Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Starving Time: “Extreme misery and want.”

Fort Algernon, January 1610

         Somehow Francis West and his men aboard the Swallow escape from the enraged Patawomecks, leaving furious enemies behind. Meanwhile, upriver at Jamestown, Percy and the horde of hungry colonists are eagerly watching for the little ship that might be bringing precious grain. But the impetuous West and his crew have other ideas. When they reach Chesapeake Bay and approach Algernon Fort on their return voyage, something happens to change their course.
         Percy writes in his journal that “Captain Davis [at Algernon Fort] did call to them [West, et al.,] acquainting them with our great wants, exhorting them to make all the speed they could [to Jamestown] to relieve us.” Instead, says Percy, West and his company “hoisted up sails and shaped their course directly for England.”
         Was this Francis West’s decision? Was it a mutiny of the Swallow’s crew, seizing their chance to sail for home and leave wretched Virginia behind? No one knows. As one historian put it, “West’s unauthorized and surreptitious departure from Jamestown in the Swallow has been glossed over by most historians.” Except for George Percy, none of West’s contemporaries seemed to care about it, either. Francis West absconded with a Virginia Company ship, but no one in that august organization mentioned it. Perhaps it was because West’s great-grandmother was Queen Anne Boleyn’s sister, and his brother was governor of Virginia.

         Another Jamestown mystery.

         But as George Percy writes sadly, West’s departure in the Swallow in the winter of 1610 leaves Jamestown in “extreme misery and want.”

The Starving Time is about to get worse. Much worse.  

No comments:

Post a Comment