The Starving Time in Old Virginia

THE men of bygone days were quite as fond of playing with names as we are, and the name of Christopher, or “ Christ-bearer,” was a favorite subject for such pastime. The old Syrian saint and martyr was said to have forded a river carrying Christ on his back in the form of a child ; and so when, in the year 1 500, Columbus’s famous pilot, Juan de La Cosa, made his map of the new discoveries, and came to a place where he did not know how to draw his coastline, he filled the space with a picture of the new Christopher wading in mid-ocean and bringing over Christ to the heathen. At the court of James I. it was fashionable to make similar mild jests upon the name of Captain Christopher Newport, whose ships were carrying, year by year, the gospel to the tawny natives of Virginia. Very little of the good tidings, however, had the poor heathen of Pamunkey and Werowocomoco as yet received. So much ado had the English colonists to keep their own souls from quitting their bodies that they had little leisure to bestow upon the spiritual welfare of the Indians. By the accident of Smith’s capture and the intercession of Pocahontas they had effected a kind of alliance with the most powerful tribe in that part of the country, and this alliance had proved extremely valuable throughout the year 1608 ; without it the little colony might have perished before the arrival of Newport’s Second Supply. Nevertheless, the friendship of the red men was a very uncertain and precarious factor in the situation. The accounts of the Englishmen show confused ideas as to the relations between the tribes and chieftains of the region ; and as for the Indians, their acquaintanceship with white men was so recent that there was no telling what unforeseen circumstance might at any time determine their actions. The utmost sagacity was needed to retain the slight influence already acquired over them, while to alienate them might easily prove fatal. The colony was far from able to support itself, and as things were going there seemed little hope of improvement. The difficulties involved in the founding of colonies were not well understood, and the attempts to cope with them were unintelligent.

In the lists of these earliest parties of settlers, one cannot fail to notice the preponderance of those who are styled gentlemen, an epithet which in those days was not lavishly and indiscriminately, but charily and precisely applied. As a rule, the persons designated as gentlemen were not accustomed to manual labor. To meet the requirements of these aristocratic members of the community, we find in one of the lists the name of a dealer in perfumes. A few score of farmers, with abundance of livestock, would have been far more to the purpose. Yet let us do justice to the gentlemen. One of the first company of settlers, the sturdy soldier Anas Todkill, thus testifies to their good spirit and efficiency : —

“ Thirty of us [President Smith] conducted 5 myles from the fort, to learn to . . . cut down trees and make clapboard. . . . Amongst the rest he had chosen Gabriel Beadell and John Russell, the only two gallants of this last supply [he means October, 1608] and both proper gentlemen. Strange were these pleasures to their conditions ; yet lodging, eating and drinking, working or playing, they [were] but doing as the President did himselfe. All these things were carried on so pleasantly as within a week they became masters ; making it their delight to heare the trees thunder as they fell; but the axes so oft blistered their tender fingers that many times every third blow had a loud othe to drowne the eccho ; for remedie of which sinne, the President devised how to have every man’s othes numbred, and at night for every othe to have a cann of water powred downe his sleeve, with which every offender was so washed (himselfe and all) that a man should scarce hear an othe in a weeke.

‘ For he who scorns and makes but jests of
cursings and his othe,
He doth contemne, not man but God ; nor
God nor man, but both.’

By this let no man thinke that the President and these gentlemen spent their time as common wood-hackers at felling of trees, or such other like labours; or that they were pressed to it as hirelings or common slaves ; for what they did, after they were but once a little inured, it seemed and some conceited it only as a pleasure and recreation : . . . 30 or 40 of such voluntary gentlemen would doe more in a day than 100 of the rest that must be prest to it by compulsion.” Nevertheless, adds this ingenuous writer, “ twentie good workmen had been better than them all.”

One strong motive which drew many of these gentlemen to the New World, like the Castilian hidalgos of a century before, was doubtless the mere love of wild adventure. Another motive was the quest of the pearls and gold about which the poet-laureate Drayton had written. In the spring of 1608, while Newport was on the scene with his First Supply, somebody discovered a bank of bright yellow dirt, and its color was thought to be due to particles of gold. Then there was clatter and bustle ; “ there was no thought, no discourse, no hope, and no work but to dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, and load gold.” In the list of the First Supply we find the names of two goldsmiths,two refiners, and one jeweler; but such skill as these artisans had was of little avail, for Newport carried a shipload of the yellow stuff to London, and found, to his chagrin, that all is not gold that glitters. On that same voyage he carried home a coop of plump turkeys, the first that ever graced an English bill of fare. Smith seems early to have recovered from the gold fever, and to have tried his hand at various industries. If precious metals could not be found, there was plenty of excellent timber at hand. The production of tar and soap was also attempted, as well as the manufacture of glass, to assist in which eight Germans and Poles were brought over in the Second Supply. It was hardly to be expected that such industries should attain remunerative proportions in the hands of a little company of settlers who were still confronted with the primitive difficulty of getting food enough to keep themselves alive. The arrival of reinforcements was far from being an unmixed benefit. Each new supply brought many new mouths to be filled, while, by the time the ship was ready to sail for England, leaving all the provisions it could safely spare, the remnant was so small that the gaunt spectre of threatening famine was never quite out of sight. Moreover, the new-comers from the civilized world arrived with their heads full of such wild notions as the older settlers were beginning to recover from under the sharp lessons of experience; thus was confusion again and again renewed. While the bitter tale was being enacted in the wilderness, people in London were wondering why the symptoms of millennial happiness were so slow in coming from this Virginian paradise. From the golden skewers and drippingpans adorning the kitchens of barbaric potentates,1 or the priceless pearls that children strolling on the beach could fill their aprons with, the descent to a few shiploads of ignoble, rough boards and sassafras was truly humiliating. No wonder that the Company should have been loath to allow tales of personal peril in Virginia to find their way into print. No wonder that its directors should have looked with rueful faces at the long columns of outgoes compared with the scant and petty entries on the credit side of the ledger. No wonder if they should have arrived at a state of impatience like that of the urchin who has planted a bed full of seed and cannot be restrained from digging them up to see what they are coming to. At such times there is sure to be plenty of fault-finding ; disappointment seeks a vent in scolding. Wingfield, the deposed president, had returned to England early in 1608 ; with him went Captain Gabriel Archer, formerly a student of law at Gray’s Inn, and one of the earliest members of the legal profession in English America. His name is commemorated in the little promontory near Jamestown called Archer’s Hope. He was a mischief-maker, of whom Wingfield, in his Discourse of Virginia, speaks far more bitterly than of Smith. To the latter Archer was an implacable enemy. On the return of Smith from his brief captivity with the Indians, this crooked Archer exhibited his legal ingenuity in seeking to revive a provision in the laws of Moses that a captain who leads his men into a fatal situation is responsible for their death. By such logic Smith would be responsible for the deaths of his followers slain by Opekankano’s Indians ; therefore, said Archer, he ought to be executed for murder! President Ratcliffe, alias Sickelmore, appears to have been a mere tool in Archer’s hands, and Smith’s life may really have been in some danger when Newport’s arrival discomfited his adversaries. One can see what kind of tales such an unscrupulous enemy would be likely to tell in London, and it was to be expected that Newport, on arriving with his Second Supply, would bring some message that Smith would regard as unjust. The nature of the message is reflected in the reply which Smith sent home by Newport in November, 1608. The wrath of the muchenduring man was thoroughly aroused; in his Rude Answer, as he calls it, he strikes out from the shoulder, and does not even spare his friend Newport for bringing such messages. Thus does he address the Royal Council of Virginia, sitting in London : —

“ Right Honourable Lords and Gentlemen: I received your letter wherein you write that our minds are so set upon faction and idle conceits, . . . and that we feed you but with ifs and ands, hopes, and some few proofes ; as if we would keep the mystery of the businesse to ourselves ; and that we must expressly follow your instructions sent by Captain Newport, the charge of whose voyage amounts to neare £2000 the which if we cannot defray by the Ship’s returne, we are like to remain as banished men. To these particulars I humbly intreat your pardons if I offend you with my rude answer.

“ For our factions, unlesse you would have me run away and leave the country, I cannot prevent them : . . . I do make many stay that would els fly anywhither. . . . [As to feeding] you with hopes, etc., though I be no scholar, I am past a school-boy ; and I desire but to know what either you [or] these here do know but I have learned to tell you by the continual hazard of my life. I have not concealed from you anything I know; but I feare some cause you to believe much more than is true.

“ Expressly to follow your directions by Captain Newport, though they be performed, I was directly against it ; but according to our Commission, I was content to be ruled by the major part of the council, I fear to the hazard of us all; which now is generally confessed when it is too late. . . . I have crowned Powhatan according to your instructions. For the charge of this voyage of £2000 we have not received the value of £100.

. . . For him at that time to find . . . the South Sea, [or] a mine of gold, or any of them sent by Sir Walter Raleigh : at our consultation I told them was as likely as the rest. But during this great discovery of thirty miles (which might as well have been done by one man, and much more, for the value of a pound of copper at a seasonable time) they had the pinnace and all the boats with them [save] one that remained with me to serve the fort.

“ In their absence I followed the new begun works of pitch and tar, glass, soap ashes, and clapboard ; whereof some small quantities we have sent you. But if you rightly consider what an infinite toil it is in Russia and Swedeland, where the woods are proper for naught else, and though there be the help both of man and beast in those ancient commonwealths which many an hundred years have [been] used [to] it ; yet thousands of those poor people can scarce get necessaries to live but from hand to mouth. And though your factors there can buy as much in a week as will fraught you a ship . . . ; you must not expect from us any such matter, which are but a many of ignorant miserable souls, that are scarce able to get wherewith to live and defend ourselves against the inconstant salvages; finding but here and there a tree fit for the purpose, and want[ing] all things else [which] the Russians have.

“ For the coronation of Powhatan, by whose advice you sent him such presents I know not ; but this give me leave to tell you, I fear they will be the confusion of us all ere we hear from you again. At your ship’s arrival the salvages’s harvest was newly gathered and we [were] going to buy it ; our own not being half sufficient for so great a number. As for the two [shiploads] of corn [which] Newport promised to provide us from Powhatan,2 he brought us but 14 bushels . . . [while most of his men were] sick and near famished. From your ship we had not provision in victuals worth £20, and we are more than 200 to live upon this ; the one half sick, the other little better. . . . Our diet is a little meal and water, and not sufficient of that. Though there be fish in the sea, fowls in the air, and beasts in the woods, their bounds are so large, they so wild, and we so weak and ignorant that we cannot much trouble them.

“ The soldiers say many of your officers maintain their families out of that you send us ; and that Newport hath £100 a year for carrying news. . . . Captain Ratcliffe is now called Sickelmore, a poor counterfeited imposture. I have sent you him home, lest the company [here] should cut his throat. What he is, now every one can tell you. If he and Archer return again, they are sufficient to keep us always in factions.

“ When you send again I intreat you [to] send but 30 carpenters, husbandmen, gardeners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons, and diggers up of trees’ roots, well provided, [rather] than 1000 of such as we have ; for except we he able both to lodge them and feed them, the most will consume with want of necessaries before they can be made good for anything. . . . And I humbly entreat you hereafter, let us know what we [are to] receive, and not stand to the sailors’s courtesy to leave us what they please. . . .

“ These are the causes that have kept us in Virginia from laying such a foundation [as] ere this might have given much better content and satisfaction ; but as yet you must not look for any profitable returns ; so I humbly rest.” 3

It is to be hoped that the insinuation that some of the Company’s officers were peculators was ill founded ; as for the fling at Newport, it was evidently made in a little fit of petulance, and is inconsistent with the esteem in which Smith really held that worthy mariner. These are slight blemishes in a temperate, courageous, and manly letter. It is full of hard common sense, and tells such plain truths as must have set the Company thinking. It was becoming evident to many persons in London that some new departure must be made. But before Newport’s home-bound ship could cross the ocean, and before the Company could decide upon its new plan of operations, some months must needs elapse, and in the interim we will continue to follow the fortunes of the little colony, now left to itself in the wilderness for the third time.

It is evident from Smith’s letter that he anticipated trouble from the Indians. In The Powhatan’s promise to count him forever as his own son he put little faith. His own view of the noble savage seems to have been much the same as that expressed about this time by Rev. Richard Hakluyt, in a letter of advice and warning to the London Company : “ But for all their fair and cunning speeches, [these natives] are not overmuch to be trusted ; for they be the greatest traitors of the world, as their manifold most crafty contrived and bloody treasons . . . do evidently prove. They be also as unconstant as the weathercock, and most ready to take all occasions of advantages to do mischief. They are great liars and dissemblers ; for which faults oftentimes they had their deserved payments. . . . To handle them gently, while gentle courses may be found to serve, . . . will be without comparison the best; but if gentle polishing will not serve, [we] shall not want hammerers and rough masons enow — I mean our old soldiers trained up in the Netherlands — to square and prepare them to our Preacher’s hands.” 4 There is something delicious in the naïve promptness with which this worthy clergyman admits the probable need of prescribing military measures as a preparation for the cure of souls. The London Company stood in need of such advice ; Smith did not. He looked upon Indians already with the eyes of a frontiersman, and the rough vicissitudes of his life had made him quick to interpret signs of mischief. It was not so much a direct assault that he feared as a contest arising from the Indians’ refusal to sell their corn. During the past winter Pocahontas had made frequent and regular visits to Jamestown, bringing corn, and occasionally venison, raccoons, and other game ; and this aid had been so effective as to ward off famine for that season. But a change had come over her father and his councilors. As the English kept strengthening their fortifications and building houses, as the second and third shiploads of colonists arrived, the Indians must have begun to realize that it was their intention to stay in the country. On Smith’s first visit to Werowocomoco, when The Powhatan said that he should henceforth regard him as a son, he showed himself extremely curious to know why the English had come to his part of the world. Smith did not think it safe to confess that they had come to stay, so he invented a story of their having been defeated by the Spaniards and driven ashore ; then, he added, the pinnace being leaky, they were obliged to stay until their Father Newport should come back and get them and take them away. Since that conversation Father Newport had come twice, and each time he had brought many of his children and taken away but few. Instead of thirty-eight men at Jamestown there were now two hundred. Every painted and feathered warrior could see that these pale children were not good farmers, and that their lives seemed to depend upon a supply of corn. By withholding this necessary of life, how easy it might be to rid the land of their presence ! As the snows began to come, toward Christmas of 1608, Smith’s fears began to be realized. When the Indians were asked for corn, they refused with a doggedness that withstood even the potent fascination of blue glass beads. Smith fully comprehended the seriousness of the situation. “ Nopersuasion,” he says, “ could persuade him to starve.” If the Indians would not trade of their own free will, they must be made to trade. The Powhatan asked for some men who would aid him in building a house, and Smith sent to Werowocomoco fourteen men, including four of the newly arrived Germans. Smith followed with twentyseven men in the pinnace and barge. In the party were George Percy and Francis West, brother of the Lord Delaware of whom we shall have soon to speak. At Warrasqueak Bay, where they stopped the first night, a chieftain told them to beware of treachery at Werowocomoco; The Powhatan, he said, had concocted a scheme for cutting their throats. Captain Smith thanked the redskin for his good counsel, assured him of his undying affection, and proceeded down the river to Hampton, where he was very hospitably entertained by the Kecoughtans, a small tribe numbering scarcely more than twenty warriors. For about a week, from December 30,1608, till January 6, 1609, a fierce blizzard of snow and sleet obliged the party to stay in the dry and wellwarmed wigwams of the Kecoughtans, who regaled them with oysters, fish, venison, and wild fowl. As they passed around to the northern side of the peninsula and approached the York River, the Indians seemed less friendly. When they arrived at Werowocomoco, the river was frozen for nearly half a mile from the shore ; but Smith rammed and broke the ice with his barge until he had pushed up to a place where it was thick enough to walk safely ; then sending the barge back to the pinnace, he landed the whole party by installments. They quartered themselves in the first house they came to, and sent to The Powhatan for food. He gave them venison, turkeys, and corn bread. The next day, January 13, the wily barbarian came to see Smith, and asked him bluntly how soon he was going away. He had not asked the English, he said, to come and visit him, and he was sure he had no corn for them; nevertheless he thought he knew where he could get forty baskets of it for one good English sword per basket. Hearing this speech, Captain Smith pointed to the new house already begun, and to the men whom he had sent to build it, and said, “ Powhatan, I am surprised to hear you say that you have not invited us hither ; you must have a short memory! ” At this retort the old chieftain burst into fits of laughter ; but when he had recovered gravity it appeared that his notions as to a bargain remained unchanged. He would sell his corn for swords and guns, but not for copper ; he could eat corn, he could not eat copper. Then said Captain Smith, “ Powhatan, . . . to testify my love [for you] I sent you my men for your building, neglecting mine own. What your people had, you have engrossed, forbidding them our trade ; and now you think by consuming the time we shall consume for want, not having [wherewith] to fulfill your strange demands. As for swords and guns, I told you long ago I had none to spare. . . . You must know [that the weapons] I have can keep me from want; yet steal or wrong you I will not, nor dissolve that friendship we have mutually promised, except you constrain me by . . . bad usage.” This covert threat was not lost upon the keen barbarian. He quickly replied that within two days the English should have all the corn he could spare ; but, said he, “ I have some doubt, Captain Smith, [about] your coming hither, [which] makes me not so kindly seek to relieve you as I would. For many do inform me [that] your coming hither is not for trade, but to invade my people and possess my country. [They] dare not come to bring you corn, seeing you thus armed with your men. To free us of this fear, leave your weapons aboard [the ship], for here they are needless, we being all friends, and forever Powhatans.”

This last remark, that Smith’s men were virtually or constructively members of the Powhatan tribe, is in harmony with my suggestion that the rescue of their leader by Pocahontas a year before had directly led to his adoption, according to the usual Indian custom in such cases of rescue. With many such discourses, says our chronicle, did they spend the day ; and on the morrow the parley was renewed. Again and again the old chief insisted that, before the corn could be brought, the visitors must leave their arms on shipboard ; but Smith was not so blind as to walk into such a trap. He said, “ Powhatan, . . . the vow I made you of my love, both myself and my men have kept. As for your promise, I find it every day violated by some of your subjects ; yet . . . for your sake only we have curbed our thirsting desire of revenge ; else had they known as well the cruelty we use to our enemies as our true love and courtesy to our friends. And I think your judgment sufficient to conceive — as well by the adventures we have undertaken as by the advantage we have [in] our arms [over] yours — that had we intended you any hurt, we could long ere this have effected it. Your people coming to Jamestown are entertained with their bows and arrows, without any exceptions; we esteeming it with you as it is with us, to wear our arms as our apparel.” Having made this hit, the captain assumed a still loftier tone. It would never do to admit that this blessed corn, though the cause of so much parley, was an indispensable necessity for the white men. “ As for your hiding your provisions . . . we shall not so unadvisedly starve as you conclude ; your friendly care in that behalf is needless, for we have [ways of finding food that are quite] beyond your knowledge.”

The narrative which I am here following is written by William Phettiplace, captain of the pinnace, Jeffrey Abbot, described as sergeant, and two of the original settlers, Anas Todkill and Richard Wiffin. Abbot and Phettiplace were on the spot, and the narrative was revised by Captain Smith himself, so that it has the highest kind of authority. One need but examine the similar parleys described so frequently by Francis Parkman, to realize the faithful accuracy with which these Englishmen portrayed the Indian at that early period, when English experience of the red man’s ways was only beginning. The hint that perhaps white men could get along without his corn after all seems to have wrought its effect upon the crafty Powhatan. Baskets filled with the yellow grain were brought, and dickering as distinguished from diplomacy began. Yet diplomacy had not quite given up its game. With a sorrowful face and many sighs, the chief exclaimed, “ Captain Smith, I never used any chief so kindly as yourself, yet from you I receive the least kindness of any. Captain Newport gave me swords, copper, clothes, a bed, towels, or what[ever] I desired ; ever taking what I offered him, and would send away his guns when I entreated him.5 None doth . . . refuse to do what I desire but only you ; of whom I can have nothing but what you regard not, and yet you will have whatsoever you demand. . . . You call me father, but I see . . . you will do what you list. . . . But if you intend so friendly as you say, send hence your arms that I may believe you.”

Smith felt sure that this whimpering speech was merely the cover for a meditated attack. Of his thirty-eight Englishmen, but eighteen were with him at the moment. He sent a messenger to his vessels, ordering all save a guard of three or four men to come ashore, and he set some Indians to work breaking the ice, so that the barge could be forced up near to the bank. For a little while Captain Smith and John Russell were left alone in a house with The Powhatan and a few squaws, when all at once the old chief slipped out and disappeared from view. While Smith was talking with the women a crowd of armed warriors surrounded the house, but instantly Smith and Russell sprang forth, and with drawn swords charged upon them so furiously that they all turned and fled, tumbling over one another in their headlong terror.

This incident gave the Englishman a moral advantage. The Indian plot, if such it was, had failed, and now the red men “ to the uttermost of their skill sought excuses to dissemble the matter ; and Powhatan, to excuse his flight and the sudden coming of this multitude, sent our Captain a great bracelet and a chain of pearl,6 by an ancient orator that bespoke us to this purpose ; perceiving even then from our pinnace a barge, and men departing and coming unto us : — Captain Smith, our [chief] is fled, fearing your guns, and knowing when the ice was broken there would come more men, sent these numbers but to guard his corn from stealing, [which] might happen without your knowledge. Now, though some be hurt by your misprision, yet [The] Powhatan is your friend and so will forever continue. Now since the ice is open he would have you send away your corn, and if you would have his company send away also your guns.” It was ingeniously if not ingenuously said, but the concluding request remained unheeded, and Smith never set eyes on his Father Powhatan again. With faces frowning, guns loaded and cocked, the Englishmen stood by while a file of Indians with baskets on their backs carried down the corn and loaded it into the barge. The Indians were glad to get safely done with such work; as the chronicle observes, “ we needed not importune them to make despatch.”

The Englishmen would have embarked at once, but the retreating tide had left the barge stranded, so that it was necessary to wait for the next high water. Accordingly, it was decided to pass the night in the house where they were already quartered, which was a kind of outpost at some distance from the main village, and they sent word to The Powhatan to send them some supper. Then the Indians seem to have debated the question whether it would be prudent to surprise and slay them while at supper, or afterward while asleep. But that “ dearest jewel ” Pocahontas, says the narrative, “in that dark night came through the irksome woods, and told our Captain great cheer should be sent us by and by ; but Powhatan and all the power he could make would after[ward] come kill us all, if [indeed] they that brought it [did] not kill us . . . when we were at supper. Therefore if we would live she wished us presently to be gone. Such things as she delighted in [we] would have given her ; but with the tears running down her cheeks she said she durst not be seen to have any, for if Powhatan should know it she were but dead ; and so she ran away by herself as she came.” Within less than an hour eight or ten stalwart Indians appeared, bringing venison and other dainties, and begged the English to put out the matches of their matchlocks, for the smell of the smoke made them sick. Our narrator tells us nothing of the sardonic smile which we are sure that he and his comrades can hardly have suppressed. The captain sent the messengers back to Father Powhatan with a concise but significant message : “ If he is coming to visit me to-night, let him make haste, for I am ready to receive him.” One can imagine how such an announcement would chill the zeal of the Indians. A few of their scouts prowled about, but the English kept vigilant guard till high tide, and then sailed away. A queer interview it had been. With some of hell’s fiercest passions smouldering beneath the surface, an explosion had been prevented by watchful tact on the one side, and vague dread on the other. Peace had been preserved between the strange white chieftain and his dusky father, and two Englishmen were left at Werowocomoco, with the four Germans, to go on with the house-building. If our chronicle is to be trusted, the Germans played a base part. They made up their minds that the English colony would surely perish of famine, and sought their own profit in fraternizing with the Indians. So, no sooner had Smith’s vessels departed from Werowocomoco, on their way up to Opekankano’s village, than two of these “ damned Dutchmen,” as the narrator calls them, went overland to Jamestown and said that Captain Smith had sent them for more weapons ; in this way they got a number of swords, pikes, muskets, and hatchets, and traded them off at Werowocomoco.

Meanwhile, Smith’s party arrived at Opekankano’s village, near the place where the Pamunkey and Mattapony rivers unite to form the York. The chief of the Pamunkoys received them with smiles and smooth words, but seems to have meditated treachery. At all events, the Englishmen so interpreted it when they found themselves unexpectedly surrounded by a great crowd of armed warriors numbering several hundreds. It was not prudent to fire on such a number if it could be avoided ; actual bloodshed might do more harm than good ; a peaceable display of boldness was better. It might have been, and probably was remembered that the Spaniards in the West Indies had often overawed all opposition by seizing the person of the chief. After a brief consultation, Smith, accompanied by West and Percy and Russell, rushed into Opekankano’s house, seized him by the long scalp-lock, dragged him before the astonished multitude, and held a pistol to his breast. Such prompt audacity was its own safeguard. The corn was soon forthcoming, and the little expedition made its way back to Jamestown, loaded with some three hundred bushels of it, besides a couple of hundredweight of venison and deer suet. In itself it was but a trifle of a pound of meat and a bushel and a half of grain for each person in the colony. But the chief result was the profound impression made upon the Indians. A few years later, such a bold treatment of them would have been attended with far more difficulty and danger ; would seldom, indeed, have been possible. But in 1609 the red man had not yet learned to gauge the killing capacity of the white man ; he was aware of terrible powers there which he could not estimate, and was therefore inclined to err on the side of prudence. This sudden irruption of about forty white men into the principal Indian villages, and their masterful demeanor there, seemed to show that after all it would be wiser to have them for friends than for enemies. A couple of accidents confirmed this view of the case.

One day, as three of the Chickahominy tribe were loitering about Jamestown, admiring the rude fortifications, one of them stole a pistol and fled to the woods with it. His two comrades were arrested, and one was held in durance, while the other was sent out to recover the pistol. He was made to understand that if he failed to bring it back the hostage would be put to death. As it was intensely cold, some charcoal was charitably furnished for the prisoner’s cell. In the evening his friend returned with the pistol, and then the prisoner was found apparently dead, suffocated with the fumes of the charcoal, whereupon the friend broke forth into loud lamentations. But the Englishmen soon perceived that some life was still left in the unconscious and prostrate form, and Smith told the wailing Indian that he could restore his friend to life, only there must be no more stealing. Then with brandy and vinegar and friction the failing heart and arteries were stimulated to their work, the dead savage came to life, and the two comrades, each with a small present of copper, went on their way rejoicing.

The other affair was more tragic. An Indian at Werowocomoco had got possession of a bag of gunpowder, and was playing with it while his comrades were pressing closely about him, when all at once it took fire and exploded, killing three or four of the group and scorching the rest. Whereupon our chronicler tells us, “ These and other such pretty accidents so amazed and affrighted Powhatan and all his people, that from all parts with presents they desired peace, returning many stolen things which we never demanded nor thought of ; and after that . . . all the country became absolutely as free for us as for themselves.”

The good effects of this were soon apparent. With his mind relieved from anxiety about the Indians, Smith had his hands free for work at Jamestown. One of the most serious difficulties under which the colony labored was the communistic plan upon which it had been started. The settlers had come without wives and children, and each man worked, not to acquire property for himself and his family, but to further the general purposes of the colony. In planting corn, in felling trees, in repairing the fortifications, even in hunting or fishing, he was working for the community ; whatsoever he could get by his own toil or by trade with the natives went straightway into the common stock, and the skillful and industrious fared no better than the stupid and lazy. The strongest kind of premium was thus at once put upon idleness, which, under circumstances of extreme anxiety and depression, is apt enough to flourish without any premium. Things had arrived at such a pass that some thirty or forty men were supporting the whole company of two hundred, when President Smith applied the strong hand. He gathered them all together one day, and plainly told them that he was their lawfully chosen ruler and should promptly punish all infractions of discipline, and they must all understand that hereafter he that will not work shall not eat. His authority had come to be great, and the rule was enforced. By the end of April some twenty houses had been built, a well of pure, sweet water had been dug in the fort, thirty acres or more of ground had been broken up and planted, and nets and weirs had been arranged for fishing. A few hogs and fowl had been left by Newport, and now could be heard the squeals of sixty pigs and the peeping of five hundred spring chickens. The manufacture of tar and soap-ashes went on, and a new fortress was begun in an easily defensible position upon a commanding hill. This useful work was suddenly interrupted by an unforeseen calamity. Rats brought from time to time by the ships had quickly multiplied, and in April these unbidden guests were found to have made such havoc in the granaries that but little corn was left. Harvest time was a long way off, and it was necessary to pause for a while and collect provisions. Several Indian villages were again visited, and trading went on amicably; but there was a limit to the aid they had it in their power to give, and in the quest of sustenance the settlers were scattered. By midsummer, a few were picking berries in the woods, others were quartered among the Indians, some were living on oysters and caviare, some were down at Point Comfort catching fish ; and it was these that were the first to hail the bark of young Samuel Argall, who was coming for sturgeon and whatever else he could find, and had steered a straighter course from London than any mariner before him. Argall brought letters from members of the Company complaining that the goods sent home in the ships were not of greater value in the market, and saying that Smith had been accused of dealing harshly with the Indians. This must have referred to some skirmishes he had had with the Rappahannocks and other tribes in the course of his exploration of the Chesapeake waters during the previous summer. Another piece of news was brought by Argall: the London Company had obtained a new charter, and a great expedition, commanded by Lord Delaware, was about to sail for Virginia.

This was true. The experience of two years had convinced the Company that its methods needed mending. In the first place more money was needed, and the list of shareholders was greatly enlarged. By the second charter, dated May 23, 1609, the Company was made a corporation, and all its members were mentioned by name. The list was headed by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, and contained among other interesting names those of the philosopher Bacon and Sir Oliver Cromwell, from whose nephew, then a lad at Huntingdon School, the world was by and by to hear. On the list we find the names of 659 persons, of whom 21 were peers, 96 were knights, 11 were clergymen and physicians, 53 are described as captains, 28 as esquires, 58 as gentlemen, 110 as merchants, while the remaining 282 are variously designated or only the name is given. “ Of these, about 230 paid £37 10s. or more, about 229 paid less than £37 10s., and about 200 failed to pay anything.”7 It should be borne in mind that £37 10s. at that time was equivalent to at least $750 of to-day. Besides these individuals, the list contains the companies of mercers, grocers, drapers, fishmongers, vintners, brewers, masons, bowyers and fletchers, armorers, and others, — in all 56 companies of the city of London. Such a list, as well as the profusion of sermons and tracts on Virginia that were poured forth at the time, bespeaks a general interest in the enterprise. The Company was incorporated under the name of “ The Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London for the First Colony in Virginia.” Nothing was said about the Second Colony, so that by this charter the London Company was unyoked from the Plymouth Company.

The jurisdiction of the reorganized London Company was to extend two hundred miles south and two hundred miles north of Old Point Comfort, which would not quite contain all of North Carolina, but would easily include Maryland and Delaware. The government of this region was vested in a supreme Council, sitting in London, the constitution of which was remarkable. Its members were at the outset appointed by the king, but all vacancies were thereafter to be filled by the vote of the whole body of 659 persons and 56 trade guilds constituting the Company. The sole power of legislation for Virginia, with the right to appoint all colonial officers, was vested in the Council. Besides thus exercising entire sovereignty over Virginia, the Company was authorized to levy and collect custom-house duties and to wage war for purely defensive purposes. Thus this great corporation was made virtually independent of Parliament, with a representative government of its own.

As for the local government in Virginia, it was entirely changed. The working of the local Council with its elected president had been simply ludicrous. Two presidents had been deposed and sent home, while the councilors had done nothing but quarrel and threaten one another’s lives, and one had been shot for mutiny. Order and quiet had not been secured until President Smith became autocratic, after the other members of the Council had departed or died. Now the new charter abolished the local Council, and the direct rule was to be exercised by governor, with autocratic power over the settlers, but responsible to the supreme Council in London, by which he was appointed.

For the Company as thus reorganized the two most important executive offices were filled by noteworthy appointments. The treasurer was the eminent merchant Sir Thomas Smith, the promoter of Arctic exploration and first governor of the East India Company. For governor of Virginia the Council appointed Thomas West, third Baron Delaware, whose younger brother, Francis West, we have seen helping John Smith to browbeat the Indians at Werowocomoco and Pamunkey. This Lord Delaware belonged to a family distinguished for public service. On the mother’s side he was nearly related to Queen Elizabeth. In America he is forever identified with the history of Virginia, and he has left a name to one of our great rivers, to a very interesting group of Indians, and to one of the smallest States in our Union. With New England, too, he has one link of association, for his sister, Penelope West, married Herbert Pelham, and their son was the first treasurer of Harvard College. Thomas West, born in 1577, was educated at Oxford, served with distinction in the Netherlands, and was knighted for bravery in 1599. He succeeded to the barony of Delaware in 1602, and was a member of the Privy Council of Elizabeth and James I. No one was more warmly enlisted than he in the project of founding Protestant English colonies in the New World. To this cause he devoted himself with ever-growing enthusiasm, and when the London Company was remodeled he was appointed governor of Virginia for life. With him were associated the sturdy soldier Sir Thomas Gates as lieutenant-governor, and the old sea-rover Sir George Somers as admiral.

The spring of 1609 was spent in organizing a new expedition, while Smith and his weary followers were struggling with the damage wrought by rats. People out of work were attracted by the communistic programme laid down by the Company. The shares were rated at about three hundred dollars each, to use our modern figures, and emigration to Virginia entitled the emigrant to one share. So far as needful, the proceeds of the enterprise “were to be spent upon the settlement, and the surplus was either to be divided or funded for seven years. During that period the settlers were to be maintained at the expense of the Company, while all the product of their labors was to be cast into the common stock. At the end of that time every shareholder was to receive a grant of land in proportion to his stock held.” 8 Doubtless the prospects of becoming a shareholder in a great speculative enterprise, and of being supported by the Company, must have seemed alluring to many people in difficult circumstances. At all events, some five hundred people — men, women, and children — were got together. A fleet of nine ships, with ample supplies, was entrusted to Newport; and in his ship, the Sea Venture, were Gates and Somers, who were to take the colony under their personal supervision. Lord Delaware remained in London, planning further developments of the enterprise. Three more trusty men he could hardly have sent out. But a strange fate was knocking at the door.

On the 1st of June, 1609, the fleet set sail and took the route by the Azores. Toward the end of July, as they were getting within a week’s sail of the American coast, the ships were “ caught in the tail of a hurricane;” one of them was sunk, and the Sea Venture was separated from all the rest. That gallant ship was sorely shaken and torn, so that for five days the crew toiled steadily in relays, pumping and baling, while the water seemed to be gaining upon them. Many of the passengers abandoned themselves to despair and to rum ; or, as an eye-witness tells us, “ some of them, having good and comfortable waters in the ship, fetched them and drank one to the other, taking their last leave one of the other until their more joyful and happy meeting in a more blessed world.” 9 The company were saved by the skill and energy of the veteran Somers, who for three days and nights never once left the quarter - deck. At last land was sighted, and presently the Sea Venture was driven violently aground and wedged immovable between two rocks, a shattered wreck. But all her people, a hundred and fifty or so, were saved, and most of their gear was brought away.

The island on which they were wrecked was one of a group the early history of which is shrouded in strange mystery. If my own solution of an obscure problem is to be trusted, these islands had once a fierce Carib population, whose first white visitors, Vincent Pinzon and Americus Vespucius, landed among them on St. Bernard’s day, in August, 1498, and carried off more than two hundred slaves. Hence the place was called St. Bernard’s Archipelago, but on crudely glimmering maps went wide astray and soon lost its identity. In 1522, a Spanish captain, Juan Bermudez, happened to land there, and his name has remained. But in the intervening years Spanish slave-hunters from San Domingo had infested those islands and reaped and gleaned the harvest of Carib flesh till no more was to be had. The ruthless cannibals were extirpated by the more ruthless seekers for gold, and when Bermudez stopped there he found no human inhabitants, but only swine running wild, a sure witness to the recent presence of Europeans. Then for nearly a century the unvisited spot was haunted by the echoes of a frightful past, wild traditions of ghoulish orgies and infernal strife. But the kidnapper’s work in which these vague notions originated was so soon forgotten that when the Sea Venture was wrecked those islands were believed to have been from time immemorial uninhabited. Sailors shunned them as a scene of abominable sorceries, and called them the Isles of Demons. Otherwise they were known simply by the Spanish skipper’s name, as the Bermoothes, afterward more completely anglicized into Bermudas. From the soil of those foul goblin legends, that shuddering reminiscence of inexpiable crime, the potent sorcery of genius has reared one of the most exquisitely beautiful, ethereally delicate works of human fancy that the world has ever seen. The wreck of the Sea Venture suggested to Shakespeare many hints for his Tempest, which was written within the next two years, and performed before the king in 1611. It is not that these islands were conceived as the scene of the comedy; the command to Ariel to go and “ fetch dew from the still-vexed Bermoothes ” is enough to show that Prospero’s enchanted isle was elsewhere ; doubtless in some fairy universe hard by the Mediterranean. But from the general conception of monsters of the isle down to such incidents as the flashing light on the shrouds of the ship, it is clear that Shakespeare made use of Strachey’s narrative of the wreck of the Sea Venture, published in 1610.

Gates and Somers found the Isles of Demons far pleasanter than their reputation ; and it was well for them that it was so, for they were obliged to stay there nearly ten months, while with timber freshly cut and with bolts and beams from the wreck the party built two pinnaces, which they named Patience and Deliverance. They laid in ample stores of salted pork and fish, traversed the seven hundred miles of ocean in a fortnight, and arrived at Jamestown on the 10th of May, 1610. The spectacle that greeted them was enough to have appalled the stoutest heart. To explain it in a few words, we must go back to August, 1609, when the seven ships that had weathered the storm arrived in Virginia and landed their three hundred or more passengers, known in history as the Third Supply.

Since the new dignitaries and all their official documents were in the Bermuda wreck, there was no one among the newcomers in Virginia competent to succeed Smith in the government; but the mischief-makers Ratcliffe and Archer were, unfortunately, among them, and the former instantly called upon Smith to abdicate in his favor. He had persuaded many of the new-comers to support him, but the old settlers were loyal to Smith, and there was much confusion until the latter arrested Ratcliffe as a disturber of the peace. The quality of the new emigration was far inferior to that of the older. The older settlers were mostly gentlemen of character ; of the new ones, far too many were shiftless vagabonds, or, as Smith says, “ unruly gallants, packed thither by their friends to escape ill destinies.” They were sure to make trouble, but for a while Smith held them in check. The end of his stay in Virginia, however, was approaching. He was determined to find some better site for a colony than the low, marshy Jamestown ; so in September he sailed up to the Indian village called Powhatan, and bought of the natives a tract of land in that neighborhood near to where Richmond now stands, — a range of hills, salubrious and defensible, with so fair a landscape that Smith called the place Nonesuch. On the way back to Jamestown a bag of gunpowder in his boat exploded, and wounded him so badly that he was completely disabled. The case demanded such surgery as Virginia could not furnish, and as the ships were sailing for England early in October he went in one of them. He seems also to have welcomed this opportunity of answering sundry charges brought against him by the Ratcliffe faction. Some flying squirrels were sent home to amuse King James.

The arrival of the ships in England, with news of the disappearance of the Sea Venture and the danger of anarchy in Virginia, alarmed Lord Delaware, and he resolved to go as soon as possible and take command of his colony. About the 1st of April he set sail with one hundred and fifty persons, mostly mechanics. He had need to make all haste. Jamestown had become a pandemonium. Smith left George Percy in command, but that excellent gentleman was in poor health and unable to exert much authority. There were now (October, 1609) five hundred mouths to be filled, and the stores of food diminished with portentous rapidity. The “ unruly gallants” got into trouble with the Indians, who soon responded after their manner. They slaughtered the settlers’ hogs for their own benefit, and they murdered the settlers themselves when opportunity was offered. The worthless Ratcliffe and thirty of his men were slain at one fell swoop, as they were sailing up toward Nonesuch. As the frosts and snows came, more shelter was needed than the cabins already built could furnish. Many died of the cold. The approach of spring saw the last supplies of food consumed, and famine began to claim its victims. Soon there came to be more houses than occupants, and as fast as one was emptied by death it was torn down for firewood. Even palisades were stripped from their framework and thrown into the blaze ; for cold was a nearer foe than the red men. The latter watched the course of events with savage glee, and now and then, lurking in the neighborhood, shot flights of arrows tipped with death. A gang of men stole one of the pinnaces, armed her heavily, and ran out to sea, to help themselves by piracy. After the last basket of corn had been devoured, people lived for a while on roots and herbs, then they had recourse to cannibalism. The corpse of a slain Indian was boiled and eaten. One man killed his own wife and salted her, and had eaten a considerable part of her body before he was found out. This was too much for people to endure : the man was tied to a stake and burned alive. Such were the goings-on in that awful time, to which men long afterward alluded as the Starving Time.

When Smith left the colony in October, it numbered about five hundred souls. When Gates and Somers and Newport arrived from the Bermudas in May, they found a haggard remnant of sixty, all told, men, women, and children, scarcely able to totter about the ruined village, and with the gleam of madness in their eyes. The pinnaces brought food for their relief, but with things in such a state there was no use in trying to get through the summer. The provisions in store would not last a month. The three brave captains consulted together, and decided, with tears in their eyes, that Virginia must be abandoned. Since Raleigh first began, every attempt had ended in miserable failure, and this last calamity was the most crushing of all. What hope could there be that North America would ever be colonized ? What men could endure more than had been endured already ? It was decided to go up to the Newfoundland fishing-stations and get fish there, then cross to England.

On Thursday, the 7th of June, 1610, to the funereal roll of drums, the cabins were stripped of such things as could be carried away, and the doleful company went aboard the pinnaces, weighed anchor, and started down the river. As the arching trees at Jamestown receded from the view, and the sombre silence of the forest settled over the deserted spot, it seemed indeed that “ earth’s paradise,” Virginia, the object of so much longing, the scene of so much fruitless striving, was at last abandoned to its native Indians. But it had been otherwise decreed.

That night a halt was made at Mulberry Island, and next morning the voyage was resumed. Toward noonday, as the little ships were speeding their way down the ever - widening river, a black speck was seen far below on the broad waters of Hampton Roads, and every eye was strained. It was no red man’s canoe. It was a long-boat. Yes, Heaven be praised! the governor’s own longboat with a message. His three wellstocked ships had passed Point Comfort, and he himself was with them!

Despair gave place to exultant hope, words of gratitude and congratulation were exchanged, and the prows were turned up-stream. On Sunday the three stout captains stood with their followers drawn up in military array before the dismantled ruins of Jamestown, while Lord Delaware stepped from his boat, and, falling upon his knees on the shore, lifted his hands in prayer, thanking God that he had come in time to save Virginia.

John Fiske.

  1. See Chapman and Marston’s play Eastward Ho, London, 1605.
  2. Smith here means the village of that name, on the James River, near the site of Richmond.
  3. Smith’s Works, pages 442-445.
  4. Neill’s Virginia Company, page 28.
  5. It is to be feared that in this statement the old chieftain departed from the strict truth.
  6. Wampum is probably meant.
  7. Brown’s Genesis, i. 228.
  8. Doyle’s Virginia, page 128.
  9. Plain Description of the Bermudas, page 10.