Bermuda was sighted in 1503 by the Spanish mariner Juan de Bermúdez. In 1609 a shipwrecked group of Virginia-bound colonists led by Sir George Somers spent 10 months on the islands; this led to the founding of St. George by the Virginia Company in 1612. In 1684 the colony was placed directly under the British crown. Hamilton replaced St. George as the capital in 1815.

For many years Bermuda remained an obscure outpost of British civilization. Change came with the tourist industry, which began early in the 20th century, grew more rapidly after 1930, and boomed after World War II. In 1968 universal adult suffrage was granted. (Previously, only property owners could vote.) Since the early 1970's, the Progressive-Labour party has been advocating independence from Britain. In a 1995 referendum, however, a majority of Bermudans voted in favor of retaining colonial status.

In 1998, the Progressive-Labour Party won control of the government for the first time. The party was largely representative of Bermudians of African descent.