The Settlement Of Jamestown – Historic Landmarks

ON December 19, 1606, the little company which was destined to succeed where so many had failed, sailed from the Thames in three small vessels. They were in all a hundred and five. The vessels were commanded by a Captain Newport. It was arranged that the names of the colonial council should be kept secret until the arrival of the expedition in America. This precaution had probably been taken to prevent any collision between Newport and the colonial authorities. It was, however, attended with unforeseen results. The chief persons who had engaged in the undertaking were jealous of the abilities of Smith, and absurd rumours were spread among them that he intended to make himself King of Virginia. They, therefore, resolved upon intercepting his supposed design by placing him in confinement; and they conducted across the Atlantic as a prisoner the man to whom the whole conduct of the enterprise ought to have been confided.

After a tedious voyage, the expedition arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake. They gave to the headlands between which they sailed the names of Cape Henry and Cape Charles, in honour of the two English princes. As soon as they had landed, they opened their instructions, and found that seven of their number had been appointed to form the council, and that both Smith and Gosnold were included in the number. After some hesitation, they selected a site upon a stream to which they gave the name of the James River, upon which they proceeded to build the town which is known as Jamestown to this day. The first act of the council was to nominate Wingfield, one of the earlier promoters of the expedition, to the presidency, and to expel Smith from their body. It was not till some weeks had passed that they were persuaded to allow him to take his seat.

In June Newport returned to England with the vessels. As soon as he had left Virginia the troubles of the colonists began. They had arrived too late in the season to allow them to sow the seed which they had brought with them with any hope of obtaining a crop. The food which was left behind for their support was had in quality, and the hot weather brought disease with it. Nearly fifty of their number were gentlemen who had never been accustomed to manual labour. Half of the little company were swept away before the beginning of September. Among those who perished was Gosnold, whose energetic disposition might, perhaps, if he had survived, done good service to the colony. To make matters worse, the president was inefficient and selfish, and cared little about the welfare of his comrades, if he only had food enough for himself. The council deposed him; but his successor, Radcliffe, was equally incompetent, and it was only by the unexpected kindness of the natives that the colonists were enabled to maintain their existence. As the winter approached, their stock was increased by large numbers of wild fowl which came within their reach. In spite, however, of this change in their circumstances, it was only at Smith’s earnest en-treaty that they were prevented from abandoning the colony and returning to England.

During the winter, Smith employed himself in exploring the country. In one of his expeditions he was taken prisoner by the Indians. Any other man would have been instantly massacred. With great presence of mind, he took a compass out of his pocket, and began talking to them about its wonders. Upon this, the chief forbade them to do him any harm, and ordered him to be carried to their village.

While he was there he still more astonished his captors by sending a party of them with a letter to Jamestown. They were unable to comprehend how his wishes could be conveyed by means of a piece of paper. At last he was conducted before Powhatan, the superior chief over all the tribes of that part of the country. After a long consultation, it was determined to put him to death. He was dragged forward, and his head was laid upon a large stone, upon which the Indians were preparing to beat out his brains with their clubs. Even then his good fortune did not desert him. The chief’s daughter, Pocahontas, a young girl of ten or twelve years of age, rushed forward, and, taking him in her arms, laid her head upon his, to shield it from the clubs. The chief gave way before the entreaties of his daughter, and allowed him full liberty to return to Jamestown.

On his arrival there, he found all things in confusion. The president had again formed the intention of abandoning the colony, and was only deterred once more by the energetic exertions of Smith. The colonists were also indebted to him for the liberal supplies of provisions which were from time to time brought to them by Pocahontas.

He had not been long at liberty, when Newport arrived with a fresh supply of provisions. He also brought with him about a hundred and twenty men, the greater part of whom were bent upon digging for gold. Smith applied himself to the more profitable undertaking of carrying his explorations over the whole of the surrounding country. The gold-diggers did not add anything to the stock of the community; and it was only by the arrival of another ship that the colonists were enabled during the summer of 1608 to avoid absolute starvation. Some little corn had, however, been sown in the spring, and it was hoped that, with the help of what they could obtain from the natives, there would be sufficient provision for the winter.

Shortly after Newport had again left the colony, Smith returned from one of his exploring expeditions. He found the whole colony dissatisfied with the conduct of the incapable president, who, with the exception of Smith, was the only member of the original council still remaining in Virginia. A third member had, however, been sent out from England. This man, whose name was Scrivener, had attached himself warmly to Smith, and, to the general satisfaction of the settlers, the two friends deposed Radcliffe, and appointed Smith to fill his place.

Smith had not long been president when Newport again arrived. The members of the company in England were anxious to see a return for the capital which they had expended. They pressed Smith to send them gold, and threatened to leave the colony to starve, if their wishes were not complied with. The only conditions on which he was to be excused were the discovery of a passage into the Pacific, or of the lost colony which had been founded by Raleigh. They sent him seventy more men, of whom, as usual, the greater number were gentlemen. They expected him to send them home, in return, pitch, tar, soap-ashes, and glass. To assist him in this they put on board eight Poles and Dutchmen, who were skilled in such manufactures.

He at once wrote home to the treasurer of the company, Sir Thomas Smith, explaining to him the absurdity of these demands. The colonists, he told him, must be able to feed themselves before they could establish manufactures. If any more men were sent out, ” but thirty carpenters, husbandmen, gardners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers up of trees ” and ” roots,” would be better ” than a thousand of such as had lately arrived.

Under Smith’s rule the settlement passed safely through another winter. The Indians were compelled to respect the rising colony. The greater part of the gentlemen were induced to work heartily, and those who refused were told plainly that if they would not do the work they would be left to starve. It appeared as if, at last, the worst difficulties had been overcome.

The summer of 1609 was drawing to a close, when news arrived in Virginia that a fresh charter had been granted, by which considerable changes were authorized in the government of the colony. The working of the original arrangements had been, in many respects, unsatisfactory. The council at home, which had been enlarged in 1607, had found but little to do, as all practical business connected with the support of the colony was in the hands of the company. The company itself had proved but ill-fitted to devise the best measures for a quick return for the money which they had laid out, and had been too eager to press the colonists to engage in trade before they had brought under cultivation a sufficient quantity of land for their own support.

Undoubtedly the best thing which the new council could have done would have been to have placed Smith at the head of the settlement. But, being ignorant of his true value, they took the next best step in their power. The government of merchants and captains had proved only another name for organized disorder. They, therefore, determined to try the experiment of sending out persons whose rank had made them accustomed to command, and who, if they were under the disadvantage of being new to colonial life, might be supposed to be able to obtain respect from the factions by which the colony was distracted. It was also plain that the settlement must be regarded, at least for the present, as a garrison in a hostile country, and that the new government must be empowered to exercise military discipline. The selections were undoubtedly good. Lord de la Warr, an able and conscientious man, was to preside, under the name of General; Sir Thomas Gates, one of the oldest promoters of the undertaking, was to act as his Lieutenant; Sir George Somers was to command the vessels of the company as Admiral; Sir Thomas Dale, an old soldier from the Low Country wars, was to keep ‘up discipline as Marshal; while Sir Ferdinando Wain-man was invested with the rather unnecessary title of General of the Horse. Lord de la Warr was to be preceded by Gates, Somers, and Newport, who were jointly to administer the government till the appearance of the General himself.

The whole scheme was well contrived, and, if it had been carried out according to the intentions of the council, all would have gone well. In May, nine ships sailed with five hundred fresh men to recruit the colony, and with large stores of provisions. Unfortunately, the ship which contained the three commissioners was wrecked on the Bermudas, and the remaining vessels, with the exception of one which perished at sea, arrived in the Chesapeake with the information that Smith’s authority was at an end, but without bringing any new officers to fill his place. To make matters worse, the men who arrived were chiefly a loose and disorderly mob, who had been chosen without any special regard for the requirements of an emigrant’s life, and with them were several of Smith’s old opponents, previously returned to England.

Smith, seeing that no lawful authority had come to replace his own, determined to maintain himself in his post. The newcomers raised unlooked-for difficulties. They not only showed great disinclination to submit to his orders, but they set at naught all the ordinary rules of prudence in their intercourse with the natives. The Indians came to Smith with complaints that his men were stealing their corn and robbing their gardens. He was doing his best to introduce order again among these miserable men, when an accident deprived the colony of his services. Some gun-powder in a boat, in which he was, accidentally took fire, and the wounds which he received made it impossible for him to fulfil the active duties of his office. He accordingly determined to return to England, leaving the unruly crowd of settlers to discover, by a bitter experience, the value of his energy and prudence. They were not long in learning the extent of their capacity for self-government. They utterly refused to submit to Percy, who had been elected by the council as Smith’s successor. As soon as the natives heard that Smith was gone, they attacked the settlement and met with but little resistance. The settlers themselves wasted the provisions which should have served for their subsistence during the winter. There was no recognized authority, and every man followed his own inclination. When Smith sailed for England, the colony consisted of four hundred and ninety men. Within six months, a miserable remnant of sixty persons was supporting itself upon roots and berries.

In this extremity, Gates arrived, having contrived to escape in a pinnace from the Bermudas. On May 23, 1610, he landed at Jamestown. Hie had expected to find a flourishing colony, where he could obtain support for the hundred and fifty shipwrecked settlers who accompanied him. He found famine staring him in the face. The corn which had been sown would not be ready for harvest for months, and the Indians refused to bargain with their oppressors. When he had landed all his little store, he found that there would only be enough to support life for sixteen days. It was, therefore, determined, by common consent, to forsake the country, as the only means to avoid starvation, and to make for Newfoundland, where the fugitives hoped to obtain a passage to England in the vessels which were engaged in fishing.

On June 7, the remnants of the once prosperous colony quitted the spot which had been for three years the centre of their hopes, and dropped down the river. Before, how-ever, they had got out of the Chesapeake, they were astonished by the sight of a boat coming up to meet them. The boat proved to belong to Lord de la Warr’s squadron, which had arrived from England in time to save the settlement from ruin.

The arrival of Lord de la Warr was the turning point in the early history of Virginia. He brought provisions upon which the settlers could subsist for a year, and by his authority he was able to curb the violence of the factions which had been with difficulty kept down even by the strong hand of Smith. Peace was restored with the Indians, and the colonists willingly obeyed the Governor’s directions.

He had not been long in Virginia before ill-health compelled him to return. After a short interval, he was succeeded by Sir Thomas Dale. Dale introduced a code of martial law. This code was unjustifiably severe, but even that was better than the anarchy which threatened to break out again on Lord de la Warr’s departure. A still more advantageous change was brought about under his government. Hitherto, the land had been cultivated for the good of the whole colony, and it had been found difficult to make men work heartily who had no individual interest in their labours. Dale assigned three acres of land to each settler. The immediate results of this innovation were manifest.

The improvement was still more decided when Gates, who had been sent back to England, returned as Governor in August, 1611, with considerable supplies, of which the most valuable part consisted of large numbers of cattle. From that time the difficulties which had impeded the formation of the settlement were heard of no more.