August, 1609: Four small, battered ships wallowed into Chesapeake Bay. They were all that was left of the great Sea Venture fleet that had sailed for Virginia in June of that year. One of these ships, the Blessing, was captained by Gabriel Archer, whose bones have been recently unearthed at Jamestown.
By August 11, 1609 the Blessing, the Lion, the Falcon, and the Unity were moored to trees on the riverbank at Jamestown. Neither the ships nor their passengers were in good shape. Gabriel Archer (John Smith’s old enemy) wrote a letter to a friend in London: “The Unity was sore distressed when she came up with us, for of seventy land men, she had not ten sound, and all her Sea men were downe, but onely the Master and his Boy, with one poor sailor. . . . In the Unity were borne two children at Sea, but both died, being both boyes.” A few days later the Diamond arrived, with her mainmast gone, and “many of her men very sick and weake . . . And some three or four dayes after her, came in the Swallow, with her maine Mast overboord also, and had a shrewd leake . . . .”
It is ironic that Gabriel Archer, who died during the “Starving Time,” also wrote of the colony’s perpetual food shortage. He blamed “Captain Newport and others” for leading the Virginia Company in London to believe that there was “such plenty of victuall in this Country, by which meanes they [the Virginia Company] have been slack in this supply.” “Upon this,” Archer wrote to his friend, “you that be adventurers [investors] must pardon us, if you find not return of Commodity so ample as you may expect, because the law of nature bids us seek sustenance first, and then to labour to content you afterwards. But upon this point I shall be more large in my next Letter.” Unfortunately, Archer’s “next letter” has been lost.
Another Jamestown mystery.