Originally called New London, St. George's was first settled in 1612, three years after the first English settlers in Bermuda, who had been on their way to Virginia, landed on St. George's Island after the deliberate driving of their ship, the Sea Venture, onto a reef. They were led by Admiral Sir George Somers and Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates. The survivors built two new ships, and most then continued their voyage to Jamestown, but the Virginia Company laid claim to the island. Two men remained behind, maintaining the company's possession of the archipelago (a third stayed when the Patience returned later that year). The boundaries of Virginia were officially extended far enough out to sea to include Bermuda by the Virginia Company's Third Charter in 1612. The company then sent a party of 60 new settlers to Bermuda to join the three men left behind by the Sea Venture, who, after a brief period on neighbouring St. David's, commenced construction of St. George's, located in a sheltered sound that kept ships protected from bad weather. In 1615, the shareholders of the Virginia Company created a second company, the Somers Isles Company, which administered Bermuda separately until its dissolution in 1684 (the Virigina Company itself was dissolved in 1622).
This small town has considerable historical importance. Not only did it play a pivotal role in Bermuda's history (it was the capital until 1815), but it also helped shape that of the United States as well. Ten-thousand Bermudians emigrated, primarily to Virginia and the American Southeast before US independence closed the door. Branches of wealthy Bermudian merchant families dominated trade in the area's ports. Bermudians settled towns in the area, and contributed greatly to the make up of the populations of several US states. As Bermuda's population centre, and only real port throughout this period, St. George's factored considerably in Bermuda's contribution to US development. During the American War of Independence, Bermudians stole much-needed gunpowder from a magazine, which supplied neighbouring the forts protecting St. George's, and then smuggled it out of Tobacco Bay (over the hill from St. George's) to George Washington. They also probably prolonged the American Civil War by ferrying supplies and munitions to the desperate Confederates, a trade that was based in St. George's.
Today, St. George's remains basically untouched by the economic boom that has shaped the capital Hamilton. Most of its buildings were constructed in the 17th to 19th centuries, and the authorities have made a deliberate effort both to prevent development, and to hide any signs of later changes. For example, power and telephone lines are underground, and the street lighting has a period style. Narrow streets such as Barber's Alley and Aunt Peggy's Lane remain just as they were centuries ago.
St. George's is no sterile relic, however; it is a living town, and its historic buildings function not only as museums but also as houses, restaurants, pubs and shops. At its centre lies King's Square, flanked by the Town Hall and the Visitors Service Bureau. There are replica stocks in the Square, and also a ducking stool, a replica of one that was once used to dump gossiping women into the harbour. Nowadays, local volunteers recreate this fantastic punishment.
Ordnance Island lies in St. George's Harbour, to the south of King's Square, and is reached by a small bridge. It holds a replica of the Deliverance (one of the two ships built by the shipwrecked settlers), and a life-size bronze statue of their commander, Sir George Somers, by Desmond Fountain.
Elsewhere around the town there are a multitude of historical sites such as the old State House (the first stone building in Bermuda, other than fortifications, built in 1620 to house Bermuda's Parliament, and today the oldest building on the island), the Unfinished Church, the Old Rectory, St. Peter's Church (the oldest Anglican church in the Western hemisphere), the Tucker House, and the Bermuda National Trust Museum.
In 2000, the town, together with numerous surrounding fortifications, including the Castle Islands Fortifications, was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List. In 1996, the town was twinned with Lyme Regis, Dorset, England, the birthplace of Admiral Sir George Somers.