Saturday, April 4, 2015

A gallows built, and a hanging averted

     On April 4, 1607, 408 years ago today, the three Virginia-bound ships were cruising the Caribbean. The next day, April 5, was Easter Sunday (according to the Old-Style Julian calendar, which the contrary English used until 1752). Did those aboard the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery celebrate Easter? Did their Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Robert Hunt, at least offer some prayers? If so, there is no record of it. The weather at that time of year must have been pleasant, but all was not pleasant at sea. John Smith was still “restrained,” perhaps still in chains, and had just escaped a hanging. We can only imagine what kinds of conversation he had with his captors, and they with him.
      Whatever passed between Smith and his enemies, when they went ashore on the island of Nevis, things were nasty enough for them (who?) to order a gallows built: They aimed to hang John Smith. That was on April 2.
      The only extant record of this does not name names. But John Smith “could not be persuaded” (whatever that means) to “use” the gallows. Captain Christopher Newport ruled that there was not enough evidence (whatever that was) to warrant a hanging.

      So they all climbed back aboard their three small ships, and set sail again for Virginia.
         What had John Smith, the doughty adventurer born on a Lincolnshire farm  done to get himself in so much trouble?
         They would not set foot on the coast of Virginia until April 26.

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