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. 

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