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The United States of America: A History
Book 1: Chapter III - Virginia


Sir WALTER RALEIGH spent a large fortune in attempting to colonize Virginia. He succeeded in directing the attention of his countrymen to the region which had kindled his own enthusiasm. But his colonies never prospered. Sometimes the colonists returned home disgusted by the hardships of the wilderness. Once they were massacred by the Indians. When help came from England the infant settlement was in ruins. The bones of unburied men lay about the fields; wild deer strayed among the untenanted houses. Once a colony wholly disappeared. To this day its fate is unknown.

1606 A.D.

Sir Walter was enduring his long captivity in the Tower, writing his "History of the World," and moaning piteously over the havoc which prison-damps wrought upon his handsome frame. The time had now come, and his labours were about to bear fruit. The history of Virginia was about to open. It opened with meagre promise. A charter from the King established a Company whose function was to colonize—whose privilege was to trade. The Company sent out an expedition which sailed in three small vessels, it consisted of one hundred and five men. Of these one-half were gentlemen of broken fortune. Some were tradesmen; others were footmen. Only a very few were farmers, or mechanics, or persons in any way fitted for the life they sought. Morally the aspect of the expedition was even more discouraging. "An hundred dissolute persons" were on board the ships. The respectable portions of the expedition must have gone into very little room.

But, happily for Virginia, there sailed with these reprobate founders of a new empire a man whom Providence had highly gifted with fitness to govern his fellow-men. his name was John Smith. No writer of romance would have given his hero this name. But, in spite of his name, the man was truly heroic. He was still under thirty, a strong-limbed, deep-chested, massively-built man. From boyhood he had been a soldier—roaming over the world in search of adventures, wherever hard blows were being exchanged. He was mighty in single combat. Once, while opposing armies looked on, he vanquished three Turks, and, like David, cut off their heads, and bore them to his tent. Returning to England when the passion for colonizing was at its height, he caught at once the prevailing impulse. He joined the Virginian expedition. Ultimately he became its chief. His fitness was so manifest, that no reluctance on his own part, no jealousies on that of his companions, could bar him from the highest place. Men became Kings of old by the same process which now made Smith a chief.

The "dissolute persons" sailed in their ships up the James river. Landing there, they proceeded to construct a little town, which they named Jamestown, in honour of the King. This was the first colony which struck its roots in American soil. The colonists were charmed with the climate and with the luxuriant beauty of the wilderness on whose confines they had settled. But as yet it was only a wilderness. The forest had to be cleared that food might be grown. The exiled gentlemen laboured manfully, but under grievous discouragements. "The axes so oft blistered their tender fingers, that many times every third blow had a loud oath to drown the echo." Smith was a man upon whose soul there lay a becoming reverence for sacred thugs, he devised how to have every man's oaths numbered; "and at night, for every oath, to have a can of water poured down his sleeve." Under this treatment the evil assuaged.

The emigrants had landed in early spring. Summer came with its burning heat. Supplies of food were low. "Had we been as free from all sins as from gluttony and drunkenness," Smith wrote, "we might have been canonized as saints." The colonists sickened and died. From those poor blistered fingers dropped for ever the unaccustomed axe. Before autumn every second man had died. But the hot Virginian sun, which proved so deadly to the settlers, ripened the wheat they had sowed in the spring, and freed the survivors from the pressure of want. Winter brought them a healthier temperature and abundant supplies of wild-fowl and game.

When the welfare of the colony was in some measure secured, Smith set forth with a few companions to explore the interior of the country. He and his followers were captured by the Indians. The followers were summarily butchered. Smith's composure did not fail him in the worst extremity. He produced his pocket-compass, and interested the savages by explaining its properties. He wrote a letter in their sight—to their infinite wonder. They spared him, and made a show of him in all the settlements round about. He was to them an unfathomable mystery. He was plainly superhuman. Whether his power would bring to them good or evil, they were not able to determine. After much hesitation they chose the course which prudence seem to counsel. They resolved to extinguish powers so formidable, regarding whose use they could obtain no guarantee. Smith was bound and stretched upon the earth, his head resting upon a great stone. The mighty club was uplifted to dash out his brains. But Smith was a man who won golden opinions of all. The Indian chief had a daughter, Pocahontas, a child of ten or twelve years. She could not bear to see the pleasing Englishman destroyed. As Smith lay waiting the fatal stroke, she caught him in her arms and interposed herself between him and the club. Her intercession prevailed, and Smith was set free.

Five years later, "an honest and discreet" young Englishman called John Rolfe loved this young Indian girl. He had a sore mental struggle about uniting himself with "one of barbarous breeding and of a cursed race." But love triumphed. He laboured for her conversion, and had the happiness of seeing her baptized in the little church of Jamestown. Then he married her. After a time he took her home to England. Her appearance was pleasing; her mind was acute; her piety was sincere; her manners bore picturesque evidence of her forest upbringing. The English King and Court regarded her with lively interest as the first-fruits of the wilderness. Great hopes were founded on this union of the two races. She is the brightest picture— this young Virginian wife and mother—which the history of the doomed native races presents to us. But she did not live to revisit her native land. Death parted her very early from her husband and her child.

When Smith returned from captivity the colony was on the verge of extinction. Only thirty-eight persons were left, and they were preparing to depart. With Smith, hope returned to the despairing settlers. They resumed their work, confident in the resources of their chief. Fresh arrivals from England cheered them. The character of these reinforcements had not as yet improved. "Vagabond gentlemen" formed still a large majority of the settlers—many of them, we are told, "packed off to escape worse destinies at home." The colony, thus composed, had already gained a very bad reputation: so bad that some, rather than be sent there, "chose to be hanged, and were." Over these most undesirable subjects Smith ruled with an authority which no man dared or desired to question. But he was severely injured by an accidental explosion of gunpowder. Surgical aid was not in the colony. Smith required to go to England, and once more hungry ruin settled down upon Virginia.

1610 A.D.

In six months the five hundred men whom Smith had left dwindled to sixty. These were already embarked and departing, when they were met by Lord Delaware, the new governor. Once more the colony was saved.

Years of quiet growth succeeded. Emigrants—not wholly now of the dissolute sort—flowed steadily in. Bad people bore rule in England during most of the seventeenth century, and they sold the good people to be slaves in Virginia. The victims of the brutal Judge Jeffreys—the Scotch Covenanters taken at Bothwell Bridge—were shipped off to this profitable market. In 1688 the population of Virginia had increased to 50,000. The little wooden capital swelled out. Other little wooden towns established themselves. Deep in the unfathomed wilderness rose the huts of adventurous settlers, in secluded nooks, by the banks of nameless Virginian streams. A semblance of roads connected the youthful communities. The Indians were relentlessly suppressed. The Virginians bought no land. They took what they required—slaying or expelling the former occupants. Perhaps there were faults on both sides. Once the Indians planned a massacre so cunningly that over three hundred Englishmen perished before the bloody hand of the savages could be stayed.

The early explorers of Virginia found tobacco in extensive use among the Indians. It was the chief medicine of the savages. Its virtues—otherwise unaccountable—were supposed to proceed from a spiritual presence whose home was in the plant. Tobacco was quickly introduced into England. It rose rapidly into favour. Men who had heretofore smoked only hemp knew how to prize tobacco. King James wrote vehemently against it. He issued a proclamation against trading in an article which was corrupting to mind and body. He taxed it heavily when he could not exclude it. The Pope excommunicated all who smoked in churches. But, in defiance of law and reason, the demand for tobacco continued to increase.

The Virginians found their most profitable occupation in supplying this demand. So eager were they, that tobacco was grown in the squares and streets of Jamestown. in the absence of money tobacco became the Virginian currency. Accounts were kept in tobacco. The salaries of members of Assembly, the stipends of clergymen, were paid in tobacco. Offences were punished by fines expressed in tobacco. Absence from church cost the delinquent fifty pounds; refusing to have his child baptized, two thousand pounds; entertaining a Quaker, five thousand pounds. When the stock of tobacco was unduly large, the currency was debased, and much inconvenience resulted. The Virginians corrected this evil in their monetary system by compelling every planter to burn a certain proportion of his stock.

Within a few years of the settlement the Virginians had a written Constitution, according to which they were ruled. They had a Parliament chosen by the burghs, and a Governor sent them from England. The Episcopal Church was established among them, and the colony divided into parishes. A College was erected for the use not only of the English, but also of the most promising young Indians. But they never became an educated people. Time population was widely scattered, so that schools were almost impossible. In respect of education, Virginia fell far behind her sisters in the North.


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