Chronicles of America 


In historians' accounts of the first months at Jamestown, too much, perhaps, has been made of faction and quarrel. All this was there. Men set down in a wilderness, amid Virginian heat, men, mostly young, of the active rather than the reflective type, men uncompanioned by women and children, men beset with dangers and sufferings that were soon to tag heavily their courage and patience--such men naturally quarreled and made up, quarreled again and again made up, darkly suspected each the other, as they darkly suspected the forest and the Indian; then, need of friendship dominating, embraced each the other, felt the fascination of the forest, and trusted the Indian. However much they suspected rebellion, treacheries, and desertions, they practiced fidelities, though to varying degrees, and there was in each man's breast more or less of courage and good intent. They were prone to call one another villain, but actual villainy--save as jealousy, suspicion, and hatred are villainy--seems rarely to have been present. Even one who was judged a villain and shot for his villainy seems hardly to have deserved such fate. Jamestown peninsula turned out to be feverous; fantastic hopes were matched by strange fears; there were homesickness, incompatibilities, unfamiliar food and water and air, class differences in small space, some petty tyrannies, and very certain dangers. The worst summer heat was not yet, and the fort was building. Trees must be felled, cabins raised, a field cleared for planting, fishing and hunting carried on. And some lading, some first fruits, must go back in the ships. No gold or rubies being as yet found, they would send instead cedar and sassafras--hard work enough, there at Jamestown, in the Virginian low-country, with May warm as northern midsummer, and all the air charged with vapor from the heated river, with exhalations from the rank forest, from the many marshes.

The first night of our landing, about midnight, there came some Savages sayling close to our quarter; presently there was an alarm given; upon that the savages ran away . . . . Not long after there came two Savages that seemed to be Commanders, bravely dressed, with Crownes of coloured haire upon their heads, which came as Messengers from the Werowance of Paspihe, telling us that their Werowance was comming and would be merry with us with a fat Deere. The eighteenth day the Werowance of Paspihe came himselfe to our quarter, with one hundred Savages armed which guarded him in very warlike manner with Bowes and Arrowes.

Some misunderstanding arose.

The Werowance, [seeing] us take to our armes, went suddenly away with all his company in great anger.

The nineteenth day Percy with several others going into the woods back of the peninsula met with a narrow path traced through the forest. Pursuing it, they came to an Indian village.

We Stayed there a while and had of them strawberries and other thinges . .. . One of the Savages brought us on the way to the Woodside where there was a Garden of Tobacco and other fruits and herbes; he gathered Tobacco and distributed to every one of us, so wee departed.

Percy's Discourse

It is evident that neither race yet knew if it was to be war or peace. What the white man thought and came to think of the Native American has been set down often enough; there is scantier testimony as to what was the Native American's opinion of the white man. Here imagination must be called upon.

Newport's instructions from the London Council included exploration before he should leave the colonists and bring the three ships back to England. Now, with the pinnace and a score of men, among whom was John Smith, he went sixty miles up the river to where the flow is broken by a world of boulders and islets, to the hills crowned today by Richmond, capital of Virginia. The first adventurers called these rapid and whirling waters the Falls of the Farre West. To their notion they must lie at least half-way across the breadth of America. Misled by Indian stories, they believed and wrote that five or six days' march from the Falls of the Farre West, even through the thick forest, would bring them to the South Sea. The Falls of the Farre West, where at Richmond the James goes with a roaring sound around tree-crowned islet--it is strange to think that they once marked our frontier! How that frontier has been pushed westward is a romance indeed. And still, today, it is but a five or six days' journey to that South Sea sought by those early Virginians. The only condition for us is that we shall board a train. Tomorrow, with the airship, the South Sea may come nearer yet!

The Indians of this part of the earth were of the great Algonquin family, and the tribes with which the colonists had now to do were drawn, probably by a polity based on blood ties, into a loose confederation within the larger mass. Newport was "told that the name of the river was Powhatan, the name of the chief Powhatan, and the name of the people Powhatans." But it seemed that the chief Powhatan was not at this village but at another and a larger place named Werowocomoco, on a second great river in the back country to the north and east of Jamestown. Newport and his men were "well entreated" by the Indians. "But yet," says Percy, "the Savages murmured at our planting in the Countrie."

The party did not tarry up the river. Back came their boat through the bright weather, between the verdurous banks, all green and flower-tinted save where might be seen the brown of Indian clearings with bark-covered huts and thin, up-curling blue smoke. Before them once more rose Jamestown, palisaded now, and riding before it the three ships. And here there barked an English dog, and here were Englishmen to welcome Englishmen. Both parties had news to tell, but the town had most. On the 26th of May, Indians had made an attack four hundred of them with the Werowance of Paspihe. One Englishman had been killed, a number wounded. Four of the Council had each man his wound.


A palisade is a steel or wooden fence or wall of variable height, used as a defensive structure.

Typical construction was to use some small and medium trunks of trees aligned vertically, with no spacing in between. The trunks would be driven into the ground, and may or may not be reinforced with additional construction. Height of the palisade ranged from a few feet like a fence, to ten feet or more. As a defensive structure, palisades were often used in conjunction with earthworks.

Palisades were an excellent option for small forts or other quickly-built fortifications. Since they were wood, they could be quickly and easily built with material (wood) that was readily available. They proved to be effective protection for short-term conflicts, and deterrents to small forces. However, due to their nature, they were very susceptible to fire and siege weapons. Stone walls were generally preferred to wooden palisades.

Often, a palisade would be constructed around castles as a temporary wall until a permanent stone wall could be created.

Source: Wikipedia

Newport must now lift anchor and sail away to England. He left at Jamestown a fort "having three Bulwarkes at every corner like a halfe Moone, and foure or five pieces of Artillerie mounted in them," a street or two of reed-thatched cabins, a church to match, a storehouse, a market-place and drill ground, and about all a stout palisade with a gate upon the river side. He left corn sown and springing high, and some food in the storehouse. And he left a hundred Englishmen who had now tasted of the country fare and might reasonably fear no worse chance than had yet befallen. Newport promised to return in twenty weeks with full supplies.

John Smith says that his enemies, chief amongst whom was Wingfield, would have sent him with Newport to England, there to stand trial for attempted mutiny, whereupon he demanded a trial in Virginia, and got it and was fully cleared. He now takes his place in the Council, beforetime denied him. He has good words only for Robert Hunt, the chaplain, who, he says, went from one to the other with the best of counsel. Were they not all here in the wilderness together, with the savages hovering about them like the Philistines about the Jews of old? How should the English live, unless among themselves they lived in amity? So for the moment factions were reconciled, and all went to church to partake of the Holy Communion.

Newport sailed, having in the holds of his ships sassafras and valuable woods but no gold to meet the London Council's hopes, nor any certain news of the South Sea. In due time he reached England, and in due time he turned and came again to Virginia. But long was the sailing to and fro between the daughter country and the mother country and the lading and unlading at either shore. It was seven months before Newport came again.

While he sails, and while England-in-America watches for him longingly, look for a moment at the attitude of Spain, falling old in the procession of world-powers, but yet with grip and cunning left. Spain misliked that English New World venture. She wished to keep these seas for her own; only, with waning energies, she could not always enforce what she conceived to be her right. By now there was seen to be much clay indeed in the image. Philip the Second was dead; and Philip the Third, an indolent king, lived in the Escurial.

Pedro de Zuniga is the Spanish Ambassador to the English Court. He has orders from Philip to keep him informed, and this he does, and from time to time suggests remedies. He writes of Newport and the First Supply. "Sire. .. . Captain Newport makes haste to return with some people--and there have combined merchants and other persons who desire to establish themselves there; because it appears to them the most suitable place that they have discovered for privateering and making attacks upon the merchant fleets of Your Majesty. Your Majesty will command to see whether they will be allowed to remain there . . . . They are in a great state of excitement about that place, and very much afraid lest Your Majesty should drive them out of it .. . . And there are so many . . . who speak already of sending people to that country, that it is advisable not to be too slow; because they will soon be found there with large numbers of people." (Brown's Genesis of the United States, vol. 1, pp. 116-118.) In Spain the Council of State takes action upon Zuniga's communications and closes a report to the King with these words: "The actual taking possession will be to drive out of Virginia all who are there now, before they are reenforced, and .. . . it will be well to issue orders that the small fleet stationed to the windward, which for so many years has been in state of preparation, should be instantly made ready and forthwith proceed to drive out all who are now in Virginia, since their small numbers will make this an easy task, and this will suffice to prevent them from again coming to that place." Upon this is made a Royal note: "Let such measures be taken in this business as may now and hereafter appear proper."

It would seem that there was cause indeed for watching down the river by that small, small town that was all of the United States! But there follows a Spanish memorandum. "The driving out . . . by the fleet stationed to the windward will be postponed for a long time because delay will be caused by getting it ready." (Op. cit., vol. 1, p. 127.) Delay followed delay, and old Spain--conquistador Spain --grew older, and the speech on Jamestown Island is still English.

Christopher Newport was gone; no ships--the last refuges, the last possibilities for hometurning, should the earth grow too hard and the sky too black--rode upon the river before the fort. Here was the summer heat. A heavy breath rose from immemorial marshes, from the ancient floor of the forest. When clouds gathered and storms burst, they amazed the heart with their fearful thunderings and lightnings. The colonists had no well, but drank from the river, and at neither high nor low tide found the water wholesome. While the ships were here they had help of ship stores, but now they must subsist upon the grain that they had in the storehouse, now scant and poor enough. They might fish and hunt, but against such resources stood fever and inexperience and weakness, and in the woods the lurking savages. The heat grew greater, the water worse, the food less. Sickness began. Work became toil. Men pined from homesickness, then, coming together, quarreled with a weak violence, then dropped away again into corners and sat listlessly with hanging heads.

The sixth of August there died John Asbie of the bloodie Flixe. The ninth day died George Flowre of the swelling. The tenth day died William Bruster gentleman, of a wound given by the Savages .... The fourteenth day Jerome Alikock, Ancient, died of a wound, the same day Francis Mid-winter, Edward Moris, Corporall, died suddenly. The fifteenth day their died Edward Browne and Stephen Galthrope. The sixteenth day their died Thomas Gower gentleman. The seventeenth day their died Thomas Mounslie. The eighteenth day theer died Robert Pennington and John Martine gentlemen. The nineteenth day died Drue Piggase gentleman.

The two and twentieth day of August there died Captain Bartholomew Gosnold one of our Councell, he was honourably buried having all the Ordnance in the Fort shot off, with many vollies of small shot ....

The foure and twentieth day died Edward Harrington and George Walker and were buried the same day. The six and twentieth day died Kenelme Throgmortine. The seven and twentieth day died William Roods. The eight and twentieth day died Thomas Stoodie, Cape Merchant. The fourth day of September died Thomas Jacob,Sergeant. The fifth day there died Benjamin Beast . . . .

Percy's Discourse.

Extreme misery makes men blind, unjust, and weak of judgment. Here was gross wretchedness, and the colonists proceeded to blame A and B and C, lost all together in the wilderness. It was this councilor or that councilor, this ambitious one or that one, this or that almost certainly ascertained traitor! Wanting to steal the pinnace, the one craft left by Newport, wanting to steal away in the pinnace and leave the mass--small enough mass now!--without boat or raft or straw to cling to, made the favorite accusation. Upon this count, early in September, Wingfield was deposed from the presidency. Ratcliffe succeeded him, but presently Ratcliffe fared no better. One councilor fared worse, for George Kendall, accused of plotting mutiny and pinnace stealing, was given trial, found guilty, and shot.

The eighteenth day [of September] died one Ellis Kinistone . . .. The same day at night died one Richard Simmons. The nineteenth day there died one Thomas Mouton . . .

Percy's Discourse.

What went on, in Virginia, in the Indian mind, can only be conjectured. As little as the white mind could it foresee the trend of events or the ultimate outcome of present policy. There was exhibited a see-saw policy, or perhaps no policy at all, only the emotional fit as it came hot or cold. The friendly act trod upon the hostile, the hostile upon the friendly. Through the miserable summer the hostile was uppermost; then with the autumn appeared the friendly mood, fortunate enough for "the most feeble wretches" at Jamestown. Indians came laden with maize and venison. The heat was a thing of the past; cool and bracing weather appeared; and with it great flocks of wild fowl, "swans, geese, ducks and cranes." Famine vanished, sickness decreased. The dead were dead. Of the hundred and four persons left by Newport less than fifty had survived. But these may be thought of as indeed seasoned.

Back to: Virginia and the Southern Colonies