The River of Pearl and Gold: A Story of Jamestown

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George Percy and the First Months at Jamestown

On May 13, , when the settlers landed upon the small peninsula that became known as Jamestown Island, they were within the territory of the Pasbehay Paspahegh Indians Percy Captain John Smith commented that President Edward Maria Wingfield "would admit no exercise at armes, or fortification but the boughs of trees cast together in the forme of a halfe moone. Afterward, Wingfield decided that a more substantial fort should be built, one that had palisades and mounted ordnance.

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George Percy said that "We had made our selves sufficiently strong for these savages. Clearly, both Natives and colonists had reason to view each other warily, with a certain amount of suspicion and distrust. Subsequent to the establishment of a permanent settlement at Jamestown in , English explorers under the direction of Captain Christopher Newport sailed up the York River, noting that the Pamunkey Indians' territory was in the neck of land delimited by the union of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers into the York.

When early cartographers made maps of Tidewater Virginia, they generally agreed upon the locations at which Natives settlements were situated. Captain John Smith's geographically sensitive rendering provides the most detailed coverage of the Tidewater. He used a sketch of an Indian long house to identify the site of a "king's seat" or chief's village and a circle to symbolize less important towns. When the Native communities shown on the Smith map are compared with topographic quadrangle sheets, it is possible to discern their approximate locations Smith ; Sams ; Quinn ; Smith ; Tindall ; Velasco ; Zuniga ; Tyler Captain John Smith's first visit to the Rappahannock River region, which occurred in December , was involuntary, for he was captured by the Indians of the Powhatan Chiefdom, transported overland to Native villages on the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers, and then conducted to a river the Indians called the Tappahannock or Rappahannock.

There, he learned that the local populace had suffered abuse at the hands of a ship-load of white men who had visited them the previous year Smith On June 2, , Smith set out to explore the Chesapeake Bay. Crossing the bay, he reached Smith's Isles at the tip of the Eastern Shore and then progressed northward along the coast. He found some of the Natives hospitable and welcoming. Pressing on toward the head of the bay, he paused at several inlets. Having nearly reached his destination, Smith and his men turned downstream, this time moving close to the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

The explorers entered the Potomac River and sailed to its head, then paused at the mouth of the Rappahannock before returning to Jamestown. On July 24, , Smith again undertook an exploratory voyage of the Chesapeake Bay.

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This time, he skirted the western shore of the bay and went further north, entering the Susquehanna River and other steams at the top of the bay. Turning back downstream, the explorers entered the Rappahannock River and sailed to its head. Afterward, they paused at the mouth of the York River, and then continued on to Jamestown Haile , Fighting broke out between the Nansemond Indians and the English intruders, who responded with gunfire.

Afterward, they seized the Nansemond king's weapons, a chain of pearls, and baskets of corn. In late fall, the colonists returned for more corn, which they obtained through the use of force. At the end of the year, when Smith and other adventurers set out to investigate the rivers to the north of the James, they sailed first into the Potomac River and then turned back toward the Rappahannock, where they encountered Natives who treated them with kindness.

They also made exploratory visits to the York River. By , the colonists, in desperate need of corn, began trading with the Natives of the Northern Neck, a practice that continued for many years Smith , Captain John Smith, when depicting the Rappahannock River drainage on his well known map of Virginia, indicated that numerous Indian villages dotted its shore line Smith His work is confirmed by the charts produced by Tindall , Velasco , and Zuniga The first English colonists, transferring to the New World the Jacobean idea of property rights, were ill-prepared to understand Native concepts of landholding.

Captain John Smith observed that within Virginia Indian towns, land was allocated to households by a local leader subservient to the paramount chief. While the Native mode of land distribution bore a remote resemblance to the English tradition that all realty was owned by the monarch, the Indians' seasonal pattern of subsistence and the subtle but purposeful shifting movement of their towns had no parallel in English culture.

For nearly a half-century, English officials failed to realize that much Native land was foraging territory that was vital to subsistence. On the other hand, the Natives, unfamiliar with the legal requirements for patenting and seating land, probably wondered why the English expected to retain possession of their property in perpetuity, even though it appeared vacant. Moreover, they probably wondered why such "abandoned" acreage was not available to others Rountree ; ; a First in and then in , Virginia's governing officials formally recognized Native groups' need for land of their own.

This marked the beginning of an important political policy within America's English colonies, the establishment of reservation lands, or preserves by the English. It was later adopted by the United States, continuing throughout the nineteenth century. While some of the first colonists seem to have had a rudimentary knowledge of the Algonquin language, interpreters were needed to facilitate communication.

Thomas Savage, who came to Virginia in as a young boy, was given to Powhatan, with whom he lived for portions of three years. He became a skillful interpreter and frequently went on trading voyages. Captain John Smith commented that Thomas Savage had served the public well. In , he sent word to the Virginia Company that the French were enjoying a great fur trade with the Natives in the Chesapeake Bay region. In , several days after Thomas Savage was given to Powhatan, Namontack, an Indian youth, was handed over to the English so that he could learn the language Kingsbury I; Ferrar MS ; Smith , 37, , , , , , , ; I, ; II, , ; Haile Pocahontas and Chanco, Kempes, and others, who gained a working knowledge of the English language, would have also facilitated communication between the Indians and colonists.

Robert Poole, who also came to Virginia at an early date, reportedly became quite fluent in Algonquian and served as one of the colony's official interpreters. In November Poole, who was then residing in urban Jamestown, testified that he had lived with Opechancanough during Sir Thomas Dale's government and that Captain John Smith had taught some Indians how to use firearms.

Later, he went to live with the King of the Patomeck. Spellman wrote a narrative in which he described Virginia's Natives and the colony's flora and fauna. Although he left Virginia in , he returned and in again was serving as an interpreter. During Spellman angered high ranking officials on account of some ill advised statements he made about them to Opechancanough.

When the assembly convened during July and August, Spellman was censured for his comments and ordered to serve as a public interpreter for seven years. He visited the country of the Monacan Indians, whose language was different than that of the Powhatans. In a November 26, , letter Wynne sent to Sir John Egerton, he said that some of the men in Newport's group thought that the Monacans' pronunciation resembled the Welch language and asked him to accompany them as an interpreter Haile The first English colonists were accompanied by the Rev.

Robert Hunt, an Anglican clergyman.

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Although he was responsible for seeing that the colonists adhered to the practices of the Established Church, he and his immediate successors also had an interest in converting the Natives to Christianity. In fact Richard Hakluyt and other proponents of colonization fervently spoke of the opportunity to bring the Christian religion to Native peoples in the New World. The Virginia Company's first charter described as a noble work "propagating of the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.

Sir Thomas Dale and other military leaders spoke of bringing Christianity to the Natives but they also were preoccupied with establishing control and typically employed force to impose their will. What's more, they took the Natives' land whenever they wanted it and often seized their food supply. Although Virginia Company officials in made plans to establish a college and university in Henrico, where young Indians could be converted to Christianity, and the East India Company contributed funds toward building a school, the March Indian uprising put an end to whatever altruistic feelings the colonists had.

In fact, after the Virginia Company was dissolved, interest in converting the Natives waned Brydon However, the muster documents the fact that William Crashaw, an Indian in Captain William Tucker's household, had been baptized Hotten It is probable that other Natives had been converted. Francis Perkins, who arrived in January in the First Supply of new settlers, wrote a March 28th letter in which he described the fire that destroyed the buildings in the Jamestown fort.

He added "Thanks to God we are at peace with all the neighboring inhabitants of the country and trade with them in wheat and provisions. They attach very great value to copper which looks at all reddish" Brown I Mathew Scrivenor, who also came to Virginia in in the First Supply, was named a councilor as soon as he arrived.

In February he participated in an exploratory voyage up the York River to Werowocomoco.

Jamestown |

On another occasion he went to Nansemond. Scrivenor served as acting president of the colony from July to September Smith II, , , , , ; Haile A year later he was arrested and sent to England. Smith claims he was injured in a gun powder blast, and thus returned to England. From Smith, who drew heavily upon others' accounts, we can learn a great deal about Natives as they were perceived by European colonists. Captain John Smith's works, though filled with self-aggrandizing statements, shed a considerable amount of light on Virginia's indigenous population, much as do the works of John White and Thomas Hariot from the Roanoke voyages.

While Captain Smith was president, a glasshouse was built in the woods on the west side of the isthmus that connected Jamestown Island to the mainland Smith , In , swine taken from Jamestown were pastured at Hog Island. In , he also had a blockhouse built at Hog Island, a low-lying marshy peninsula that protrudes from the lower side of the James River. In , during Captain John Smith's presidency, the colonists also constructed some earthen fortifications at the head of Gray's Creek, in what is now Surry County.

Smith selected the site as a possible place of retreat in the event of a foreign invasion. Among those in Smith's group when "The New Fort" was built were the Natives Kemps and Tassore, whose hunting skills supplied the workers with an abundance of game Smith Newport gave Powhatan a scarlet robe and a copper crown, though the paramount chief was reluctant to kneel for his coronation. Powhatan, who apparently thought that reciprocity was appropriate, "gave his old shoes and his mantle to Captain Newport.

Powhatan's mantle may well be the deerskin cloak embroidered with shell beads that is part of the Tradescant Collection at Oxford University Wood et al. In January the King of the Pasbehay and two Englishmen ventured into the territory on the south side of the James River, to search for survivors from the colony Sir Walter Raleigh had attempted to plant on Roanoke Island in the s.

The River of Pearl and Gold: A Story of Jamestown

Captain John Smith also sent out a search party. He said that in December he had tested the loyalty of the King of the Warreskoyack Indians by asking him to provide two guides to accompany Michael Sicklemore on a journey southward to look for the Roanoke colonists.

Smith reported that the river Sicklemore saw "was not great, the people few," and that nothing was learned about the lost colonists Smith , , ; Strachey However, in Virginia Company official instructed incoming Governor Thomas Gates to make another search, for they believed that four English colonists would be found who had "escaped from the slaughter of Powhatan of Roanocke, upon the first arrival of our Colonie and live under the proteccon of a wiroane [weorwance] called Gepanocon enemy to Powhatan" Kingsbury III Samuel Purchas, whose four volumes entitled Purchas His Pilgrimes or Hakluytus Posthomous, were published in , said that Nathaniel Powell and Anas Todkill, accompanied by Quiyoughquohanock guides, were sent southward to search for surviving colonists.

He added that they returned with the report that Sir Walter Raleigh's people were all dead. In the margin of his text, Purchas, who indicated that he had use of Captain John Smith's written notes, said that "Powhatan confessed that hee had bin at the mirder of that colonie and shewed to Captain Smith a musket barrel and brasse mortar and certain peeces of Iron which had been theirs" Purchas , The chart generally known as the Zuniga map contains several notations that relate to the whereabouts of the Roanoke colonists.

One is the site where "the king of Paspahegh reported our men to be and went to se[e]. George Percy, who was among the first colonists that came to Virginia, served as president from September to May Thus, he was in charge of the colony during the winter of , which tradition dubbed "The Starving Time. However, the Indians reportedly harassed them continuously and at the end of six weeks they were obliged to return to Jamestown Raimo ; Tyler These events occurred in the midst of a 6-year-long drought during which both Natives and colonists would have suffered terribly from food shortages.

Francis Maguel, an Irishman loyal to Spain, lived in Virginia for eight months. In July , after he had returned to Madrid, he recounted what he had seen. Maguel said that the Virginia colonists were on good terms with the Indians who "attend a market which the English hold at their fort daily," exchanging "the commodities of their land" for "trinkets the English give them, such as knives, articles made of glass, little bells, and so on" Barbour I Trade, a tangible but subtle form of cultural exchange, was mutually beneficial.

The orders Sir Thomas Gates received in early July when he left England included seeing that towns were built and that the colony was adequately defended. He also was told to extract tribute from the Indians and was authorized to build a new capital city at an inland site that would be safe from foreign invasion Kingsbury III Virginia Company officials warned Gates about Virginia's Natives. They said that they.

It was recommended that Indian children be taken prisoner and detained so that they could be converted to Christianity. Sir Thomas Gates was told not to give the Indians weapons or teach them how to use them.


They also were not to allow the Indians to learn certain types of potentially useful skills, such as carpentry and blacksmithing Kingsbury III, Employing reverse psychology, the colonists were supposed to pretend that they were being benevolent when they traded "leetle Iron tooles or copper" to the Natives, but they were supposed to devalue or "make little estimacon of trade with them" Kingsbury III This strategy was supposed to make the Indians place a high value upon the trinkets they received through trade while sharing their goods abundantly with the colonists.

As time would tell, the food the Indians supplied to the colonists was the real treasure exchanged. Gates, having survived a hurricane and being shipwrecked in Bermuda, finally reached Virginia. When he arrived at Jamestown on May 23, , six weeks ahead of Governor Thomas West, the third, Lord Delaware de la War , he found the surviving colonists in dire straits. The fort was in disrepair and those who had managed to survive were suffering from starvation. Although the colonists stayed on, the Council in Virginia reported that the settlers were hesitant to venture outside the fort to gather firewood, as the Indians were "as fast killing without [the fort] as the famine and pestilence within.

They said that the Indians were watchful and were keenly aware of their weakness and had chosen to play a waiting game rather than "hazard themselves in a fruitless war on such whome they were assured in short time would of themselves perish" Brown He ordered the colonists, who had just abandoned Jamestown, to return to their seat Raimo According to William Strachey, Lord Delaware had the colonists build more weatherproof houses, using "A delicate wrought fine kinde of Mat the Indians make, with which as they can be trucked for or snatched up our people do dresse their chambers, and inward roomes, which make their houses so much more handsome" Wright Thus, the colonists put to good use materials fabricated by the Native population.

On the other hand, Strachey said that Powhatan and his people worked constantly toward the colonists' undoing, sometimes resorting to violence when seizing the settlers' weapons and tools. He claimed that the Indians had taken more than swords, axes, pole axes, chisels, and hoes, along with "an infinite treasure of copper" Wright Finally, Lord Delaware sent two men to Powhatan, demanding the release of some colonists who were being held captive and also insisted upon the return of the items that had been taken.