Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, and a fine 2015!

Jamestown Mysteries will continue when the new year begins.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A grisly “sacrifice” on the river, July 10, 1610

         Humphrey Blunt had volunteered. As his cries split the air of the calm afternoon, that was the only consolation Lieutenant General Gates and Captain Yardley had.
         Approaching Point Comfort in the pinnace Discovery, they had found the fort’s longboat broken free from its moorings. “Let me go after it,” Blunt had said. “I can take the little canoe and catch her, tie her line round my waist, and tow her back in a trice.” Small and agile, he had been a waterman on the Thames River when he was twelve.
         Now the Indians had him.
         A sudden and contrary wind had blown his canoe and the longboat against the sandy riverbank on the Nansemond side, and before he could push off, there was a wild, gleeful shouting from the woods, and nine Indians wearing the heads of bears and foxes ran out. Two of the tallest ones took Humphrey Blunt by the arms and dragged him out of the canoe. On the deck of the Discovery, Thomas Gates, George Yardley, and the rest of the men could do nothing but watch in horror.
         Gates, his knuckles white on the hilt of his sword, cursed himself for letting Blunt go. There was nothing they could do now. By the time they could load and fire a round from the ship’s demi-culverins, poor Blunt would be dead and the Indians long gone.
         “Shall I order the men to fire, sir?” Yardley asked.
         “No. No point wasting powder and shot.” Gates pounded both first helplessly on the Discovery’s gunwale.

         “Save it for later,” he said through his teeth.        

Sunday, December 14, 2014

1610: Hunger a permanent resident at Jamestown

It was Somers who thought of going to Bermuda for food, but De La Warr took the credit for it. He wrote his own letter to the Earl of Salisbury after the admiral’s departure: “I dispatched Sir George Sommers back again to the Barmudas, the good old gentleman [Somers was fifty-six; De La Warr was thirty-three at the time] out of his love and zeal not motioning [opposing], but most cheerfully and resolutely undertaking to perform so dangerous a voyage, and, if it please God he do safely return, he will store us with hog’s flesh and fish enough to serve the whole colony this winter.”
That was wishful thinking.
         Meanwhile, De La Warr set his men and others who were able-bodied to work. Some were put to cleaning up the debris of ruined houses inside the fort, others to making coal for the forges (blacksmiths were essential for making tools and weapons and ammunition), still others to fish, but the latter, the Captain-General noted with disappointment, “had ill success” in the James River. The starving residents of Jamestown had become too weak and too frightened of Indians to fish in the river, and they had let their nets—fourteen of them by one count—rot to pieces. The newcomers had some nets, but they had little luck in casting them. They hauled in their nets every day and night, “sometimes a dosen times one after the other,” but they did not catch enough to feed even a fourth of the people who were there.
         Hunger--gnawing, gut-wrenching hunger, was becoming a permanent resident of Jamestown.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Was Admiral Somers up to something?

       On June 10, just five days after De La Warr had taken command at Jamestown, the indomitable Admiral Sir George Somers had a plan to feed the colony: he would sail back to Bermuda and bring back six months’ worth of pork and fish and turtle meat. He wrote of this scheme in a letter to Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury, saying “I am in a good opinion to be back again before the Indians do gather their harvest. Bermuda is the most plentiful place that ever I came to for fish, hogs, and fowl.” Somers was also remembering the castaways who were left there: Christopher Carter and Robert Waters were waiting to see him again. He was eager to return “by reason of his promise to those two left behind, as [well as] upon an affection he carried to the place it selfe. . . .”
         Here is another Jamestown mystery--or rather, a Bermuda one: Some say that Admiral Somers had a secret agreement with the two men he left behind in Bermuda, and that he planned to set up his own colony there. In that case, no wonder he was eager to get back to Bermuda.
         Somers sailed for Bermuda on June 19, 1610. He went in his own pinnace, the Patience, and with him went Samuel Argall in the Discovery. The residents of Jamestown watched hopefully and By June 22 (as always, obliged to sail with the outgoing tides) they reached Chesapeake Bay and, as Strachey put it, “left the Bay, or Cape Henry, a sterne.”
         Argall they would see again; Somers, never.