’s apparent estrangement from Richard is not clear, but Anne was bequeathed £5 and part of her mother’s wardrobe when Richard died, whereas, Elizabeth and Andrew received the major share of the estate.

Since Bermuda was so far away from England, the islanders did not learn of King Charles I’s execution until March 1649, two months after the king’s death.  Immediately the Bermuda Company which had turned from being Royalist in sentiment until 1647 to supporting Cromwell from then on, ordered that Governor Turner by removed from office and that he be replaced by a commission of three men.  These men were to have been William Wilkinson, Richard Norwood and Capt. Thomas Leacraft but the latter had died before the appointment was known.

Wilkinson, who was a strong leader of the Independents in the Church was strongly opposed by the more moderate or conservative churchmen.  Norwood refused to serve without him and when it reached a stalemate, Turner was asked to serve a little longer.  He did not want to, but agreed to serve, only to be ejected two months later for being too moderate.

Richard was constantly finding himself in the middle of violent confrontations between White’s extreme Independents and the conservatives of the church party.  In 1649 those who opposed Richard managed to have a grand inquest held regarding Richard’s school.  The group reported it to be unsatisfactory and Richard was asked to resign.

Two men, following Richard as schoolmaster, didn’t last long.  The first, Percival Goulding, was completely unsatisfactory.  Richard was even asked to return, but he refused.  The next man appointed, Jonathan Burr, was also considered a failure.  In 1661, at the age of 71, Richard was prevailed upon to return to his school.  He stayed a few years, but retired to manage his fifty acre estate in Pembroke purchased in1657.  There he built his own school and started over again.

Just about the time that Richard resigned from his first school, another problem plagued him.  In 1651 witch-hunting had reached Bermuda just as it had in England and America.  In May of that year a woman named Jeane Gardiner was brought to trial and sentenced to death.  During that trial, Anne Bowen, Richard’s daughter was mentioned as a suspect, but for lack of evidence, escaped an severe penalties.

Richard was so upset at the prospect and possibility that even he might become a suspect that he hid his mathematical manuscripts on Boaz Island.  He was afraid that some ignorant zealot would think they were works of the devil.

Richard’s mathematical abbreviations were those he adopted before they became commonplace.  He was the first to do so and so earned a place in history for this accomplishment.

All during the time that Norwood was teaching school, he was often called upon to check boundaries and settle land disputes.  When he left for England in 1617, he was apparently replaced by John Perinchief.  Perinchief continued as surveyor until his death which occurred about 1640 or a little later.  It was after 1640 that Richard resumed his surveying.  He complained that in the 20 years he was in England, some “gross errors” had been committed.

After many land disputes began cropping up, the council engaged Norwood to resurvey the islands for a fee of £50.  That was in 1662.  He finished the work a year later when he was 73.  His book of this survey is called the Domesday Book of Bermuda.  It settled many questions and furnished the basis for all future legislation on property assessments.  Some of Norwood’s marks are still there.

He drew a new map and left copies of it and the book to his daughter, Elizabeth, as a source of income for her.  She was to charge an inspection fee of 6d each time they were consulted.

In addition to all the activities described here for Richard, he served as a councillor in 1651/2.

Although Anne was almost ignored in her father’s will, it was one of her descendants who discovered Richard’s journal in New York in the 20th century.  Luckily this descendant realized its historical value and it is preserved in the Bermuda Archives.  Unfortunately, another of Richard’s descendants, two hundred years after his death, found some of his mathematical manuscripts and fearing that her children might be “infected” by the contaminating stuff, burned them!  Apparently the music and perspective MSS left to a grandson were not destroyed.

Richard Norwood died 1675 as he approached 85.  Rachel died a few years earlier.

Only the daughters remained in Bermuda and thus the Norwood name died out there.  Son Matthew was a senior captain serving the Bermuda Company and had emigrated.  He published two books, THE SEAMAN’S COMPANION (1671) and NORWOOD’S SYSTEM OF NAVIGATION (1685).  Matthew apparently inherited his father’s intelligence and talent because the books were popular and in use a long time.

It was Andrew who followed his father into surveying.  He laid out two towns on Staten Island, New York.  He raised his family in New England and later lived at least part of the time, in Barbados.

The house, which now stands on the Norwood estate, was built in 1771 by Samuel Saltus who had married Richard’s great-granddaughter, Esther Vincent, daughter of Elizabeth Witter’s daughter, Elizabeth.  Richard’s own home and schoolhouse have long since disappeared.  “Norwood”, as the present house is known, is said to be one of the loveliest on the islands.