Saturday, August 22, 2015

Roanoke: What Might Have Happened

In JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL, Meg Worley, who came to Virginia in 1609 to seek her fiancé, one of the lost colonists of Roanoke, hears rumors in 1619 that Englishmen may be living at Ritanoe, a remote Indian village.

         It had been twenty-three years since Anthony Gage had kissed her good-bye on the heights of Plymouth Hoe, and it was folly to think she would ever see him again. . . .

         [At Jamestown, Meg has a conversation with Captain George Yardley.]

         “Ritanoe is a long way off,”         
         “Not when you’ve come three thousand miles.”        
         “But I know of no plan to search for any English.”
         “Not yet. . . . Maybe in the spring. . . who knows? I can wait. I have waited twenty years and more.”
         George was touched. “I leave tomorrow to take command of the new Fort Charles . . . If there is any way I can spare some men, I shall send them to Ritanoe as soon as warm weather comes.”. . .
         As George turned to go, Meg unfastened the gold chain around her neck. She dropped it and the small cross in the palm of one hand and touched them lovingly. Then she closed her fingers over them and held out her fist. “Here. Take this with you. Send it with your men to Ritanoe. It will be a message from me to Anthony.”

--Virginia Bernhard, JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL A Story of America’s Beginnings (2014)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

New Roanoke mystery: Where did the “Lost Colonists” go?

     New graves unearthed at Jamestown, now new findings at a site that may hold clues to the “Lost Colonists” (1587-1590) of Roanoke.

     This puzzle is far from solved. Two sources from 1609 and 1612 mention signs of the lost colonists at a remote place the Indians called Ritanoe (near modern Clarksville, Virginia), about 60 miles southeast of Jamestown.  See *RITANOE on the map, lower left.

The Sources:

. . . you are neere to riche Copper mines of Ritanoe and may passe them by another branch of this River and by another Peccareamicke where you shall finde foure of the englishe alive, left by Sir Walter Rawely whch escaped from the slaughter of Powhaton of Roanocke,upon the first arrival of our Colonie, and live under the protection of a wiroane called Gepanocon enemy to Powhaton, by whose consent you shall never recover them.
--Council of the Virginia Company, Instructions to the Colony (1609), Records of the Virginia Company, Susan M. Kingsbury, ed., III, 17.

 . . the People have howses built with stone walles, and one story above another, so taught them by those Englishe who escaped the slaughter at Roanoak . . . at. . . Ritanoe the Weroance Eyanoco preserved 7 of the English alive, fower men, twoo Boyes, and one younge Maid . . . .
--William Strachey, “The Historie of Travaill into Virginia Brittania,” (1612).

More digging awaits.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gabriel Archer’s lost letter--and other mysterie

August, 1609: Four small, battered ships wallowed into Chesapeake Bay. They were all that was left of the great Sea Venture fleet that had sailed for Virginia in June of that year. One of these ships, the Blessing, was captained by Gabriel Archer, whose bones have been recently unearthed at Jamestown.
By August 11, 1609 the Blessing, the Lion, the Falcon, and the Unity were moored to trees on the riverbank at Jamestown. Neither the ships nor their passengers were in good shape. Gabriel Archer (John Smith’s old enemy) wrote a letter to a friend in London: “The Unity was sore distressed when she came up with us, for of seventy land men, she had not ten sound, and all her Sea men were downe, but onely the Master and his Boy, with one poor sailor. . . . In the Unity were borne two children at Sea, but both died, being both boyes.” A few days later the Diamond arrived, with her mainmast gone, and “many of her men very sick and weake . . . And some three or four dayes after her, came in the Swallow, with her maine Mast overboord also, and had a shrewd leake . . . .”
It is ironic that Gabriel Archer, who died during the “Starving Time,”  also wrote of the colony’s perpetual food shortage. He blamed “Captain Newport and others” for leading the Virginia Company in London to believe that there was “such plenty of victuall in this Country, by which meanes they [the Virginia Company] have been slack in this supply.” “Upon this,” Archer wrote to his friend, “you that be adventurers [investors] must pardon us, if you find not return of Commodity so ample as you may expect, because the law of nature bids us seek sustenance first, and then to labour to content you afterwards. But upon this point I shall be more large in my next Letter.” Unfortunately, Archer’s “next letter” has been lost.
         Another Jamestown mystery.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Jamestown Mysteries Unearthed!

         Gabriel Archer, now a “person of interest” whose grave was discovered in recent Jamestown excavations, was always a thorn in John Smith’s side--for reasons unknown. In January 1608 Archer, then a member of the Virginia Company Council, tried to have Smith executed for causing the deaths of two men who had been killed by Indians on Smith’s recent expedition upriver. John Robinson died with “20 or 30 arrows in him.” Thomas Emry simply disappeared. Archer, “indicted him [Smith] upon a chapter in Leviticus for the death of his two men.” The Old Testament book of Leviticus, contains the famous “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” passage that ends “just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted upon him.” (Leviticus, 20:24.) For an account of this incident see Edward Maria Wingfield, “A Discourse of Virginia,” in Jamestown Narratives, Edward Wright Haile, ed., (1998), p. 196, and Virginia Bernhard, A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda? (2011), pp. 42-43.                 
         Did Archer have a Bible handy in the wilds of Virginia in 1608? Or was he so well versed in Scripture he could cite chapter and verse as needed? (The Geneva Bible of 1560 was the standard English one, and the first one with numbered verses.) Just how religious was Archer, who, it appears, was buried in 1610 with a Catholic reliquary in his grave?
         Smith was saved by a stroke of luck: On the very day of his trial, who should arrive but Captain Christopher Newport with supplies and a hundred new colonists? In the excitement, Smith’s alleged crime was apparently cancelled. But Archer’s vendetta against John Smith was not.
         None of the extant sources say what Archer had against Smith. Gabriel Archer (1575-1610), educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn, and John Smith (1580-1631), a grammar school dropout, were nearly the same age, but of vastly different backgrounds. Something set them against each other. Four centuries later, we are still looking for answers.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Smith bids a sad farewell to Virginia

         After the assassination attempt, Smith’s allies, his “old soldiers,” the men who had been with him in his expeditions all over the Chesapeake, wanted revenge. They begged him to let them get rid of his enemies, “to take their heads that would resist his command.” But John Smith had had enough. He was desperately weak and in excruciating pain from his burns. Most people—and perhaps Smith himself—did not expect that he would live. And so, as he and his co-authors wrote afterward, Smith’s time in Virginia had come to a sad end: “his commission [as president] to be suppressed he knew not why, himselfe and souldiers to be rewarded he knew not how, and a new commission graunted they knew not to whom . . . .so grievous were his wounds, and so cruell his torment, few expected he could live, nor was hee able to follow his businesse to regaine what they had lost, suppresse those factions and range the countries for provision as he intended, and well he knew in those affaires his owne actions and presence was as requisite as his directions, which now could not be.”


         In October 1609, John Smith sailed for England. He would never return to Virginia.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A failed assassination plot, September 1609

 On that September afternoon when Smith’s barge came into view on the river, people at Jamestown were shocked at what they saw—or rather, what they did not see. Smith was always at the bow shouting orders when his barge came in. This time he was not there. As soon as the mooring was made fast, the reason for his absence at the bow was clear: He was “unable to stand, and neere bereft of his senses by reason of his torment.” Smith’s sailors were preparing to carry their gravely wounded leader ashore on a makeshift litter. After the gunpowder accident his men had brought him downriver as quickly as they could, but by now his untreated burns were hideously blistered and blackened. They oozed. Flies and gnats swarmed around them.
People who saw John Smith lying helpless and crazed with pain, shook their heads.
What would become of Jamestown now?
Smith’s enemies, John Ratcliffe, Gabriel Archer, and John Martin, seeing him “near bereft of his senses,” were disappointed to see him still alive. Soon they and their confederates “plotted to have him murdered in his bed.”

The story is not altogether clear, but it is mentioned in two of the existing sources: “The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia,” published in 1612, and Smith’s own Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, published in 1624. But about the attempted assassination of the wounded John Smith, the wording in both the “Proceedings” and the Generall Historie is identical and frustratingly brief: “But his hart did fail him that should have given fire to that mercilesse pistol.”
So, apparently did the pistol, which did not go off.
Did Smith, feverish and wracked with pain, hear the click of a pistol being cocked and know at the time that someone had tried to kill him, or did he learn about it afterward?
No one knows.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

“John Smith may not live to fight again.”

        John Smith had been hideously wounded in the accident upriver. The Indians, who watched and knew everything that happened along the river, had seen what happened. Wahunsonacock, the father of Pocahontas and the ruler of the Powhatan people discussed it with his brothers. He had developed a grudging admiration for his enemy.

         Had Pocahontas not flung herself at John Smith, Wahunsonacock might have adopted him into the tribe. But Pocahontas had to be disciplined, and her father told himself he did not want his daughter sleeping with a foreigner.
         “He has the courage of a hawk, but he is badly wounded. I saw the fire aboard his ship myself, and I saw how it burned him as he leaped into the river. His clothes were all in flames. When his men pulled him out of the water, he was very near death. They said it was his gunpowder bag that caught fire.” Wahunsonacock inhaled the fragrant smoke from his tobacco leaf, exhaled, and squinted at his brothers through a fine blue haze. “I say Francis West tried to kill him.”
         “Smith made him stay at the Falls. They had hot words. West said he wanted to go back to England and Smith said he could not.”
         Opechancanough smiled. “If these English begin to quarrel among themselves, they may kill each other and save us the trouble.”....
         But Wahunsonacock, whose heart ached for his banished daughter and who wished that John Smith could have been his son, not his enemy, was silent.

--Virginia Bernhard, Jamestown: The Novel, 77-78.