How the Colony was Saved
After Smith left, the colony of Jamestown fell into wild disorder. Every one wanted to go his own way. A new President named Percy had indeed been chosen. But although an honest gentleman he was sickly and weak, and quite unfit to rule these turbulent spirits. So twenty or more would-be presidents soon sprang up, and in the whole colony there was neither obedience nor discipline.
No work was done, food was recklessly wasted, and very quickly famine stared the wretched colonists in the face. The terrible time afterwards known as the Starving Time had begun. When their stores were gone the settlers tried to get more in the old way from the natives. But they, seeing the miserable plight of the Pale-faces, became insolent in their demands, and in return for niggardly supplies of food exacted guns and ammunition, swords and tools.
And now there was no man among the colonists who knew how to manage the Indians as Smith had managed them. There was no man among them who thought of the future. All they wanted was to stay for a time the awful pangs of hunger. So they bartered away their muskets and powder, their tools, and everything of value of which they were possessed. But even so the food the Indians gave them in return was not enough to keep body and soul together.
The colony became a place of horror, where pale skeleton-like creatures roamed about eyeing each other suspiciously, ready to kill each other for a crust or a bone. They quarreled among themselves, and they quarreled with the natives. And the natives, now no longer filled with awe, lay in wait for them and killed them almost without resistance if they ventured to crawl beyond the walls of the fort. Many more died of hunger and of disease brought on by hunger.
So less than eight months after Smith had sailed away, of the five hundred men he had left behind him but sixty remained alive. The colony was being wiped out, and the little town itself was disappearing; for the starving wretches had no strength or energy to fell trees and hew wood, and as soon as a man died his house was pulled down by his comrades and used as firewood. Already, too, weeds and briers overgrew the land which had been cleared for corn. Greater misery and desolation it is hard to imagine. Yet the unhappy beings sank into a still deeper horror. Unable to relieve the pangs of hunger, they turned cannibal and fed upon each other. Thus the last depths of degradation were sounded, the last horrors of the Starving Time were reached.
Then at length one May day two ships came sailing up the James River and anchored in the harbour. From their decks bronzed men in patched and ragged garments looked with astonished eyes upon the desolate scene.
These were the men of the wrecked Sea Venture, who had been cast ashore upon the Bermudas. Their ship had gone down, but they had been able to save both themselves and nearly everything out of her. Some of the best men of the expedition had sailed in the Sea Venture. Their leaders were brave and energetic; so instead of bemoaning their fate they had set to work with right good will, and after ten months’ labour had succeeded in building two little ships which they named the Patience and the Deliverance. Then, having filled them with such stores as they could muster, they set sail joyfully to join their comrades at Jamestown. But now what horror and astonishment was theirs! They had hoped to find a flourishing town, surrounded by well tilled fields. Instead they saw ruins and desolation. They had hoped to be greeted joyfully by stalwart, prosperous Englishmen. Instead a few gaunt, hollow-cheeked spectres, who scarce seemed men, crawled to meet them.
Lost in amazement the newcomers landed, and as they listened to the tragic tale pity filled their hearts. They gave the starving wretches food, and comforted them as best they could. They had no great stores themselves, and they saw at once that with such scant supplies as they had it would be impossible to settle at Jamestown.
Even if they could get through the summer, the autumn would bring no relief, for the fields, where the corn for the winter’s use should already have been sprouting, lay neglected and overgrown with weeds and briers. The houses where the newcomers might have lodged had disappeared. The very palisading which surrounded the settlement as a bulwark against the Indians had been pulled down for firewood. All the tools and implements which might have been used to rebuild the place had been bartered away to the Indians. The Indians themselves were no longer friendly, but hostile. Whichever way they looked only misery and failure stared them in the face.
The Captains of the Patience and Deliverance talked long together, but even they could see no ray of hope. So with heavy hearts they resolved once more to abandon Virginia. They were loath indeed to come to this decision, loath indeed to own themselves defeated. But there seemed no other course left open to them.
So one day early in June the pitiful remnant of the Jamestown Colony went on board the two waiting ships. Sir Thomas Gates, the brave and wise captain of the expedition, was the last to leave the ruined town. With backward looks he left it, and ere he weighed anchor he fired a last salute to the lost colony. Then the sails were set, and the two little ships drifted down stream towards the open sea, carrying the beaten settlers back to old England.
Another attempt to plant a New England beyond the seas had failed.
But next day as the little ships dropped down stream the sailors on the lookout saw a boat being rowed towards them. Was it an Indian canoe? Did it come in peace or war? It drew nearer. Then it was seen that it was no Indian canoe, but an English tug boat manned by English sailors. With a shout they hailed each other, and news was exchanged. Wonderful news it was to which the brokenhearted colonists listened.
Lord Delaware, the new Governor of Virginia, had arrived. His three good ships, well stored with food and all things necessary for the colony, were but a little way down stream. There was no need for the settlers to flee home to escape starvation and death.
It may be that to some this news was heavy news. It may be that some would gladly have turned their backs forever upon the spot where they had endured so much misery. But for the most part the colonists were unwilling to own defeat, and they resolved at once to return. So the ships were put about, and three days after they had left Jamestown, as they believed forever, the colonists once more landed there.
As Lord Delaware stepped on shore he fell upon his knees giving thanks to God that he had come in time to save Virginia. After that the chaplain preached a sermon, then the new Governor, with all his company about him, read aloud the commission given to him by King James.
This was the first royal commission ever given to a governor of an English colony in America. In it Lord Delaware was given the power of life and death over “all and every person and persons now inhabiting, or which shall hereafter inhabit within the precincts of the said colony.” The colonists were in fact to be his subjects. And having read aloud his commission, and having thus as it were shown his authority, Lord Delaware next spoke sternly to his new subjects. He warned them that he would no longer endure their sluggish idleness or haughty disobedience. And if they did not amend their ways they might look to it that the most severe punishment of the law would come upon them. Having thus spoken his mind plainly, to cheer them he told of the plentiful and good stores he had brought with him, of which all those who worked well and faithfully should have a share.
Now a new life began for the colony. All the settlers were made to work for some hours every day. Even the gentlemen among them, “whose breeding never knew what a day’s labour meant,” had to do their share. Soon the houses were rebuilt, the palisades stood again in place, two forts were erected to guard against attacks by the Indians, and at length the colony seemed to be on the fair way to success.
Of course this did not all happen at once. The idlers were not easily turned into diligent workers, or unruly brawlers into peaceful citizens. Indeed it was only through most stern, and what would seem to us now most cruel punishments, that the unruly were forced to keep the law.
The winter after Lord Delaware came out as Governor, although not so hard as that of the Starving Time, was yet severe, and many of the colonists died. Lord Delaware, too, became so ill that in the spring he sailed home to England, and after a little time Sir Thomas Dale took his place as Deputy Governor.
Sir Thomas Dale was both a soldier and a statesman. He was full of energy and courage. Far-seeing and dogged, he was merciless to the evildoers, yet kindly to those who tried to do well. Under his stern yet righteous rule the colony prospered.
At first only men settlers had come out, then one or two women joined them, and now many more women came, so that the men, instead of all living together, married and had homes of their own. Then, too, at first all a man’s labour went into the common stock, and the men who worked little fared as well as those who worked a great deal. So the lazy fellow did as little as he could. “Glad when he could slip from his labour,” says an old writer, “or slumber over his task he cared not how.”
Thus most of the work of the colony was left to the few who were industrious and willing. Sir Thomas Dale changed that. In return for a small yearly payment in corn he gave three acres of land to every man who wished it, for his own use. So, suddenly, a little community of farmers sprang up. Now that the land was really their own, to make of it what they would, each man tilled it eagerly, and soon such fine crops of grain were raised that the colony was no longer in dread of starvation. The settlers, too, began to spread and no longer kept within the palisade round Jamestown, “more especially as Jamestown,” says an old writer, “was scandalised for an unhealthy aire.” And here and there further up the river little villages sprang up.
Since Smith had gone home the Indians had remained unfriendly, and a constant danger to the colonists. And now as they became thus scattered the danger from the Indians became ever greater. Old Powhatan and his men were constantly making raids upon the Pale-faces with whom he had once been so friendly. And in spite of the watch they kept he often succeeded in killing them or taking them prisoner. He had also by now quite a store of swords, guns and tools stolen from the English. And how to subdue him, or force him to live on friendly terms with them once more, none knew.
Pocahontas, who had been so friendly and who had more than once saved the Pale-faces from disaster, might have helped them. But she now never came near their settlement; indeed she seemed to have disappeared altogether. So the English could get no aid from her.
But now it happened one day that one of the adventurers, Samuel Argall, who was, it is written, “a good Marriner, and a very civil gentleman,” went sailing up the Appomattox in search of corn for the settlement. He had to go warily because no one could tell how the Indians would behave, for they would be friends or foes just as it suited them. If they got the chance of killing the Pale-faces and stealing their goods they would do so. But if they were not strong enough to do that they would willingly trade for the coloured cloths, beads and hatchets they so much wanted.
Presently Argall came to the country of one of the chiefs with whom he had made friends. While here he was told that Pocahontas, the great Powhatan’s daughter, was living with the tribe. As soon as he heard this Captain Argall saw at once that here was a means of forcing the Powhatan to make peace, and he resolved at all costs to get possession of Pocahontas. So sending for the chief he told him he must bring Pocahontas on board his ship.
But the chief was afraid and refused to do this.
“Then we are no longer brothers and friends,” said Argall.
“My father,” said the chief, “be not wroth. For if I do this thing the Powhatan will make war upon me and upon my people.”
“My brother,” said Argall,” have no fear; if so be that the Powhatan shall make war upon you I will join with you against him to overthrow him utterly. I mean, moreover, no manner of hurt to Pocahontas, but will only keep her as hostage until peace be made between the Powhatan and the Pale-faces. If therefore you do my bidding I will give to you the copper kettle which you desire so much.”
Now the chief longed greatly to possess the copper kettle. So he promised to do as Argall asked, and began to cast about for an excuse for getting Pocahontas on board. Soon he fell upon a plan. He bade his wife pretend that she was very anxious to see the Englishman’s ship. But when she asked to be taken on board he refused to go with her. Again and again she asked. Again and again the chief refused. Then the poor lady wept with disappointment and at length the chief, pretending to be very angry, swore that he would beat her if she did not cease her asking and her tears. But as she still begged and wept he said he would take her if Pocahontas would go too.
To please the old woman Pocahontas went. Captain Argall received all three very courteously, and made a great feast for them in his cabin. The old chief, however, was so eager to get his promised kettle that he could little enjoy the feast, but kept kicking Captain Argall under the table as much as to say, “I have done my part, now you do yours.”
At length Captain Argall told Pocahontas that she must stay with him until peace was made between her father and the white men. As soon as the old chief and his wife heard that they began to howl, and cry, and make a great noise, so as to pretend that they knew nothing about the plot. Pocahontas too began to cry. But Argall assured her that no harm was intended her, and that she need have no fear. So she was soon comforted and dried her eyes.
As for the wily old Indians they were made quite happy with the copper kettle and a few other trifles, and went merrily back to the shore.
A messenger was then sent to the Powhatan telling him that his daughter, whom he loved so dearly, was a prisoner, and that he could only ransom her by sending back all the Pale-faces he held prisoner, with all their guns, swords and tools which he had stolen.
When Powhatan got this news he was both angry and sorry. For he loved his daughter very dearly, but he loved the Englishmen’s tools and weapons almost more. He did not know what to do, so for three months he did nothing. Then at last he sent back seven of his prisoners, each one carrying a useless gun.
“Tell your chieftain,” he said, “that all the rest of the arms of the Pale-faces are lost, or have been stolen from me. But if the Pale-faces will give back my daughter I will give satisfaction for all the other things I have taken, together with five hundred bushels of corn, and will make peace forever.”
But the Englishmen were not easily deceived. They returned a message to the chief saying, “Your daughter is well used. But we do not believe the rest of our arms are either lost or stolen, and therefore until you send them we will keep your daughter.”
The Powhatan was so angry when he got this message that for a long time he would have no further dealings with the Pale-faces, but continued to vex and harass them as much as he could.
At length Sir Thomas Dale, seeking to put an end to this, took Pocahontas, and with a hundred and fifty men sailed up the river to the Powhatan’s chief town.
As soon as the natives saw the white men they came down to the river’s bank, jeering at them and insulting them, haughtily demanding why they had come.
“We have brought the Powhatan’s daughter,” replied the Englishmen. “For we are come to receive the ransom promised, and if you do not give it willingly we will take it by force.”
But the natives were not in the least afraid at that threat. They jeered the more.
“If so be,” they cried, “that you are come to fight you are right welcome, for we are ready for you. But we advise you, if you love your lives, to retire with haste. Else we will serve you as we have served others of your countrymen.”
“Oh,” answered the Englishmen, “we must have a better answer than that,” and driving their ship nearer to the shore they made ready to land.
But as soon as they were within bow shot the natives let fly their arrows. Thick and fast they fell, rattling on the deck, glancing from the men’s armour, wounding not a few. This reception made the Englishmen angry, so without more ado they launched their boats and made for the shore. The natives fled at their coming, and so enraged were the colonists against them that they burned their houses, and utterly destroyed their town. Then they sailed on up the river in pursuit of the Native Americans.
Next day they came up again with the natives. They were now not so insolent and sent a messenger to ask why the Pale-faces had burned their town.
“Why did you fire upon us?” asked the Englishmen, sternly.
“Brothers,” replied the Indian, “we did not fire upon you. It was but some stray natives who did so. We intend you no hurt and are your friends.”
With these and many other fair words they tried to pacify the Pale-faces. So the Englishmen, who had no wish to fight, made peace with them. Then the Indians sent a messenger to the Powhatan who was a day’s journey off; and the Englishmen were told they must wait two days for his answer.
Meanwhile the Englishmen asked to see their comrades whom the
Indians had taken prisoner.
“We cannot show them to you,” replied the Indian, “for they have all run away in fear lest you should hang them. But the Powhatan’s men are pursuing after them, and will doubtless bring them back.”
“Then where are the swords and guns which you have stolen from us?” demanded the Englishmen.
“These you shall have to-morrow,” replied the Indian.
But, as the Englishmen well knew, this was all idle talk and deceit, and next day no message came from the Powhatan, neither were any swords nor guns forthcoming. So once more the Englishmen set sail and went still further up the river.
Here quite close to another village belonging to the Powhatan they came upon four hundred Indians in war paint. When they saw the Englishmen the Indians yelled and danced, and dared them to come ashore. This the Englishmen, nothing daunted, accordingly did. The Native Americans on their side showed no fear, but walked boldly up and down among the Englishmen, demanding to speak with their captain.
So the chiefs were brought to Sir Thomas.
“Why do you come against us thus?” they asked. “We are friends and brothers. Let us not fight until we have sent once again to our King to know his pleasure. Then if he sends not back the message of peace we will fight you and defend our own as best we may.”
The Englishmen knew well that by all this talk of peace the Indians wanted but to gain time so that they might be able to carry away and hide their stores. Still they had no desire to fight if by any other means they might gain their end. So they promised a truce until noon the day following. “And if we then decide to fight you, you shall be warned of it by the sounding of our drums and trumpets,” they said.
The truce being settled Pocahontas’ two brothers came on board the Englishmen’s ships to visit their sister. And when they saw that she was well cared for, and appeared to be quite happy they were very glad, for they had heard that she was ill treated and most miserable. But finding her happy they promised to persuade their father to ransom her, and make friends again with the Pale-faces.
Seeing them thus friendly Sir Thomas suggested that Pocahontas’ two brothers should stay on board his vessel as hostages while he sent two of his company to parley with the Powhatan. This was accordingly done, and Master John Rolfe and Master Sparkes set off on their mission. When, however, they reached the village where the Powhatan was hiding they found him still in high dudgeon, and he refused to see them, or speak with them. So they had to be content with seeing his brother, who treated them with all courtesy and kindness and promised to do his best to pacify the Powhatan.
It was now April, and high time for the colonists to be back on their farms sowing their corn. So with this promise they were content in the meantime. And having agreed upon a truce until harvest time they set sail once more for Jamestown, taking Pocahontas with them.
One at least among the company of Englishmen was glad that the negotiations with the Powhatan had come to nothing, and that Pocahontas had not been ransomed. That was Master John Rolfe. For Pocahontas was beautiful and kind, and John Rolfe had fallen madly in love with her. So he had no desire that she should return to her own tribe, but rather that she should return to Jamestown and marry him.
Pocahontas, too, was quite fond of John Rolfe, although she had never forgotten her love for the great White Chief whose life she had saved. The Englishmen, however, told her that he had gone away never to come back any more, and that very likely he was dead. Pocahontas was then easily persuaded to marry John Rolfe. But he himself, although he loved her very much, had some misgivings. For was this beautiful native not a heathen?
That difficulty was, however, soon overcome. For Pocahontas made no objection to becoming a Christian. So one day there was a great gathering in the little church at Jamestown when the princess stood beside the fort, and the water of Christian baptism was sprinkled on her face, and she was given the Bible name of Rebecca.
And now when the Powhatan heard that his daughter was going to marry one of the Pale-faces he was quite pleased. He forgot all his anger and sulkiness, sent many of his braves to be present at the wedding, and swore to be the friend and brother of the Pale-faces forever more.
Sir Thomas Dale was delighted. So every one was pleased, and one morning early in April three hundred years ago all the inhabitants of the country round, both native and White, gathered to see the wedding. And from that day for eight years, as long as the Powhatan lived, there was peace between him and his brothers, the Pale-faces.