Captain John Smith by Charles Dudley Warner, chapter name FIRST PLANTING OF THE COLONY


The way was now prepared for the advent of Captain John Smith in Virginia. It is true that we cannot give him his own title of its discoverer, but the plantation had been practically abandoned, all the colonies had ended in disaster, all the governors and captains had lacked the gift of perseverance or had been early drawn into other adventures, wholly disposed, in the language of Captain John White, "to seek after purchase and spoils," and but for the energy and persistence of Captain Smith the expedition of 1606 might have had no better fate. It needed a man of tenacious will to hold a colony together in one spot long enough to give it root. Captain Smith was that man, and if we find him glorying in his exploits, and repeating upon single big Indians the personal prowess that distinguished him in Transylvania and in the mythical Nalbrits, we have only to transfer our sympathy from the Turks to the Sasquesahanocks if the sense of his heroism becomes oppressive.

Upon the return of Samuel Mace, mariner, who was sent out in 1602 to search for White's lost colony, all Raleigh's interest in the Virginia colony had, by his attainder, escheated to the crown. But he never gave up his faith in Virginia: neither the failure of nine several expeditions nor twelve years imprisonment shook it. On the eve of his fall he had written, "I shall yet live to see it an English nation:" and he lived to see his prediction come true.

The first or Virginian colony, chartered with the Plymouth colony in April, 1606, was at last organized by the appointment of Sir Thomas Smith, the 'Chief of Raleigh's assignees, a wealthy London merchant, who had been ambassador to Persia, and was then, or shortly after, governor of the East India Company, treasurer and president of the meetings of the council in London; and by the assignment of the transportation of the colony to Captain Christopher Newport, a mariner of experience in voyages to the West Indies and in plundering the Spaniards, who had the power to appoint different captains and mariners, and the sole charge of the voyage. No local councilors were named for Virginia, but to Captain Newport, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, and Captain John Ratcliffe were delivered sealed instructions, to be opened within twenty-four hours after their arrival in Virginia, wherein would be found the names of the persons designated for the Council.

This colony, which was accompanied by the prayers and hopes of London, left the Thames December 19, 1606, in three vessels the Susan Constant, one hundred tons, Captain Newport, with seventy-one persons; the God-Speed, forty tons, Captain Gosnold, with fifty-two persons; and a pinnace of twenty tons, the Discovery, Captain Ratcliffe, with twenty persons. The Mercure Francais, Paris, 1619, says some of the passengers were women and children, but there is no other mention of women. Of the persons embarked, one hundred and five were planters, the rest crews. Among the planters were Edward Maria Wingfield, Captain John Smith, Captain John Martin, Captain Gabriel Archer, Captain George Kendall, Mr. Robert Hunt, preacher, and Mr. George Percie, brother of the Earl of Northumberland, subsequently governor for a brief period, and one of the writers from whom Purchas compiled. Most of the planters were shipped as gentlemen, but there were four carpenters, twelve laborers, a blacksmith, a sailor, a barber, a bricklayer, a mason, a tailor, a drummer, and a chirurgeon.

The composition of the colony shows a serious purpose of settlement, since the trades were mostly represented, but there were too many gentlemen to make it a working colony. And, indeed, the gentlemen, like the promoters of the enterprise in London, were probably more solicitous of discovering a passage to the South Sea, as the way to increase riches, than of making a state. They were instructed to explore every navigable river they might find, and to follow the main branches, which would probably lead them in one direction to the East Indies or South Sea, and in the other to the Northwest Passage. And they were forcibly reminded that the way to prosper was to be of one mind, for their own and their country's good.

This last advice did not last the expedition out of sight of land. They sailed from Blackwell, December 19, 1606, but were kept six weeks on the coast of England by contrary winds. A crew of saints cabined in those little caravels and tossed about on that coast for six weeks would scarcely keep in good humor. Besides, the position of the captains and leaders was not yet defined. Factious quarrels broke out immediately, and the expedition would likely have broken up but for the wise conduct and pious exhortations of Mr. Robert Hunt, the preacher. This faithful man was so ill and weak that it was thought he could not recover, yet notwithstanding the stormy weather, the factions on board, and although his home was almost in sight, only twelve miles across the Downs, he refused to quit the ship. He was unmoved, says Smith, either by the weather or by "the scandalous imputations (of some few little better than atheists, of the greatest rank amongst us)." With "the water of his patience" and "his godly exhortations" he quenched the flames of envy and dissension.

They took the old route by the West Indies. George Percy notes that on the 12th of February they saw a blazing star, and presently a storm. They watered at the Canaries, traded with savages at San Domingo, and spent three weeks refreshing themselves among the islands. The quarrels revived before they reached the Canaries, and there Captain Smith was seized and put in close confinement for thirteen weeks.

We get little light from contemporary writers on this quarrel. Smith does not mention the arrest in his "True Relation," but in his "General Historie," writing of the time when they had been six weeks in Virginia, he says: "Now Captain Smith who all this time from their departure from the Canaries was restrained as a prisoner upon the scandalous suggestion of some of the chiefs (envying his repute) who fancied he intended to usurp the government, murder the Council, and make himself King, that his confedcrates were dispersed in all three ships, and that divers of his confederates that revealed it, would affirm it, for this he was committed a prisoner; thirteen weeks he remained thus suspected, and by that time they should return they pretended out of their commiserations, to refer him to the Council in England to receive a check, rather than by particulating his designs make him so odious to the world, as to touch his life, or utterly overthrow his reputation. But he so much scorned their charity and publically defied the uttermost of their cruelty, he wisely prevented their policies, though he could not suppress their envies, yet so well he demeaned himself in this business, as all the company did see his innocency, and his adversaries' malice, and those suborned to accuse him accused his accusers of subornation; many untruths were alleged against him; but being apparently disproved, begot a general hatred in the hearts of the company against such unjust Commanders, that the President was adjudged to give him L 200, so that all he had was seized upon, in part of satisfaction, which Smith presently returned to the store for the general use of the colony."

Neither in Newport's "Relatyon" nor in Mr. Wingfield's "Discourse" is the arrest mentioned, nor does Strachey speak of it.

About 1629, Smith, in writing a description of the Isle of Mevis (Nevis) in his "Travels and Adventures," says: "In this little [isle] of Mevis, more than twenty years agone, I have remained a good time together, to wod and water and refresh my men." It is characteristic of Smith's vivid imagination, in regard to his own exploits, that he should speak of an expedition in which he had no command, and was even a prisoner, in this style: "I remained," and "my men." He goes on: "Such factions here we had as commonly attend such voyages, and a pair of gallows was made, but Captaine Smith, for whom they were intended, could not be persuaded to use them; but not any one of the inventors but their lives by justice fell into his power, to determine of at his pleasure, whom with much mercy he favored, that most basely and unjustly would have betrayed him." And it is true that Smith, although a great romancer, was often magnanimous, as vain men are apt to be.

King James's elaborate lack of good sense had sent the expedition to sea with the names of the Council sealed up in a box, not to be opened till it reached its destination. Consequently there was no recognized authority. Smith was a young man of about twenty-eight, vain and no doubt somewhat "bumptious," and it is easy to believe that Wingfield and the others who felt his superior force and realized his experience, honestly suspected him of designs against the expedition. He was the ablest man on board, and no doubt was aware of it. That he was not only a born commander of men, but had the interest of the colony at heart, time was to show.

The voyagers disported themselves among the luxuries of the West Indies. At Guadaloupe they found a bath so hot that they boiled their pork in it as well as over the fire. At the Island of Monaca they took from the bushes with their hands near two hogsheads full of birds in three or four hours. These, it is useless to say, were probably not the "barnacle geese" which the nautical travelers used to find, and picture growing upon bushes and dropping from the eggs, when they were ripe, full-fledged into the water. The beasts were fearless of men. Wild birds and natives had to learn the whites before they feared them.

"In Mevis, Mona, and the Virgin Isles," says the "General Historie," "we spent some time, where with a lothsome beast like a crocodile, called a gwayn [guana], tortoises, pellicans, parrots, and fishes, we feasted daily."

Thence they made sail-in search of Virginia, but the mariners lost their reckoning for three days and made no land; the crews were discomfited, and Captain Ratcliffe, of the pinnace, wanted to up helm and return to England. But a violent storm, which obliged them "to hull all night," drove them to the port desired. On the 26th of April they saw a bit of land none of them had ever seen before. This, the first land they descried, they named Cape Henry, in honor of the Prince of Wales; as the opposite cape was called Cape Charles, for the Duke of York, afterwards Charles I. Within these capes they found one of the most pleasant places in the world, majestic navigable rivers, beautiful mountains, hills, and plains, and a fruitful and delightsome land.

Mr. George Percy was ravished at the sight of the fair meadows and goodly tall trees. As much to his taste were the large and delicate oysters, which the natives roasted, and in which were found many pearls. The ground was covered with fine and beautiful strawberries, four times bigger than those in England.

Masters Wingfield, Newport, and Gosnold., with thirty men, went ashore on Cape Henry, where they were suddenly set upon by savages, who came creeping upon all-fours over the hills, like bears, with their bows in their hands; Captain Archer was hurt in both hands, and a sailor dangerously wounded in two places on his body. It was a bad omen.

The night of their arrival they anchored at Point Comfort, now Fortress Monroe; the box was opened and the orders read, which constituted Edward Maria Wingfield, Bartholomew Gosnold, John Smith, Christopher Newport, John Ratcliffe, John Martin, and George Kendall the Council, with power to choose a President for a year. Until the 13th of May they were slowly exploring the River Powhatan, now the James, seeking a place for the settlement. They selected a peninsula on the north side of the river, forty miles from its mouth, where there was good anchorage, and which could be readily fortified. This settlement was Jamestown. The Council was then sworn in, and Mr. Wingfield selected President. Smith being under arrest was not sworn in of the Council, and an oration was made setting forth the reason for his exclusion.

When they had pitched upon a site for the fort, every man set to work, some to build the fort, others to pitch the tents, fell trees and make clapboards to reload the ships, others to make gardens and nets. The fort was in the form of a triangle with a half-moon at each corner, intended to mount four or five guns.

President Wingfield appears to have taken soldierly precautions, but Smith was not at all pleased with him from the first. He says "the President's overweening jealousy would admit of no exercise at arms, or fortifications but the boughs of trees cast together in the form of a half-moon by the extraordinary pains and diligence of Captain Kendall." He also says there was contention between Captain Wingfield and Captain Gosnold about the site of the city.

The landing was made at Jamestown on the 14th of May, according to Percy. Previous to that considerable explorations were made. On the 18th of April they launched a shallop, which they built the day before, and "discovered up the bay." They discovered a river on the south side running into the mainland, on the banks of which were good stores of mussels and oysters, goodly trees, flowers of all colors, and strawberries. Returning to their ships and finding the water shallow, they rowed over to a point of land, where they found from six to twelve fathoms of water, which put them in good comfort, therefore they named that part of the land Cape Comfort. On the 29th they set up a cross on Chesapeake Bay, on Cape Henry, and the next day coasted to the Indian town of Kecoughton, now Hampton, where they were kindly entertained. When they first came to land the savages made a doleful noise, laying their paws to the ground and scratching the earth with their nails. This ceremony, which was taken to be a kind of idolatry, ended, mats were brought from the houses, whereon the guests were seated, and given to eat bread made of maize, and tobacco to smoke. The savages also entertained them with dancing and singing and antic tricks and grimaces. They were naked except a covering of skins about the loins, and many were painted in black and red, with artificial knots of lovely colors, beautiful and pleasing to the eye. The 4th of May they were entertained by the chief of Paspika, who favored them with a long oration, making a foul noise and vehement in action, the purport of which they did not catch. The savages were full of hospitality. The next day the weroance, or chief, of Rapahanna sent a messenger to invite them to his seat. His majesty received them in as modest a proud fashion as if he had been a prince of a civil government. His body was painted in crimson and his face in blue, and he wore a chain of beads about his neck and in his ears bracelets of pearls and a bird's claw. The 8th of May they went up the river to the country Apomatica, where the natives received them in hostile array, the chief, with bow and arrows in one hand, and a pipe of tobacco in the other, offering them war or peace.

These savages were as stout and able as any heathen or Christians in the world. Mr. Percy said they bore their years well. He saw among the Pamunkeys a savage reported to be 160, years old, whose eyes were sunk in his head, his teeth gone his hair all gray, and quite a big beard, white as snow; he was a lusty savage, and could travel as fast as anybody.

The Indians soon began to be troublesome in their visits to the plantations, skulking about all night, hanging around the fort by day, bringing sometimes presents of deer, but given to theft of small articles, and showing jealousy of the occupation. They murmured, says Percy, at our planting in their country. But worse than the disposition of the savages was the petty quarreling in the colony itself.

In obedience to the orders to explore for the South Sea, on the 22d of May, Newport, Percy, Smith, Archer, and twenty others were sent in the shallop to explore the Powhatan, or James River.

Passing by divers small habitations, and through a land abounding in trees, flowers, and small fruits, a river full of fish, and of sturgeon such as the world beside has none, they came on the 24th, having passed the town of Powhatan, to the head of the river, the Falls, where they set up the cross and proclaimed King James of England.

Smith says in his "General Historie" they reached Powhatan on the 26th. But Captain Newport's "Relatyon" agrees with Percy's, and with, Smith's "True Relation." Captain Newport, says Percy, permitted no one to visit Powhatan except himself.

Captain Newport's narration of the exploration of the James is interesting, being the first account we have of this historic river. At the junction of the Appomattox and the James, at a place he calls Wynauk, the natives welcomed them with rejoicing and entertained them with dances. The Kingdom of Wynauk was full of pearl-mussels. The king of this tribe was at war with the King of Paspahegh. Sixteen miles above this point, at an inlet, perhaps Turkey Point, they were met by eight savages in a canoe, one of whom was intelligent enough to lay out the whole course of the river, from Chesapeake Bay to its source, with a pen and paper which they showed him how to use. These Indians kept them company for some time, meeting them here and there with presents of strawberries, mulberries, bread, and fish, for which they received pins, needles, and beads. They spent one night at Poore Cottage (the Port Cotage of Percy, where he saw the white boy), probably now Haxall. Five miles above they went ashore near the now famous Dutch Gap, where King Arahatic gave them a roasted deer, and caused his women to bake cakes for them. This king gave Newport his crown, which was of deer's hair dyed red. He was a subject of the great King Powhatan. While they sat making merry with the savages, feasting and taking tobacco and seeing the dances, Powhatan himself appeared and was received with great show of honor, all rising from their seats except King Arahatic, and shouting loudly. To Powhatan ample presents were made of penny-knives, shears, and toys, and he invited them to visit him at one of his seats called Powhatan, which was within a mile of the Falls, where now stands the city of Richmond. All along the shore the inhabitants stood in clusters, offering food to the strangers. The habitation of Powhatan was situated on a high hill by the water side, with a meadow at its foot where was grown wheat, beans, tobacco, peas, pompions, flax, and hemp.

Powhatan served the whites with the best he had, and best of all with a friendly welcome and with interesting discourse of the country. They made a league of friendship. The next day he gave them six men as guides to the falls above, and they left with him one man as a hostage.

On Sunday, the 24th of May, having returned to Powhatan's seat, they made a feast for him of pork, cooked with peas, and the Captain and King ate familiarly together; "he eat very freshly of our meats, dranck of our beere, aquavite, and sack." Under the influence of this sack and aquavite the King was very communicative about the interior of the country, and promised to guide them to the mines of iron and copper; but the wary chief seems to have thought better of it when he got sober, and put them off with the difficulties and dangers of the way.

On one of the islets below the Falls, Captain Newport set up a cross with the inscription "Jacobus, Rex, 1607," and his own name beneath, and James was proclaimed King with a great shout. Powhatan was displeased with their importunity to go further up the river, and departed with all the Indians, except the friendly Navirans, who had accompanied them from Arahatic. Navirans greatly admired the cross, but Newport hit upon an explanation of its meaning that should dispel the suspicions of Powhatan. He told him that the two arms of the cross signified King Powhatan and himself, the fastening of it in the middle was their united league, and the shout was the reverence he did to Powhatan. This explanation being made to Powhatan greatly contented him, and he came on board and gave them the kindest farewell when they dropped down the river. At Arahatic they found the King had provided victuals for them, but, says Newport, "the King told us that he was very sick and not able to sit up long with us." The inability of the noble red man to sit up was no doubt due to too much Christian sack and aquavite, for on "Monday he came to the water side, and we went ashore with him again. He told us that our hot drinks, he thought, caused him grief, but that he was well again, and we were very welcome."

It seems, therefore, that to Captain Newport, who was a good sailor in his day, and has left his name in Virginia in Newport News, must be given the distinction of first planting the cross in Virginia, with a lie, and watering it, with aquavite.

They dropped down the river to a place called Mulberry Shade, where the King killed a deer and prepared for them another feast, at which they had rolls and cakes made of wheat. "This the women make and are very cleanly about it. We had parched meal, excellent good, sodd [cooked] beans, which eat as sweet as filbert kernels, in a manner, strawberries; and mulberries were shaken off the tree, dropping on our heads as we sat. He made ready a land turtle, which we ate; and showed that he was heartily rejoiced in our company." Such was the amiable disposition of the natives before they discovered the purpose of the whites to dispossess them of their territory. That night they stayed at a place called "Kynd Woman's Care," where the people offered them abundant victual and craved nothing in return.

Next day they went ashore at a place Newport calls Queen Apumatuc's Bower. This Queen, who owed allegiance to Powhatan, had much land under cultivation, and dwelt in state on a pretty hill. This ancient representative of woman's rights in Virginia did honor to her sex. She came to meet the strangers in a show as majestical as that of Powhatan himself: "She had an usher before her, who brought her to the matt prepared under a faire mulberry-tree; where she sat down by herself, with a stayed countenance. She would permitt none to stand or sitt neare her. She is a fatt, lustie, manly woman. She had much copper about her neck, a coronet of copper upon her hed. She had long, black haire, which hanged loose down her back to her myddle; which only part was covered with a deare's skyn, and ells all naked. She had her women attending her, adorned much like herself (except they wanted the copper). Here we had our accustomed eates, tobacco, and welcome. Our Captaine presented her with guyfts liberally, whereupon shee cheered somewhat her countenance, and requested him to shoote off a piece; whereat (we noted) she showed not near the like feare as Arahatic, though he be a goodly man."

The company was received with the same hospitality by King Pamunkey, whose land was believed to be rich in copper and pearls. The copper was so flexible that Captain Newport bent a piece of it the thickness of his finger as if it had been lead. The natives were unwilling to part with it. The King had about his neck a string of pearls as big as peas, which would have been worth three or four hundred pounds, if the pearls had been taken from the mussels as they should have been.

Arriving on their route at Weanock, some twenty miles above the fort, they were minded to visit Paspahegh and another chief Jamestown lay in the territory of Paspahegh but suspicious signs among the natives made them apprehend trouble at the fort, and they hastened thither to find their suspicions verified. The day before, May 26th, the colony had been attacked by two hundred Indians (four hundred, Smith says), who were only beaten off when they had nearly entered the fort, by the use of the artillery. The Indians made a valiant fight for an hour; eleven white men were wounded, of whom one died afterwards, and a boy was killed on the pinnace. This loss was concealed from the Indians, who for some time seem to have believed that the whites could not be hurt. Four of the Council were hurt in this fight, and President Wingfield, who showed himself a valiant gentleman, had a shot through his beard. They killed eleven of the Indians, but their comrades lugged them away on their backs and buried them in the woods with a great noise. For several days alarms and attacks continued, and four or five men were cruelly wounded, and one gentleman, Mr. Eustace Cloville, died from the effects of five arrows in his body.

Upon this hostility, says Smith, the President was contented the fort should be palisaded, and the ordnance mounted, and the men armed and exercised. The fortification went on, but the attacks continued, and it was unsafe for any to venture beyond the fort.

Dissatisfaction arose evidently with President Wingfield's management. Captain Newport says: "There being among the gentlemen and all the company a murmur and grudge against certain proceedings and inconvenient courses [Newport] put up a petition to the Council for reformation." The Council heeded this petition, and urged to amity by Captain Newport, the company vowed faithful love to each other and obedience to the superiors. On the 10th of June, Captain Smith was sworn of the Council. In his "General Historie," not published till 1624, he says: "Many were the mischiefs that daily sprung from their ignorant (yet ambitious) spirits; but the good doctrine and exhortation of our preacher Mr. Hunt, reconciled them and caused Captain Smith to be admitted to the Council." The next day they all partook of the holy communion.

In order to understand this quarrel, which was not by any means appeased by this truce, and to determine Captain Smith's responsibility for it, it is necessary to examine all the witnesses. Smith is unrestrained in his expression of his contempt for Wingfield. But in the diary of Wingfield we find no accusation against Smith at this date. Wingfield says that Captain Newport before he departed asked him how he thought himself settled in the government, and that he replied "that no disturbance could endanger him or the colony, but it must be wrought either by Captain Gosnold or Mr. Archer, for the one was strong with friends and followers and could if he would; and the other was troubled with an ambitious spirit and would if he could."

The writer of Newport's "Relatyon" describes the Virginia savages as a very strong and lusty race, and swift warriors. "Their skin is tawny; not so borne, but with dyeing and painting themselves, in which they delight greatly." That the Indians were born white was, as we shall see hereafter, a common belief among the first settlers in Virginia and New England. Percy notes a distinction between maids and married women: "The maids shave close the fore part and sides of their heads, and leave it long behind, where it is tied up and hangs down to the hips. The married women wear their hair all of a length, but tied behind as that of maids is. And the women scratch on their bodies and limbs, with a sharp iron, pictures of fowls, fish, and beasts, and rub into the 'drawings' lively colors which dry into the flesh and are permanent." The "Relatyon" says the people are witty and ingenious and allows them many good qualities, but makes this exception: "The people steal anything comes near them; yea, are so practiced in this art, that looking in our face, they would with their foot, between their toes, convey a chisel, knife, percer, or any indifferent light thing, which having once conveyed, they hold it an injury to take the same from them. They are naturally given to treachery; howbeit we could not find it in our travel up the river, but rather a most kind and loving people."