Saturday, May 3, 2014

A sword “hatched with gold”

After John Smith left Jamestown, George Percy, the eighth son of Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, was in charge, Percy, like Smith, was a thirty-year-old bachelor, but there the similarities ended. Unlike Smith, Percy was not noted for his leadership. He was “easily highest in rank,” but according to a Dutch scholar who wrote about Jamestown, “no-one, either old [settler] or new comer would pay him much heed.” Percy took on the presidency of the Virginia colony reluctantly. He was not physically strong, and it is now believed that he suffered from epilepsy.

By English law, George Percy was a younger son who stood to inherit nothing. He was in fact the youngest son: he had seven older brothers. When Percy was five years old his father died, and his eldest brother, Henry Algernon Percy, at age twenty-one, became the ninth earl of Northumberland. George Percy was not rich, and he was not handsome, either. A portrait painted in 1615, when he was thirty-five, shows a face with a grotesquely long nose that almost overshadows a miniscule mustache and thin, pursed lips. A fishlike gaze and a receding chin suggest an air of self-doubt, of uncertainty. But he liked to dress well: Living in a log fort in the wilds of Virginia, he ordered goods from London that included fabric for five taffeta-faced suits and a doublet, two hats with silk and gold bands, and a dozen Holland linen shirts with cambric bands [collars] and cuffs, and a sword “hatched with gold.”

This was the man who presided over the Starving Time. What the other residents at Jamestown thought of him is not known--but it might be easy to guess.

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