Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Jamestown Mysteries Unearthed!

         Gabriel Archer, now a “person of interest” whose grave was discovered in recent Jamestown excavations, was always a thorn in John Smith’s side--for reasons unknown. In January 1608 Archer, then a member of the Virginia Company Council, tried to have Smith executed for causing the deaths of two men who had been killed by Indians on Smith’s recent expedition upriver. John Robinson died with “20 or 30 arrows in him.” Thomas Emry simply disappeared. Archer, “indicted him [Smith] upon a chapter in Leviticus for the death of his two men.” The Old Testament book of Leviticus, contains the famous “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” passage that ends “just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted upon him.” (Leviticus, 20:24.) For an account of this incident see Edward Maria Wingfield, “A Discourse of Virginia,” in Jamestown Narratives, Edward Wright Haile, ed., (1998), p. 196, and Virginia Bernhard, A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda? (2011), pp. 42-43.                 
         Did Archer have a Bible handy in the wilds of Virginia in 1608? Or was he so well versed in Scripture he could cite chapter and verse as needed? (The Geneva Bible of 1560 was the standard English one, and the first one with numbered verses.) Just how religious was Archer, who, it appears, was buried in 1610 with a Catholic reliquary in his grave?
         Smith was saved by a stroke of luck: On the very day of his trial, who should arrive but Captain Christopher Newport with supplies and a hundred new colonists? In the excitement, Smith’s alleged crime was apparently cancelled. But Archer’s vendetta against John Smith was not.
         None of the extant sources say what Archer had against Smith. Gabriel Archer (1575-1610), educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn, and John Smith (1580-1631), a grammar school dropout, were nearly the same age, but of vastly different backgrounds. Something set them against each other. Four centuries later, we are still looking for answers.


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