Days of the Discoverers Part 29

Smith's practical mind saw the uselessness of trying to get any Non-Conformist taken on by a royal colony in Virginia just then. "'Tis a hard case," he said sympathetically, "but we may meet again some day.

There's room enough in the Americas, the Lord knows, for all the honest men England can spare."

Thus they parted, and on April 26, 1607, the Virginia voyagers saw land at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

The company was rather top-heavy. Out of the hundred who were enrolled, fifty-two were gentlemen adventurers, each of whom thought himself as good as the rest and even a little better. No sooner had the ship dropped anchor than thirty of them went ashore to roam the forest, laughing and shouting as if they had the country to themselves. The appearance of five Indians sent them scurrying back to the ship with two of their number wounded, for they had no weapons with them. That night the sealed orders of the London Company were opened, and it was found that the directors had appointed a council of seven to govern the colony and choose a president for a year. The colonists were charged to search for gold and pearls and for a passage to the East Indies. Nothing more original in the way of a colonial enterprise had occurred to the directors. Success in these undertakings meant immediate profits with which the new Company could compete with Bristol, Antwerp, and the Muscovy Company's rich fur trade.

In the list of names for the council appeared that of Captain John Smith, which was somewhat embarrassing, since a scandalous tale had been set going during the voyage, that he intended to lead a mutiny and make himself governor of the colony. This was so far believed that he was kept a prisoner through the last part of the voyage. The other councilors, Newport, Gosnold, Wingfield, Ratcliffe, Martin and Kendall, held their election without him and chose Wingfield president.

Next day the carpenters began work on the shallop, which had been shipped in sections, and Wingfield ordered Smith inland with a party of armed men, to explore. They saw no Indians, but found a fire where oysters were still roasting, and made a good meal off them, though some of the luscious shellfish were so large that they had to be cut in pieces before they were eaten. Coasting along the bay they discovered a river, which was explored when the shallop was launched. Upon this river they saw an Indian canoe forty feet long, made of the trunk of a tree hollowed out, Indian fashion, with hot stones and shell gouges. They found also oysters in abundance and in some of them fresh-water pearls.

After spending seventeen days in examining the country, they chose for their settlement a peninsula on the north side of the river called the Powhatans by the Indians, from the tribe living on its banks. This site was about forty miles from the sea, and here, on May 13, they moored their ships to trees in six fathom of water and named the place Jamestown, and the river the King's River.

Thus far the Indians had been friendly, and Wingfield would not have any fortifications built, or any military drill, for fear of arousing their anger. Captain Kendall, despite orders, constructed a crescent-shaped line of fence of untrimmed boughs, but most of the weapons remained in packing-cases on board ship. Wingfield, who regarded Smith as a rather dangerously outspoken man to have about just then, sent him with Newport and twenty others, to explore the river to its head. On the sixth day they passed the chief town of the Powhatans. On May 24 they reached the head of the river, set up a cross, and proclaimed in the wilderness the sovereignty of King James Stuart.

The thrifty eye of the Lincolnshire yeoman observed many things with satisfaction during this march. There might not be any gold mines, but there was unlimited timber, and the meadows would make as good pasture for cattle as any in England. In the forests were red deer and fallow deer, bears, otters, beavers, and foxes, besides animals unknown in Europe. One moonlight night, while examining deer tracks near a little stream, Smith saw humped on a fallen log above it a furry beast about the size of a badger, with black face and paws like a bear, and a bushy tail with crosswise rings of brown and black. This queer animal was eating something, and dipping the food into the water before each mouthful. When Smith described it to the Indians he could make nothing of the name they gave it, but wrote it down as best he could--Araughcoune.

Another new kind of creature was of the size of a rabbit, grayish white, with black ears and a tail like a rat. It would hang by its tail from a tree, until knocked off with a stick, and then curl up with shut eyes and pretend to be dead. It was excellent eating when roasted with wild yams,--rather like a very small suckling pig, the colonists later discovered. For the most part, however, Smith was inclined to think they would have to depend upon their provisions and the corn they could buy from the Indians.

On returning to Jamestown they found that the Indians had been raiding the settlement, the colonists at the time being all at work and taken completely by surprise. Seventeen men had been wounded, and a boy killed. After this, the men were drilled each day, the guns were unpacked and a palisade was begun.

Newport was in a hurry to return to England, and Wingfield now suggested that Smith, who was still supposed to be under arrest, should go with him and save any further trouble. This did not suit Smith at all. He demanded an open trial, got it, and was triumphantly cleared of all charges.

Of the privation, dissensions and sickness which followed Newport's departure, the bad water, rotten food, constant trouble with savages, and the unreasonable demands of the directors of the London Company, all historians have told. One story, which Smith was wont to tell with keen relish, deals with the instructions of the Company that the Indian chief, "King Powhatan," should be crowned with all due ceremony, just at a time of year when every hand in the colony was needed for attending to the crops. Smith and Newport had just come to a reasonable understanding with that astute savage, by which he treated them with real respect; and the attention paid him by his "brother James," as he proceeded to call the King of England, rather turned his head. He liked the red cloak sent him, but had no idea what a crown meant. The raccoon skin mantle which he removed when robed in the royal crimson was sent to England and is now in a museum at Oxford.

After some years of strenuous toil and adventure John Smith went back to London. An explosion of powder, whether accidental or intentional was never known, wounded him seriously just before he left Jamestown, and he did not recover from it for some time.

"And what is in your mind to do next, Captain?" asked Master William Simons the geographer when they had finished, between them, the new map of Virginia. Smith's eyes twinkled as he snapped the cover on his inkhorn.

"Why, 't is hard for an old rover like me to lie abed when there's man's work to be done. You know, the London Company holds only the southern division of the King's Patent for Virginia; the north's given to Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth. And that's never been settled yet."

"There was a colony of Captain George Popham and Ralegh Gilbert went out, five year ago," said Simons doubtfully. "They said they could not endure the bitter climate."

"Sho," said Smith impatiently, one stubbed forefinger on the map, "'t is in almost the same latitude as France. Maybe they chose the wrong place for their plantation. Why, the French trade furs with the savages, all up and down the Saint Laurence, and mind the cold no more than nothing at all. The first thing we know, the Dutch will be out here finding a road to the Indies."

Both men laughed. They had lost faith in that road to fortune.

"Anyhow Hudson didn't find it when they sent him to look for it the year afore he died," said Simons, "or they'd be into it now. But what are you scheming?"

"First make a voyage of exploration," said Smith. "I ha' talked with one and another that told me they taken a draught of the coast, and I ha'

six or seven of the plots they drew, so different from one another and out of proportion they do me as much good as so much waste paper--though they cost me more," added the veteran grimly. "With a true map o' the coast, we'd know whereabouts we were."

"No gold nor silver, I hear."

"Maybe not. But what commodity in England decays faster than wood? And where will you find better forest than along that shore? Build shipyards there, and our English folk would make a living off'n that and the fisheries. I know how 't was in Boston--the Flemings would salt their fish down right aboard the ships when the fleets came in. But men for work like this must be men--not tyrants, nor slaves."

John Smith's eyes flashed, and his lips closed so tightly that his thick mustaches and beard stuck straight out like a lion's. He had seen a plenty of both slavery and tyranny in his life.

In fact there was a neck-and-neck race between the Plymouth Company and the Dutch West India Company, for the control of the northern province.

Dutch fur traders were already on Manhattan Island living in makeshift wooden huts, and Adrian Block was exploring Long Island Sound, when John Smith went out to map the coast north of Cape Cod for Sir Ferdinando Gorges of the Plymouth Company in 1614. The two little English ships reached the part of the coast called by the Indians Monhegan in April of that year. They had general instructions to meet the cost of the expedition, if possible, by whaling, fishing and fur-trading. No true whales were found, however, and by the time the ships reached the fishing grounds the cod season was nearly past. Mullet and sturgeon were plentiful in summer, and while the sailors fished, Smith took a few men in a small boat and ranged the coast, trading for furs. Within a distance of fifty or sixty miles they got in exchange for such trifles as were prized by the Indians, more than a thousand beaver skins, a hundred or more martens and as many otter-pelts. On a rocky island four leagues from shore, in latitude 431/2, he made a garden in May which gave them all salad vegetables through June and July. Not a man of the twenty-five was ill even for a day. Cod, they learned, were abundant from March to the middle of June, and again from September to November, for cor-fish--salt fish or Poor John. The Indians said that the herring were more than the hairs of the head. Sturgeon, mullet, salmon, halibut and other fish were plentiful. Smith had a vision of comfortable independent mariners settled on farms all along the coast, sending their fish to market the year round, and sleeping every night at home. It seemed to him that here, in a hardy thrifty province which gold-seekers and gentlemen adventurers might scorn, he could contentedly end his days.

There was a pleasant inlet on the coast of a bold headland, north of Cape Cod, which he thought would be his choice for his plantation. This headland he had named Cape Tragabigzanda. There were three small round islands to be seen far to seaward, which he called the Three Turks'

Heads. One Sunday, "a faire sunshining day," he climbed a green height above Anusquam, and sitting on a huge boulder surveyed the bright and peaceful landscape and chose the site for his house. Good stone there would be in abundance, and mighty timbers that had been growing for him since the days of Noah. In this Province of New England a strong and fearless race would found new towns with the old names--Boston, Plymouth, Ipswich, Sandwich, Gloucester. So he dreamed until the sun went down under a canopy of crimson and gold, while the boat rocked in the little bay where he would have his wharf.

In 1619, when English Puritans began preparations for the founding of a new colony, he offered his services, but the older men would have none of him. He was a "Church of England Protestant" and one of the unregenerate with whom they had no fellowship. They took his map as a guide, and settled, not on Cape Tragabigzanda, which Prince Charles had re-named Cape Anne, but in the bay which he had called Plymouth. He spent some years in London writing an account of his adventures, and died in 1631 at the age of fifty-two--Captain John Smith, Admiral of New England.


The account of Captain John Smith's adventures among the Turks was at one time considered apocryphal, but good authorities now see no reason to regard his narrative of his own career as in any way inaccurate. The perils and strange chances which an adventurous man encountered in such times often seem almost incredible in a more peaceful age, but there is really no more reason to doubt them than to discredit authentic accounts of men like Daniel Boone, Francis Drake, or other men of similar disposition.


Through tangled mysteries of old romance Knights, Latin, Celt or Saxon, pass a-dream, Seeking the minarets of magic towers Through the witched woods that gleam.

Stately in trappings thick with gold and gems, Stern-browed and stubborn-eyed, they wandered forth, As children credulous, as strong men brave, To South, and West, and North.

Our venturous pilots map the windy skies; To serve our pleasure, huger galleons wait.

Aflame with more than magic lights, our walls Guard the Manhattan Gate!


Among the sources of information from which the historical material of this book are drawn are the following works:

Voyages, HAKLUYT

The Discovery of America. JOHN FISKE

Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America. JOHN FISKE

The Conquest of Mexico. PRESCOTT

Two Voyages in New England. J. JOSSELYN

Adventures and Conquests of Magellan. GEORGE MAKEPEACE TOWLE

Narrative and Critical History of America. (Edited by JUSTIN WINSOR)

The People for Whom Shakespeare Wrote. WARNER

The Romance of Colonization. G. BARNETT SMITH


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