Captain John Smith by Charles Dudley Warner, chapter name THE COLONY WITHOUT SMITH


It was necessary to follow for a time the fortune of the Virginia colony after the departure of Captain Smith. Of its disasters and speedy decline there is no more doubt than there is of the opinion of Smith that these were owing to his absence. The savages, we read in his narration, no sooner knew he was gone than they all revolted and spoiled and murdered all they encountered.

The day before Captain Smith sailed, Captain Davis arrived in a small pinnace with sixteen men. These, with a company from the fort under Captain Ratcliffe, were sent down to Point Comfort. Captain West and Captain Martin, having lost their boats and half their men among the savages at the Falls, returned to Jamestown. The colony now lived upon what Smith had provided, "and now they had presidents with all their appurtenances." President Percy was so sick he could neither go nor stand. Provisions getting short, West and Ratcliffe went abroad to trade, and Ratcliffe and twenty-eight of his men were slain by an ambush of Powhatan's, as before related in the narrative of Henry Spelman. Powhatan cut off their boats, and refused to trade, so that Captain West set sail for England. What ensued cannot be more vividly told than in the "General Historie":

"Now we all found the losse of Capt. Smith, yea his greatest maligners could now curse his losse; as for corne provision and contribution from the salvages, we had nothing but mortall wounds, with clubs and arrowes; as for our hogs, hens, goats, sheep, horse, or what lived, our commanders, officers and salvages daily consumed them, some small proportions sometimes we tasted, till all was devoured; then swords, arms, pieces or anything was traded with the salvages, whose cruell fingers were so oft imbrued in our blouds, that what by their crueltie, our Governor's indiscretion, and the losse of our ships, of five hundred within six months after Capt. Smith's departure, there remained not past sixty men, women and children, most miserable and poore creatures; and those were preserved for the most part, by roots, herbes, acorns, walnuts, berries, now and then a little fish; they that had starch in these extremities made no small use of it, yea, even the very skinnes of our horses. Nay, so great was our famine, that a salvage we slew and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and eat him, and so did divers one another boyled, and stewed with roots and herbs. And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, poudered her and had eaten part of her before it was knowne, for which he was executed, as he well deserved; now whether she was better roasted, boyled, or carbonaded, I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of. This was that time, which still to this day we called the starving time; it were too vile to say and scarce to be believed what we endured; but the occasion was our owne, for want of providence, industrie and government, and not the barreness and defect of the country as is generally supposed."

This playful allusion to powdered wife, and speculation as to how she was best cooked, is the first instance we have been able to find of what is called "American humor," and Captain Smith has the honor of being the first of the "American humorists" who have handled subjects of this kind with such pleasing gayety.

It is to be noticed that this horrible story of cannibalism and wife-eating appears in Smith's "General Historie" of 1624, without a word of contradiction or explanation, although the company as early as 1610 had taken pains to get at the facts, and Smith must have seen their "Declaration," which supposes the story was started by enemies of the colony. Some reported they saw it, some that Captain Smith said so, and some that one Beadle, the lieutenant of Captain Davis, did relate it. In "A True Declaration of the State of the Colonie in Virginia," published by the advice and direction of the Council of Virginia, London, 1610, we read:

"But to clear all doubt, Sir Thomas Yates thus relateth the tragedie:

"There was one of the company who mortally hated his wife, and therefore secretly killed her, then cut her in pieces and hid her in divers parts of his house: when the woman was missing, the man suspected, his house searched, and parts of her mangled body were discovered, to excuse himself he said that his wife died, that he hid her to satisfie his hunger, and that he fed daily upon her. Upon this his house was again searched, when they found a good quantitie of meale, oatmeale, beanes and pease. Hee therefore was arraigned, confessed the murder, and was burned for his horrible villainy."

This same "True Declaration," which singularly enough does not mention the name of Captain Smith, who was so prominent an actor in Virginia during the period to which it relates, confirms all that Smith said as to the character of the colonists, especially the new supply which landed in the eight vessels with Ratcliffe and Archer. "Every man overvalueing his own strength would be a commander; every man underprizing another's value, denied to be commanded." They were negligent and improvident. "Every man sharked for his present bootie, but was altogether careless of succeeding penurie." To idleness and faction was joined treason. About thirty "unhallowed creatures," in the winter of 1610, some five months before the arrival of Captain Gates, seized upon the ship Swallow, which had been prepared to trade with the Indians, and having obtained corn conspired together and made a league to become pirates, dreaming of mountains of gold and happy robberies. By this desertion they weakened the colony, which waited for their return with the provisions, and they made implacable enemies of the Indians by their violence. "These are that scum of men," which, after roving the seas and failing in their piracy, joined themselves to other pirates they found on the sea, or returned to England, bound by a mutual oath to discredit the land, and swore they were drawn away by famine. "These are they that roared at the tragicall historie of the man eating up his dead wife in Virginia" "scandalous reports of a viperous generation."

If further evidence were wanting, we have it in "The New Life of Virginia," published by authority of the Council, London, 1612. This is the second part of the "Nova Britannia," published in London, 1609. Both are prefaced by an epistle to Sir Thomas Smith, one of the Council and treasurer, signed "R. I." Neither document contains any allusion to Captain John Smith, or the part he played in Virginia. The "New Life of Virginia," after speaking of the tempest which drove Sir Thomas Gates on Bermuda, and the landing of the eight ships at Jamestown, says: "By which means the body of the plantation was now augmented with such numbers of irregular persons that it soon became as so many members without a head, who as they were bad and evil affected for the most part before they went hence; so now being landed and wanting restraint, they displayed their condition in all kinds of looseness, those chief and wisest guides among them (whereof there were not many) did nothing but bitterly contend who should be first to command the rest, the common sort, as is ever seen in such cases grew factious and disordered out of measure, in so much as the poor colony seemed (like the Colledge of English fugitives in Rome) as a hostile camp within itself; in which distemper that envious man stept in, sowing plentiful tares in the hearts of all, which grew to such speedy confusion, that in few months ambition, sloth and idleness had devoured the fruit of former labours, planting and sowing were clean given over, the houses decayed, the church fell to ruin, the store was spent, the cattle consumed, our people starved, and the Indians by wrongs and injuries made our enemies.... As for those wicked Impes that put themselves a shipboard, not knowing otherwise how to live in England; or those ungratious sons that daily vexed their fathers hearts at home, and were therefore thrust upon the voyage, which either writing thence, or being returned back to cover their own leudnes, do fill mens ears with false reports of their miserable and perilous life in Virginia, let the imputation of misery be to their idleness, and the blood that was spilt upon their own heads that caused it."

Sir Thomas Gates affirmed that after his first coming there he had seen some of them eat their fish raw rather than go a stone's cast to fetch wood and dress it.

The colony was in such extremity in May, 1610, that it would have been extinct in ten days but for the arrival of Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers and Captain Newport from the Bermudas. These gallant gentlemen, with one hundred and fifty souls, had been wrecked on the Bermudas in the Sea Venture in the preceding July. The terrors of the hurricane which dispersed the fleet, and this shipwreck, were much dwelt upon by the writers of the time, and the Bermudas became a sort of enchanted islands, or realms of the imagination. For three nights, and three days that were as black as the nights, the water logged Sea Venture was scarcely kept afloat by bailing. We have a vivid picture of the stanch Somers sitting upon the poop of the ship, where he sat three days and three nights together, without much meat and little or no sleep, conning the ship to keep her as upright as he could, until he happily descried land. The ship went ashore and was wedged into the rocks so fast that it held together till all were got ashore, and a good part of the goods and provisions, and the tackling and iron of the ship necessary for the building and furnishing of a new ship.

This good fortune and the subsequent prosperous life on the island and final deliverance was due to the noble Somers, or Sommers, after whom the Bermudas were long called "Sommers Isles," which was gradually corrupted into "The Summer Isles." These islands of Bermuda had ever been accounted an enchanted pile of rocks and a desert inhabitation for devils, which the navigator and mariner avoided as Scylla and Charybdis, or the devil himself. But this shipwrecked company found it the most delightful country in the world, the climate was enchanting, delicious fruits abounded, the waters swarmed with fish, some of them big enough to nearly drag the fishers into the sea, while whales could be heard spouting and nosing about the rocks at night; birds fat and tame and willing to be eaten covered all the bushes, and such droves of wild hogs covered the island that the slaughter of them for months seemed not to diminish their number. The friendly disposition of the birds seemed most to impress the writer of the "True Declaration of Virginia." He remembers how the ravens fed Elias in the brook Cedron; "so God provided for our disconsolate people in the midst of the sea by foules; but with an admirable difference; unto Elias the ravens brought meat, unto our men the foules brought (themselves) for meate: for when they whistled, or made any strange noyse, the foules would come and sit on their shoulders, they would suffer themselves to be taken and weighed by our men, who would make choice of the fairest and fattest and let flie the leane and lightest, an accident [the chronicler exclaims], I take it [and everybody will take it], that cannot be paralleled by any Historie, except when God sent abundance of Quayles to feed his Israel in the barren wilderness."

The rescued voyagers built themselves comfortable houses on the island, and dwelt there nine months in good health and plentifully fed. Sunday was carefully observed, with sermons by Mr. Buck, the chaplain, an Oxford man, who was assisted in the services by Stephen Hopkins, one of the Puritans who were in the company. A marriage was celebrated between Thomas Powell, the cook of Sir George Somers, and Elizabeth Persons, the servant of Mrs. Horlow. Two children were also born, a boy who was christened Bermudas and a girl Bermuda. The girl was the child of Mr. John Rolfe and wife, the Rolfe who was shortly afterward to become famous by another marriage. In order that nothing should be wanting to the ordinary course of a civilized community, a murder was committed. In the company were two Indians, Machumps and Namontack, whose acquaintance we have before made, returning from England, whither they had been sent by Captain Smith. Falling out about something, Machumps slew Namontack, and having made a hole to bury him, because it was too short he cut off his legs and laid them by him. This proceeding Machumps concealed till he was in Virginia.

Somers and Gates were busy building two cedar ships, the Deliverer, of eighty tons, and a pinnace called the Patience. When these were completed, the whole company, except two scamps who remained behind and had adventures enough for a three-volume novel, embarked, and on the 16th of May sailed for Jamestown, where they arrived on the 23d or 24th, and found the colony in the pitiable condition before described. A few famished settlers watched their coming. The church bell was rung in the shaky edifice, and the emaciated colonists assembled and heard the "zealous and sorrowful prayer" of Chaplain Buck. The commission of Sir Thomas Gates was read, and Mr. Percy retired from the governorship.

The town was empty and unfurnished, and seemed like the ruin of some ancient fortification rather than the habitation of living men. The palisades were down; the ports open; the gates unhinged; the church ruined and unfrequented; the houses empty, torn to pieces or burnt; the people not able to step into the woods to gather fire-wood; and the Indians killing as fast without as famine and pestilence within. William Strachey was among the new-comers, and this is the story that he despatched as Lord Delaware's report to England in July. On taking stock of provisions there was found only scant rations for sixteen days, and Gates and Somers determined to abandon the plantation, and, taking all on board their own ships, to make their way to Newfoundland, in the hope of falling in with English vessels. Accordingly, on the 7th of June they got on board and dropped down the James.

Meantime the news of the disasters to the colony, and the supposed loss of the Sea Venture, had created a great excitement in London, and a panic and stoppage of subscriptions in the company. Lord Delaware, a man of the highest reputation for courage and principle, determined to go himself, as Captain-General, to Virginia, in the hope of saving the fortunes of the colony. With three ships and one hundred and fifty persons, mostly artificers, he embarked on the 1st of April, 1610, and reached the Chesapeake Bay on the 5th of June, just in time to meet the forlorn company of Gates and Somers putting out to sea.

They turned back and ascended to Jamestown, when landing on Sunday, the 10th, after a sermon by Mr. Buck, the commission of Lord Delaware was read, and Gates turned over his authority to the new Governor. He swore in as Council, Sir Thomas Gates, Lieutenant-General; Sir George Somers, Admiral; Captain George Percy; Sir Ferdinando Wenman, Marshal; Captain Christopher Newport, and William Strachey, Esq., Secretary and Recorder.

On the 19th of June the brave old sailor, Sir George Somers, volunteered to return to the Bermudas in his pinnace to procure hogs and other supplies for the colony. He was accompanied by Captain Argall in the ship Discovery. After a rough voyage this noble old knight reached the Bermudas. But his strength was not equal to the memorable courage of his mind. At a place called Saint George he died, and his men, confounded at the death of him who was the life of them all, embalmed his body and set sail for England. Captain Argall, after parting with his consort, without reaching the Bermudas, and much beating about the coast, was compelled to return to Jamestown.

Captain Gates was sent to England with despatches and to procure more settlers and more supplies. Lord Delaware remained with the colony less than a year; his health failing, he went in pursuit of it, in March, 1611, to the West Indies. In June of that year Gates sailed again, with six vessels, three hundred men, one hundred cows, besides other cattle, and provisions of all sorts. With him went his wife, who died on the passage, and his daughters. His expedition reached the James in August. The colony now numbered seven hundred persons. Gates seated himself at Hampton, a "delicate and necessary site for a city."

Percy commanded at Jamestown, and Sir Thomas Dale went up the river to lay the foundations of Henrico.

We have no occasion to follow further the fortunes of the Virginia colony, except to relate the story of Pocahontas under her different names of Amonate, Matoaka, Mrs. Rolfe, and Lady Rebecca.