HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The History of the United States from 1492 to 1910, Volume 1
Columbus, Raleigh and Smith
by Hawthorne, Julian


The records will have it that America was discovered in consequence of the desire of Europe to profit by the commerce of Cathay, which had hitherto reached them only by the long and expensive process of a journey due west. One caravan had passed on the spices and other valuables to another, until they reached the Mediterranean. It was asked whether the trip could not be more quickly and cheaply made by sea. Assuming, as was generally done, that the earth was flat, why might not a man sail round the southern extremity of Africa, and up the other side to the Orient? It was true that the extremity of Africa might extend to the Southern ice, in which case this plan would not serve; but the attempt might be worth making. This was the view of Henry of Portugal, a scientific and ingenious prince, whose life covered the first sixty years of the Fifteenth Century. And Portuguese mariners did accordingly sail their little ships far down the Atlantic coast of the Dark Continent; but they did not venture quite far enough until long after good Prince Henry was dead, and Columbus had (in his own belief) pioneered a shorter way.

Columbus was a theorist and a visionary. Many men who have been able to show much more plausible grounds for their theories than he could for his have died the laughing-stock of the world. Columbus was a laughing-stock for nearly twenty years; but though the special application of his theory was absurdly wrong, yet in principle it chanced to be right; and he was so fortunate as to be empowered to bring it to a practical demonstration. His notion was that the earth was not flat, but round. Therefore the quickest route to the extreme East must be in exactly the opposite direction; the globe, he estimated, could not be much over fifteen thousand miles in girth; Cathay, by the land route, was twelve thousand miles or so east of Europe; consequently the distance west could not be more than three thousand. This could be sailed over in a month or two, and the saving in time and trouble would be immense.--Thus did he argue--shoving the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean, subtracting six or seven thousand miles from their united breadth, and obliterating entirely that western continent which he was fated to discover, though he was never to suspect its existence.

The heresy that the earth was a sphere had long been in existence; Aristotle being the earliest source to which it could be traced. Sensible people did not countenance it then, any more than they accept to-day the conjecture that other planets than this may be inhabited. They demonstrated its improbability on historical and religious grounds, and also made the point that, supposing it were round, and that Columbus were to sail down the under side of it, he would never be able to climb back again. But the Genoese was a man who became more firmly wedded to his opinion in proportion as it met with ridicule and opposition; proofs he had none of the truth of his pet idea; but he clung to it with a doggedness which must greatly have exasperated his interlocutors. By dint of sheer persistence, he almost persuaded some men that there might be something in his project; but he never brought any of them to the pitch of risking money on it. It was only upon a woman that he was finally able to prevail; and doubtless the intelligence of Isabella of Castile was less concerned in the affair than was her feminine imagination. Had she known more, she would have done less. But so, for that matter, would Columbus.

Almost as little is known of the personal character of this man as of Shakespeare's; and the portraits of him, though much more numerous than those of the poet, are even less compatible with one another. The estimates and conjectures of historians also differ; some describe a pious hero and martyr, others a dissolute adventurer and charlatan. We are constrained, in the end, to construct his effigy from our own best interpretation of the things he did. Some little learning he had; just enough, probably, to disturb the balance of his judgment. He could read Latin and make maps, and he had ample experience of practical navigation. His life as a mariner got him the habit of meditation, and this favored the espousal of theories, which, upon occasion, he could expound with volubility or defend with passion, as his Italian temperament prompted. His imagination was portentous, and the Fifteenth Century was hospitable to this faculty; there was nothing--except plain but unknown facts--too marvelous to be believed; and that Columbus was even more credulous than his contemporaries is proved by the evidence that even facts were not exempt from his entertainment. An ordinary appetite for the marvelous could swallow stories of chimeras dire, and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders; but nothing short of the profligate capacity of a Columbus could digest such a proposition as that the earth was round and could be circumnavigated. The type of half-educated fanatics to which he belonged has always been common; there is nothing exceptional or remarkable in this fanatic except the fortune which finally attended his lifelong devotion to the most improbable hypothesis of his time. It has been our custom to eulogize his courage and his constancy to the truth; but if he had adopted perpetual motion, instead of the rotundity of the earth, as his dogma, he would have deserved our praises just as much. His sole claim to our admiration is, that in the teeth of all precedent and likelihood, he succeeded by one mistake in making another: because he fancied that by sailing west he could find the Indies, he blundered upon a land whose identity he never discovered. Doubtless his blunder was of unspeakable value; but a blunder not the less it was; while as to his courage and perseverance, as much has been shown by a thousand other scientific and philosophical heretics, whose names have not survived, because the thing they imagined turned out an error.

From another point of view, however, Columbus is specially a creature of his age. It was an age which felt, it knew not why, that something new must come to pass. The resources of Europe were exhausted; men had reached the end of their tether, and demanded admittance to some wider pasturage. It was much such a predicament as obtains now, four hundred years later; we feel that changes--enlargements--are due, but know not what or whence. The conception of a voyage across the Atlantic, in that age, seemed as captivating, and almost as fantastic, as a trip to the Moon or Mars would, to an adventurer of our time. Given the vehicle, no doubt many volunteers would offer for the journey; Columbus could get a ship, but the chances of his arriving at his proposed destination must have appeared as problematical to him as the Moon enterprise in a balloon would to a world-weary globe-trotter of to-day. It was not merely that the ship was small and the Atlantic large and stormy; there were legends of vast whirlpools, of abysmal oceanic cataracts, of sea-monsters, malignant genii, and other portents not less terrifying and fatal. Columbus would not have been surprised at falling in with any of these things; but the physical courage which must have been his most prominent trait, added to incorrigible pride of opinion, brought him through.

But the significant feature of his achievement is, not that he sailed or that he arrived, but that he was impelled, irresistibly as it were, to make the attempt. He made it, because it was the one thing left in the world that seemed worth doing; it was the only apparent way of escape from the despair of the familiar and habitual; it was an adventure charged with all unknown possibilities; once conceived, it must be executed at whatever cost. Columbus was fascinated; the unknown drew him like a magnet; he was the involuntary deputy of his period to incarnate its yearnings in act. The hour had struck; and with it, as always, appeared the man. So it has ever been in the history of the world; though we, with characteristic vanity, uniformly put the cart before the horse, and declare that it is the man that brings the hour.

Be that as it may, Columbus was fitted out with three boats by the Spanish king and queen, set sail from Spain on the 3d of August, 1492, and arrived at one of the Caribbean islands on the 12th of October of the same year. He supposed that he had found an East Indian archipelago; and with the easy emotional piety of his time and temperament, he fell on his knees and thanked God, and took possession of everything in sight in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella.

The deed had been done, and Columbus had his reward. It would have been well for him had he recognized this fact, and not tried to get more. He had found land on the other side of the Atlantic; what no other man had believed possible, he had accomplished; he had carried his point, and proved his thesis--or one so much resembling it that he never knew the difference. This, and not a more sordid hope, had been the real motive power of his career up to this time; and the moment when the light from another world gleamed across the water to his hungry eyes had been the happiest that he had ever known, or would know. A mighty hope had been fulfilled; the longing of an age had been gratified in his triumph; a fresh chapter in the world's history had been begun. The thoughts and emotions that surged through the ardent Italian, as he knelt on that coral beach, were lofty and unselfish; as were, in truth, those of the age whose representative he was, when it saw him depart on his adventure. But before the man of destiny had risen from his knees, he had ceased to act as the instrument of God, and had begun to think of personal emoluments. So much he must make over to Spain; so much he might keep for himself; so much was promised to his shipmates. He would be famous--yes: and rich and powerful too; he would be a great vicegerent; his attire should be of silk and velvet, with a gold chain about his neck, and gems on his hands. So adversity set his name among the stars, and prosperity abased his soul to dust. The remaining years of his life were a fruitless struggle to secure what he deemed his rightful wages--to coin his immortal exploit into ducats; and his end was sorrowful and dishonored. The proud self-abnegation of the ancient Roman was lacking in the medieval Genoese.

The white-maned horses of the Atlantic once mastered, there came riders enough. During the next thirty years such men as Amerigo Vespucci (who enjoyed the not singular distinction of having his name associated with the discovery of another man), the Cabots, father and son; Balboa, and Magellan, crossed the sea and visited the new domain. Magellan performed the only unprecedented feat left for mariners by sailing round the earth by way of the South American straits that bear his name; but Vasco da Gama had already entered the Pacific by the Cape of Good Hope. It was by this time beginning to be understood that the new land was really new, and not the other side of the old one; but this only prompted the adventurers to get past or through it to the first goal of their ambition. They had not yet realized the vastness of the Pacific, and took America to be a mere breakwater protecting the precious shores of Cathay. Later, they found that America repaid looting on her own account; but meanwhile there was set on foot that search for the Northwest Passage which resulted in the discovery of almost everything except the Passage itself. To the craze for a Northwest Passage is due the exploration of Baffin's and Hudson's Bays, of the Gulf and River of St. Lawrence, and of the Great Lakes; the establishment of the English and French fur-trading Companies, which hastened the development of Canada; and the settlement of Oregon and Washington. It led English and Spanish explorers and freebooters up the California coast, and on to Vancouver and Bering Straits; Alaska was circumvented, and the Northwest Passage was found, though the everlasting ice mocked the efforts of the finders. In short, the entire continent was tapped and sounded with a view to forcing a way through or round it; and by the time the attempt was finally given up, the contour, size, and possible value of America had been estimated much more quickly and accurately than they would have been, had not India lain west of it.

All this time Spain had been having the best of the bargain. She had fastened upon the West Indies, Mexico, and Central and South America, and had found gold there in abundance; she bade other nations keep hands off, and was less solicitous than they about the rumored riches of the Orient. Spain, in those days, was held to be invincible on the sea; England's fight with the Spanish Armada was yet to come. But there were already Englishmen of the Drake and Frobisher type who liked nothing better than to capture a Spanish galleon, and "singe the king of Spain's beard"; and these independent sea-rovers were becoming so bold and numerous as to put the Spaniards to serious inconvenience and loss. But the latter could not be ousted from their vantage ground; so the English presently bethought themselves that there might be gold in the more northerly as well as in the central parts of the Continent; and they turned to seek it there. Nothing is more noticeable in every phase of these events than the constant involuntary accomplishment of something other--and in the end better--than the thing attempted. As Columbus, looking for Indian spices, found America; as seekers of all nations, in their quest for a Northwest Passage, charted and developed the continent: so Sir Walter Raleigh and his companions, hunting for gold along the northern Atlantic seaboard, took the first steps toward founding the colonies which were in the sequel to constitute the germ of the present United States.

Queen Elizabeth was on the throne of England; more than ninety years had passed since Columbus had landed on his Caribbean island. In 1565 a colony of French Huguenots at St. Augustine had, by a characteristic act of Spanish treachery, been massacred, men, women, and children, at the order of Melendez, and the French thus wiped out of the southern coast of North America forever. While England remained Catholic, the influence of Papal bulls in favor of Spanish authority in America, and matrimonial alliances between the royal families of Spain and England, had restrained English enterprise in the west. Henry VIII. had indeed acted independently both of the Spaniard and of the Pope; but it was not until Elizabeth's accession in 1558, bringing Protestantism with her, that England ventured to assert herself as a nation in the new found world. Willoughby had attempted, in 1553, the preposterous enterprise of reaching India by sailing round Norway and the north of Asia; but his expedition got no farther than the Russian port of Archangel. In 1576 and the two succeeding years, Martin Frobisher went on voyages to Labrador and neighboring regions, at first searching for the Northwest Passage, afterward in quest of gold. The only result of his efforts was the bringing to England of some shiploads of earth, which had been erroneously supposed to contain the precious metal. In 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert had obtained a patent empowering him to found a colony somewhere in the north; his object being rather to develop the fisheries than to find gold or routes to India. He was stepbrother of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the latter started with him on the first voyage; but they were forced to put back soon after setting out. Gilbert went again in 1583, and reached St. John's, where he erected a pillar commemorating the English occupation; but he was drowned in a storm on the way home. Raleigh, who had stayed in England, and had acquired royal favor and a fortune, remained to carry out, in his own way, the designs which Gilbert's death had left in suspense. In 1584 he began the work.

Raleigh perhaps deserves to be regarded as the greatest English gentleman who ever lived. In addition to the learning of his time, he had a towering genius, indomitable courage and constancy, lofty and generous principles, far-seeing wisdom, Christian humanity, and a charity that gave and forgave to the end. He was a courtier and a statesman, a soldier and a sailor, a merchant and an explorer. His life was one of splendid and honorable deeds; he was not a talker, and found scant leisure to express himself in writing; though when he chose to write poetry he approved himself best in the golden age of English literature; and his "History of the World," composed while imprisonment in the Tower prevented him from pursuing more active employments, is inferior to no other produced up to that time. Such reverses as he met with in life only spurred him to fresh efforts, and his successes were magnificent, and conducive to the welfare of the world. He was a patriot of the highest and purest type; a champion of the oppressed; a supporter of all worthy enterprises, a patron of literature and art. Withal, he was full of the warm blood of human nature; he had all the fire, the tenderness, and the sympathies that may rightly belong to a man. The mind is astonished in contemplating such a being; he is at once so close to us, and so much above the human average. King James I. of England, jealous of his greatness, imprisoned him for twelve years, on a groundless charge, and finally slew him, at the age of sixty-six, broken by disease, and saddened, but not soured, by the monstrous ingratitude and injustice of his treatment. Upon the scaffold, he felt of the edge of the ax which was to behead him, and smiled, remarking, "A sharp medicine to cure me of my diseases!" Such are the exploits of kings.

Raleigh was the first man who perceived that America was to be the home of a white people: that it was to be a dwelling-place, not a mere supply-house for freebooters and home traders. He resolved to do his part toward making it so; he impoverished himself in the enterprise; and though the colony which he planted in what is now North Carolina, but was then called Virginia, in honor of the queen, who was pleased thus to advertise her chastity--though this failed (by no fault of Raleigh's) of its immediate object, yet the lesson thus offered bore fruit in due season, and the colonization of the New World, shown to be a possibility and an advantage, was taken up on the lines Raleigh had drawn, and resulted in the settlement whose heirs we are.

In 1585, after receiving the favorable report of a preliminary expedition, Raleigh sent out upward of a hundred colonists under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, one of the heroic figures of the time, a man of noble nature but fearful passions. They landed on the island of Roanoke, off the mouth of the river of that name, and were well received by the native tribes, who thought they were immortal and divine, because they were without women, and possessed gunpowder. It would have been well had the English responded in kind; but within a few days, Grenville, angry at the non-production of a silver cup which had been stolen from his party during a visit to a village, burned the huts and destroyed the crops; and later, Lane, who had been left by Grenville in command of the colony, invited the principal chief of the region to a friendly conference, and murdered him. This method of procedure would not have been countenanced by the great promoter of the expedition; nor would he have encouraged the hunt for gold that was presently undertaken. This was the curse of the time, and ever led to disaster and blood. Nor did Lane escape the delusion that a passage could be found through the land to the Indies; the savages, humoring his ignorance for their own purposes, assured him that the Roanoke River (which rises some two hundred miles inland) communicated with the Pacific at a distance of but a few days' journey. Lane selected a party and set hopefully forth to traverse fifty degrees of latitude; but ere long his provisions gave out, and he was forced to go starving back again. He arrived at the settlement just in time to save it from annihilation by the Indians.

But there were able men among these colonists, and some things were done which were not foolish. Hariot, who had scientific knowledge, and was a careful observer, made notes of the products of the land, and became proficient in tobacco smoking; he also tested and approved the potato, and in other ways laid the foundation for a profitable export and import trade. John White, an artist, who afterward was put in charge of another colony, made drawings of the natives and their appurtenances, which still survive, and witness his fidelity and skill. Explorations up and down the coast, and for some distance inland, were made; the salubrity of the climate was eulogized, and it was admitted that the soil was of excellent fertility. In short, nothing was lacking, in the way of natural conditions, to make the colony a success; yet the Englishmen grew homesick and despondent, and longed to return to England and English women. The supplies which they were expecting from home had not arrived; and their situation was rendered somewhat precarious, by the growing hostility of the natives, who had come to the conclusion that these godlike white men were not persons with whom it was expedient for them to associate.

At this juncture, down upon the coast suddenly swooped a fleet of over twenty sail with the English flag flying, and no less a personage than Sir Francis Drake in command. He was returning from a profitable pirating expedition against the Spaniards in the West Indies, and desired to see for himself how the colony sent out by his friend Raleigh was prospering. Out of his easily-got abundance he generously supplied the needs of the colonists, and presented them with a ship into the bargain, in which they might sail home should circumstances demand it. A couple of his most experienced officers, too, were added to the gift of the generous freebooter; and the outlook was now very different from what it had been a few days before. Yet fate was against them; or, to speak more accurately, they had lost the spirit which should animate pioneers, and when a touch of bad luck was added to their indisposition, they incontinently beat a retreat. A storm arose, which wrecked the ship that Drake had given them, and thus deprived them of the means of escape in case other disasters should arrive. They besought Drake to take them home with him; and he, with inexhaustible good humor, agreed to do so. His fleet, with the slack-souled colonists on board, had scarcely lost sight of the low shores of Roanoke, when the supply ship that had been so long awaited arrived with all the requisites for subduing the wilderness on board. She found the place deserted, and, putting about, sailed for home again. A fortnight later came Sir Richard Grenville with three ships more; and he, being of a persistent nature, would not consent to lose altogether the fruit of the efforts which had been made; he left fifteen of his men on the island, to carry on until fresh colonists could be brought from England. But before this could be done the men were dead, whether by the act of God or of the savages; and the first English experience in colonizing America was at an end.

The story of the second colony, immediately sent out by Raleigh, ends with a mystery that probably hid a tragedy. Seventeen women and two children accompanied the eighty-nine men of the party. Having established the fact that the land was habitable and cultivatable, Raleigh perceived that in order to render it attractive also it was necessary that the colonists should have their helpmeets with them. For the first time in history, therefore, the feet of English women pressed our soil, and the voices of children made music in the woodland solitudes. It had been designed that the more commodious bay of the Chesapeake should be the scene of this settlement; but the naval officer who should have superintended the removal was hungering for a West Indian trading venture, and declined to act. They perforce established themselves in the old spot, therefore, where the buildings were yet standing on the northern end of the little island, which, though deserted now, is for us historic ground. The routine of life began; and before the ship sailed on her return trip to England, the daughter of the governor and artist, John White, who was married to one of his subordinates named Dare, had given birth to a daughter, and called her Virginia. She was the first child of English blood who could be claimed as American; she came into the world, from which she was so soon to vanish, on the 18th of August, 1587. White returned to England with the ship a week or two later. He was to return again speedily with more colonists, and further supplies. But he never saw his daughter and her infant after their farewell in the landlocked bay. He reached England to find Raleigh and all the other strong men of England occupied with plans to repel the invasion that threatened from Spain, and which, in the shape of the Invincible Armada, was to be met and destroyed in the English Channel, almost on the first anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare. Nothing could be done, at the moment, to relieve the people at Roanoke; but in April of 1588, Raleigh found time, with the defense of a kingdom on his hands, to equip two ships and send them in White's charge to Virginia. All might have been well had White been content to attend with a single eye to the business in hand; but the seas were full of vessels which could be seized and stripped of their precious cargoes, and White thought it would be profitable to imitate the exploits of Drake and Grenville, and take a few prizes to Roanoke with him. But he was the ass in the lion's hide. One of his ships was itself attacked and gutted, and with the other he fled in terror back to London. Raleigh could not help him now; his own fortune was exhausted; and it was not until the Armada had come and gone, and the country had in a measure recovered itself from the shocks of war, that succor could be attempted. The charter which had been granted to Raleigh enabled him to give liberal terms to a company of merchants and others, who on their part could raise the funds for the voyage. But though Raleigh executed this patent in the spring of 1589, it was not until more than a year afterward that the expedition was ready to sail. White went with them, and we may imagine with what straining eyes he scanned the spot where he had last beheld his daughter and grandchild, as the ship glided up the inlet.

But no one came forth between the trees to wave a greeting to his long-deferred return; there were no figures on the shore, no smoke of family fires rose heavenward; families and hearths alike were gone. The place was a desert. Little Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke had already passed out of history, leaving no clew to their fate except the single word "CROATAN" inscribed on the bark of a tree. It was the name of an island further down the coast; and had White gone thither, he might even yet have found the lost. But he was a man unfitted in all respects to live in that age and take part in its enterprise. He was a soft, feeble, cowardly and unfaithful creature, yet vain and ambitious, and eager to share the fame of men immeasurably larger and worthier than he. He could draw pictures, but he could not do deeds; and now, after having deserted those to whom he had been in honor bound to cleave, he pleaded the excuse of bad weather and the lateness of the season for abandoning them once more; and, re-embarking on his ship, he went back with all his company to England. It was the dastardly ending of the first effort, nobly conceived, and supported through five years, to engraft the English race in the soil of America.

Tradition hazards the conjecture that the Roanoke colony, or some of them, were cared for by the friendly Indians of Hatteras. There was a rumor that seven of them were still living twenty years after White's departure. But no certain news was ever had of them, though several later attempts to trace them were made. Between the time when their faint-hearted governor had deserted them, and his return, three years had passed; and if they were not early destroyed by the hostile tribes, they must have endured a more lingering pain in hoping against hope for the white sails that never rose above the horizon. Most of them, if not all, were doubtless massacred by the Indians, if not at once, then when it became evident that no succor was to be expected for them. Some, possibly, were carried into captivity; and it may be that Virginia Dare herself grew up to become the white squaw of an Indian brave, and that her blood still flows in the veins of some unsuspected red man. But it is more likely that she died with the others, one of the earliest and most innocent of the victims sacrificed on the altar of a great idea.

White disappears from history at this point; but Raleigh never forgot his colony, and five times, at his own expense, and in the midst of events that might have monopolized the energies of a score of ordinary men, he dispatched expeditions to gain tidings of them. In 1595 he himself sailed for Trinidad, on the northern coast of South America, and explored the river Orinoco, nine degrees above the equator, It was his hope to offset the power of Spain in Mexico and Peru by establishing an English colony in Guiana. Wars claimed his attention during the next few years, and then came his long imprisonment; but in 1616, two years before his execution, he headed a last expedition to the southern coast of the land he had labored so faithfully to unite to England. It failed of its object, and Raleigh lost his head.

But the purpose which he had steadfastly entertained did not die with him; and we Americans claim him to-day as the first friend and father of the conception of a great white people beyond the sea.

As we enter the Seventeenth Century, the figure which looms largest in the foreground is that of Captain John Smith, governor of the colony at Jamestown in 1607. But the way was prepared for him by a man as honorable, though less distinguished, Bartholomew Gosnold by name, who voyaged to the New England coast in 1602, and was the first to set foot on its shores. The first land he sighted was what is now called Maine; thence he steered southward, and disembarked on Cape Cod, on which he bestowed that name. Proceeding yet further south, between the islands off the coast, he finally entered the inclosed sound of Buzzard's Bay, and landed on the island of Cuttyhunk. Gosnold was a prudent as well as an adventurous man, and he was resolved to take all possible precautions against being surprised by the Indians. On Cuttyhunk there was a large pond, and in the pond there was an islet; and Gosnold, with his score of followers, fixed upon this speck of rocky earth as the most suitable spot in the western hemisphere wherein to plant the roots of English civilization. They built a hut and made a boat, and gathered together their stores of furs and sassafras; but these same stores proved their undoing. They could not agree upon an equable division of their wealth; and recognizing that disunion in a strange land was weakness and peril, they all got into their ship and sailed back to England, carrying their undivided furs and sassafras with them. By this mishap, New England missed becoming the scene of the first permanent English colony. For when, five years afterward, Gosnold returned to America with a hundred men and adequate supplies, it was not to Buzzard's Bay, but to the mouth of the James River, that he steered, and on its banks the colony was founded. Gosnold himself seems to have been a man of the type that afterward made the New England whalers famous in all seas; the mariners of New Bedford, New London, Sag Harbor and Nantucket. But the companions of his second voyage were by no means of this stamp: the bulk of them were "gentlemen," who had no familiarity with hard fare and hard work, and expected nature to provide for them in the wilderness as bountifully as the London caterers had done at home. To the accident which brought Gosnold to a southerly instead of a northerly port on this occasion may be due the fact that Virginia instead of Massachusetts became the home of the emigrant cavaliers. Had they, as well as the Puritans, chosen New England for their abiding place, an amalgamation might have taken place which would have vitally modified later American history. But destiny kept them apart in place as well as in sentiment and training; and it is only in our own day that Reconstruction, and the development of means of intercommunication, bid fair to make a homogeneous people out of the diverse elements which for so many generations recognized at most only an outward political bond.

Captain John Smith, fortunately, was neither a cavalier nor a simple mariner, but a man in a class by himself, and just at that juncture the most useful that could possibly have been attached to this adventure. His career even before the present period had been so romantic that, partly for that reason, and partly because he himself was his own chief chronicler, historians have been prone to discredit or modify many of its episodes. But what we know of Smith from other than a Smith source tallies so well with the stories which rest upon his sole authority that there seems to be no sound cause for rejecting the latter. After making all deductions, he remains a remarkable personage, and his influence upon the promotion of the English colonial scheme was wholly beneficial. He was brave, ingenious, indefatigable, prudent and accomplished; he knew what should be done, and was ever foremost in doing it He took hold of the helpless and slow-witted colonists as a master carpenter handles blocks of wood, and transformed them into an efficient and harmonious structure, strong enough to withstand the first onsets of misfortune, and to endure until the arrival of recruits from home placed them beyond all danger of calamity.

Smith was born in England in 1579, and was therefore only twenty-eight years of age when he embarked with Gosnold. Yet he had already fought in the Netherlands, starved in France, and been made a galley-slave by the Moslem. He had been shipwrecked at one time, thrown overboard at another, and robbed at a third. Thrice had he met and slain Turkish champions in the lists; and he had traversed the steppes of Russia with only a handful of grain for food. He was not a man of university education: the only schooling he had had was in the free schools of Alford and Louth, before his fifteenth year; his father was a tenant farmer in Lincolnshire, and though John was apprenticed to a trade, he ran away while a mere stripling, and shifted for himself ever after. An adventurer, therefore, in the fullest sense of the word, he was; and doubtless he had the appreciation of his own achievements which self-made men are apt to have. But there was sterling pith in him, a dauntless and humane soul, and inexhaustible ability and resource. Such a man could not fail to possess imagination, and imagination and self-esteem combined conduce to highly-colored narrative; but that Smith was a liar is an unwarranted assumption, which will not be countenanced here.

The Gosnold colony had provided itself with a charter, granted by King James, and as characteristic of that monarch as was his treatment of Raleigh. It was the first of many specimens of absentee landlordism from which America was to suffer. It began by setting apart an enormous stretch of territory, bounded on the north by the latitude of the St. Croix River, and on the south by that of Cape Fear, and extending westward indefinitely. To this domain was given the general title of Virginia. It was subdivided into two approximately equal parts, with a neutral zone between them, which covered the space now occupied by the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, and the land adjoining them. The northern division was given in charge to the "Plymouth Company," and the southern to the "London Company"; they were separate mercantile and colonizing organizations, but the charter applied to both alike.

The colonies were to be under the immediate control of a council composed of residents, but appointed by the king; this council was subordinate to another, meeting in England; and this in its turn was subject to the king's absolute authority. The emigrants were to pay a yearly rent of one-fifth of the gold and silver produced, and a third as much of the copper. A five per cent duty levied on alien traffic was for the first five-and-twenty years to inure to the benefit of the colony, but afterward should be the exclusive perquisite of the Crown. The right to call themselves and their children English was permitted to the emigrants; and they were also allowed to defend themselves against attacks, though it was enjoined upon them to treat the natives with kindness, and to endeavor to draw them into the fold of the Church.

Such was James's idea of what a charter for an American colony should be. He was taking much for granted when he assumed the right to control the emigrants at all; and he was careful to deprive them of any chance to control in the least degree their own affairs. America was to be the abode of liberty; but this monarch thought only of making it a field for his private petty tyranny. The colonists were to be his own personal slaves, and the deputy slaves of the Companies; after discharging all their obligations to him and to them, they might do the best they could for themselves with what was left, provided of course that they strictly observed the laws which his Majesty was kind enough also to draw up for them, the provisions of which included the penalty of death for most offenses above petty larceny. A colony which, amid the hardships and unfamiliar terrors of a virgin wilderness, could enjoy all the benefits of a charter like this, and yet survive, would seem hardy enough for any emergency. But James was king, and kings, in those days, if they pleased no one else, pleased themselves.

As we have seen, the members of the colony, being persons unused to the practice of the useful arts, were little apt to succeed even under the most favoring conditions. But they had Smith, in himself a host, and a few other good heads and able hands; and to speak truth, the provisions of their charter do not seem to have unduly embarrassed them. It could annoy and hamper them occasionally, but only themselves could work themselves serious injury; there were three thousand miles of perilous sea water between their paternal monarch and them, and the wilderness, with all its drawbacks, breeds self-confidence and independence. The mishaps of the colony were due to the shiftlessness of most of its members, and to the insalubrity of the site chosen for their city of Jamestown, whereby more than half of them perished during the first few months. On the voyage out, Smith, who had probably made himself distasteful to the gentlemen adventurers by his unconventional manners and conversation, had been placed under restraint--to what extent is not exactly known; and when the sealed orders under which they had sailed were opened, and it was found that Smith was named a member of the council, he was for some weeks not permitted to exercise his lawful functions in that office. When the troubles began, however, the helpless gentlemen were glad to avail themselves of his services, which he with his customary good humor readily accorded them; and so competent did he show himself that ere long he was in virtual command of them all. The usual search for gold and for the passage through the continent to India having been made, with the usual result, they all set to work to build their fort and town, and to provide food against the not improbable contingency of famine. As crops could not be raised for the emergency, Smith set out to traffic with the natives, and brought back corn enough for the general need. All this while he had been contending with a prevalent longing on the part of the colonists to get back to England; there was no courage left in them but his, which abounded in proportion to their need for it. Prominent among the malcontents was the deposed governor, Wingfield, who tried to bribe the colonists to return; another member of the council was shot for mutiny. In the end, Smith's will prevailed, and he was governor and council and King James all in one; and when, at the beginning of winter, he had brought the settlement to order and safety, he started on a journey of exploration up the Chickahominy. He perceived the immense importance of understanding his surroundings, and at the same time of establishing friendly relations with the neighboring tribes of Indians; and it was obvious that none but he (for the excellent Gosnold had died of fever in the first months of the settlement) was capable of effecting these objects. Accordingly he proceeded prosperously toward the headwaters of the river, a dozen miles above its navigable point; but there, all at once, he found himself in the midst of a throng of frowning warriors, who were evidently resolved to put an end to his investigations, if not to his existence, forthwith.

Another man than Smith would have committed some folly or rashness which would have precipitated his fate; but Smith was as much at his ease as was Julius Caesar of old on the pirate's ship. His two companions were killed, but he was treated as a prisoner of rank and importance by the brother of the great chief Powhatan, by whom he had been captured. He interested and impressed his captors by his conversation and his instruments; and at the same time he kept his eyes and ears open, and missed no information that could be of use to himself and his colony. Powhatan gave him an audience and seems to have adopted a considerate attitude; at all events he sent him back to Jamestown after a few days, unharmed, and escorted by four Indians, with a supply of corn. But precisely what occurred during those few days we shall never certainly know; since we must choose between accepting Smith's unsupported story, only made public years afterward, and believing nothing at all. Smith's tale has charmed the imagination of all who have heard it; nothing could be more prettily romantic; the trouble with it is, it seems to most people too pretty and romantic to be true. Yet it is simple enough in itself, and not at all improbable; there is no question as to the reality of the dramatis personae of the story, and their relations one to another render such an episode as was alleged hardly more than might reasonably be looked for.

The story is--as all the world knows, for it has been repeated all over the world for nearly three hundred years, and has formed the subject of innumerable pictures--that Powhatan, for reasons of high policy satisfactory to himself, had determined upon the death of the Englishman, rightly inferring that the final disappearance of the colony would be the immediate sequel thereof. The sentence was that Smith's brains were to be knocked out with a bludgeon; and he was led into the presence of the chief and the warriors, and ordered to lay his head upon the stone. He did so, and the executioners poised their clubs for the fatal blow; but it never fell. For Smith, during his captivity, had won the affection of the little daughter of Powhatan, a girl of ten, whose name was Pocahontas. She was too young to understand or fear his power over the Indians; but she knew that he was a winning and fascinating being, and she could not endure that he should be sacrificed. Accordingly, at this supreme crisis of his career, she slipped into the dreadful circle, and threw herself upon Smith's body, so that the blow which was aimed at his life must kill her first. She clung to him and would not be removed, until her father had promised that Smith should be spared.

So runs the Captain's narrative, published for the first time in 1624, after Pocahontas's appearance in London, and her death in 1617. Why he had not told it before is difficult to explain. Perhaps he had promised Powhatan to keep it secret, lest the record of his sentimental clemency should impair his authority over the tribes. Or it may have been an embellishment of some comparatively trifling incident of Smith's captivity, suggested to his mind as he was compiling his "General History of Virginia." It can never be determined; but certainly his relations with the Indian girl were always cordial, and it seems unlikely that Powhatan would have permitted him to return to Jamestown except for some unusual reason.

Pocahontas's life had vicissitudes such as seldom befall an Indian maiden. Some time between the Smith episode of 1607, and the year 1612, she married one of her father's tributary chiefs, and went to live with him on his reservation. There she was in some manner kidnapped by one Samuel Argall, and held for ransom. The ransom was paid, but Pocahontas was not sent back; and the following year she was married to John Rolfe, a Jamestown colonist, and baptized as Rebecca. He took her to London, where she was a nine days' wonder; and they had a son, whose blood still flows in not a few American veins to-day. If she was ten years old in 1607, he must have been no more than twenty at the time of her death in Gravesend, near London. But her place in American history is secure, as well as in the hearts of all good Americans. She was the heroine of the first American romance; and she is said to have been as beautiful as all our heroines should rightly be.

When Smith, with his Indian escort, got back to Jamestown, he was just in season to prevent the colony from running away in the boat. Soon after a new consignment of emigrants and supplies arrived from England; but again there were fewer men than gentlemen, and Smith sent back a demand for "rather thirty carpenters, husbandmen, gardeners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons, and diggers up of trees' roots, well provided, than a thousand of such as we have." There spoke the genuine pioneer, whose heart is in his work, and who can postpone "gentility" until it grows indigenously out of the soil. The Company at home were indignant that their colony had not ere now reimbursed them for their expenditure, and much more; and they sent word that unless profits were forthcoming forthwith (one-fifth of the gold and silver, and so forth) they would abandon the colony to its fate. One cannot help admiring Smith for refraining from the obvious rejoinder that to be abandoned was the dearest boon that they could crave; but a sense of humor seems to have been one of the few good qualities which the Captain did not possess. He intimated to the Company that money was not to be picked up ready made in Virginia, but must be earned by hard work with hands and heads in the field and forest. It is his distinction to have been the first man of eminence visiting the new world who did not think more of finding gold, or the passage to India, or both, than of anything else. Smith knew that in this world, new or old, men get what they work for, and in the long run no more than that; and he made his gentlemen colonists take off their coats and blister their gentlemanly hands with the use of the spade and the ax. It is said that they excelled as woodcutters, after due instruction; and they were undoubtedly in all respects improved by this first lesson in Americanism. The American ax and its wielders have become famous since that day; and the gentlemen of Jamestown may enjoy the credit of having blazed the way.

Fresh emigrants kept coming in, of a more or less desirable quality, as is the case with emigrants still. Some of them had been sent out by other organizations than the London Company, and bred confusion; but Smith was always more than equal to the emergency, and kept his growing brood in hand. He had the satisfaction of feeling that he was the right man in the right place; and let the grass grow under neither his feet nor theirs. The abandonment threat of the London Company led him to take measures to make the colony independent so far as food was concerned, and a tract of land was prepared and planted with corn. Traffic for supplies with the Indians was systematized; and by the time Smith's year of office had expired the Jamestown settlement was self-supporting, and forever placed beyond the reach of annihilation--though, the very year after he had left it, it came within measurable distance thereof.

He now returned to England, and never revisited Jamestown; but he by no means relaxed his interest in American colonization, or his efforts to promote it. In 1614 he once more sailed westward with two ships, on a trading and exploring enterprise, which was successful. He examined and mapped the northern coast, already seen by Gosnold, and bestowed upon the country the name of New England. Traditions of his presence and exploits are still told along the shores of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In the year following he tried to found a small colony somewhere in these regions, but was defeated by violent storms; and at a subsequent attempt he fell in with French pirates, and his ship and fortune were lost, though he himself escaped in an open skiff: the chains were never forged that could hold this man. Nor was his spirit broken; he took his map and his description of New England, and personally canvassed all likely persons with a view to fitting out a new expedition. In 1617, aided perhaps by the interest which Pocahontas had aroused in London, he was promised a fleet of twenty vessels, and the title of Admiral of New England was bestowed upon him. Admiral he remained till his death; but the fleet he was to command never put forth to sea. A ship more famous than any he had captained was to sail for New England in 1620, and land the Pilgrims on Plymouth. Rock. Smith's active career was over, though he was but eight-and-thirty years of age, and had fifteen years of life still before him. He had drunk too deeply of the intoxicating cup of adventure and achievement ever to be content with a duller draught; and from year to year he continued to use his arguments and representations upon all who would listen. But he no longer had money of his own, and he was forestalled by other men. He was to have no share in the development of the country which he had charted and named. At the time of his death in London in 1632, poor and disappointed, Plymouth, Salem and Boston had been founded, Virginia had entered upon a new career, and Maryland had been settled by the Catholics under Lord Baltimore. The Dutch had created New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in 1623; and the new nation in the new continent was fairly under way.

Jamestown, as has been said, narrowly escaped extinction in the winter of 1609. The colonists found none among their number to fill Smith's place, and soon relapsed into the idleness and improvidence which he had so resolutely counteracted. They ate all the food which he had laid up for them, and when it was gone the Indians would sell them no more. Squads of hungry men began to wander about the country, and many of them were murdered by the savages. The mortality within the settlement was terrible, and everything that could be used as food was eaten; at length cannibalism was begun; the body of an Indian, and then the starved corpses of the settlers themselves were devoured. Many crawled away to perish in the woods; others, more energetic, seized a vessel and became pirates. In short, such scenes were enacted as have been lately beheld in India and in Cuba. The severity of the famine may be judged from the fact that out of five hundred persons at the beginning of the six months, only sixty diseased and moribund wretches survived. And this in a land which had been described by its discoverers as a very Garden of Eden, flowing with milk and honey.

Meanwhile, great things were preparing in England. Smith's warning that America must be regarded and treated as an agricultural and industrial community, and not as a treasure-box, had borne fruit; and a new charter was applied for, which should more adequately satisfy the true conditions. It was granted in 1609; Lord Salisbury was at the head of the promoters, and with him were associated many hundreds of the lords, commoners and merchants of England. The land assigned to them was a strip four hundred miles in breadth north and south of Old Point Comfort, and across to the Pacific, together with all islands lying within a hundred miles of shore. In respect of administrative matters, the tendency of the new charter was toward a freer arrangement; in especial, the company was to exercise the powers heretofore lodged with the king, and the supreme council was to be chosen by the shareholders. The governor was the appointee of the corporation, and his powers were large and under conditions almost absolute. The liberties of the emigrants themselves were not specifically enlarged, but they were at least emancipated from the paternal solicitude of the stingy and self-complacent pettifogger who graced the English throne.

Lord Delaware was chosen governor; and Newport, Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers were the commissioners who were to conduct the affairs of the colony until his arrival. A large number of emigrants, many of whom contributed in money and supplies to the expedition, were assembled, and the fleet numbered altogether nine vessels. But Newport and his fellow commissioners suffered shipwreck on the Bermudas, and did not reach Jamestown till nine months later, in May, 1610. The calamitous state of things which there awaited them was an unwelcome surprise; and the despairing colonists would be contented with nothing short of exportation to Newfoundland. But before they could gain the sea, Lord Delaware with his ships and provisions was met coming into port; and the intending fugitives turned back with him. The hungry were fed, order was restored, and industry was re-established. A wave of religious feeling swept over the little community; the rule of Lord Delaware was mild, but just and firm; and all would have been well had not his health failed, and compelled him, in the spring of 1611, to return to England. The colony was disheartened anew, and the arrival of Sir Thomas Dale in Delaware's place did not at first relieve the depression; his training had been military, and he administered affairs by martial law. But he believed in the future of the enterprise, and so impressed his views upon the English council that six more ships, with three hundred emigrants, were immediately sent to their relief. Grates, who brought these recruits to Jamestown, assumed the governorship, and a genuine prosperity began. Among the most important of the improvements introduced was an approximation to the right of private ownership in land, which had hitherto been altogether denied, and which gave the emigrants a personal interest in the welfare of the enterprise. In 1612 a third charter was granted, still further increasing the privileges of the settlers, who now found themselves possessed of almost the same political powers as they had enjoyed at home. It was still possible, as was thereafter shown, for unjust and selfish governors to inflict misery and discontent upon the people; but it was also possible, under the law, to give them substantial freedom and happiness; and that was a new light in political conceptions.

More than thirty years had now passed since Raleigh first turned his mind to the colonizing of Virginia. He was now approaching the scaffold; but he could feel a lofty satisfaction in the thought that it was mainly through him that an opportunity of incalculable magnitude and possibilities had been given for the enlargement and felicity of his race. He had sowed the seed of England beyond the seas, and the quality of the fruit it should bear was already becoming apparent to his eyes, soon to close forever upon earthly things. The spirit of America was his spirit. He was for freedom, enlightenment, and enterprise; and whenever a son of America has fulfilled our best ideal of what an American should be, we find in him some of the traits and qualities which molded the deeds and colored the thoughts of this mighty Englishman.

Nor can we find a better example of the restless, practical, resourceful side of the American character than is offered in Captain John Smith; even in his boastfulness we must claim kinship with him. His sterling manhood, his indomitable energy, his fertile invention, his ability as a leader and as a negotiator, all ally him with the traditional Yankee, who carries on in so matter-of-fact a way the solution of the problems of the new democracy. Both these men, each in his degree, were Americans before America.

And with them we may associate the name of Columbus; to him also we must concede the spiritual citizenship of our country; not because of the bare fact that he was the first to reach its shores, but because he had a soul valiant enough to resist and defy the conservatism that will believe in no new thing, and turns life into death lest life should involve labor and self-sacrifice. Columbus, Smith, and Raleigh stand at the portals of our history, types of the faith, success and honor which are our heritage.

Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works