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A speck in the remote mid-Atlantic, Bermuda was well outside early migration routes and remained unsettled before its discovery by European explorers.

Bermuda takes its name from Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermúdez, who sighted the islands around 1503. The Spanish, in search of gold in the Americas, took no interest in colonizing the sparse island chain. In fact, there is no indication that the Spanish ever deliberately landed on Bermuda in the 16th century, although misadventures at sea cast them ashore at least a few times.

Spanish galleons sailing between Cuba and Spain commonly set a course north past Florida and then east out to sea. Although the extensive reefs surrounding Bermuda posed a potential hazard to their ships, there were no other islands in the mid-Atlantic that sea captains could use to take bearings, so Bermuda became a vital navigational landmark. Once Bermuda was spotted, the ship's course could be reset east-northeast to follow a straight line to the Azores and Spain.

In fair weather, sailing past Bermuda was usually uneventful. However, powerful storms occasionally swept ships off their intended course and onto Bermuda's shallow reefs. Scores of Spanish ships, their hulls loaded with bullion, never completed their journey home from the New World. Today you can see some of the gold booty recovered from the wrecks at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.

The treacherous reefs gained such a reputation among mariners that by the mid-16th century Bermuda was appearing on Spanish charts with the nickname 'Islas Demonios, ' or 'Isles of Devils.'