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 But those instructions were out of date.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.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"A daily diet providing 5000 calories or more...."

In May 1610, after blaming Captain Davis for keeping Algernon Fort’s abundant food a secret whlle Jamestown’s residents starved, President Percy proposed an illogical rescue plan: he would “bring half of our men (what about the women?) from James Towne to be there relieved.” (“Half” by that time would have been about thirty, or all that one of Davis’s pinnaces would hold.) Then, as if Percy feared to impose too many hungry visitors at one time on Captain Davis, Percy said he would  “Return them back again [to Jamestown] and bring the rest to be sustayned there [at Algernon Fort] also.”
How long did Percy think it took for starving people to be “relieved”? One or two hearty meals?
Neither George Percy nor anyone else knew what modern medicine knows about the cure for starvation:

If the degree of malnutrition is severe, the intestines may not tolerate a fully balanced diet. They may, in fact, not be able to absorb adequate nutrition at all. . . . The treatment back to health is long and first begins with liquids. Gradually, solid foods are introduced and a daily diet providing 5,000 calories or more is instituted. (

         No colonist would see 5,000 calories in a day at Jamestown for at least a decade.