We have now come to the region of earliest English settlement in America, where Newport and Smith, in 1607, planted their colony of Jamestown upon a low yellow bluff on the northern river bank. It is thirty-two miles from the mouth of the James River, and the bluff, by the action of the water, has been made an island. The location was probably selected because this furnished protection from attacks. The later encroachments of the river have swept away part of the site of the early settlement, and a portion of the old-church tower and some tombstones are now the only relics of the ancient town. The ruins of the tower can be seen on top of the bluff, almost overgrown with moss and vines.
Behind is the wall of the graveyard where the first settlers were buried. A couple of little cabins are the only present signs of settlement, the mansion of the Jamestown plantation being some distance down the river.
When the English colony first came to Jamestown in 1607, they were hunting for gold and for the “northwest passage ” to the East Indies. In fact, most of the American colonizing began with these objects. They had an idea in Europe that America was profuse in gold and gems. In 1605 a play of ” Eastward, Ho” was performed in London, in which one of the characters said: “I tell thee golde is more plentifull in Virginia than copper is with us, and for as much redde copper as I can bring, I will have thrice the weight in golde. All their pannes and pottes are pure gould, and all the chaines with which they chaine up their streetes are massie gould; all the prisoners they take are fettered in golde; and for rubies and diamonds they goe forth in holidays and gather them by the seashore to hang on their children’s coat es and sticke in their children’s caps as commonally as our children wear saffron, gilt brooches, and groates with hoales in them.” The whole party, on landing at Jamestown, started to hunt for gold. Smith wrote that among the English colonists there was ” no talk, no hope, no work, but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, )loade gold.” They found some shining pyrites that deceived them, and therefore the first ship returning to England carried away a cargo of shining dirt, found entirely worth-less on arrival. The second ship, after a long de-bate, they more wisely sent back with a cargo of cedar. They hunted for the “northwest passage,” first going up the James to the falls at the site of Richmond, but returning disappointed. It was this same hunt for a route to the Pacific which after-wards took Smith up the Chickahominy, where he got among the swamps and was captured by the Indians.
The Jamestown colonists met with great discouragements. Most of them were unfitted for pioneers, and the neighboring swamps gave them malaria in the hot summer, so that nearly half perished. Smith, by his courage and enterprise, however, kept the colony alive and took charge, being their leader until captured by the Indians, and also afterwards, until his return to England. Among the first constructions at Jamestown were a storehouse and a church. These, however, were soon burnt, and a second church and storehouse were erected in September, 1608. This church was like a barn in appearance, the base being supported by crotched stakes, and the walls and roof were made of rafts, sedge and earth, which soon decayed. When Smith left Jamestown for England in 1609 the place contained about sixty houses, and was surrounded by a stockade. Smith early saw the necessity of raising food, and determined to begin the growing of maize, or Indian corn. Consequently, early in 1608 he prevailed upon two Indians he had captured to teach the method of planting the corn. Under their direction a tract of about forty acres was planted in squares, with intervals of four feet between the holes which received the Indian corn for seed. This crop grew and was partly harvested, a good deal of it, however, being eaten green. Thus the Indian invented the method of corn-planting universally observed in the United States, and this crop of forty acres of 1608 was the first crop of the great American cereal grown by white men. Wheat brought out from England was first planted at Jamestown in 1618 on a field of about thirty acres, this being the first wheat crop grown in the United States.
Captain John Smith, before he left Jamestown, estimated that there were about fifty-five hundred Indians within a radius of sixty miles around the colony, and in his works he enumerates the various tribes. Describing their mode of life, he wrote that they grew fat or lean according to the season. When food was abundant, he said, they stuffed themselves night and day ; and, unless unforeseen emergencies compelled them to arouse, they dropped asleep as soon as their stomachs were filled. So ravenous were their appetites that a colonist employing an Indian was compelled to allow him a quantity of food double that given an English laborer. In a period of want or hardship, when no food was to be had, the . warrior simply drew his belt more tightly about his waist to try and appease the pangs of hunger. The Indians, when the colonists arrived, were found to divide the year into five seasons, according to its varying character. These were, first, Cattapeuk, the season of blossoms ; second, Cohattayough, the season when the sun rode highest in the heavens; third, Nepenough, the season when the ears of maize were large enough to be roasted; fourth, Taquetock, the season of the falling leaves, when the maize was gathered ; and fifth, Cohonk, the season when long lines of wild geese appeared, flying from the north, uttering the cry suggesting the name, thus heralding the winter.
The colony was very unfortunate, and in 1617 was reduced to only five or six buildings. The church had then decayed and fallen to the ground, and a third church, fifty by twenty feet, was after-wards built. Additional settlers were sent out from England in the next two years, and the Virginians were granted a government of their own, the new Governor, Sir George Yeardley, arriving in the spring of 1619. The Company in London also sent them a communication “that those cruell laws, by which the ancient planters had soe long been governed, were now abrogated in favor of those free laws which his majesties subjects lived under in Englande.” It continued by stating ” That the planters might have a hande in the governing of themselves yet was granted that a generall assemblie should be held yearly once, whereat to be present the governor and counsell with two burgesses from each plantation, freely to be elected by the inhabitants thereof, this assemblie to have power to make and ordaine whatsoever laws and orders should by them be thought good and profitable for their subsistence.” The Governor consequently summoned the first ” House of Burgesses” in Virginia, which met at Jamestown, July 30, 1619, the first legislative body in America. Twenty-two members took their seats in the new church at James-town. They are described as wearing bright-colored silk and velvet coats, with starched ruffs, and as having kept their hats on as in the English House of Commons. The Governor sat in the choir, and with him were several leading men who had been appointed by the Company on the Governor’s Council. They passed various laws, chiefly about tobacco and taxes, and sent them to England, where the Company confirmed them, and afterwards, in 1621, granted the ” Great Charter,” which was the first Constitution of Virginia.
The colonists got into trouble with the Indians in 1622, and having killed an Indian who murdered a white man, Jamestown was attacked and the inhabit-ants massacred, three hundred and forty-five being killed. Governor Butler, who visited the place not long after the massacre, wrote that the houses were the “worst in the world,” and that the most wretched cottages in England were equal, if not superior, in appearance and comfort to the finest dwellings in the colony. The first houses were mostly of bark, imitating those of the Indian; and, there being neither sawmills to prepare planks nor nails to fasten them, the later constructions were usually of logs plastered with mud, with thatched roofs. The more pretentious of these were built double” two pens and a passage,” as they have been described. As late as 1675 Jamestown had only a few families, with not more than seventy-five population. Labor was always in demand there, and at first the laborers were brought out from England. There was no money, and having early learnt to raise tobacco from the Indians, this became the chief crop, and, being sure of sale in England, became the standard of value. Tobacco was the great export, twenty thousand pounds being exported in 1619, forty thousand in 1620 and sixty thousand in 1622. Everything was valued in tobacco, and this continued the practical currency for the first century. They imported a. lot of copper, however, with which to make small coins for circulation. As the tobacco fluctuated in price in England, it made a very unstable standard of value. Gradually, afterwards, large amounts of gold and silver coin came into Virginia in payment for produce, thus supplanting the tobacco as a standard.