A HUMBLED CHIEFTAIN

Powhatan stirs his Dutch allies to reluctant activity–They concoct a
conspiracy to seize Jamestown and massacre the English–The movement
fails and all Powhatan’s warriors fall into the hands of Smith–“It is
within my power to cut off the Powhatans root and branch!”–The old
Chief is bowed in shame and repentance–A very righteous fate befalls
the perfidious Dutchmen–Friendly relations are again established
between the whites and the Indians–A grand scheme of government which
has a bad inception–Ratcliffe, Archer and other mischief-makers return
to Virginia–Smith is seriously injured and returns to England.

The Dutchmen at Werowocomico had been living on the fat of the land.
They were installed as honored members of the tribe and granted many
unusual privileges. Powhatan was well pleased with their work in the
erection of his English house and their success in stealing from the
settlement. But he expected much more from these white allies, who came
to him boasting that they would show him how to subdue the English and
drive them into the sea. The traitors would have been well content to
have Powhatan forget those idle promises and allow them to continue
in peace the life of ease and comfort into which they had settled.
They were mechanics, quite ignorant of military matters. They could
steal muskets but were unable to drill the savages in the use of them
and, indeed, through their faulty instructions caused a number of the
Indians to be blown up by gunpowder. However, Powhatan was insistent
that they should redeem their promises and it became necessary to
bestir themselves.

Smith had effectually put a stop to the traffic between the thieves
in the fort and their confederates among the Indians, but it would
have been quite impossible to prevent communications, since there
was constant intercourse between the settlers and the natives of the
surrounding country. The Dutchmen, therefore, had no difficulty in
laying plans with certain of their countrymen in Jamestown. A scheme
was at length conceived that appeared to present some prospect of
success and met with the approval of Powhatan. On a certain night the
conspirators within the fort were to blow up the arsenal and set fire
to the settlement at several points simultaneously. In the confusion
that would follow two thousand Indians would rush into the enclosure
and massacre the surprised settlers. There was one point about this
arrangement that was not quite satisfactory to the plotters. Their
contemplated rush might be effectually checked by a few faithful and
determined men in control of the big guns. These were always handled by
experienced English gunners and it would be necessary to seduce some of
these from their allegiance. With this view, the schemers approached
Douse and Mallard, whose posts were at the main entrance. To them
they promised rich rewards and high favor with Powhatan on condition
of disabling the guns on the night of the attack and deserting to
the enemy. The gunners apparently fell in with this proposal and the
conspirators congratulated themselves on having their plans arranged
beyond the possibility of miscarriage.

On the appointed night two thousand warriors under picked chiefs
crept up to within half a mile of the fort and lay in waiting for the
signal flames that were to call them to the attack. Hour after hour
passed without a sign from Jamestown. The settlement was apparently
sunk in peaceful slumber, but, as a matter of fact, every man within
the stockade was wide awake and standing silently to his arms ready
to repel an attack, whilst the conspirators lay snug and safe in the
jail. At the first streak of dawn, the disappointed Indians prepared
to return, when they found themselves face to face with a body of
musketeers. They were ordered to lay down their arms and did so without
delay. Contention would have been useless for they lay between two
bodies of the English and were completely cut off. Captain Percy, in
command of the ambuscade, now demanded the surrender of the renegade
white men. The Indians were unable to comply with this request for
those worthies, realizing that something was wrong, had sneaked off
some hours earlier and were on their way to Werowocomico.

The warriors were rounded up and marched into the fort, and Smith
immediately selected one of their chiefs to act as a messenger and sent
him, under the escort of Master Richard Whyffin and Serjeant Ford, to
Powhatan.

“Tell your Werowance,” ran Smith’s message, “that I have all his
warriors penned up as we pen our sheep. It is within my power to cut
off the Powhatans root and branch, and if I visit them with their
deserts, that will I do. For the present I demand the immediate
surrender of the foreign renegados who fled from this place and those
that I sent to work at Werowocomico. I make no conditions. What I may
do with the warriors of the Powhatans is yet to be determined. Mayhap
my temper may cool upon reflection, but at present my heart is filled
with wrath against Powhatan and all his tribe. Go! I have spoken!”

The following day the Indian messenger and the two Englishmen returned,
but they were unaccompanied by the Dutchmen. From Powhatan the chief
brought this message:

“Powhatan is bowed in anguish and his gray hairs sweep the dust. He
prays the great English Werowance to hear these his words for they
are spoken in truth and all sincerity from the bottom of his heart.
Powhatan pleads for mercy and the friendship of Captain Smith. Never
again, so long as Powhatan lives, will he or any of his people raise
hand against the English. This is no idle talk, Powhatan swears it by
the name of his gods and the god of the strangers and will give ample
hostages to insure his good faith. Why should Captain Smith slay the
warriors who but obeyed the commands of their Werowance? Would he
visit his wrath upon the squaws and children of the Powhatans who sit
wailing in their wigwams? If the fields of Werowocomico, of Pamaunke
and of Oropaks, yield no harvest in the coming fall, where will the
English procure corn to stay their hunger? But if the white Werowance
must satisfy his just wrath, then let him come to Werowocomico and
sate it upon me. I am here alone and unguarded and will bow my head to
the stroke of his sword. Then let him return and release my warriors
so that the wailing of my people may not reach my ears in the happy
hunting grounds of my fathers.

“As to the renegados, who betrayed me as they had betrayed you, it
is not in Powhatan’s power to return them to you for they were slain
before your messengers arrived in Werowocomico. The hungry curs slunk
back to their wigwams in time for the morning meal. This I gave them
in plenty–for it is not our custom to send a man fasting to the
spirit-land–but afterwards their brains were dashed out by my orders
and their bodies have been seen by the English captains who came with
your messenger.

“Powhatan has spoken the last word. Let the English Werowance decide.
Powhatan here awaits his death at the hands of Captain Smith, if it
will redeem his people, but if his warriors must be doomed, then let
Powhatan come and join them in their death so that all may go together
to the happy hunting grounds.”

It is needless to say that Captain Smith was profoundly touched by
the pitiful appeal of the old Chief. He did not doubt his present
sincerity, nor had he cause to do so. Powhatan was completely humbled
and his words were, as he said, “spoken from the bottom of his heart.”
So long as Smith remained in the colony the old Werowance maintained
his plight and neither he nor his people committed an unfriendly
act against the English. The warriors who returned with their arms
carried away an impression of the might and justice of Captain Smith
that became a tradition in the tribe. For many years after his death
the exploits of the White Werowance were related in wigwam and around
camp fire. At this time his influence over the Indians of Virginia was
supreme and founded upon respect no less than upon fear. His wishes
were promptly complied with and the chiefs frequently consulted him
about the affairs of the tribe. The most amicable relations were
established between the whites and the natives. The former went about
the country freely and without fear of harm. The latter came to the
fort with their wares and provisions, glad to trade on a fixed scale
which was once again established. The settlers learned how to plant
corn in the Indian fashion–a method which is followed in Virginia to
this day. The Indians taught them how to net fish and snare animals.
Thus the colony progressed in the most useful direction and before
Smith left them many of the settlers were as adept in the practices of
woodcraft as any Indian.

What might have been the outcome had the affairs of the settlement been
left in the hands of the man who showed time and again that he had
such an understanding of the situation as none of the other leaders
possessed, it is impossible to surmise. Certain it is, however, that
in such a case, the later experience of the settlers as well as the
Indians would have been a much more happy one. As it was, Smith had
no sooner reduced conditions to the favorable state which has been
described, than another influx of “gentlemen,” vested with authority
that they were quite incapable of exercising wisely, tended to undo
much of the good which he had accomplished at such great pains.

In the early part of 1609, the London Company secured a new charter,
under which they proposed to exploit Virginia on a scale of grandeur
which was in itself a proof of their utter ignorance of the real
conditions and needs of the colony. The company, as reorganized,
was composed of twenty-one peers and innumerable knights and
gentlemen. Officers were appointed with high-sounding titles. Lord
Delaware was made Captain-general of Virginia; Sir Thomas Gates,
Lieutenant-captain-general; Sir George Somers, Admiral; Captain
Newport, Vice-admiral; Sir Thomas Dale, High-marshal; Sir Ferdinando
Wainman, General of the Horse. Just think of it! General of the
Horse in Virginia! Keeper of the Hogs, or Master of the Poultry, or
Superintendent of the Fish Seines, would have been more to the purpose.
What a humble and insignificant individual plain “Captain John Smith”
must have appeared to these grand gentlemen!

In May, nine vessels with five hundred emigrants were despatched from
England, under the command of Gates, Somers and Newport. To each of
these a governor’s commission was given with the understanding that he
who should arrive first should take charge of the colony and supersede
Smith. Evidently these gentlemen were not sportsmen, for, rather than
take any chance, they decided to go in the same ship. This vessel, the
_Sea-Venture_, was parted from the rest of the fleet in a hurricane and
wrecked on the Bermudas. The lives of the prospective potentates were
saved but they did not reach Virginia until months afterwards and when
Smith had left. Meanwhile seven of the original ships arrived at their
destination. Amongst the mixed company that they landed were Ratcliffe
and Archer who figured large in the contingent of “gentlemen.” Most
of these were “profligate youth, whose friends were only too well
satisfied to give them ample room in remote countries, where they might
escape the worse destinies that awaited them at home. Poor gentlemen,
bankrupt tradesmen, rakes and libertines, such as were more apt to ruin
than to raise a commonwealth.” The minds of these, naturally open to
evil, had been poisoned by Ratcliffe and Archer against Smith, and they
landed in a spirit of antagonism to him.

This “lewd Rout,” as one of the contemporary chroniclers terms
them, were ripe for mischief and, led on by Ratcliffe and Archer,
they plunged into all manner of license and disorder. It was their
impression that in the absence of the commissioners the colony was
without recognized authority and they might therefore do as they
pleased without let or hindrance. They were never more mistaken,
however. Smith took the view, rightly without question, that until a
commission superseding him arrived, he remained at the head of affairs.
He gave these gentry warning that unless they mended their ways he
should deal sternly with them. This had the effect of moving them to
plots and stratagems designed to put him out of the way. Forced to
extreme measures, Smith seized the ringleaders, including those meanest
of mortals, Ratcliffe and Archer, and confined them in prison. Order
was speedily restored, and, the better to preserve it, Smith divided
the colonists, who were in any event too numerous to live in Jamestown,
into several parties which he sent into different quarters of the
surrounding country to establish settlements. Despite the friendly
attitude of the Indians these newcomers contrived to create trouble
with them almost immediately, and more lives were thus needlessly
sacrificed in a week than had been lost in Smith’s troublous dealings
with the Indians in the course of a year.

At this juncture an accident–some think that it was the result of
design–put a sudden end to Smith’s career in Virginia. One night as
he slept his powder bag exploded, severely injuring him. For several
weeks he lay in dreadful pain, unable to rise from his couch. When, at
length, he was sufficiently recovered to be carried on board ship, he
turned over the government to Captain Percy, and in the autumn of 1609
sailed from Virginia, which he was never to see again.

A sorrowing group of his faithful followers watched the vessel until
its ensign dropped below the horizon. One of them has said: “Thus we
lost him that in all his proceedings made justice his first guide
and experience his second; ever hating baseness, sloth, pride and
unworthiness more than dangers; that never allowed more for himself
than his soldiers with him; that upon no danger would send them where
he would not lead them himself; that would never see us want what he
had or by any means could get us; that would rather want than borrow,
or starve than not pay; that loved action more than words, and hated
falsehood and covetousness worse than death; whose adventures were our
lives, and whose loss our deaths.”

The literal truth of the last words was soon to be proven.