Virginia and New England

HALF a century ago, when Colonel Peter Force published his series of historical tracts relating to the early history of the American colonies, he included among them a much larger number of writings upon Virginian history than upon the early history of New England. In recent years, few of our historical writers have in any way concerned themselves with the history of the Virginian colony. Why is this ? Apparently it is one of the many effects of the civil war. When the North and the South came together in acute and final conflict, it was New England principles, and not Virginian principles, that triumphed. It appeared that the destinies of the nation were henceforward to be governed in accordance with the former, and not in accordance with the latter. Consciously or unconsciously, this consideration began to affect our views of the past. The origins of New England seemed vastly better worth studying than the origins of Virginia, since they were felt to be much more closely connected with the origin of the nation. Priority of date was conceded to the colony at Jamestown, but primacy in influence was claimed for those of Plymouth and the Bay.

This was only natural, especially as our historical writers have been mostly of New England origin. It was natural, but was it just ? The defense of slavery and the defense of states’ rights were not the only Virginian principles, and their overthrow does not destroy all impress of Virginian influence upon the United States. If we go back seventy or eighty years in our history, we come to a time when the question of slavery was not yet the dominant question in our politics, and the defense of states’ rights was not yet the peculiar prerogative of the South ; but “ the Virginia influence ” was constantly spoken of in our politics, and had been one of the chief factors in all the early development of the young republic. Now that the slavery contest is ended, we may profitably look back to those times before it began. We shall see the commonwealth of Virginia, with one fifth of the population of the Union, in 1790, exercising almost such an influence in the government of the United States as that which the province of Holland exercised in the government of the United Netherlands. We shall conclude that whatever went to the making of that commonwealth is well worthy of careful investigation by the student of general American history. We shall remember, too, that but for the success of that earlier experiment, or at least the increasing hope that it would succeed, the colonies of 1620 and 1630 might never have been planted.

In attempting a comprehensive collection 1 of all the documentary sources for the first eleven years’ history of the colony on James River, Mr. Alexander Brown has therefore, in our view, deserved well not only of Virginia, but of the republic in general, and is justified in calling his collection by even so extensive a title as The Genesis of the United States. For fourteen years, Mr. Brown tells us, he has been laboring to make this collection; his success is the more noteworthy from the fact that he has worked at a distance from large libraries and helps to investigation, and that, apparently, he has not had previous experience in historical publication. The period to which he has devoted his book is that extending from the return of Weymouth to England in July, 1605, to the return of Sir Thomas Dale in 1616. Purchas excluded, documentary publication respecting this period began virtually with William Stith, who printed the three charters and one or two other documents in the appendix to the first volume of his History of Virginia, published at Williamsburg in 1747. Much to that good man’s disgust, public support to subsequent volumes was not forthcoming, and documentary publication respecting this period seems to have gone no further for more than half a century. Jefferson, when he wrote his Notes on Virginia, appears to have known of no more documents bearing on these eleven years than what were contained in Stith. In 1809 William Waller Hening printed a few more, and since then the list has slowly increased, especially through the enthusiastic labors of Dr. E. D. Neill. Manuscript pieces have been discovered and published, rare tracts have been reprinted, and governmental calendars have made summaries of even unprinted materials somewhat accessible. Finally, Mr. Brown has set himself to gather together all the evidences hitherto collected, and, adding to them the results of his own industrious research, to put forth a collection of original sources, complete as far as may be, and arranged in chronological order. Several of the more extended early narratives, such as those of Smith, Hamor, and Strachcy, he has wisely forborne to reprint, at least if they are easily to be had by scholars. These narratives doubtless still remain the most important single sources of information respecting transactions in Virginia itself during those eventful and trying years. But Mr. Brown’s new pieces, even though some of them are of little individual importance, make up in sum an extremely valuable contribution to the history of this memorable colonizing movement, and especially of that part of it which went on in London.

The pieces printed or summarized by the editor number three hundred and sixty-five. Of these, some two hundred and twelve appear never to have been printed before, an extraordinarily large addition to our repertory of information respecting a period of only eleven years. By all odds, the most important division of this new matter is that which comes from the Spanish archives at Simancas. The obtaining of this, indeed the thought of having search made there, is much to Mr. Brown’s credit. His efforts were zealously aided by a Virginian representative in Madrid, the Hon. J. L. M. Curry, our late minister to Spain. Ninety-three documents in the collection were derived thence, and hardly one of them is without significance. Professor Schele de Vere, of the University of Virginia, has furnished the editor with the English translation of them, which alone is here printed. They consist of the letters of three successive Spanish ambassadors in London — Don Pedro de Zuñiga, Don Alonso de Velasco, and Don Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, better known as Count Gondomar — to King Philip III. of Spain, together with several highly interesting inclosures, a number of resolutions of the Spanish Council, and some replies of the king. The whole of the Spanish policy respecting Virginia is here laid before us for the first time. All Virginia was regarded by the Spanish court as falling within the bounds of the territory conferred upon Spain by the decree of Alexander VI. The attempt to settle in it was beheld with indignation, jealousy, and even dismay, for it was felt that, whatever objects were put forward ostensibly, the real purpose of such a settlement was nothing else but piracy upon Spanish commerce, or attacks upon the Spanish settlements to the southward. Accordingly, the Spanish ambassadors in London are urgent in their recommendation that the new settlement be speedily destroyed ; if Gondomar is less so, it is because he thinks the colony is on the point of perishing, anyhow. The Spanish king eagerly writes for news from his representative at the British court. The Council frequently debates respecting the destruction of the settlement. Frequent rumors that it is to be at once destroyed reach Sir John Digby, King James’s ambassador in Madrid. But Spain under the Duke of Lerma was not in a condition to take rapid and decisive action. “ For their doing anything by the way of hostilitie,” writes Digby to Sir Dudley Carleton, “ I concive thei will be very slowe to give England (who is very apte to lay holde on any occasion) so juste a pretence to bee doing with them.” The caution and the unprepared state of Spain saved the infant colony. All through those years, however, the promoters of the enterprise could not but feel the necessity for secrecy in their proceedings ; and this has had much to do with the paucity of direct information from them respecting the progress of their adventure.

The letters of the three successive ambassadors contain much interesting information respecting the Virginian colony, which in various ways, as for instance by spies, they had managed to pick up. By far the most interesting of such inclosures are the letters written to Velasco and Gondomar by the Alcayde Don Diego de Molina, whose story enriches early Virginian history with a romance hitherto unsuspected. In April, 1611, Don Diego de Molina, the Ensign Marco Antonio Perez, and an English pilot long domesticated in Spain, named Francis Lymbry, left Lisbon for Havana, under orders to sail thence to the northward, — on pretense of searching for a wrecked galleon, in reality in order to spy out the Virginian settlement. Arriving in June off the fort at what is now Hampton, the three men mentioned, landing incautiously from their caravel, are seized by the English. The caravel is forced to sail away without them, but has the good fortune to capture the English pilot Clark. The adventure is reported to the king of Spain, and negotiations for exchange ensue. Two years later, when Velasco supposes all three to have died, he receives a long and interesting letter from Molina. It was sent, sewed between the soles of a shoe, by means of a Venetian gentleman, whom the pious Spaniard, during his captivity, had hopefully reconverted to Catholicism. Molina and Lymbry are finally exchanged for Clark. Perez had long since died in captivity. Molina’s character, as revealed in the letters, makes him a very pleasing as well as picturesque addition to early Virginian history. His letters, with those of Father Biard to Acquaviva, show us in August, 1613, a Spaniard of distinction, a renegade Englishman who pretended to be a Spaniard, fifteen Frenchmen, including two Jesuits, naval officers, and others, and the Indian Pocahontas, all in captivity among the Englishmen at Jamestown and Hampton, and with them the Venetian gentleman reconverted to Papistry under the very eyes of Sir Thomas Dale! It should be added that Molina represents himself as very kindly treated by the colonists ; he gives a striking picture of their miseries during his three years’ confinement among them.

Next in number and interest to these Spanish papers are those which Mr. Brown has obtained from the State Paper Office in London. Many of these — letters from Digby in Madrid — supplement and confirm the documents from Simancas. Many others belong to the voluminous correspondence of Sir Dudley Carleton. Interesting, if not of the first importance, are the thirty-five or so documents which have been obtained from the record-books of the city of London, of the livery companies, of the Cinque Ports, of Trinity House, and of other corporations. Most of these have to do with the financial affairs of the Virginia Company, its subscriptions and its lotteries. Two pieces come from the records of London churches ; but alas, they concern investment of church funds in the company’s lotteries ! The company’s own records, for years previous to 1619, are no longer in existence. The British Museum and certain private collections afford a few further papers, some of which are of much interest. Upon the quarrels at Jamestown and the dissensions in the company Mr. Brown’s papers, it should be remarked, throw little additional light that will serve at all to settle vexed questions, even the warmly debated question regarding Captain John Smith, against whom, by the way, Mr. Brown seems to cherish a hostility pushed sometimes beyond what is quite fair. But we get a choice bit of Jamestown politics in the letter of one Francis Perkins, written from there in March, 1608, and somehow obtained by Zuñiga, and by him forwarded to his Catholic Majesty. The colony had not been in existence eleven months, and here is already the American office-seeker ! “ I pray you will have the goodness,” writes Perkins to his unknown correspondent, “ to negotiate with Sir William Wade, Sir Thomas Smith, . . . and the others, that I be appointed one of the council here in Virginia, as much for my honor as that I may be better able to pay my debts. There are some of the members of the council here who understand state affairs as little as I do, and who are no better than I. It will be a matter of great delight to see coming here so many from our country, so richly gifted and enlightened that I should not be worthy to appear among them ! ”

Letters were not the only things which the watchful envoy intercepted, and so preserved for us. The archives of Simancas have yielded to the editor four maps of extreme interest, of which the English originals must long ago have disappeared. The first is a chart of James River, made in 1608, by Robert Tindall, gunner to Prince Henry; the second, a chart of Virginia, made in the same year, and sent over to England with Captain Smith’s True Relation ; the third, and most interesting to New Englanders, a finely executed plan of St. George’s Fort at the mouth of the Sagadahoc, — that is, Captain George Popham’s fort at the mouth of the Kennebec,— drawn in 1607 ; and finally, a large map of the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina, made by some English surveyor in 1610. The book is also illustrated with other maps and with a large number of engraved portraits.

Mr. Brown’s work as collector deserves every praise, his work as editor a great deal. If here and there one does not find indication of the place from which a manuscript is derived, or in the case of a piece previously printed is left in ignorance as to where it has been printed, or if one could wish that the date of each piece were set in the heading, side by side with its title, one ought to be too grateful to Mr. Brown for his services to early American history to notice severely a few lapses from the practices observed in the best models of editing. It is somewhat more of a fault that he should so frequently use the expression, " I am quite sure that,” etc., to introduce what are in fact his conjectures. Herein he doth protest too much ; when a writer is really sure of a fact, he states it without preface. It is a pity that Mr. Brown could not have printed the Spanish text of his manuscripts from Simancas, for, clearly, he has not been wholly fortunate in the translator to whose obliging kindness he is so much indebted. In many instances the translation here printed does not make good sense, though this ought surely to be possible, with Spanish transcripts of no greater antiquity than these. Even without seeing the text, one can discern something of the defectiveness of the translation by comparing it, as in two cases one can do, with contemporary translations which Digby made at Madrid from the same documents, surreptitiously obtained.

Mr. Brown gives few footnotes respecting persons, but more than supplies their place by appending an elaborate biographical dictionary of persons connected with the founding of Virginia, the accounts of them being derived from a great variety of printed sources, such as Mr. Leslie Stephen’s Dictionary, and from the editor’s own investigations. The biographies are very brief, but they serve a good purpose in showing what manner of men were engaged in the furtherance of our first colony. Their spirit may be seen still more clearly in some of their letters, which Mr. Brown has printed or reprinted. One cannot, or at any rate one ought not to, read the letters of Dale and De la Warr and others without perceiving that high and even religious purposes in colonization were not confined to the settlers of New England, but that the great and inspiring thought of establishing beyond the seas a new English empire was present with the founders of Virginia, and lent to their transactions a dignity which makes every record of them worthy of preservation. We cannot dismiss this most creditable piece of book-making without praising the magnificent index which the author has provided.

The contrast between the beginnings of Virginia and New England could Scarcely be brought out with greater emphasis than by the juxtaposition of Mr. Brown’s collection of documents and Mr. Weeden’s close culling of testimony from a great variety of obscure sources.2 It is true that Mr. Brown concerns himself with the brief period of eleven years which saw the germ of Virginia, and Mr. Weeden traces New England from its first permanent colony to its absorption in the larger history of the Union ; but if the history of Virginia had been extended the contrast would have continued, if not on the same lines, yet with equal divergence. That is to say, Mr. Brown calls on us to observe how distinctly Virginia was the product of English statesmanship put to its mettle by Spanish diplomacy, and how very close was the interdependence of early Virginia and England. Mr. Weeden sees in the New England commonwealths a branch broken off from the parent stock and taking root in a new soil, drawing its nourishment and vigor from that soil itself. He makes but little of the interdependence of England and New England, leaving that subject to Dr. Palfrey and the late Mr. John Wingate Thornton. Had Mr. Brown chosen to follow the course of Virginian history, he would doubtless have found it issue in a commonwealth whose finest product, at the time of separation from England, was a group of publicists and statesmen. Mr. Weeden, taking account of the New England human culture at the same period, fixes his attention upon merchants and manufacturers.

It was, to be sure, inherent in Mr. Weeden’s plan that he should emphasize this side of New England life, but we do not mean to imply that his concentration of interest has led him to overstate the case. On the contrary, we think the effect of his treatise will be to correct a false balance, to adjust in the reader s mind the relative importance to the New Englander himself of things theological and things of everyday experience. The tendency of our histories of New England has been to exaggerate the Sabba’day side of the life. Because the more literary record has been full of this religious tone, because the writers whose tracts, sermons, and books occupy the shelves with such Americana as pertain to New England have used Biblical terms freely, the disposition has been to see topics in the same light, and to treat the history as if it were the history of a Peculiar People. Mr. Brooks Adams, in his somewhat indignant book The Emancipation of Massachusetts, did something toward arresting the attention of students to what may be called the undercurrent of protest which was all along made against a distorted view of human life ; but Mr. Weeden’s book, by its wealth of illustration, is much more valuable as a corrective of historical attitude, because it sets before the reader in great variety of detail the week-day life of the ordinary New Englander, decade by decade, through a succession of social, economic, and political changes. The material has long existed ; other historians have availed themselves of it by way of illustration ; they have gone to town records, to inventories, and to the advertisements in the later journals. But Mr. Weeden, first of all, has collected and systematized this vast store of recondite material, and used it as a whole, methodically and scientifically, to educe the actual life of New England.

A rapid survey of the method employed by Mr. Weeden will set this forth more intelligibly. After a generalizing prelude, in which the opening of the New World and the elevation of England to a great power are presented with epigrammatic touch, and the physical features of New England are outlined with regard to their influence upon colonial life, the base of civilization is sketched in the fisheries, the home, and the community. Then a chapter upon Aboriginal Intercourse with the Colonists gives opportunity for a satisfactory account of the instrument of association, wampum, which was so rude yet so effective a substitute for minted money. The third chapter, dealing with the Formation of the Community, covers the great decade of 1630-1640, and gives occasion for a presentation of the social management of common lands, the meeting and meeting-house, and a general survey of the community in its political, religious, and social aspects.

With the fourth chapter begins that treatment of the whole subject which Mr. Weeden has made peculiarly his own. It is entitled Agriculture, Fish, and Furs. Bradford for the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Colonial Records for Massachusetts Bay are the principal authorities, and from these, as well as from Winthrop, Johnson, Wood, Lechford, local records and sundry tracts, Mr. Weeden pieces out with minute care the detailed life as it relates to these original industries. He shows what individual men and communities undertook, and how the General Court and the town attempted to regulate labor and prices. From this examination he proceeds to investigate the Beginnings of Commerce, and then the Rise of Homespun Industries. Having done this, he makes a cross-section of his subject, and shows the New Englander in his Home.

These chapters complete the survey through the first great period of New England history down to the Revolution of 1688. The subject broadens after this, as the community becomes more complex and multiplies its relations with the outer world. Thenceforth, though the same general divisions are followed, it becomes necessary to take into account the interesting subject of piracy, privateering, and smuggling, which Mr. Weeden shows to have had very intimate concern not only with the development of New England, but with its final revolt from English rule. The whale fishery, again, is treated with great fullness, the African slave-trade also, and, as minor topics, the modes of travel and the manners of society. From time to time, the otherwise somewhat disjointed narrative is made more continuous by detailed and animated accounts of representative characters like Hull, Faneuil, and Derby ; and the reader is rewarded for picking his way through a mass of broken stones of facts by coming upon some smooth piece of road, where the author has summed his results into broad and satisfactory generalizations.

We have intimated that this work is not altogether easy reading, by reason of its multitude of facts and figures ; yet to the student and to the wide-awake reader there is positive pleasure in having a share in historical investigation of this sort. Mr. Weeden, in brief, has followed the inductive plan in writing his history. He has accumulated, sorted, and arranged a vast collection of bits of material. He has not sought them to establish a theory. He has collected them patiently, in order therefrom to educe whatever general laws they may yield; and if he presents his conclusions to the reader, he also gives him liberally of his data. The two volumes constitute a thoroughly systematized and admirably indexed scrap-book of New England history, with occasional valuable dissertations upon the scraps by the competent collector. The special value of the collection lies in the character of the material thus brought together. By means of it one is enabled to get close to the daily life of a community which has been the mother of States, and to study exactly those phases which are in the life of today eagerly tabulated by the sociologist. The work is the first great examination of New England in the method of the student who is satisfied with nothing short of the very ground on which history is built. As Mr. Weeden says himself in his striking preface : —

“ If we had all the material of history, it would compel a larger comprehension from our active modern intelligence, and the story would soon work itself out in simple unity. The lesser parts of history necessarily became, or they appeared to become, the greater parts, as civilization has been going through its periods of growth. The art of government, the modes of worship, inevitably appeared, for the moment, greater than the people who were governed, or were trying to worship dimly apprehended deities. Man himself, in his own nature, must always be the object and the cause of the deeper historical meetings, as well as of the course of outward events, which represent the surface and superficial form of history. The story of battles with political and religious combination and intrigue has been merged for the time in the greater interest of the institutions underlying the politics and the religion of the actors. Yet we have not the whole story. Picturesque narration, philosophic speculation, have not exhausted the forces inherent in history. The life of man, his daily action, — closely allied to his thought and to his affections, — must yield up its fact, its daily doing, before we can comprehend the whole action, the whole story of man in his relation to history. Little things are becoming great, in that they reveal the sources of greater principles which occasion the movements and currents of humanity. Economy, the daily order of living, and fellowship are homely elements which are coming to be recognized as potent factors in the large drama of history. The great need of this economic story, in completing the whole story, may lead us too far; but a large and imperative work is waiting to be done.”

  1. The Genesis of the United States. A Narrative of the Movement in England, 1605—1616, which resulted in the Plantation of North America by Englishmen, disclosing the Contest between England and Spain for the Possession of the Soil now occupied by the United States of America; set forth through a Series of Historical Manuscripts now first printed, together with a Reissue of Rare Contemporaneous Tracts, accompanied by Bibliographical Memoranda. With Notes, Plans, and Portraits, and Brief Biographies. By ALEXANDER BROWN. In two volumes. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. [Advance sheets.]
  2. Economic and Social History of New England. 1620-1789. By WILLIAM B. WEEDEN. In two volumes, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1890.