A DISMAL TALE

What befell Jamestown after Captain John Smith left it–A score of
rival leaders create disorder and encourage license–The Indians
overcome the white men and put them to flight–Ratcliffe falls into
a trap and with his men is massacred–Winter finds them sick and
starving–“Now we all felt the want of Captain Smith”–Reinforcements
arrive but it is determined to abandon the colony–The appearance of
Lord Delaware frustrates the move–Jamestown is restored and prospers
for a spell–The tobacco craze and what it led to–Opechancanough
directs a great massacre–The Colony of Virginia is at last firmly
planted.

It is a dismal tale, the recital of what befell the five hundred
colonists of Virginia after the departure of Captain John Smith, but no
more striking vindication of his management of affairs could be found
than in the rapid wreck of the colony when his guiding hand was removed
from the helm. Almost at once a condition of anarchy set in. Percy
was honest and not unwise but he lacked the iron will and indomitable
energy of Smith, and nothing less was needed to cope with the
situation. There were soon, in the words of an eye-witness, “twenty
presidents,” each with his particular followers, forming a faction
at variance with all the others. Strife and dissension pervaded the
settlement. Idleness and waste prevailed. The Indians were treated as
though the chief aim of the settlers had been to create their enmity.
The more prudent of the older colonists sought to divert their fellows
from the destruction upon which they were plainly heading, but without
avail. Percy, depressed by anxiety, fell ill of a fever which confined
him to his bed, and, with the last vestige of authority removed, the
colonists gave themselves up unrestrainedly to riot and feasting.

The fruits of their wicked recklessness were soon visited upon these
miserable incompetents. The Indians attacked the various settlements
beyond Jamestown and with almost invariable success. Martin, at
Nansemond, had been kindly received by the chief of the band of that
name. This treatment he requited by suddenly falling upon the village
and seizing its contents. The Indians recovering from their surprise
assaulted the whites and routed them. Martin fled to Jamestown, having
lost many of his men and–crowning shame!–nearly all their arms.
Shortly after this episode, Ratcliffe and West went to Werowocomico
with two ships, each carrying thirty fully armed men–a greater force
than Smith ever took upon an expedition. Powhatan, by this time moved
to anger and contempt, practised against the newcomers the tactics he
had so ineffectually tried against Smith. Ratcliffe and his men fell
into the Indian’s trap with childish readiness and all save one were
massacred. West fled and turned his prow towards England where he and
his company eventually arrived in safety. Similar occurrences at last
produced an astounding condition. The white colonists became actually
_afraid_ of the Indians, who treated them with well-merited contempt
and almost domineered over them. Gradually, the entire stock of arms
and ammunition found its way into the hands of the savages.

When things had reached this pass it would have been an easy matter
for the Indians to have exterminated the whites. It is probable that
they were only deterred from doing so by the prospect of the speedy
starvation of the colony. They had consumed their provisions with blind
improvidence and had made absolutely no attempt to secure a harvest.
The fields had been given up to weeds and the plows allowed to rust.
The Indians refused to give a grain for charity and would only trade
on the most exorbitant terms. Beads and playthings were a drug in the
market. Arms and ammunition were now demanded and readily obtained by
the Indians, in whose minds the memory of Smith’s reception of similar
proposals was fresh. Says one of the ill-fated colonists:

“Now we all felt the want of Captain Smith yea his greatest maligners
could then curse his loss. Now for corn, provisions and contribution
from the savages, we had nothing but mortal wounds with clubs and
arrows.”

The cold of winter found them too weak and fearful to venture beyond
the palisades in quest of firewood; besides, there was scarce an axe
left in Jamestown. In this extremity, they burned the buildings and
even tore down the stockade to feed the fires. They died like flies and
presently the survivors were reduced to cannibalism. First an Indian
who had been killed in a skirmish was eaten and then the poor wretches
gave themselves up without restraint to devouring their fellows.

On the twenty-third day of May, 1610, the party which had been wrecked
on the Bermudas sailed into the James in two vessels which they had
constructed with infinite labor. Sixty emaciated creatures, little
more than skeletons and hardly better than idiots, crawled out to
greet the arrivals, whose coming was barely in time to save the
lives of this pitiful remnant of the colony which Smith had left at
Jamestown. That place was reduced to ruins. Many of the buildings had
been torn to pieces and great gaps yawned in the palisades. So dismal
was the picture and so fearful the stories of the ragged wretches
who represented the prosperous colonists the newcomers had expected
to meet, that Somers and Gates determined to return to England and
abandon the settlement. The sixty starving and half demented men were
taken on board the ships, which set sail down the river. The exultant
savages who stood upon the banks congratulated themselves that once
more the white intruder was forced to leave their land. But a strange
incident suddenly turned the tide of affairs.

The departing ships no sooner cleared the mouth of the river than they
perceived three vessels approaching and flying the flag of England.
They proved to be reinforcements under Lord Delaware who had come out
as Governor of Virginia. Somers and Gates of course put about and
returned to Jamestown. The conditions of affairs quickly changed. Lord
Delaware, though not a man of equal force of character and resource
with Captain Smith, was nevertheless one of sound judgment and
considerable energy. He had an ample supply to tide over a year and,
together with Somers’s men, who had thrived on the food and climate of
the Bermudas, several hundred strong and healthy colonists. He set them
to work repairing the fortifications and buildings, tilling the fields,
and performing other useful labors. Rule and order were established and
strictly maintained. Smith’s policy of firm but just dealing with the
Indians was resumed and they ceased to give trouble.

Thus, when sickness compelled Lord Delaware to return to England in the
following March, he left Jamestown thoroughly resuscitated and on the
highroad to prosperity. On the way home, the retiring governor passed
Sir Thomas Dale coming to the colony with three ships and a full year’s
supplies. If he did not make much progress, Dale at least preserved the
advance which had been effected by Delaware until, at the beginning of
August, Gates’s return as Governor marked the inception of a new era
for Virginia.

Gates brought out three large ships, a number of cattle, horses, three
hundred men, and so great a quantity of supplies as to put the question
of starvation out of mind, for the first time in the history of the
colony. Gates was well adapted by character, if not by experience, to
rule the American possession. His emigrants were, for the most part,
of a sort to benefit the settlement–men of good morals, accustomed to
work and adept at various handicrafts. There were now a number of women
in the country and family life began to make its appearance. Jamestown
soon assumed the appearance of an orderly town, with a public hall, a
church, store-house and neat dwellings. Along the river banks farms,
plantations and cattle ranches appeared in time.

The rapid spread of the practice of smoking in England brought about
the greatest changes in the condition of the colony of Virginia.
Tobacco commanded good prices, with a constantly increasing demand,
and soon every other enterprise in the colony was abandoned in favor
of the production of the narcotic plant. The settlers went tobacco mad
as in earlier days they had given themselves up to the gold frenzy.
Nothing else was thought of. Fields were neglected, buildings and
fortifications were allowed to fall into decay. It was said in England
that the very streets of Jamestown were planted in tobacco. Every man
saw in the leaf a prospect of speedy wealth, and readily sacrificed
the demands of the present to the pursuit of a golden future. The
Company was delighted with the rich cargos that poured into England and
promised to fill their coffers to overflowing. Every encouragement was
given the colonists to persist in their short-sighted policy. Smith,
with true wisdom, warned the proprietors and the public that the result
could not be anything but disaster, but he was scouted as a croaker,
envious of the good fortune of his successors.

During the four years that the tobacco madness was at its height the
former discipline was utterly relaxed. There was little disorder
because everyone was busy in the tobacco fields from morning till
night. But the defences were entirely neglected and no guard was
maintained by day or night. Indeed, there did not appear to be any
need for such precaution. The Indians had been friendly for years and
many of them lived in the fort and even in the homes of the settlers.
Opechancanough was now the Chief of the tribe, Powhatan being dead. The
former was ever the implacable enemy of the whites but had up to this
time hidden his true feelings under a cloak of cordiality. Secretly and
patiently, meanwhile, the cunning savage was plotting the destruction
of all the whites in Virginia, now numbering several thousands of men,
women and children, scattered over a wide range of country.

The blow fell suddenly. On the same day the Indians attacked the
settlers at different points and found them quite unprepared for
resistance. Nearly four hundred were slain, and the massacre would have
been much more extensive but for the fact that in many cases natives
who had acquired a real regard for their white neighbors warned them
in time and in some instances defended them. The tobacco planters now
huddled in Jamestown, anxious only for their lives. Hurriedly the
place was put in better condition to withstand assault and provisioned
against a siege. But Opechancanough was too astute to attack Jamestown
and an armed peace ensued.

The tidings of the massacre horrified England. The Company was
panic-stricken and at a loss what to do. Smith called upon them with
a proposal for the effective defence of the colony, and offered to
go out and put it into operation himself. The proprietors hesitated
to incur the expense and, in the meanwhile, their perplexity was
relieved by the cancellation of their charter. The colony was attached
to the crown and the settlers were left to their own resources. Under
these conditions they seem to have fared better than when subject to
proprietary interests at home, for from the year of the massacre, 1622,
Virginia enjoyed a century and a half of uneventful prosperity.