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List Of Contents | Contents of Captain John Smith by, Charles Dudley Warner
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English reply, whereupon Powhatan laid the plot which resulted in the
killing of Captain Ratcliffe and thirty-eight men, only two of his
company escaping to Jamestown.  Spelman gives two versions of this
incident.  During the massacre Spelman says that Powhatan sent him
and Savage to a town some sixteen miles away.  Smith's "General
Historie" says that on this occasion "Pocahuntas saved a boy named
Henry Spilman that lived many years afterward, by her means, among
the Patawomekes."  Spelman says not a word about Pocahuntas.  On the
contrary, he describes the visit of the King of the Patawomekes to
Powhatan; says that the King took a fancy to him; that he and Dutch
Samuel, fearing for their lives, escaped from Powhatan's town; were
pursued; that Samuel was killed, and that Spelman, after dodging
about in the forest, found his way to the Potomac, where he lived
with this good King Patomecke at a place called Pasptanzie for more
than a year.  Here he seems to have passed his time agreeably, for
although he had occasional fights with the squaws of Patomecke, the
King was always his friend, and so much was he attached to the boy
that he would not give him up to Captain Argall without some copper
in exchange.

When Smith returned wounded to Jamestown, he was physically in no
condition to face the situation.  With no medical attendance, his
death was not improbable.  He had no strength to enforce discipline
nor organize expeditions for supplies; besides, he was acting under a
commission whose virtue had expired, and the mutinous spirits
rebelled against his authority.  Ratcliffe, Archer, and the others
who were awaiting trial conspired against him, and Smith says he
would have been murdered in his bed if the murderer's heart had not
failed him when he went to fire his pistol at the defenseless sick
man.  However, Smith was forced to yield to circumstances.  No sooner
had he given out that he would depart for England than they persuaded
Mr. Percy to stay and act as President, and all eyes were turned in
expectation of favor upon the new commanders.  Smith being thus
divested of authority, the most of the colony turned against him;
many preferred charges, and began to collect testimony.  "The ships
were detained three weeks to get up proofs of his ill-conduct"--"time
and charges," says Smith, dryly, "that might much better have been
spent."

It must have enraged the doughty Captain, lying thus helpless, to see
his enemies triumph, the most factious of the disturbers in the
colony in charge of affairs, and become his accusers.  Even at this
distance we can read the account with little patience, and should
have none at all if the account were not edited by Smith himself.
His revenge was in his good fortune in setting his own story afloat
in the current of history.  The first narrative of these events,
published by Smith in his Oxford tract of 1612, was considerably
remodeled and changed in his "General Historie" of 1624.  As we have
said before, he had a progressive memory, and his opponents ought to
be thankful that the pungent Captain did not live to work the story
over a third time.

It is no doubt true, however, that but for the accident to our hero,
he would have continued to rule till the arrival of Gates and Somers
with the new commissions; as he himself says, "but had that unhappy
blast not happened, he would quickly have qualified the heat of those
humors and factions, had the ships but once left them and us to our
fortunes; and have made that provision from among the salvages, as we
neither feared Spaniard, Salvage, nor famine: nor would have left
Virginia nor our lawful authority, but at as dear a price as we had
bought it, and paid for it."

He doubtless would have fought it out against all comers; and who
shall say that he does not merit the glowing eulogy on himself which
he inserts in his General History?  "What shall I say but this, we
left him, that in all his proceedings made justice his first guide,
and experience his second, ever hating baseness, sloth, pride, and
indignity, more than any dangers; that upon no danger would send them
where he would not lead them himself; that would never see us want
what he either had or could by any means 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."

A handsomer thing never was said of another man than Smith could say
of himself, but he believed it, as also did many of his comrades, we
must suppose.  He suffered detraction enough, but he suffered also
abundant eulogy both in verse and prose.  Among his eulogists, of
course, is not the factious Captain Ratcliffe.  In the English
Colonial State papers, edited by Mr. Noel Sainsbury, is a note, dated
Jamestown, October 4, 1609, from Captain "John Radclyffe comenly
called," to the Earl of Salisbury, which contains this remark upon
Smith's departure after the arrival of the last supply: "They heard
that all the Council were dead but Capt. [John] Smith, President, who
reigned sole Governor, and is now sent home to answer some
misdemeanor."

Captain Archer also regards this matter in a different light from
that in which Smith represents it.  In a letter from Jamestown,
written in August, he says:

"In as much as the President [Smith], to strengthen his authority,
accorded with the variances and gave not any due respect to many
worthy gentlemen that were in our ships, wherefore they generally,
with my consent, chose Master West, my Lord De La Ware's brother,
their Governor or President de bene esse, in the absence of Sir
Thomas Gates, or if he be miscarried by sea, then to continue till we
heard news from our counsell in England.  This choice of him they
made not to disturb the old President during his term, but as his
authority expired, then to take upon him the sole government, with
such assistants of the captains or discreet persons as the colony
afforded.

"Perhaps you shall have it blamed as a mutinie by such as retaine old
malice, but Master West, Master Piercie, and all the respected
gentlemen of worth in Virginia, can and will testify otherwise upon
their oaths.  For the King's patent we ratified, but refused to be
governed by the President--that is, after his time was expired and
only subjected ourselves to Master West, whom we labor to have next
President."


It is clear from this statement that the attempt was made to
supersede Smith even before his time expired, and without any
authority (since the new commissions were still with Gates and Somers
in Bermuda), for the reason that Smith did not pay proper respect to
the newly arrived "gentlemen."  Smith was no doubt dictatorial and
offensive, and from his point of view he was the only man who
understood Virginia, and knew how successfully to conduct the affairs
of the colony.  If this assumption were true it would be none the
less disagreeable to the new-comers.

At the time of Smith's deposition the colony was in prosperous
condition.  The "General Historie " says that he left them "with
three ships, seven boats, commodities ready to trade, the harvest
newly gathered, ten weeks' provision in store, four hundred ninety
and odd persons, twenty-four pieces of ordnance, three hundred
muskets, snaphances and fire-locks, shot, powder, and match
sufficient, curats, pikes, swords, and morrios, more than men; the
Salvages, their language and habitations well known to a hundred
well-trained and expert soldiers; nets for fishing; tools of all
kinds to work; apparel to supply our wants; six mules and a horse;
five or six hundred swine; as many hens and chickens; some goats;
some sheep; what was brought or bred there remained."  Jamestown was
also strongly palisaded and contained some fifty or sixty houses;
besides there were five or six other forts and plantations, "not so
sumptuous as our succerers expected, they were better than they
provided any for us."

These expectations might well be disappointed if they were founded
upon the pictures of forts and fortifications in Virginia and in the
Somers Islands, which appeared in De Bry and in the "General
Historie," where they appear as massive stone structures with all the
finish and elegance of the European military science of the day.

Notwithstanding these ample provisions for the colony, Smith had
small expectation that it would thrive without him.  "They regarding
nothing," he says, "but from hand to mouth, did consume what we had,
took care for nothing but to perfect some colorable complaint against
Captain Smith."

Nor was the composition of the colony such as to beget high hopes of
it.  There was but one carpenter, and three others that desired to
learn, two blacksmiths, ten sailors; those called laborers were for
the most part footmen, brought over to wait upon the adventurers, who
did not know what a day's work was--all the real laborers were the
Dutchmen and Poles and some dozen others.  "For all the rest were
poor gentlemen, tradesmen, serving men, libertines, and such like,
ten times more fit to spoil a commonwealth than either begin one or
help to maintain one.  For when neither the fear of God, nor the law,
nor shame, nor displeasure of their friends could rule them here,
there is small hope ever to bring one in twenty of them to be good
there."  Some of them proved more industrious than was expected;
"but ten good workmen would have done more substantial work in a day
than ten of them in a week."

The disreputable character of the majority of these colonists is
abundantly proved by other contemporary testimony.  In the letter of
the Governor and Council of Virginia to the London Company, dated
Jamestown, July 7, 1610, signed by Lord De La Ware, Thomas Gates,
George Percy, Ferd. Wenman, and William Strachey, and probably
composed by Strachey, after speaking of the bountiful capacity of the
country, the writer exclaims: "Only let me truly acknowledge there
are not one hundred or two of deboisht hands, dropt forth by year

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