Saturday, November 22, 2014

Starvation and desperation, despite De La Warr

Meanwhile, at Jamestorn’s  ruined fort, De La Warr set his men and others who were able-bodied to work. Some were put to cleaning up the debris of ruined houses inside the fort, others to making coal for the forges (blacksmiths were essential for making tools and weapons and ammunition), still others to fish, but the latter, the Captain-General noted with disappointment, “had ill success” in the James River. The starving residents of Jamestown had become too weak and too frightened of Indians to fish in the river, and they had let their nets—fourteen of them by one count—rot to pieces. The newcomers had some nets, but they had little luck in casting them. They hauled in their nets every day and night, “sometimes a dosen times one after the other,” but they did not catch enough to feed even a fourth of the people who were there.          Strachey wrote ruefully, “Notwithstanding the great store [of fish] we now saw daily in our River; but let the blame of this lye where it is, both upon our Nets, and the unskilfulnesse of our men to lay them.” Captain-General De La Warr sent some of his men in the pinnace Virginia to fish downriver and in Chesapeake Bay, but they returned by the end of June with nothing to show for their fishing trip.
In short, Jamestown’s residents were still desperately hungry. They needed many more calories than normal if they were to recover from months of severe malnutrition. And many had simply lost heart. They no longer wanted to make an effort. Sir Thomas Gates was shocked to find that what little fish they managed to come by, they ate raw “rather than they would go a stones cast to fetch wood and dresse it.”\

Where was John Smith when they needed him?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Food for starving people? NOT!

         Lord De La Warr and those with him still had not come to terms with the depressing truth about Jamestown’s food sources: there were none. The Indians, hostile since John Smith’s leaving, had no food to trade, even if they had been willing: it was early June, and their crops were barely in the ground. Admiral Sir George Somers noted that the Indians “had nothing to trade with but mulberries.” And berries were not the best diet for delicate, malnourished digestions.
         De La Warr and his company had expected to find meat in Virginia, and so had brought none. But not one hog was left alive, and not “a hen nor chick in the fort.” That was disappointing news, indeed.
         Strachey wrote dispiritedly that the food supply which the Captain-General had brought, “concerning any kinde of flesh, was little or nothing; in respect it was not dreamt of by the Adventurers in England, that the Swine were destroyed.” How could they have known? They brought barrels of meal, dried beans, some oil and cheese, but no meat to stick to a hungry person’s ribs.

         And there were in Jamestown at least sixty men, women, and children whose ribs were in great need of fleshing out.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jamestown’s troubles relieved--for the moment.

            The new governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, stepped ashore. No sooner had he set his elegant boots on Jamestown’s marshy soil than he sank to his knees in a long, silent prayer. Then he and his company marched into the fort.
Then Lord De La Warr made a brief speech, perhaps not a well-thought one: he blamed the Virginia residents for their present pitiful state and told them they must work harder. (How the Jamestown colonists, so malnourished they were near death, received this speech is not recorded.) At last (this must have been greeted with tears of joy and loud cheers) he told them that he had brought food enough to “serve foure hundred men for one whole yeare.”
Much of what we know about this part of Virginia’s history comes from the colony’s secretary, William Strachey, a diligent and eloquent writer. He recorded not only what happened in Virginia, but what had happened in Bermuda as well. His manuscript would eventually be entitled “A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, upon and from the Islands of the Bermudas; his coming to Virginia, and the estate of that colony then, and after under the government of the Lord La Warr.”
            Strachey’s manuscript would reach England with consequences he never dreamed of. Shakespeare somehow read Strachey’s work, and then wrote The Tempest, a play about castaways shipwerecked on a remote island. first performed in London in 1611, and a subject of much debate among scholars ever since.

          Meanwhile, the Virginia colony’s troubles were far from over.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A fantastic coincidence and a fair wind

The arrival of Lord De La Warr and his three ships just before Admiral Sir George Somers, Lieutenant-Governor Sir ThomasGates, and the four pinnaces sailed for Newfoundland was indeed a fantastic coincidence, if not an act of providence. It saved England’s first settlement in North America.
         Three days later would have been too late. By that time the Deliverance, the Patience, the Discovery, and the Virginia would have been out of sight, sailing up the Atlantic coast, bound for Newfoundland.
Would De La Warr and his 150 new colonists have made a go of reviving Jamestown by themselves? Could De La Warr, who was not in good health (he was never to be really well while he was in Virginia) and a company of inexperienced newcomers who were ignorant of the Indians possibly succeed? Not likely.
             Jamestown, once near death, was revived: With a fair wind at their backs (another act of providence?) the little fleet of pinnaces sailed upriver and by nightfall on June 8 they reached the fort they had abandoned just two days ago. The relief expedition was close behind them. Two days later Lord De La Warr and his three ships with all their passengers and provisions dropped anchor at Jamestown.

              They had their work cut out for them.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

At Jamestown, a miracle--or maybe two?

           Many people in the summer of 1610 saw the relief fleet’s arrival as a miracle. Back in London, the Reverend William Crashaw wrote that it was “the Hand of Heaven from above at the very instant sent in the Right Honorable La-War to meet them, even at the river’s mouth with provision and comforts of all kind, who if he had stayed but two tides longer had come into Virginia and not found one Englishman.
John Smith, in his Generall Historie of Virginia wrote of two extraordinary coincidences: first, the arrival of the Bermuda ships, and second, De La Warr’s coming. Smith believed these were the work of divine providence:

Never had any people more just cause, to cast themselves at the very foot-stoole of God, and to reverence his mercie, than this distressed Colonie; for if God had not sent Sir Thomas Gates from the Bermudas, within foure daies they had almost beene famished.....If they had set saile sooner, and had launched into the vast Ocean, who would have promised they should have incountered the Fleet of the Lord la Ware, especially when they made for Newfoundland, as they intended, a course contrarie to our Navie approaching. If the Lord la Ware had not bought with him a yeeres provision, what comfort would those poore soules have received, to have beene relanded to a second distruction?

The little group of colonists at Jamestown were saved--for the moment.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A miraculous deliverance!

More from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL:        
          But at last they could see that it was neither a galleon nor a pinnace, but a smaller craft, a longboat with a single spritsail. In her bow, her commanding officer began waving both arms and shouting.
         “I come from Lord de la Warr! Is Sir Thomas Gates aboard?”
         “Good God!” Aboard the Deliverance, Thomas Gates was thunderstruck. “I don’t believe it! De la Warr!”
         Around him and on the decks of the other three ships arose a hubbub of voices that filled the air like the humming of beehives suddenly disturbed....
          Miracle of miracles: the relief expedition, with Sir Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, the new governor of Virginia and three ships-- the flagship De La Warr, the Blessing, and the Hercules-- bearing a hundred and fifty new colonists and “great store of victuals” for the Virginia colony--had come! That meant food at last: dried beef, cheese, salted codfish, peas, oats, oil and vinegar, cider, beer--enough to gladden hungry hearts. As soon as De La Warr had heard from Davis’s men at Algernon Fort what had happened at Jamestown he had dispatched a longboat upriver to intercept the little fleet of pinnaces.
He ordered Gates and the whole company to return at once to Jamestown.  One can only imagine what the emaciated colonists thought of this plan.

 Lieutenant Governor Gates, thinking of the Indians, was glad he had buried the cannons. They could be dug up.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A mysterious longboat on the river

[An excerpt from JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL.]

With their sails neatly furled and their tall masts swaying gently against the clouds, the four little vessels looked like some species of giant spiked sea turtles floating lazily together in the sun. It was quiet aboard the ships, and many of the passengers, wearied by their early morning leave-taking, had lain down to rest or doze. There was nothing to do until dark, when the tide turned and they could move on downriver to the sea. They would stop briefly to pick up the men with Captain Davis at Point Comfort, and then chart their course for Newfoundland. Above them, a few curious gulls from Chesapeake Bay flapped about, and some came to rest in the ships’ riggings.
It was William Strachey, lounging about on the f’oc’sle of the Deliverance, who first sighted the longboat.
“A ship! There’s a ship!”
Strachey’s shout roused a couple of crew members who had been taking their ease in the shadow of the great cabin. It also roused Thomas Gates, who bounded out of his quarters as if he had been shot out by a cannon. “The devil you say! Where?” Gates clambered up the ladder to where Strachey and the two sailors were now standing and pointing. The approaching vessel was barely more than a speck on the horizon, where the wide James River opened even wider to empty into the Chesapeake Bay. At such a distance, the vessel was impossible to identify. . . .

Who would be sailing upriver to Jamestown? Captain Davis had left a light guard at Point Comfort, but those men knew the pinnaces were coming down.

There was no need for anyone to come upriver.