Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, and a fine 2015!

Jamestown Mysteries will continue when the new year begins.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A grisly “sacrifice” on the river, July 10, 1610

         Humphrey Blunt had volunteered. As his cries split the air of the calm afternoon, that was the only consolation Lieutenant General Gates and Captain Yardley had.
         Approaching Point Comfort in the pinnace Discovery, they had found the fort’s longboat broken free from its moorings. “Let me go after it,” Blunt had said. “I can take the little canoe and catch her, tie her line round my waist, and tow her back in a trice.” Small and agile, he had been a waterman on the Thames River when he was twelve.
         Now the Indians had him.
         A sudden and contrary wind had blown his canoe and the longboat against the sandy riverbank on the Nansemond side, and before he could push off, there was a wild, gleeful shouting from the woods, and nine Indians wearing the heads of bears and foxes ran out. Two of the tallest ones took Humphrey Blunt by the arms and dragged him out of the canoe. On the deck of the Discovery, Thomas Gates, George Yardley, and the rest of the men could do nothing but watch in horror.
         Gates, his knuckles white on the hilt of his sword, cursed himself for letting Blunt go. There was nothing they could do now. By the time they could load and fire a round from the ship’s demi-culverins, poor Blunt would be dead and the Indians long gone.
         “Shall I order the men to fire, sir?” Yardley asked.
         “No. No point wasting powder and shot.” Gates pounded both first helplessly on the Discovery’s gunwale.

         “Save it for later,” he said through his teeth.        

Sunday, December 14, 2014

1610: Hunger a permanent resident at Jamestown

It was Somers who thought of going to Bermuda for food, but De La Warr took the credit for it. He wrote his own letter to the Earl of Salisbury after the admiral’s departure: “I dispatched Sir George Sommers back again to the Barmudas, the good old gentleman [Somers was fifty-six; De La Warr was thirty-three at the time] out of his love and zeal not motioning [opposing], but most cheerfully and resolutely undertaking to perform so dangerous a voyage, and, if it please God he do safely return, he will store us with hog’s flesh and fish enough to serve the whole colony this winter.”
That was wishful thinking.
         Meanwhile, 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.
         Hunger--gnawing, gut-wrenching hunger, was becoming a permanent resident of Jamestown.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Was Admiral Somers up to something?

       On June 10, just five days after De La Warr had taken command at Jamestown, the indomitable Admiral Sir George Somers had a plan to feed the colony: he would sail back to Bermuda and bring back six months’ worth of pork and fish and turtle meat. He wrote of this scheme in a letter to Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury, saying “I am in a good opinion to be back again before the Indians do gather their harvest. Bermuda is the most plentiful place that ever I came to for fish, hogs, and fowl.” Somers was also remembering the castaways who were left there: Christopher Carter and Robert Waters were waiting to see him again. He was eager to return “by reason of his promise to those two left behind, as [well as] upon an affection he carried to the place it selfe. . . .”
         Here is another Jamestown mystery--or rather, a Bermuda one: Some say that Admiral Somers had a secret agreement with the two men he left behind in Bermuda, and that he planned to set up his own colony there. In that case, no wonder he was eager to get back to Bermuda.
         Somers sailed for Bermuda on June 19, 1610. He went in his own pinnace, the Patience, and with him went Samuel Argall in the Discovery. The residents of Jamestown watched hopefully and By June 22 (as always, obliged to sail with the outgoing tides) they reached Chesapeake Bay and, as Strachey put it, “left the Bay, or Cape Henry, a sterne.”
         Argall they would see again; Somers, never.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Spain gloats as England’s fledgling colony starves.

     Word of Jamestown’s ttroubles made the Spanish gleeful. On June 14, 1610, the Spanish ambassador in London, Don Alonso de Velasco, wrote to King Philip III of Spain. Some of Jamestown’s news was old, but he put in all he had heard, aiming to please the king. His letter repeats the cannibalism stories with grisly relish, and sees little hope for Virginia’s survival:

... the Indians hold the English surrounded in the strong place which they had erected there, having killed the larger part of them, and the others were left so entirely without provisions that they thought it impossible to escape, because the survivors eat the dead, and when one of the natives died fighting, they dug him up again, two days afterwards, to be eaten. The swine which they carried there and which commenced to multiply, the Indians killed, and almost all who came in this vessel died from having eaten dogs, cat skins, and other vile stuff. Unless they succor them with some provisions in an English ship which they met close to the Azores, they must have perished before this....Thus it looks as if the zeal for this enterprise was cooling off, and it would on that account be very easy to make and end of it altogether by sending out a few ships to finish what might be left in that place, which is so important for pirates.
         From Chesapeake Bay, pirates could prey on Spanish galleons, laden with gold and silver from mines in Spain’s New World colonies. No starvation there.

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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What if they waited too long--and starved to death?

          Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates must have felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. The success or failure of England’s only colony in the New World, a project that had taken years of work and thousands of pounds sterling to execute, now depended on the judgment of one man. What if they stayed too long—and the relief ships did not come? What if they starved to death?
Gates would have to make that choice. At last the Deliverance, the Patience, and the Discovery were ready to set sail. The Virginia waited rigged and ready to join them at Fort Algernon. Some people wanted to burn the Jamestown palisade and its ramshackle contents as they left, but Gates craftily refused.
“Lett the towne Stande,” he said. “We know nott but thatt as honest men as ourselves may come and inhabitt here.” But they buried the cannons in the soft earth in front of the fort’s gate. There was no point in providing artillery to the Spanish when they came, as most everyone thought they would. In case any die-hard malcontents disobeyed orders and tried to set fire to the fort, Gates ordered his own men to remain ashore until everyone else had boarded the pinnaces. He himself was the last to leave.
With a “peale of small shot” to mark their departure, the four pinnaces set sail about noon. By night, riding the outgoing tide, they had sailed nearly four miles downriver and dropped anchor off Hog Island.

It was June 7, 1610.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

There was only one thing to do: abandon Jamestown.

They would take everyone. They would sail in four small pinnaces—the Bermuda-built Deliverance and Patience, and the Virginia-based Discovery and Virginia, parceling out their precious store of meal aboard each vessel. Barrels of water they could get from the well at Jamestown, one of the fort’s few remaining amenities.
They would sail 40 miles downriver to Chesapeake Bay and then set their courses northward. They would hug the Atlantic coast and make for Newfoundland, where the fishing season had begun. There they would seek out the English ships and plead to be taken aboard as passengers (along with cargoes of salted codfish) when they sailed for home.

At least, that is what they thought.

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates had another plan in mind. He knew that there was another expedition from London bound for Virginia with food and supplies, but he had no idea when it had left England, or when it would reach Virginia. With that in mind, he secretly intended to “stay some ten days at Cape Comfort [Fort Algernon]” in case the relief ships should arrive. And he did not tell the colonists—nearly 250 of them, including Captain Davis and the men at the fort—that he was planning to use up ten precious days’ worth of food waiting for rescue.

What if ten days passed, and no relief ships came?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Ten days from starving"

         From May 23 to June 7, 1610 the Bermuda castaways and the Jamestown survivors shared what little food they had left. (The Jamestown Recovery Project has unearthed the bones of cahow birds, which had been part of the provisions brought from Bermuda. These birds were a dietary staple there, being “well-relished fowl, as fat and full as a partridge.”) But the Bermuda adventurers had stowed only enough food for their voyage, and they were now themselves about “ten days from starving.”
         The malnourished Jamestown residents, most now unable to tolerate solid food, even if there had been any, were trying to live on a “thin unsavory broth” of boiled mushrooms and herbs, “which swelled them much.” The able-bodied newcomers tried fishing, but the James River “had not now a fish to be seen in it.” Fishing for seven days as far downriver as Chesapeake Bay yielded barely enough to sustain the fishermen--not enough to bring back to Jamestown.
         In the holds of the Patience  and the Deliverance the only edibles that remained were a few barrels of meal. Upon careful measuring and grim consultation, the leaders determined that there was enough for each person to have “two cakes [baked bread] a day”--for 16 days.

         Then what?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Starvation at Jamestown: “hallucinations and convulsions....”

         William Strachey wrote of Jamestown’s poor inhabitants that there were “many more particularities of their sufferances . . . than I have the heart to express.” He had seen people starving, out of their minds from hunger. What did they say? What did they do? He did not say.
         George Percy, the man who surely must share blame for the pitiful conditions at Jamestown, did not hesitate to set down the ugly details that accompanied starvation. He wrote of a colonist named Hugh Pryse, “beinge pinched with extreme famin, in a furious distracted moode“ who ran into the center of the marketplace “Blaspheameinge exclaimeinge and Cryeinge outt thatt there was noe god, alledgeinge thatt if there were a god he would not Suffer his Creatures whome he had made and framed, to indure those miseries and to perish for wante of food and Sustenance.”
         Percy did not know that people in the last stages of starvation may become mentally disturbed and experience hallucinations. When Pryse and another colonist, “a Butcher, a Corpulentt fatt man” went into the woods to look for something to eat, the Indians killed them both. Percy wrote with some satisfaction that God had punished Pryse for his earlier blasphemous talk, because his corpse was dismembered, perhaps by wolves, and his bowels torn out of his body. But the fat butcher, “not lyeing above sixe yardes from him, was fownd altogether untouched, onely by the salvages arrowes whereby he Receaved his deathe.” 
         Poor Hugh Pryse. Poor butcher. Poor Jamestown.

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.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"To save our men's Lives...."

Algernon Fort, May 1610:
George Percy meant well. He had a Plan B: “And if all this [half the Jamestown colonists at a time] would not serve to save our men’s Lives I purposed to bring them all unto Algernown’s foarte.” That would have meant sailing both of Davis’s pinnaces upriver to transport the remaining men, women, and children, sixty or more severely malnourished people. There was not enough housing for sixty people at Algernon Fort.

Did Captain Davis see a problem with this?  Percy implied as much. He argued with Davis  “that another towne or forte might be erected and Builded, but mens lives once Lost could never be recovered.” Evidently Percy won out. He said that he planned to start for Jamestown “by the very next tide.”

            But that tide came and went, and Percy did not sail with it.