-Bristol, England was the backdrop for a large portion of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island".
- America is said to be named for Bristol merchant Richard ap Merryk, who financed John Cabot's expedition to North America in 1497.
Is Bristol, England, really where Blackbeard was from?
*Author's note: While it is true that nothing as definite as a birth certificate with Blackbeard's real name on it exists to prove that he was from Bristol, England, most sources (and indeed most of the oldest sources) testify to this city as his home town. There is but one claim to his being from Jamaica, but the particulars were not verifiable. A real pirate having mythical proportions would lead to many places staking a claim to being his birthplace; we will stick with the most traditional and commonly mentioned place.
The ancient port of Bristol ('place of assembly by the bridge') is the largest city in southwest England, with a population of 500,000. The original town was laid out over a small area at the confluence of the Avon and Frome rivers. It was surrounded by a defensive wall and had the added protection of a castle that existed until the mid-1600's.
From its founding, Bristol's ease of sea trade caused it to be one the most prosperous towns in England. Early trade in wool from Ireland allowed the export of high quality cloth, which in turn brought the influx of food and other resources to develop the local economy. The diversion of the river Frome in the mid-13th century under the reign of Henry III brought an expansion of trade. Wine, spices, olive oil, leather, and other goods began to flow in from countries such as France, Spain, Portugal, and Iceland.
The trading unfortuanately grew to include slaves from Africa in the 16th century. Manufactured goods would be traded for slaves in Africa that would be sold in the Caribbean. Raw goods like tobacco, sugar, and cotton from the slave plantations would be shipped back from North America on the return passage. It only took Bristol forty years to surpass London in the slave trade. The tireless work of the Quakers, Bristol residents John and Charles Wesley, and others against the practice led to its abolition by Parliament in 1807.
The city was also the launching point for explorations, the most notable being that of John Cabot in 1497 to the North American mainland, where he named the landing point New Found Land. A working replica of his ship the 'Matthew' is docked in Bristol's floating harbor today. Another famous voyage from Bristol was Woodes Rogers' privateering/ circumnavigation voyage from 1708-1711 made with the help of William Dampier. Rogers discovered marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk on Juan Fernandez island in 1709; Selkirk was the inspiration for Daniel Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe.
Woodes Rogers would later be appointed the first royal governor of the Bahamas, with the charge to rid the area of pirates. Many of those pirates were English sailors who became unemployed at the end of the War of the spanish Succession / Queen Anne's War. One of the recently arrived ex-sailors was none other than Blackbeard, who left New Providence having no interest in Rogers' offer of pardon.
Several factors led to the downturn of Bristol's standing as a viable port. Among them were: the difficulties of trade during wartime, the end of slavery, increasing difficulties in navigating the Avon, competition from other ports, and the stiff charges incurred from the new floating harbor. The city continued to develop as a railroad and industrial center, and today, its prolonged renaissance in the arts and media has earned it the nomination for a European Centre of Culture.