Saturday, August 30, 2014

Outside the fort, “the Indian killed as Famine and Pestilence did within...”

            Prayer seemed called for.
In the church, the Reverend Mr. Buck, who had ministered to the Bermuda castaways, now offered “a zealous and sorrowful  prayer, finding all things so contrary to our expectations, so full of misery and misgovernment.”
Then Sir Thomas Gates asked William Strachey to read his commission as the Virginia colony’s officially appointed Lieutenant Governor, and George Percy handed over his commission as President of the Virginia Council.  If the two men exchanged remarks, they were not recorded.
Power had changed hands, but now what was to be done?
Strachey dutifully recorded the conditions:

“Viewing the Forte, we found the Pallisadoes torne downe, the Ports open, the Gates from off the hinges, and emptie houses (which Owners death had taken from them) rent up and burnt, rather than the dwellers would step into the Woods a stones cast off from them, to fetch other fire-wood; and it is true, the Indian killed as fast without, if our men stirred but beyond the bounds of their Block-house, as Famine and Pestilence did within....”

         Death was stalking Jamestown Fort inside and out.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shock and horror, and then, for a few, reunions and unimagined joy

Lieutenant-General Thomas Gates, whose commission made him governor of the Virginia colony, was “much grieved” at the sight of Jamestown Fort. He walked slowly to the desolate-looking little church in the center of the palisade. Spying the church bell, Gates asked that it be rung. Then he stepped inside, and the shocked castaways from Bermuda trooped into the small wooden structure after their leader. The deep, clangorous notes of the bell rang above their heads. After that, as William Strachey remembered (he would soon become the colony’s secretary) in a few moments “all such as were able to come forth of their houses repaired to church.”
Many of the sixty men, women, and children at Jamestown were too weak to “come forth.” Those who were able to shuffle into the church looked, as Percy had described them, as thin as bare trees, their ragged clothes hanging on them like dead leaves.  
But on that day, amid the horrors, there was inexpressible joy for a few. At least two Jamestown wives were reunited with Sea Venture survivors: husbands they had thought never to see again. Temperance and George Yeardley found each other. William Pierce embraced Joan and their four-year-old daughter, Jane. The young husbands’ happiness was dimmed only by their loved ones’ pitiful, malnourished conditions, by the sunken eyes in gray, gaunt faces, the once-rounded bodies wasted to stick-figure shapes.

         Months of slow starvation had taken a toll: Temperance Yeardley would not bear a child for eight years; Joan Pierce, never again. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An eerie stillness...

On May 23 the Bermuda pinnaces Deliverance and Patience dropped anchor at Jamestown, no doubt looping their mooring lines around trees at the water’s edge as was the custom. No longboats were needed to carry them to land: they were so close that men and women climbed down their ships’ ladders and splashed solemnly, mournfully ashore. They trooped through the fort gate, whose massive log doors were hanging off their hinges.

That was not a good sign.

Worse yet, there was no one to greet them. An eerie stillness hung over the little fort, as if it were a haunted place. Inside the gate, the barracks and storehouse and the church were still standing, but there was no sign of life around them, and no sounds within them. Around them the clusters of small mud-walled, wood-framed houses were silent, their windows like dark, vacant eyes. Many of the houses were in ruins. Bits of roof thatch and pieces of framing timber lay scattered like jackstraws on the ground. In the warm, humid air, clouds of mayflies swarmed and buzzed.

Was everyone dead?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

“Misery in our people’s faces”

By the next incoming tide the Deliverance and the Patience were on their way up the wide James River, bound for Jamestown. Depending on the tides, the 40-mile journey would take two to three days.
George Percy sailed with them and tried to prepare them for what to expect at Jamestown. Soon, he said, they would

Read a lecture of misery in our people’s faces, and perceive the scarcity of victuals and understand the malice of the savages, who knowing our weakness had diverse times assaulted us without [outside] the fort. Finding of five hundred men we had only left about sixty, the rest being either starved through famine or cut off by the savages, and those which were living were so meager and lean that it was lamentable to behold them, for many through extreme hunger have run out of their naked beds, being so lean that they looked like anotannes [trees on which the old fruit clings until a new crop grows] Crying out, ‘we are starved, we are starved.’ Others going to bed as we imagined in health were found dead the next morning.

Passengers aboard the two small vessels had plenty of time to think about what they might find at Jamestown. The voyage upriver took them two days. There was no breeze, and the air was as oppressive and heavy as their thoughts. One of them wrote that “only by the help of tides (no wind stirring) we plied it sadly up the river.”

No one could imagine what awaited them.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Not many more than 60"

Jamestown, 1610: “Of 500, within 6 months after there remained not many more than 60 most miserable and poor creatures.” --The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia (1612).

Aboard the newly arrived vessels in Chesapeake Bay, the Patience and the Deliverance, were 135 castaways who had spent the past ten months shipwrecked on Bermuda. Expecting to find a thriving settlement at Jamestown, they had brought only enough food for their voyage.
Gates’s men in the longboat rowed back to the Deliverance as quickly as their oars could pull though the water. They must soon have shouted out the good news: this fort was called Algernon Fort, and it was English, and all of the Sea Venture ships but one had reached Virginia!

Little did they know what horrors had taken place there.

The Deliverance made fast her longboat, and with the Patience she prepared to draw closer to shore. As the two little ships sailed towards Algernon Fort, William Strachey, one of the new arrivals, would remember that  “a mightie storme of Thunder, Lightning, and Raine gave us a shrewd and feareful welcome.”

It was an ominous sign.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jamestown, 1610: A Heart-stopping Surprise

           When the unidentified vessels--two small pinnaces--came within two miles of the mouth of the James River, those on board them saw a puff of smoke and heard the report of a cannon. It came from the north shore of the river. Their hearts sank. The Virginia Company’s instructions to them had mentioned nothing about a fort in that location. But those instructions were out of date. The Sea Venture survivors had spent nearly a year in Bermuda. After all that time, had the Spanish managed to plant an outpost in Virginia? The people aboard the pinnaces had no way of knowing. Governor-General Thomas Gates cautiously dispatched a handful of men in the Deliverance’s little longboat to investigate, but told them that under no circumstances were they to set foot on shore. 
On that shore, at Fort Algernon, Captain James Davis, President Geroge Percy, and others had been anxiously keeping watch all night. When the two unknown pinnaces had come within range, Davis had fired the fort’s cannon as a warning shot. In a little while those at Fort Algernon spied the longboat approaching and, as Percy remembered, “We hailed them.” Shouting back and forth across the water, Percy and his companions on shore “understood that Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers were come in these pinnaces which by their great industry they had built in the Bermudas with the remainder of their wrecked ship and other wood they found in the country. Upon which news we received no small joy.”
The lost were found.
The dead were restored to life.

            Well, not all of them.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Starvation within, Indians without, and unknown sails on the horizon.

Jamestown Fort, 1610: Inside the log palisade, anything that moved might be killed and eaten.

         In the cellar pit of the barracks inside the fort archeologists have unearthed the bones of poisonous snakes and musk turtles, butchered horse bones, the bones of the black rat, and dog and cat bones. The dog bones are probably those of a mastiff, which the English used for hunting. In their desperate need, they killed and ate the dogs that might have hunted for game.         But game-hunting was out of the question. No one now ventured outside the palisaded walls. Indians had made it clear that outside the fort,  the English themselves were fair game.
         When the dogs and cats were gone, what was left to eat?

Meanwhile, downriver at Algernon Fort:
         Before nightfall the lookouts at who kept a watch on Chesapeake Bay sounded the alarm. Two vessels, their sails just barely visible on the horizon, were approaching Point Comfort. Captain Davis ordered an armed guard to stand watch all night. President Percy worried. No one slept much.

It looked as if the Spanish were coming at last to attack the English in Virginia.