Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving Memories

As you eat your Thanksgiving turkey, remember that the Susan Constant got here long before the Mayflower.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Remembering a soldier from long ago

For Veterans’ Day Weekend, a monument to Captain John Smith (1580-1631) soldier, founder.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lady Frances and Captain Smith in the 1630s. Who knows?


        John Smith died on June 21, 1631. His burial place is  in the south aisle of Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church, Holborn Viaduct, London. The church is the largest parish church in the City of London, dating from 1137. 
       Captain John Smith's life  is memorialized by a fine stained- glass window in the south wall of the church.

       Who ordered his burial? Who commanded the memorial window?

       Lady Frances kept the title Duchess of Richmond until her death on October 8, 1639. She is buried in Westminster Abbey next to her third husband, in the tomb she had designed in his memory.
      Mysteries upon mysteries. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

John Smith and Lady Frances

Portrait of Lady Frances, Countess of Hertford, in 1611.

                 How well did she know John Smith?

         Her husband, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, was Smith’s “best friend.” The Earl died at age 81 on April 6, 1621. Lady Frances was then 43 years old. John Smith was 41. A wealthy widow, Frances nonetheless wasted no time in attaching herself to a new husband:  Just two months after Edward died, Frances married a 47-year-old Scottish nobleman, Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox. He was a cousin of King James I. A member of the Privy Council, he was also Steward of the Royal Household. Steward became Earl of Newcastle upon Tyne and Duke of Richmond on August 17, 1623, but did not enjoy those titles very long. He died at age 50 in his bed (of a heart attack?) at Whitehall on the morning of February 16, 1624. As his widow, Lady Frances, now wealthier than ever, became known as the “Double Duchess.”

         On July 12, 1624 John Smith’s monumental Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles was published. It was dedicated To the Illustrious and Most Noble Princesse, the Lady Francis, Duchesse of Richmond and Lenox. A  1623 engraving of her image was bound into the original edition.

          Lady Frances financed John Smith’s book.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

More John Smith Mysteries

John Smith, like many other Englishmen who came to Jamestown in 1607, nearly died there. Critically wounded in the mysterious gunpowder accident in 1609, he had little choice but to return to England.  

Where he stayed, and what he did then, remain mysteries with few clues.

·      After his return to England, Smith put together his book, A Map of Virginia, which was published in 1612 and dedicated “To the right honorable Sir Edward Semer Knight, Baron Beauchamp, and Earle of Hartford.”

·      The dedication is in two surviving copies of Smith’s historic book. One of the copies, now in the New York Public Library, belonged to Edward Seymour.

·      In the dedication, Smith writes: “It is the best gift I can give to the best friend I have. l  . . In the harbour of your Lordships favour, I hope I ever shall rest secure . . . .

Did Smith, recovering from his wound, and writing his book, stay with Seymour from 1609 to 1612--and after?

·      One of Seymour’s properties was Hertford House, a London town house on Cannon Row in Westminster.

Edward Seymour was a nephew of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII

The earl’s wife was Frances Howard, a great beauty. She was 34 years old in 1612. John Smith was 32.

Frances’s husband was 39 years older than she. He was 73 in 1612.

Pity that Frances did not keep a diary.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer at Jamestown --and elsewhere

James River
Summertime at Jamestown, 1606

Summertime in Houston, 2016

Look for more blogs in August!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Summer at Jamestown, July 1607: Some good news, some bad.

The first summer at Jamestown, July 1607

In the journal kept by the colony’s first president, Edward Wingfield, on July 3, 1607 there was some good news, and some not so good:

Seven or eight Indians presented President Wingfield with a Dear (sic).”

About this tyme divers (sic) of our men fell sick.”

And some of them died.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summertime, Jamestown 1607: No vacation!

 Having a hot summer?
Think of the English at Jamestown, summer 1607:  

       There was back-breaking, hand-blistering labor to do as soon as they had picked a place—marshy and unhealthy, as it turned out--to settle. Sailing more than thirty miles up the wide river that they named the James after King James I, they chose a small, wooded peninsula about two miles long and a mile to a mile and a half wide. It was actually an island, separated from the mainland by a shallow creek, but the James River was six fathoms [36 feet], deep enough to moor their ships a stone’s throw from the shore.
        By June 15, seven weeks after they arrived, 104 men and boys (one man had died on the voyage) had finished an enormous task: They had built a fort at the site they called Jamestown. Working and sweating in the hot Virginia sun, they dug over 1,600 feet of trenches nearly three feet deep to form a huge triangle by the river’s edge. They chopped down hundreds of pine and oak and elm trees. They dragged heavy logs of up to one foot in diameter, one by one, to set vertically in the trenches to make a palisade with walls eleven to fifteen feet high. When it was finished, the fort by the river covered about an acre and a half, or roughly the area of two football fields. It was 140 yards long on the side facing the river, and 100 yards on each of the other two sides. With guns mounted at each angle and only one entrance, a massive log gate on the side facing the river, this palisaded fort would be a comforting defense against invaders—either Indian or Spanish.

     Invaders would be the least of their worries. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Blog Break

"June is bustin' out all over. . . ." 
Time to take a blog break! 

More later. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pocahontas: What’s in a Name?

         Donald Trump recently called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas, a name that is offensive in some usages to Native Americans, especially women. Every school child in America knows who Pocahontas was, bur not many know her other names.

         When John Smith met her in 1608, she was a little girl of ten or so. Pocahontas was her nickname. It meant Little Mischief. Her real name was Matoaka, an Algonquin Indian name of unknown meaning. It has been said to mean Bright Stream between the Hills, or One Who Kindles, but who knows? The first record of it is in a letter by a Virginia colonist in 1614, when she married another colonist, John Rolfe. If, as some have suggested, Matoaka was Pocahontass secret name, kept secret by a superstitious fear of hurt by the English, (Samuel Purchas, 1625), we have no proof that this was so. If Pocahontass secret name might cause the English to harm her, why did she let it appear in A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia, a public relations tract put out by the Virginia Company in 1615?
         Her other name was Rebecca, given her when she was baptized as a Christian in 1614.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jamestown: "Savages" and "Foreigners" meet.

        Four hundred and nine years ago this month, in May 1607, a small group of Englishmen exploring Virginia met an Indian werowance (or chief). This werowance had invited them to visit him, and he came out to meet them. One of the Englishmen, George Percy, wrote that this chief wore  “a crown of deer’s hair colored red in fashion of a rose fastened about his knot of hair, and a great plate of copper on the other side of his head, with two long feathers in fashion of a pair of horns placed in the middle of his crown, his body was painted all with crimson, with a chain of beads about his neck, his face painted blue, besprinkled with silver ore as we thought, his ears all behung with bracelets of pearl, and in either ear a bird’s claw through it beset with fine copper or gold. . . .”  
         --George Percy, “Observations . . . in Virginia . . .  1606.
        Besides that, this werowance was walking to meet them and playing a flute made of a reed.
         Seventeenth-century Englishmen weren’t the only ones who liked ceremonies and dressed elaborately. Yet the English colonists called the Indians “savages.”
         The Indians, more politely, called the English “foreigners.” 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jamestowne Talk

Giving a talk for the Jamestowne Society today about JAMESTOWN: THE NOVEL.
"From History to Fiction--and Back."

More about John Smith to come.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

John Smith writes a "tell all" book about Jamestown.



      To begin, John Smith put together a small book called A Map of Virginia. Friends and comrades who had been in Virginia with him and who had seen what happened there after he left wrote part of it, and, as Smith’s biographer and editor, Philip Barbour, said, “Together they wrote the book telling their side of the story, and apparently against the wishes of the Virginia Company together they got it printed in Oxford. . . .” There was nothing the Virginia Company could do about it.
       One of the most important books about Virginia ever printed, it contains, as the title promises, a historic map, with Smith’s incomparable description of “the Country, the Commodities, People, Government, and Religion.” But it also contains a narrative of the “Proceedings” of the colony from the voyage of the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery in 1606 to the death of Sir George Somers in Bermuda in 1609. Here, for all of England to read, were firsthand accounts of the explorations, the confrontations with the Indians, the diseases and disasters, and the Starving Time with all its horrors. George Percy, newly returned from Virginia in the fall of 1612, must have been furious. He did not produce his narrative until 1625, and it was not published in his lifetime. A Map of Virginia made another account superfluous.

      In 1624, John Smith would publish his masterpiece, The General History of Virginia. 

      How truthful was John Smith?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

“A book with the truth set down....”


  Francis’s brother Thomas West, Lord de La Warr, was scheduled to sail soon with a massive relief expedition for the beleaguered Virginia colony: over a thousand colonists and ample supplies for them and the survivors at Jamestown. But he would be sailing without Captain John Smith, whose gunpowder wound would keep him out of commission for as much as a year. Even now, after four months, theslightest exertion exhausted him; the smallest movement of his right leg pained him. For the time being, at least, Smith knew that he would have to be relegated to another, lesser role in the affairs of the colony so dear to his heart.
        “What will you do now?” Sir Thomas asked as the two sipped their liquor. Smith studied the liquid in his cup.
        “I don’t know,” he said.
  “No man in England knows more about Virginia than you do,” Sir Thomas said. “Why don’t you write something? God knows, the Company needs all the help it can get. A book with the truth set down would be very useful indeed.”

--Jamestown: The Novel

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Smith vs. Smythe, London 1610, continued...

   And so, for the next hour, John Smith told Thomas Smythe of what had transpired in Virginia, of the discord and factions, of the troubles with the Indians, of the plots against his life.
   “I have read Archer’s and Ratclie’s letters,” Sir Thomas said, tapping his fingers thoughtfully on the polished surface of the table in front of him. “Archer says you sided with the sailors and refused to surrender your commission as president; Ratcliffe says you were high-handed, and—how did he put it? You ‘were sent home to answer some misdemeanors.’ From the tone of voice, Smith could not tell what his host was thinking.   
   Suddenly, Sir Thomas looked up and smiled. “And I say Archer’s a rumormonger and Ratcliffe’s a bastard. Have some aqua vitae.”
Relief, like a warm, welcome bath, washed over John Smith. His frail, ravaged body straightened slightly; his awful wound felt as if someone had spread a healing balm over it. He was not, then, out of favor with the Virginia Company Council. He knew he was not at fault; he had followed his own best judgment and had written in his own defense, but he was, after all, only the son of a yeoman farmer in Willoughby, Lincolnshire, and the men he dealt with were the sons of old, distinguished families. Francis West and his brother Thomas, Virginia’s future governor, were first cousins twice removed to the late Queen of England, and John Smith had made an implacable enemy of Francis West.

from Jamestown: The Novel

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Smith vs. Smythe, London, 1610

John Smith’s interview in London, continued:

Ah, Captain Smith! How are you?” Sir Thomas strode into the hall, his wine-colored velvet robe sweeping behind him.
“Not so well as I’d like, or as I’d hoped to be by now,” Smith said. He planned to proceed cautiously, not knowing what conflicting reports had reached the man who stood smiling before him. Thomas Smythe, treasurer of the Virginia Company, member of the Haberdashers’ and Skinners’ Companies, the Levant Company, and at one time governor of the Muscovy Company, was also a member of one of the richest merchant families in all of England. His elegant house in Philpot Lane, not far from the tall spires of the Church of St. Margaret’s Pattens, had become the headquarters of the Virginia Company. It was here that the Company’s broadsides instructed all interested “workmen of whatever craft they may be, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, shipwrights, turners and such as know how to plant vineyards, hunters, fishermen, and all who work in any kind of metal, men who make bricks, architects, bak- ers, weavers, shoemakers, sawyers and those who spin wool and all others, men as well as women, who have any occupation, who wish to go out” to Virginia, to come and have their names entered on the list and receive in- structions about their work for the Company and their eventual share in the division of land. Those who did not wish to go to Virginia themselves could buy a share of the joint-stock issue for twelve pounds sterling. Then, as the Virginia Company fervently hoped, the new colony’s future earnings would provide them all with handsome profits.
“Come into the library,” Sir Thomas said. When he and Smith were inside, he closed the large double doors carefully and turned the brass lock. “Now,” he said, “we can talk undisturbed—and not be overheard. I have read your letter, but I want to hear what happened in your own words.”