Captain John Smith by Charles Dudley Warner, chapter name TRIALS OF THE SETTLEMENT


Without entering at all into the consideration of the character of the early settlers of Virginia and of Massachusetts, one contrast forces itself upon the mind as we read the narratives of the different plantations. In Massachusetts there was from the beginning a steady purpose to make a permanent settlement and colony, and nearly all those who came over worked, with more or less friction, with this end before them. The attempt in Virginia partook more of the character of a temporary adventure. In Massachusetts from the beginning a commonwealth was in view. In Virginia, although the London promoters desired a colony to be fixed that would be profitable to themselves, and many of the adventurers, Captain Smith among them, desired a permanent planting, a great majority of those who went thither had only in mind the advantages of trade, the excitement of a free and licentious life, and the adventure of something new and startling. It was long before the movers in it gave up the notion of discovering precious metals or a short way to the South Sea. The troubles the primitive colony endured resulted quite as much from its own instability of purpose, recklessness, and insubordination as from the hostility of the Indians. The majority spent their time in idleness, quarreling, and plotting mutiny.

The ships departed for England in December, 1608. When Smith returned from his expedition for food in the winter of 1609, he found that all the provision except what he had gathered was so rotted from the rain, and eaten by rats and worms, that the hogs would scarcely eat it. Yet this had been the diet of the soldiers, who had consumed the victuals and accomplished nothing except to let the savages have the most of the tools and a good part of the arms.

Taking stock of what he brought in, Smith found food enough to last till the next harvest, and at once organized the company into bands of ten or fifteen, and compelled them to go to work. Six hours a day were devoted to labor, and the remainder to rest and merry exercises. Even with this liberal allowance of pastime a great part of the colony still sulked. Smith made them a short address, exhibiting his power in the letters-patent, and assuring them that he would enforce discipline and punish the idle and froward; telling them that those that did not work should not eat, and that the labor of forty or fifty industrious men should not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers. He made a public table of good and bad conduct; but even with this inducement the worst had to be driven to work by punishment or the fear of it.

The Dutchmen with Powhatan continued to make trouble, and confederates in the camp supplied them with powder and shot, swords and tools. Powhatan kept the whites who were with him to instruct the Indians in the art of war. They expected other whites to join them, and those not coming, they sent Francis, their companion, disguised as an Indian, to find out the cause. He came to the Glass house in the woods a mile from Jamestown, which was the rendezvous for all their villainy. Here they laid an ambush of forty men for Smith, who hearing of the Dutchman, went thither to apprehend him. The rascal had gone, and Smith, sending twenty soldiers to follow and capture him, started alone from the Glass house to return to the fort. And now occurred another of those personal adventures which made Smith famous by his own narration.

On his way he encountered the King of Paspahegh, "a most strong, stout savage," who, seeing that Smith had only his falchion, attempted to shoot him. Smith grappled him; the savage prevented his drawing his blade, and bore him into the river to drown him. Long they struggled in the water, when the President got the savage by the throat and nearly strangled him, and drawing his weapon, was about to cut off his head, when the King begged his life so pitifully, that Smith led him prisoner to the fort and put him in chains.

In the pictures of this achievement, the savage is represented as about twice the size and stature of Smith; another illustration that this heroic soul was never contented to take one of his size.

The Dutchman was captured, who, notwithstanding his excuses that he had escaped from Powhatan and did not intend to return, but was only walking in the woods to gather walnuts, on the testimony of Paspahegh of his treachery, was also "laid by the heels." Smith now proposed to Paspahegh to spare his life if he would induce Powhatan to send back the renegade Dutchmen. The messengers for this purpose reported that the Dutchmen, though not detained by Powhatan, would not come, and the Indians said they could not bring them on their backs fifty miles through the woods. Daily the King's wives, children, and people came to visit him, and brought presents to procure peace and his release. While this was going on, the King, though fettered, escaped. A pursuit only resulted in a vain fight with the Indians. Smith then made prisoners of two Indians who seemed to be hanging around the camp, Kemps and Tussore, "the two most exact villains in all the country," who would betray their own king and kindred for a piece of copper, and sent them with a force of soldiers, under Percy, against Paspahegh. The expedition burned his house, but did not capture the fugitive. Smith then went against them himself, killed six or seven, burned their houses, and took their boats and fishing wires. Thereupon the savages sued for peace, and an amnesty was established that lasted as long as Smith remained in the country.

Another incident occurred about this time which greatly raised Smith's credit in all that country. The Chicahomanians, who always were friendly traders, were great thieves. One of them stole a Pistol, and two proper young fellows, brothers, known to be his confederates, were apprehended. One of them was put in the dungeon and the other sent to recover the pistol within twelve hours, in default of which his brother would be hanged. The President, pitying the wretched savage in the dungeon, sent him some victuals and charcoal for a fire. "Ere midnight his brother returned with the pistol, but the poor savage in the dungeon was so smothered with the smoke he had made, and so piteously burnt, that we found him dead. The other most lamentably bewailed his death, and broke forth in such bitter agonies, that the President, to quiet him, told him that if hereafter they would not steal, he would make him alive again; but he (Smith) little thought he could be recovered." Nevertheless, by a liberal use of aqua vitae and vinegar the Indian was brought again to life, but "so drunk and affrighted that he seemed lunatic, the which as much tormented and grieved the other as before to see him dead." Upon further promise of good behavior Smith promised to bring the Indian out of this malady also, and so laid him by a fire to sleep. In the morning the savage had recovered his perfect senses, his wounds were dressed, and the brothers with presents of copper were sent away well contented. This was spread among the savages for a miracle, that Smith could make a man alive that was dead. He narrates a second incident which served to give the Indians a wholesome fear of the whites: "Another ingenious savage of Powhatan having gotten a great bag of powder and the back of an armour at Werowocomoco, amongst a many of his companions, to show his extraordinary skill, he did dry it on the back as he had seen the soldiers at Jamestown. But he dried it so long, they peeping over it to see his skill, it took fire, and blew him to death, and one or two more, and the rest so scorched they had little pleasure any more to meddle with gunpowder."

"These and many other such pretty incidents," says Smith, "so amazed and affrighted Powhatan and his people that from all parts they desired peace;" stolen articles were returned, thieves sent to Jamestown for punishment, and the whole country became as free for the whites as for the Indians.

And now ensued, in the spring of 1609, a prosperous period of three months, the longest season of quiet the colony had enjoyed, but only a respite from greater disasters. The friendship of the Indians and the temporary subordination of the settlers we must attribute to Smith's vigor, shrewdness, and spirit of industry. It was much easier to manage the Indian's than the idle and vicious men that composed the majority of the settlement.

In these three months they manufactured three or four lasts (fourteen barrels in a last) of tar, pitch, and soap-ashes, produced some specimens of glass, dug a well of excellent sweet water in the fort, which they had wanted for two years, built twenty houses, repaired the church, planted thirty or forty acres of ground, and erected a block-house on the neck of the island, where a garrison was stationed to trade with the savages and permit neither whites nor Indians to pass except on the President's order. Even the domestic animals partook the industrious spirit: "of three sowes in eighteen months increased 60 and od Pigs; and neare 500 chickings brought up themselves without having any meat given them." The hogs were transferred to Hog Isle, where another block house was built and garrisoned, and the garrison were permitted to take "exercise" in cutting down trees and making clapboards and wainscot. They were building a fort on high ground, intended for an easily defended retreat, when a woful discovery put an end to their thriving plans.

Upon examination of the corn stored in casks, it was found half-rotten, and the rest consumed by rats, which had bred in thousands from the few which came over in the ships. The colony was now at its wits end, for there was nothing to eat except the wild products of the country. In this prospect of famine, the two Indians, Kemps and Tussore, who had been kept fettered while showing the whites how to plant the fields, were turned loose; but they were unwilling to depart from such congenial company. The savages in the neighborhood showed their love by bringing to camp, for sixteen days, each day at least a hundred squirrels, turkeys, deer, and other wild beasts. But without corn, the work of fortifying and building had to be abandoned, and the settlers dispersed to provide victuals. A party of sixty or eighty men under Ensign Laxon were sent down the river to live on oysters; some twenty went with Lieutenant Percy to try fishing at Point Comfort, where for six weeks not a net was cast, owing to the sickness of Percy, who had been burnt with gunpowder; and another party, going to the Falls with Master West, found nothing to eat but a few acorns.

Up to this time the whole colony was fed by the labors of thirty or forty men: there was more sturgeon than could be devoured by dog and man; it was dried, pounded, and mixed with caviare, sorrel, and other herbs, to make bread; bread was also made of the "Tockwhogh" root, and with the fish and these wild fruits they lived very well. But there were one hundred and fifty of the colony who would rather starve or eat each other than help gather food. These "distracted, gluttonous loiterers" would have sold anything they had tools, arms, and their houses for anything the savages would bring them to eat. Hearing that there was a basket of corn at Powhatan's, fifty miles away, they would have exchanged all their property for it. To satisfy their factious humors, Smith succeeded in getting half of it: "they would have sold their souls," he says, for the other half, though not sufficient to last them a week.

The clamors became so loud that Smith punished the ringleader, one Dyer, a crafty fellow, and his ancient maligner, and then made one of his conciliatory addresses. Having shown them how impossible it was to get corn, and reminded them of his own exertions, and that he had always shared with them anything he had, he told them that he should stand their nonsense no longer; he should force the idle to work, and punish them if they railed; if any attempted to escape to Newfoundland in the pinnace they would arrive at the gallows; the sick should not starve; every man able must work, and every man who did not gather as much in a day as he did should be put out of the fort as a drone.

Such was the effect of this speech that of the two hundred only seven died in this pinching time, except those who were drowned; no man died of want. Captain Winne and Master Leigh had died before this famine occurred. Many of the men were billeted among the savages, who used them well, and stood in such awe of the power at the fort that they dared not wrong the whites out of a pin. The Indians caught Smith's humor, and some of the men who ran away to seek Kemps and Tussore were mocked and ridiculed, and had applied to them Smith's law of "who cannot work must not eat;" they were almost starved and beaten nearly to death. After amusing himself with them, Kemps returned the fugitives, whom Smith punished until they were content to labor at home, rather than adventure to live idly among the savages, "of whom," says our shrewd chronicler, "there was more hope to make better christians and good subjects than the one half of them that counterfeited themselves both." The Indians were in such subjection that any who were punished at the fort would beg the President not to tell their chief, for they would be again punished at home and sent back for another round.

We hear now of the last efforts to find traces of the lost colony of Sir Walter Raleigh. Master Sicklemore returned from the Chawwonoke (Chowan River) with no tidings of them; and Master Powell, and Anas Todkill who had been conducted to the Mangoags, in the regions south of the James, could learn nothing but that they were all dead. The king of this country was a very proper, devout, and friendly man; he acknowledged that our God exceeded his as much as our guns did his bows and arrows, and asked the President to pray his God for him, for all the gods of the Mangoags were angry.

The Dutchmen and one Bentley, another fugitive, who were with Powhatan, continued to plot against the colony, and the President employed a Swiss, named William Volday, to go and regain them with promises of pardon. Volday turned out to be a hypocrite, and a greater rascal than the others. Many of the discontented in the fort were brought into the scheme, which was, with Powhatan's aid, to surprise and destroy Jamestown. News of this getting about in the fort, there was a demand that the President should cut off these Dutchmen. Percy and Cuderington, two gentlemen, volunteered to do it; but Smith sent instead Master Wiffin and Jeffrey Abbot, to go and stab them or shoot them. But the Dutchmen were too shrewd to be caught, and Powhatan sent a conciliatory message that he did not detain the Dutchmen, nor hinder the slaying of them.

While this plot was simmering, and Smith was surrounded by treachery inside the fort and outside, and the savages were being taught that King James would kill Smith because he had used the Indians so unkindly, Captain Argall and Master Thomas Sedan arrived out in a well-furnished vessel, sent by Master Cornelius to trade and fish for sturgeon. The wine and other good provision of the ship were so opportune to the necessities of the colony that the President seized them. Argall lost his voyage; his ship was revictualed and sent back to England, but one may be sure that this event was so represented as to increase the fostered dissatisfaction with Smith in London. For one reason or another, most of the persons who returned had probably carried a bad report of him. Argall brought to Jamestown from London a report of great complaints of him for his dealings with the savages and not returning ships freighted with the products of the country. Misrepresented in London, and unsupported and conspired against in Virginia, Smith felt his fall near at hand. On the face of it he was the victim of envy and the rascality of incompetent and bad men; but whatever his capacity for dealing with savages, it must be confessed that he lacked something which conciliates success with one's own people. A new commission was about to be issued, and a great supply was in preparation under Lord De La Ware.