Chronicles of America 

The Adventurers and the Land

What was this Virginia to which they were bound? In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the name stood for a huge stretch of littoral, running southward from lands of long winters and fur-bearing animals to lands of the canebrake, the fig, the magnolia, the chameleon, and the mockingbird. The world had been circumnavigated; Drake had passed up the western coast--and yet cartographers, the learned, and those who took the word from the learned, strangely visualized the North American mainland as narrow indeed. Apparently, they conceived it as a kind of extended Central America. The huge rivers puzzled them. There existed a notion that these might be estuaries, curling and curving through the land from sea to sea. India--Cathay--spices and wonders and Orient wealth--lay beyond the South Sea, and the South Sea was but a few days' march from Hatteras or Chesapeake. The Virginia familiar to the mind of the time lay extended, and she was very slender. Her right hand touched the eastern ocean, and her left hand touched the western.

Contact and experience soon modified this general notion. Wider knowledge, political and economic considerations, practical reasons of all kinds, drew a different physical form for old Virginia. Before the seventeenth century had passed away, they had given to her northern end a baptism of other names. To the south she was lopped to make the Carolinas. Only to the west, for a long time, she seemed to grow, while like a mirage the South Sea and Cathay receded into the distance.

This narrative, moving with the three ships from England, and through a time span of less than a hundred and fifty years, deals with a region of the western hemisphere a thousand miles in length, several hundred in breadth, stretching from the Florida line to the northern edge of Chesapeake Bay, and from the Atlantic to the Appalachians. Out of this Virginia there grow in succession the ancient colonies and the modern States of Virginia, Maryland, South and North Carolina, and Georgia.

But for many a year Virginia itself was the only settlement and the only name. This Virginia was a country favored by nature. Neither too hot nor too cold, it was rich-soiled and capable of every temperate growth in its sunniest aspect. Great rivers drained it, flowing into a great bay, almost a sea, many-armed as Briareus, affording safe and sheltered harbors. Slowly, with beauty, the land mounted to the west. The sun set behind wooded mountains, long wave-lines raised far back in geologic time. The valleys were many and beautiful, watered by sliding streams. Back to the east again, below the rolling land, were found the shimmering levels, the jewel-green marshes, the wide, slow waters, and at last upon the Atlantic shore the thunder of the rainbow-tinted surf. Various and pleasing was the country. Springs and autumns were long and balmy, the sun shone bright, there was much blue sky, a rich flora and fauna. There were mineral wealth and water power, and breadth and depth for agriculture. Such was the Virginia between the Potomac and the Dan, the Chesapeake and the Alleghanies.

This, and not the gold-bedight slim neighbor of Cathay, was now the lure of the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery. But those aboard, obsessed by Spanish America, imperfectly knowing the features and distances of the orb, yet clung to their first vision. But they knew there would be forest and Indians. Tales enough had been told of both!

What has to be imaged is a forest the size of Virginia. Here and there, chiefly upon river banks, show small Indian clearings. Here and there are natural meadows, and toward the salt water great marshes, the home of waterfowl. But all these are little or naught in the whole, faint adornments sewed upon a shaggy garment, green in summer, flame-hued in autumn, brown in winter, green and flower-colored in the spring. Nor was the forest to any appreciable extent like much Virginian forest of today, second growth, invaded, hewed down, and renewed, to hear again the sound of the axe, set afire by a thousand accidents, burning upon its own funeral pyres, all its primeval glory withered. The forest of old Virginia was jocund and powerful, eternally young and eternally old. The forest was Despot in the land--was Emperor and Pope.

With the forest went the Indian. They had a pact together. The Indians hacked out space for their villages of twenty or thirty huts, their maize and bean fields and tobacco patches. They took saplings for poles and bark to cover the huts and wood for fires. The forest gave canoe and bow and arrow, household bowls and platters, the sides of the drum that was beaten at feasts. It furnished trees serviceable for shelter when the foe was stalked. It was their wall and roof, their habitat. It was one of the Four Friends of the Indians--the Ground, the Waters, the Sky, the Forest. The forest was everywhere, and the Indians dwelled in the forest. Not unnaturally, they held that this world was theirs.

Upon the three ships, sailing, sailing, moved a few men who could speak with authority of the forest and of Indians. Christopher Newport was upon his first voyage to Virginia, but he knew the Indies and the South American coast. He had sailed and had fought under Francis Drake. And Bartholomew Gosnold had explored both for himself and for Raleigh. These two could tell others what to look for. In their company there was also John Smith. This gentleman, it is true, had not wandered, fought, and companioned with romance in America, but he had done so everywhere else. He had as yet no experience with Indians, but he could conceive that rough experiences were rough experiences, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America. And as he knew there was a family likeness among dangerous happenings, so also he found one among remedies, and he had a bag full of stories of strange happenings and how they should be met.

They were going the old, long West Indies sea road. There was time enough for talking, wondering, considering the past, fantastically building up the future. Meeting in the ships' cabins over ale tankards, pacing up and down the small high-raised poop-decks, leaning idle over the side, watching the swirling dark-blue waters or the stars of night, lying idle upon the deck, propped by the mast while the trade-winds blew and up beyond sail and rigging curved the sky--they had time enough indeed to plan for marvels! If they could have seen ahead, what pictures of things to come they might have beheld rising, falling, melting one into another!

Certain of the men upon the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery stand out clearly, etched against the sky.

Christopher Newport might be forty years old. He had been of Raleigh's captains and was chosen, a very young man, to bring to England from the Indies the captured great carrack, Madre de Dios, laden with fabulous treasure. In all, Newport was destined to make five voyages to Virginia, carrying supply and aid. After that, he would pass into the service of the East India Company, know India, Java, and the Persian Gulf; would be praised by that great company for sagacity, energy, and good care of his men. Ten years' time from this first Virginia voyage, and he would die upon his ship, the Hope, before Bantam in Java.

Bartholomew Gosnold, the captain of the Goodspeed, had sailed with thirty others, five years before, from Dartmouth in a bark named the Concord. He had not made the usual long sweep southward into tropic waters, there to turn and come northward, but had gone, arrowstraight, across the north Atlantic--one of the first English sailors to make the direct passage and save many a weary sea league. Gosnold and his men had seen Cape Ann and Cape Cod, and had built upon Cuttyhunk, among the Elizabeth Islands, a little fort thatched with rushes. Then, hardships thronging and quarrels developing, they had filled their ship with sassafras and cedar, and sailed for home over the summer Atlantic, reaching England, with "not one cake of bread" left but only "a little vinegar." Gosnold, guiding the Goodspeed, is now making his last voyage, for he is to die in Virginia within the year.

George Percy, brother of the Earl of Northumberland, has fought bravely in the Low Countries. He is to stay five years in Virginia, to serve there a short time as Governor, and then, returning to England, is to write "A Trewe Relacyion", in which he begs to differ from John Smith's "Generall Historie." Finally, he goes again to the wars in the Low Countries, serves with distinction, and dies, unmarried, at the age of fifty-two. His portrait shows a long, rather melancholy face, set between a lace collar and thick, dark hair.

A Queen and a Cardinal--Mary Tudor and Reginald Pole--had stood sponsors for the father of Edward-Maria Wingfield. This man, of an ancient and honorable stock, was older than most of his fellow adventurers to Virginia. He had fought in Ireland, fought in the Low Countries, had been a prisoner of war. Now he was presently to become "the first president of the first council in the first English colony in America." And then, miseries increasing and wretched men being quick to impute evil, it was to be held with other assertions against him that he was of a Catholic family, that he traveled without a Bible, and probably meant to betray Virginia to the Spaniard. He was to be deposed from his presidency, return to England, and there write a vindication. "I never turned my face from daunger, or hidd my handes from labour; so watchful a sentinel stood myself to myself." With John Smith he had a bitter quarrel.

Upon the Discovery is one who signed himself "John Radclyffe, comenly called," and who is named in the London Company's list as "Captain John Sicklemore, alias Ratcliffe." He will have a short and stormy Virginian life, and in two years be done to death by Indians. John Smith quarreled with him also. "A poor counterfeited Imposture!" said Smith. Gabriel Archer is a lawyer, and first secretary or recorder of the colony. Short, too, is his life. His name lives in Archer's Hope on the James River in Virginia. John Smith will have none of him! George Kendall's life is more nearly spun than Ratcliffe's or Archer's. He will be shot for treason and rebellion. Robert Hunt is the chaplain. Besides those whom the time dubbed "gentlemen," there are upon the three ships English sailors, English laborers, six carpenters, two bricklayers, a blacksmith, a tailor, a barber, a drummer, other craftsmen, and nondescripts. Up and down and to and fro they pass in their narrow quarters, microscopic upon the bosom of the ocean.

John Smith looms large among them. John Smith has a mantle of marvelous adventure. It seems that he began to make it when he was a boy, and for many years worked upon it steadily until it was stiff as cloth of gold and voluminous as a puffed-out summer cloud. Some think that much of it was such stuff as dreams are made of. Probably some breadths were the fabric of vision. Still it seems certain that he did have some kind of an extraordinary coat or mantle. The adventures which he relates of himself are those of a paladin. Born in 1579 or 1580, he was at this time still a young man. But already he had fought in France and in the Netherlands, and in Transylvania against the Turks. He had known sea-fights and shipwrecks and had journeyed, with adventures galore, in Italy. Before Regal, in Transylvania, he had challenged three Turks in succession, unhorsed them, and cut off their heads, for which doughty deed Sigismund, a Prince of Transylvania, had given him a coat of arms showing three Turks' heads in a shield. Later he had been taken in battle and sold into slavery, whereupon a Turkish lady, his master's sister, had looked upon him with favor. But at last he slew the Turk and escaped, and after wandering many days in misery came into Russia. "Here, too, I found, as I have always done when in misfortune, kindly help from a woman." He wandered on into Germany and thence into France and Spain. Hearing of wars in Barbary, he crossed from Gibraltar. Here he met the captain of a French man-of-war. One day while he was with this man there arose a great storm which drove the ship out to sea. They went before the wind to the Canaries, and there put themselves to rights and began to chase Spanish barks. Presently they had a great fight with two Spanish men-of-war, in which the French ship and Smith came off victors. Returning to Morocco, Smith bade the French captain good-bye and took ship for England, and so reached home in 1604. Here he sought the company of like-minded men, and so came upon those who had been to the New World--"and all their talk was of its wonders." So Smith joined the Virginia undertaking, and so we find him headed toward new adventures in the western world.

On sailed the three ships--little ships--sailing-ships with a long way to go.

The twelfth day of February at night we saw a blazing starre and presently a storme . . . . The three and twentieth day [of March] we fell with the Iland of Mattanenio in the West Indies. The foure and twentieth day we anchored at Dominico, within fourteene degrees of the Line, a very faire Iland, full of sweet and good smells, inhabited by many Savage Indians .... The six and twentieth day we had sight of Marigalanta, and the next day wee sailed with a slacke sail alongst the Ile of Guadalupa . . . . We sailed by many Ilands, as Mounserot and an Iland called Saint Christopher, both uninhabited; about two a clocke in the afternoone wee anchored at the Ile of Mevis. There the Captaine landed all his men . . . . We incamped ourselves on this Ile six days . . . . The tenth day [April] we set saile and disimboged out of the West Indies and bare our course Northerly .... The six and twentieth day of Aprill, about foure a clocke in the morning, wee descried the Land of Virginia.

Percy's Discourse in Purchas, His Pilgrims, vol. IV, p. 1684.
Also given in Brown's Genesis of the United States, vol. I, p. 152.

During the long months of this voyage, cramped in the three ships, these men, most of them young and of the hot-blooded, physically adventurous sort, had time to develop strong likings and dislikings. The hundred and twenty split into opposed camps. The several groups nursed all manner of jealousies. Accusations flew between like shuttlecocks. The sealed box that they carried proved a manner of Eve's apple. All knew that seven on board were councilors and rulers, with one of the number President, but they knew not which were the seven. Smith says that this uncertainty wrought much mischief, each man of note suggesting to himself, "I shall be President--or, at least, Councilor!" The ships became cursed with a pest of factions. A prime quarrel arose between John Smith and Edward-Maria Wingfield, two whose temperaments seem to have been poles apart. There arose a "scandalous report, that Smith meant to reach Virginia only to usurp the Government, murder the Council, and proclaim himself King." The bickering deepened into forthright quarrel, with at last the expected explosion. Smith was arrested, was put in irons, and first saw Virginia as a prisoner.

On the twenty-sixth day of April, 1607, the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery entered Chesapeake Bay. They came in between two capes, and one they named Cape Henry after the then Prince of Wales, and the other Cape Charles for that brother of short-lived Henry who was to become Charles the First. By Cape Henry they anchored, and numbers from the ships went ashore. "But," says George Percy's Discourse, "we could find nothing worth the speaking of, but faire meadows and goodly tall Trees, with such Fresh-waters running through the woods as I was almost ravished at the first sight thereof. At night, when wee were going aboard, there came the Savages creeping upon all foure from the Hills like Beares, with their Bowes in their mouths, charged us very desperately in the faces, hurt Captaine Gabriel Archer in both his hands, and a sayler in two places of the body very dangerous. After they had spent their Arrowes and felt the sharpnesse of our shot, they retired into the Woods with a great noise, and so left us."

That very night, by the ships' lanterns, Newport, Gosnold, and Ratcliffe opened the sealed box. The names of the councilors were found to be Christopher Newport, Bartholomew Gosnold, John Ratcliffe, Edward-Maria Wingfield, John Martin, John Smith, and George Kendall, with Gabriel Archer for recorder. From its own number, at the first convenient time, this Council was to choose its President. All this was now declared and published to all the company upon the ships. John Smith was given his freedom but was not yet allowed place in the Council. So closed an exciting day. In the morning they pressed in parties yet further into the land, but met no Indians--only came to a place where these savages had been roasting oysters. The next day saw further exploring. "We marched some three or foure miles further into the Woods where we saw great smoakes of fire. Wee marched to those smoakes and found that the Savages had beene there burning downe the grasse . . . .We passed through excellent ground full of Flowers of divers kinds and colours, anal as goodly trees as I have seene, as cedar, cipresse and other kindes; going a little further we came into a little plat of ground full of fine and beautifull strawberries, foure times bigger and better than ours in England. All this march we could neither see Savage nor Towne." (Percy's Discourse.)

The ships now stood into those waters which we call Hampton Roads. Finding a good channel and taking heart therefrom, they named a horn of land Point Comfort. Now we call it Old Point Comfort. Presently they began to go up a great river which they christened the James. To English eyes it was a river hugely wide. They went slowly, with pauses and waitings and adventures. They consulted their paper of instructions; they scanned the shore for good places for their fort, for their town. It was May, and all the rich banks were in bloom. It seemed a sweet-scented world of promise. They saw Indians, but had with these no untoward encounters. Upon the twelfth of May they came to a point of land which they named Archer's Hope. Landing here, they saw "many squirels, conies, Black Birds with crimson wings, and divers other Fowles and Birds of divers and sundrie colours of crimson, watchet, Yellow, Greene, Murry, and of divers other hewes naturally without any art using . . . store of Turkie nests and many Egges." They liked this place, but for shoal water the ships could not come near to land. So on they went, eight miles up the river.

Here, upon the north side, thirty-odd miles from the mouth, they came to a certain peninsula, an island at high water. Two or three miles long, less than a mile and a half in breadth, at its widest place composed of marsh and woodland, it ran into the river, into six fathom water, where the ships might be moored to the trees. It was this convenient deep water that determined matters. Here came to anchor the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery. Here the colonists went ashore. Here the members of the Council were sworn, and for the first President was chosen Edward-Maria Wingfield. Here, the first roaming and excitement abated, they began to unlade the ships, and to build the fort and also booths for their present sleeping. A church, too, they must have at once, and forthwith made it with a stretched sail for roof and a board between two trees whereon to rest Bible and Book of Prayer. Here, for the first time in all this wilderness, rang English axe in American forest, here was English law and an English town, here sounded English speech. Here was placed the germ of that physical, mental, and, spiritual power which is called the United States of America.

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