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.