Bermuda, Today and Yesterday - Richard Norwood
Researching the NORWOOD family in Nebraska, the Mid-Atlantic Colonies/States and the Atlantic/Caribbean Islands
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Bermuda, Today and Yesterday - Richard Norwood

Bermuda, Today and Yesterday - Richard Norwood
Bermuda, Today and Yesterday 1503-1973; Terry Tucker; ©1975; p. 58-60
[Any comments I make for clarity are enclosed in brackets]

By far the most important event under his [Governor Tucker's] administration was the islands being surveyed and divided up into tribes and shares.  A man called Barlett had commenced this big job in Moore’s time but had fallen out with the Governor and gone home.  He returned briefly a second time with as little result, this time returning to England in the ship he arrived in.  The Bermuda Charter specified that a fourth part of the islands was to be set aside for defraying public charges, and the remainder divided into 8 tribes (the origin of 8 of the present 9 parishes,) each tribe to contain 50 shares.

This important job fell, almost accidentally, into the hands of an Englishman who turned out to be Bermuda’s outstanding genius of the seventeenth century.  His name was Richard Norwood.  Actually he had come to Bermuda in 1613 at the age of twenty-three mainly because there was some talk of pearl-diving off the coast and he had invented and used a diving bell so was regarded as a technical expert.  When the pearl-diving off the coast came to nothing, he commenced a survey of the coastline for Governor Moore.  Now Governor Daniel Tucker called upon him in 1616 for a detailed survey, the division of the land into 8 tribes (to be named for the principal shareholders) sub-divided into fifty 25-acre plots.  St George’s Island, St David’s Island, Longbird, Smith’s, Cooper’s, Coney and Nonsuch Islands, including a small eastern portion of the Main Island, were to remain general un-allocated land.  Norwood calculated that the remainder divided into 25-acre strips would leave a small overplus.  In this he was correct.

The ancient record says: ‘The first tribe to bee Eastward was then called Bedford Tribe, now Hamiltons [i.e. Hamilton Tribe or Parish, not the City of Hamilton]; the second, Smith’s Tribe; the third, Cavendish, now Devonshire; the fourth, Pembrooks; the fifth, Pagets; the sixth, Mansils, now Warwicks; the seventh, Southampton; the eighth, Sandys.’  The persons whose names have been perpetuated were: James Hamilton, second Marquis of Hamilton; Sir Tomas Smith or Smythe; William Cavendish, first Earl of Devonshire; William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke; William Paget, fourth Lord Paget; Robert Rich, second Earl of Warwick; Henry Wriothesley (pronounced ‘Rocksley’) third Earl of Southampton; and lastly (the farthest west) – Sir Edwin Sandys.

Those were the eight tribes that we now call parishes.  Our ninth parish is, of course, St George’s, where the whole development started but which was not considered a tribe.

Richard Norwood, in his immense task, had the help of Charles Caldicott.  There were some 120 islands to be surveyed, all densely covered with cedar forests and without roads.  The final survey, begun in the summer of 1616, was completed by May 1617, and resultant map, published in London in 1622, five years after Norwood’s return to England, has been engraved by several cartographers (including John Speed in 1631, Abraham Goos 1626 and Hondius) and served as the basis of all land tenure to the present day.

Before Richard Norwood sailed for England with all the data for his map in May 1617, he was involved in what became known as the scandal of the overplus.  The fact was, Governor Tucker was due three shares from the Company; if the survey had continued straight ahead from east to west inevitably the expected overplus, the Governor’s perquisite, would fall at the extreme west end.  But at a middle stage of the work, the Governor suddenly ordered Norwood to begin working from Sandys eastward, the reason given being that the rats had not yet attacked that part which therefore could easily be laid out.  Norwood complied.  The overplus which he had correctly anticipated, now fell in a specially luscious vale between Southampton and Sandys which Tucker immediately claimed as his bonus.  Feelings ran high and when, undeterred, the Governor proceeded to build himself a fine house on this 200 acres the Rev Lewis Hughes denounced him bitterly as building a ‘flauntinge’ cedar mansion for himself while leaving ‘Gods house...but a thacht hovell.’  Even the Somers Island Company in London seemed likely to deprive the retiring Governor of the overplus and the house built at their expense.  But in his last term of office he managed to send a huge consignment of tobacco from Bermuda, and appeared himself in London to state his own case.  The result was that he retained the by then famous house (on the property later designated The Grove) and a little less than half the overplus property – a large and beautiful slice of land.


Richard Norwood proved his innocence of any complicity in the overplus plot, if plot there had been.  He remained away from Bermuda for twenty years during which time he wrote several learned books on trigonometry, on navigation, on fortifications – books which went through many editions and continued being published for over half a century.  That no one had ever ascertained the exact length of a degree or of a nautical mile led him between 1633 and 1635 to measure the meridian altitude of the sun at the Tower of London and the centre of York City, and the exact ground distance between his observation points.  This was 150 years before the use of the theodolite.  Thus he made another mark on the inexact art of navigation – an inexactitutde that meant ships often were unable to locate the islands.

In 1637 he returned to Bermuda as a schoolmaster, bringing his wife and four children.  His first school was probably in Devonshire Tribe, but later he built his own school on his estate in Pembroke.  This estate is still called Norwood – the beautiful house on it to-day was built about 1711 by the husband (Saltus) of Richard Norwood’s great grand-daughter, but there are no remains of the school house.

(The last Saltus, named Samuel, left the property to his junior partner, Henry Darrell, and the remainder of his estate as a foundation for a school for white boys – Saltus Grammar School.  At the entrance to Norwood, Henry Darrell erected the notice that so intrigues visitors to-day: ‘Where tramps must not, surely ladies and gentlemen will not, trespass.’)

In 1622, [This date appears to be a misprint in the book and should be 1662.] when Richard Norwood was over seventy, the Bermuda Council implored him to make a second survey of the islands.  The book he made to accompany his new map was called the Domesday Book of Bermuda.  The original manuscript map is in the Bermuda Archives.  He received the magnificient pay of £50 for this survey and that not till 1668.  At his death in 1675, in his eighty-fifth year, it was found he was still writing -- now on music and art.  Bermuda had been fortunate indeed to have this intellectual giant bestriding the seventeenth century, spending over forty years of his long life in these islands.  His career is all the more amazing when one realizes that he had been obliged to leave school – the famous Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire – before his fourteenth birthday.