Chronicles of America 

The Virginia Company

The London Company, soon to become the Virginia Company, therefore engages our attention. The charter recites that Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers, Knights, Richard Hakluyt, clerk, Prebendary of Westminster, Edward-Maria Wingfield, and other knights, gentlemen, merchants, and adventurers, wish "to make habitation, plantation, and to deduce a colony of sundry of our people into that part of America commonly called Virginia." It covenants with them and gives them for a heritage all America between the thirty-fourth and the fortyfirst parallels of latitude.

The thirty-fourth parallel passes through the middle of what is now South Carolina; the forty-first grazes New York, crosses the northern tip of New Jersey, divides Pennsylvania, and so westward across to that Pacific or South Sea that the age thought so near to the Atlantic. All England might have been placed many times over in what was given to those knights, gentlemen, merchants, and others.

The King's charter created a great Council of Virginia, sitting in London, governing from overhead. In the new land itself there should exist a second and lesser council. The two councils had authority within the range of Virginian matters, but the Crown retained the power of veto. The Council in Virginia might coin money for trade with the Indians, expel invaders, import settlers, punish illdoers, levy and collect taxes--should have, in short, dignity and power enough for any colony. Likewise, acting for the whole, it might give and take orders "to dig, mine and search for all manner of mines of gold, silver and copper . . . to have and enjoy . . . yielding to us, our heirs and successors, the fifth part only of all the same gold and silver, and the fifteenth part of all the same copper."

Now are we ready--it being Christmas-tide of the year 1606--to go to Virginia. Riding on the Thames, before Blackwall, are three ships, small enough in all conscience' sake, the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery. The Admiral of this fleet is Christopher Newport, an old seaman of Raleigh's. Bartholomew Gosnold captains the Goodspeed, and John Ratcliffe the Discovery. The three ships have aboard their crews and one hundred and twenty colonists, all men. The Council in Virginia is on board, but it does not yet know itself as such, for the names of its members have been deposited by the superior home council in a sealed box, to be opened only on Virginia soil.

The colonists have their paper of instructions. They shall find out a safe port in the entrance of a navigable river. They shall be prepared against surprise and attack. They shall observe "whether the river on which you plant doth spring out of mountains or out of lakes. If it be out of any lake the passage to the other sea will be the more easy, and like enough .. . you shall find some spring which runs the contrary way toward the East India sea." They must avoid giving offense to the "naturals" -- must choose a healthful place for their houses -- must guard their shipping. They are to set down in black and white for the information of the Council at home all such matters as directions and distances, the nature of soils and forests and the various commodities that they may find. And no man is to return from Virginia without leave from the Council, and none is to write home any discouraging letter. The instructions end, "Lastly and chiefly, the way to prosper and to achieve good success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your country and your own, and to serve and fear God, the Giver of all Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out."

Nor did they lack verses to go by, as their enterprise itself did not lack poetry. Michael Drayton wrote for them:--

Britons, you stay too long,
Quickly aboard bestow you,
And with a merry gale,
Swell your stretched sail,
With vows as strong
As the winds that blow you.

Your course securely steer,
West and by South forth keep;
Rocks, lee shores nor shoals,
Where Eolus scowls,
You need not fear,

So absolute the deep.
And cheerfully at sea
Success you still entice,
To get the pearl and gold,
And ours to hold VIRGINIA,
Earth's only paradise! . . .

And in regions far
Such heroes bring ye forth
As those from whom we came;
And plant our name
Under that star
Not known unto our north.

See the parting upon Thames's side, Englishmen going, English kindred, friends, and neighbors calling farewell, waving hat and scarf, standing bare-headed in the gray winter weather! To Virginia--they are going to Virginia! The sails are made upon the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery. The last wherry carries aboard the last adventurer. The anchors are weighed. Down the river the wind bears the ships toward the sea. Weather turning against them, they taste long delay in the Downs, but at last are forth upon the Atlantic. Hourly the distance grows between London town and the outgoing folk, between English shores. and where the surf breaks on the pale Virginian beaches. Far away--far away and long ago--yet the unseen, actual cables hold, and yesterday and today stand embraced, the lips of the Thames meet the lips of the James, and the breath of England mingles with the breath of America.

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