Jamestown Settlement in the early years

It was more than six months after the departure of Captain Smith, when the three commissioners arrived from the Bermudas. Meanwhile, the settlers, left almost without restraint, had brought awful miseries upon themselves. They had indulged in every irregularity of life, and their ample store of provisions was soon exhausted. The new settlers, by injustice and cruelty, not only alienated the friendship of the Indians, but made them exasperated enemies. The red men, who had respect for Smith and feared his power, despised the new comers. They withheld food from the English, and killed those who came to their cabins in search of it. Finally, they devised a plan for exterminating the whole body of intruders. It was frustrated by Pocahontas, who proved to be the guardian angel of the settlers. When she heard of the plot, her soul was troubled. On a dark and stormy night she hastened to Jamestown, and revealing the conspiracy to Percy, put the English on their guard.

But death still brooded over the settlement. Famine came with its horrors and transformed civilized Englishmen into cannibals. They fed on Indians whom they slew, and sometimes upon their own companions who had perished of hunger. When the commissioners arrived in the spring of 1610, of the four hundred and ninety persons whom Smith had left in Virginia, only sixty remained alive. More than four hundred had perished within six months upon a soil out of whose generous bosom some moderate labor might have drawn ample sustenance for them all. Many a time during that winter and spring, which was ever afterward referred to as "the starving time," did those wretched men lament their folly and wickedness in not following the advice of Captain Smith, who was their true friend. His labors for their good had been disinterested. For his sacrifices he had received no reward but the approval of his conscience. Brave, honest and true, he won the imperishable honor of being the first planter of the Saxon race on the soil of the United States, and is entitled to the endearing name of Father of Virginia.

The commissioners and their fellow-passengers, who had been wrecked on a fertile but uninhabited island, found sufficient food in fruits there to sustain them whilst building two small vessels in which they embarked for Virginia. They hoped to find a happy and prosperous colony at Jamestown; but instead of the bright faces of contented people, they saw the horrid visages of sixty starving men in the depths of despair. They were perishing for want of food without a prospect of obtaining more. Gates, to whom the other commissioners had agreed to commit the administration of affairs in Virginia, saw no other way to save the lives of the starving men than to abandon the settlement, sail to Newfoundland, and distribute the settlers among the English fishermen there. So, embarking them in four pinnaces which were in the river, and giving them a share of his own stores, he sailed immediately for the far northeast. Some of the settlers desired Gates to set fire to the fort and dwellings at Jamestown, on their departure, but he would not consent. It was well he did not, for at the evening twilight the next day, the whole company, with others, were again at Jamestown offering thanksgiving to God for a great deliverance. At dawn that morning, the eyes of the disconsolate fugitives had been greeted by the apparition of white sails moving up the James River as Gates and his followers were approaching its mouth. They were the wings of Lord De la Ware's ships, which were filled with provisions and emigrants, accompanied by the governor, a pious, prudent, generous and humane man. Back to Jamestown they all sailed. The governor landed first. The emigrants followed, and when all were on shore, his lordship fell upon his knees and with bowed head engaged in a long silent prayer whilst the people stood reverently by. When he arose, he and the Rev. Mr. Bucke, who had come with him to supply the place of Mr. Hunt, led the people in procession to the unfinished church, where the new pastor preached a sermon, in the evening twilight, and a large portion of the congregation joined in signing anthems. After the religious services were ended, the governor presented his credentials and addressed the people. Some Indians were seen in the woods near by, listening in wonder to the songs of praise that went up from the lips of the grateful multitude on that warm June evening.

The dignity and amiable character of Lord De la Ware commanded the respect of the settlers, and the future seemed full of bright promises. He caused the church to be rebuilt, and to be dedicated with as much pomp and ceremony as circumstances would permit. It was daily garnished with white flowers; and there, every morning, a large number of the settlers were gathered to engage in common prayer, after which each man was required to work six hours during the day. The dwellings were improved and many more acres were cultivated. But the health of Lord De la Ware failed, and he returned to England in the spring of 1611, leaving the government in charge of Percy, Smith's successor. At the same time Sir Thomas Dale, a brave soldier, was out on the ocean in a ship with supplies, and on his arrival, which was hailed with delight, he assumed the reins of government and ruled by martial law both the church and state. He encouraged the Company to persevere in the dignified work which they had begun, and they sent Sir Thomas Gates with six well-furnished ships and three hundred emigrants. They arrived at the close of summer. These emigrants were a much better class than any who had yet appeared in Virginia. A greater portion of them were sober and industrious, and their influence upon the earlier settlers was salutary. Gates assumed the functions of governor, and Dale went up the river and planted settlements at the mouth of the Appomattox River (now Bermuda Hundred) and at the Falls (now Richmond). Over these the Rev. Mr. Whittaker was placed as pastor.

Another charter was now obtained for the Company, which allowed the powers of the association to be distributed in a democratic manner among all of the members, who met in mass for deliberation and legislation. The most important feature affecting the welfare of the settlement was that which allowed every man to cultivate a few acres of land for his own sole use and benefit. Before that time the land was tilled in common, and the industrious provided food for the lazy. There was no special incentive to industry in that system; but in the new arrangement there was such a stimulus to exertion that the privilege was enlarged, an ample supply of provisions for all was easily obtained, and the community system was abandoned. Although no political privileges were granted to the settlers by the new charter, they were contented.

And now a wicked act, which became a fortunate circumstance for the settlement, made a salutary change in the relations between the English and the Indians. Ever since the departure of Captain Smith, Powhatan had evinced hostility to the settlers, and the powerful Chickahominies, their nearest neighbors, sympathized with him, and allowed no food to be carried to Jamestown. Provisions there became scarce, and Captain Argall, the sort of buccaneer whom we met in Acadie, and who was then in Virginia, was sent with a vessel on a foraging expedition up the York and James Rivers. Being near the residence of Powhatan, he bribed an Indian with the gift of a copper kettle, to entice Pocahontas on board his vessel, where he detained her a prisoner, expecting to get a large quantity of corn from her father as a ransom for his daughter, and to recover some arms and implements of labor which had been stolen by the Indians. The emperor rejected the proposition of ransom with scorn, and refused to hold any intercourse with the pirate, but, declaring to the authorities at Jamestown, that if his daughter should be released, he would forget the injury and be the friend of the English. They would not trust his word, and the maiden was taken to Jamestown and detained there several months, but was always treated with respectful consideration. The affair was assuming a very serious aspect, when Love, the powerful mediator, settled the difficulty with the marriage of John Rolfe, distinguished citizen of Jamestown wed the American Indian Pocahontas.

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