The Chesapeake Bay – Historic Landmarks

AT length, sailing from this, we reached what they call Point Comfort, in Virginia, on the 27th of February, full of fear lest the English inhabitants, to whom our plantation is very objectionable, should plot some evil against us. Letters, however, which we brought from the King and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Governor of these regions, served to conciliate their minds, and to obtain those things which were useful to us. For the Governor of Virginia hoped, by this kindness to us, to recover the more easily from the royal treasury a great amount of money due to him. They announced only a vague rumor, that six ships were approaching, which would reduce all things under the power of the Spanish. For this reason all the inhabitants were under arms. The thing afterwards proved to be in a measure true.

After a kind entertainment for eight or nine days, making sail on the 3d of March, and carried into the Chesapeake Bay, we bent our course to the north, that we might reach the Potomac River. The Chesapeake Bay, ten leagues broad, and four, five, six, and even seven fathoms deep, flows gently between its shores; it abounds in fish when the season of the year is favourable. A more beautiful body of water you can scarcely find. It is inferior, however, to the Potomac, to which we gave the name of St. Gregory.

Having now arrived at the wished-for country, we appointed names as occasion served. And, indeed, the point which is at the south we consecrated under the title of St. Gregory; designating the northern point, we consecrated it to St. Michael, in honour of all the angels. A larger or more beautiful river I have never seen. The Thames, compared with it, can scarcely be considered a rivulet. It is not rendered impure by marshes, but on each bank of solid earth rise beautiful groves of trees, not choked up with an undergrowth of brambles and bushes, but as if laid out by the hand, in a manner so open that you might freely drive a four-horse chariot in the midst of the trees.

At the very mouth of the river we beheld the natives armed. That night fires were kindled through the whole region, and since so large a ship had never been seen by them, messengers were sent everywhere to announce ” that a canoe as large as an island had brought as many men as there was trees in the woods.” We proceeded, however, to the Heron islands, so-called from the immense flock of birds of this kind.

The first which presented itself we called by the name of St. Clement’s, the second St. Catherine’s, the third St. Cecilia’s. We landed first at St. Clement’s, to which access is difficult, except by fording, because of the shelving nature of the shore. Here the young women, who had landed for the purpose of washing, were nearly drowned by the upsetting of the boat—a great portion of my linen being lost no trifling misfortune in these parts.

This island abounds in cedar, sassafras, and the herbs and flowers for making salads of every kind, with the nut of a wild tree which bears a very hard nut, in a thick shell, with a kernel very small, but remarkably pleasant. How-ever, since it was only four hundred acres in extent, it did not appear to be a sufficiently large location for a new settlement. Nevertheless, a place was sought for building a fort to prohibit foreigners from the trade of the river, and to protect our boundaries, for that is the narrowest crossing of the river.

On the day of the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin Mary, on the 25th of March, in the year 1634, we offered on this island for the first time, the sacrifice of the mass; in this region of the world it had never been celebrated before. Sacrifice being ended, having taken upon our shoulders the great cross which we had hewn from a tree, and going in procession to the place that had been designated, the Governor, commissioners, and other Catholics participating in the ceremony, we erected it as a trophy to Christ the Saviour, while the litany of the holy cross was chanted humbly on the bended knees, with great emotion of soul.

But when the Governor had understood that many sachems are subject to the chieftain of Piscataway, he resolved to visit him, that the cause of our coming being explained, and his good will being conciliated, a more easy access might be gained to the minds of the others. Therefore, having added another pinnace to ours which he had bought in Virginia, and having left the ship at anchor at St. Clement’s, retracing his course, he landed at the south side of the river. And when he had found out that the savages had fled into the interior, he proceeded to a village which is also called Potomac, a name derived from the river. Here the tutor (guardian) of the King, who is a youth, is Archihu, his uncle, and holds the government of the kingdom—a grave man and prudent.

To Father John Altham, who had come as the companion of the Governor (but he left me with the baggage), he willingly gave ear while explaining, through an interpreter, certain things concerning the errors of the heathens, now and then acknowledging his own; and when informed that we had not come thither for the purpose of war, but for the sake of benevolence, that we might imbue a rude race with the precepts of civilization, and open up a way to heaven, as well as to impart to them the advantages of re-mote regions, he signified that we had come acceptably. The interpreter was one of the Protestants of Virginia. Therefore, when the father could not discuss matters further for want of time, he promised that he would return before long. ” This is agreeable to my mind,” said Archihu; ” we will use one table; my attendants shall go hunt for you, and all things shall be common with us.”

From this we went to Piscataway, where all flew to arms. About five hundred men, equipped with bows, stood on shore with their chieftain. Signs of peace being given them, the chief, laying aside his apprehensions, came on board the pinnace, and having understood the intentions of our minds to be benevolent, he gave us permission to settle in whatever part of his empire we might wish.

In the meantime, while the Governor was on his visit to the chieftain, the savages at St. Clement’s, having grown more bold, mingled familiarly with our guards, for we kept guard day and night, both that we might protect our wood-cutters as well as the brigantine which, with boards and beams we were constructing as a refuge from sudden attacks. It was amusing to hear them admiring everything. In the first place, where in all the earth did so large a tree grow, from which so immense a mass of a ship could be hewn? for they conceived it cut from the single trunk of a tree, in the manner of a canoe. Our cannon struck them all with consternation, as they were much louder than their twanging bows, and loud as thunder.

The Governor had taken as companion on his visit to the chieftain, Captain Henry Fleet, a resident of Virginia, a man very much beloved by the savages, and acquainted with their language and settlements. At the first he was very friendly to us; afterwards, seduced by the evil counsels of a certain Claiborne, who entertained the most hostile disposition, he stirred up the minds of the natives against us with all the art of which he was master. In the meantime, however, while he remained as a friend among us, he pointed out to the Governor a place for settlement, such that Europe cannot show a better for agreeableness of situation.

From St. Clement’s, having proceeded about nine leagues towards the north, we entered the mouth of a river, to which we gave the name of St. George. This river, in a course from south to north, runs about twenty miles before it is freed from its salt taste—not unlike the Thames. Two bays appeared at its mouth, capable of containing three hundred ships of the largest class. One of the bays we consecrated to St. George; the other bay, more inland, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The left bank of the river was the residence of King Yoacomico. We landed on the right, and having advanced about a thousand paces from the shore, we gave the name of St. Mary’s to the intended city; that we might avoid all appearance of injury and hostility, having paid in exchange axes, hatchets, hoes, and some yards of cloth, we bought from the King thirty miles of his territory, which part now goes by the name of Augusta Carolina.

The Susquehannoes, a tribe accustomed to wars, and particularly troublesome to King Yoacomico, in frequent incursions devastate all his land, and compel the inhabitants, through fear of danger, to seek other habitations. This is the reason why so readily we obtained a part of his kingdom. God, by these miracles, opened a way for his law and for eternal life. Some emigrate, and others are daily relinquishing to us their houses, lands, and fallowfields. Truly this is like a miracle, that savage men, a few days before arrayed in arms against us, so readily trust themselves like lambs to us, and surrender themselves and their property to us. The finger of God is in this; and some great good God designs to this people. Some few have granted to them the privilege of remaining with us till the next year. But then the ground is to be given up to us, unencumbered.

The natives are of tall and comely stature, of a skin by nature somewhat tawny, which they make more hideous by daubing, for the most part, with red paint mixed with oil, to keep away the mosquitoes; in this, intent more on their comfort than their beauty. They smear their faces also with other colours; from the nose upwards, sea-green, downwards, reddish, or the contrary, in a manner truly disgusting and terrific. And since they are without beard almost to the end of life, they make the representation of beard with paint, a line of various colours being drawn from, the tip of the lips to the ears. They encourage the growth of the hair, which is generally black, and bind it with a fillet when brought round in a fashionable style to the left ear, something which is held in estimation by them, being added by way of ornament. Some bear upon their forehead the representation of a fish in copper. They encircle their necks with glass beads strung upon a thread, after the manner of chains. These beads, however, begin to be more common with them, and less useful for traffic.

Ignorance of their language renders it still doubtful for me to state what views they entertain concerning religion; but we trust less to Protestant interpreters. These few things we have learned at different times. They recognize one God of heaven, whom they call ” Our God “; nevertheless, they pay him no external worship, but by every means in their power, endeavour to appease a certain evil spirit which they call Okee, that he may not hurt them. They worship corn and fire, as I am informed, as Gods wonderfully beneficent to the human race.

We have been here only one month, and so other things must be reserved for the next sail. This I can say, that the soil appears particularly fertile, and strawberries, vines, sassafras, hickory nuts, and walnuts, we tread upon every-where, in the thickest woods. The soil is dark and soft, a foot in thickness, and rests upon a rich and red clay. Everywhere there are very high trees, except where the ground is tilled by a scanty population. An abundance of springs afford water. No animals are seen except deer, the beaver, and squirrels, which are as large as the hares of Europe. There is an infinite number of birds of various colours, as eagles, herons, swans, geese, and partridges. From which you may infer that there is not wanting to the region whatever may serve for commerce or pleasure.