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Forest People

Savages and men of Ind.

—Stephano, The Tempest

After two months on the water the convoy of Lord Delaware reached Point Comfort and intercepted Gates’s departing vessels at the mouth of the river. The new governor arrived at Jamestown in June, when summer foliage was nearly full. Delaware made an entrance with more pomp than had yet been displayed at Jamestown. Strachey carried Gates’s heraldic flag as the outgoing governor welcomed the new one.

“His lordship landing fell upon his knees and before us all made a long and silent prayer to himself,” Strachey said, “and after marched up into the town where at the gate I bowed with the colors and let them fall at his lordship’s feet, who passed on into the chapel where he heard a sermon by Master Buck.” After the service Delaware had his ensign, Anthony Scot, read his commission. To complete the transfer of power, Gates turned over the seal of the Virginia Company to the new governor. Delaware then spoke to the assembled colonists, both veteran and new.

“I delivered some few words unto the company,” Delaware said afterward, “laying some blames upon them for many vanities and their idleness, earnestly wishing that I might no more find it so lest I should be compelled to draw the sword in justice to cut off such delinquents which I had much rather draw in their defense to protect from enemies.”

After the assembly Delaware inspected the fort. None of the existing houses met his standards as a residence, so he returned to his cabin aboard ship. Two days later he named more than a dozen officers of a new government. The three knights of the colony were given high posts—Gates and Somers retained their positions as lieutenant governor and admiral, while newcomer Sir Ferdinando Weynman (Delaware’s first cousin) was appointed master of ordnance.

Delaware also appointed Strachey secretary of the colony, probably on the recommendation of Gates. The former secretary had died before the Sea Venture survivors came to Jamestown, and the constantly scribbling Strachey was an obvious choice as a replacement. This was a gratifying turn of events for the aspiring writer. Now he would do in an official capacity what he hoped to do on his own, write about the events and people of the New World. A colonial position was also sure to gain him the notice of potential patrons on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first order to the new secretary was to write a report of the events on Bermuda and Jamestown to be carried back to England with the next ship. Strachey had already written most of a long letter to his potential patron, probably the Countess of Bedford. Drawing from that, he would fashion a similar report to serve as an official communication from Delaware to the Virginia Company. While Strachey sat in his hut writing for the colony—an eminently satisfying role indeed—other colonists set about the more physically taxing labor of restoring Jamestown. “I set the sailors a-work to unlade ships,” Delaware said, “and the landsmen, some to cleanse the town, some to make coal for our forges. I sent fishermen out to provide fish for our men to save other provisions.” An immediate concern was the colony’s lack of livestock. During the Starving Time the colonists had consumed all the hogs, chickens, and horses, leaving not a single domestic animal alive.

Somers proposed a solution—he would go back to Bermuda, fill a vessel with pork, fish, and fowl, and return to Jamestown. The mid-Atlantic isle was a week’s sail from Virginia in good weather and offered live animals and easily accessible food of many varieties. Delaware enthusiastically accepted the offer and appointed Samuel Argall to accompany the admiral in a second vessel. “I dispatched Sir George Somers back again to the Bermudas,” Delaware wrote in a letter home, “the good old gentleman out of his love and zeal not motioning [wavering] but most cheerfully and resolutely undertaking to perform so dangerous a voyage and, if it please God he does safely return, he will store us with hogs’ flesh and fish enough to serve the whole colony this winter.” Delaware’s praise of Somers’s sacrifice in offering to return to Bermuda reflected the persistent view that the shallows around the Devil’s Isle were extremely dangerous despite the admiral’s earlier success.

After a residency in Virginia of less than a month, Somers set sail again for the island that had been his home for most of the past year. He and Argall left Jamestown in the Patience and the Discovery on June 19. As they sailed downriver Somers wrote an optimistic letter home, to be left at Algernon Fort as they passed and delivered to England on the next departing ship. “Now we are in a good hope to plant and abide there,” Somers wrote, “for here is a good course taken and a greater care than ever there was. I am going to the Bermuda for fish and hog with two small pinnaces and am in a good opinion to be back again before the Indians do gather their harvest.” The vessels made the open ocean before dawn on June 23 after seeking shelter from a rainstorm in the lee of a headland.

Back upriver at Jamestown, Delaware ignored the rain and ordered the refurbishing of the colony to continue. After a basic cleanup was finished, the “pretty chapel” received workers’ attention. The restored church, Strachey said, “shall have a chancel in it of cedar and a Communion table of the black walnut and all the pews of cedar, with fair broad windows to shut and open as the weather shall occasion of the same wood, a pulpit of the same with a font hewn hollow like a canoe, with two bells at the west end. It is so cast as it be very light within and the lord governor and captain general doth cause it to be kept passing sweet and trimmed up with diverse flowers.”

Four preachers who came with Delaware joined Richard Buck on a rotating schedule. The five clerics were able to offer a full slate of services: sermons once on Thursday and twice on Sunday and prayers daily in midmorning and late afternoon. “Every Sunday when the lord governor and captain general goeth to church,” Strachey said, “he is accompanied with all the counselors, captains, other officers and all the gentlemen—and with a guard of halberdiers in his lordship’s livery, fair red cloaks—to the number of fifty, both on each side and behind him, and being in the church his lordship hath his seat in the choir in a green velvet chair with a cloth with a velvet cushion spread on a table before him on which he kneels.”

A few days after the arrival of the Delaware fleet, illness began to attack the colonists fresh from England. New colonists expected a period of seasoning, but the disease that swept the new group of men and women was more severe than usual. Among the colonists who suffered was Delaware himself. “Presently after my arrival in Jamestown,” Delaware reported, “I was welcomed by a hot and violent ague.” The expedition doctor, Lawrence Bohun, used the common treatment of bloodletting as a curative, but it had little effect on the illnesses that assailed Delaware in regular succession over the next month. In a state of weakness the new governor was afflicted with diarrhea, gout, and scurvy. The entry into Virginia, the new governor believed, brought him near death. “I was upon the point to leave the world,” he wrote.

Under attack from disease, the colony also received no quarter from the Powhatans besieging the settlement. Soon after his arrival Delaware sent two emissaries to demand that Wahunsenacawh stop ambushing English colonists and return guns he had acquired. If he refused, Delaware said, the English would attack and burn his villages. The soldiers who were sent did not bring back a positive report. “Powhatan returned no other answer but that either we should depart his country or confine ourselves to Jamestown only without searching farther up into his land or rivers,” Strachey said, “or otherwise he would give in command to his people to kill us and do unto us all the mischief which they at their pleasure could and we feared, withal forewarning the said messengers not to return any more unto him unless they brought him a coach and three horses, for he had understood by the Indians which were in England how such was the state of great werowances [rulers] and lords in England to ride and visit other great men.” This exchange with the English emissaries may also have been the time that Wahunsenacawh claimed that months earlier his men had intercepted and killed Henry Ravens and his crew after they reached Virginia from Bermuda in their rigged longboat just after the wreck of the Sea Venture.

Powhatan attacks continued unabated. Even just beyond the palisade the colonists were in danger. Strawberries grew among the stumps in the cleared area beyond the wooden walls, but picking them put one in range of the bowmen who waited in the woods at all hours. The colonists were continually under observation. On July 6 downriver at Point Comfort, Gates ordered a man named Humphrey Blunt to retrieve a boat that had drifted from Algernon Fort to a nearby shore. “Certain Indians (watching the occasion) seized the poor fellow and led him up into the woods and sacrificed him,” Strachey said. Seeing his man slain steeled Gates to a new resolve. “Now being startled by this, he well perceived how little a fair and noble entreaty works upon a barbarous disposition and therefore in some measure purposed to be revenged.”

Three days after the killing of Blunt, the newly resolute Gates—perhaps driven, too, by latent frustration over the mutinous behavior of his own flock during the previous year—led a punitive expedition against the nearby town of Kecoughtan. Strachey went along, remaining safely in the rear. Gates sent a lone drummer into the village to draw out the men and women. “Being landed he caused the taborer to play and dance,” Percy wrote, “thereby to lure the Indians to come unto him.” When the unsuspecting residents emerged from their houses to meet the visitors, the soldiers “fell in upon them, put five to the sword, wounded many others, some of them being after found in the woods with such extraordinary large and mortal wounds that it seemed strange they could fly so far.” No English were injured or killed. Afterward the soldiers took grain, tobacco, and clothing from the homes.

Two garrisons were established on the site to make use of unripe corn standing in fields around the village. Some of the Kecoughtan houses were set aside for the use of the soldiers who would reside at the outposts, and the others were burned. A tent and thatched cabins served as additional housing. Walking the site after the fight, Strachey said the location was well chosen and the fields of two to three thousand acres about it were expertly cultivated. In addition the colonists found “many pretty copses or bosks” nearby in which grew gooseberries, mulberries, cherry trees, and a plant he called a “maracock apple,” today known as the maypop passionflower.

The most important fruit found flourishing at Kecoughtan was grapes. The Virginia Company hoped wine for the English market would be one of the products of Jamestown. To establish the industry, Delaware carried French vintners who had promised the Virginia Company they would begin sending wine home within two years. To that end, a vintner was placed with the garrison at Kecoughtan. “We proposed to set a Frenchman here a-work to plant vines, which grew naturally in great plenty,” Strachey wrote.

When not attending to sick colonists, Delaware’s physician, Lawrence Bohun, managed to turn out a passable young wine. “Behold the goodly vines burdening every neighbor bush and climbing the tops of highest trees and those full of clusters of grapes in their kind, however draped and shadowed soever from the sun and though never pruned or manured,” Strachey wrote. “I dare say it, that we have eaten there as full and luscious a grape as in the villages between Paris and Amiens, and I have drunk often of the rathe [early] wine which Doctor Bohun and other of our people have made full as good as your French-British wine. Twenty gallons at a time have been sometimes made without any other help than by crushing the grape with the hand, which letting to settle five or six days, hath, in the drawing forth, proved strong and heady.”

While the Powhatans would never return to Kecoughtan, they soon retaliated with a raid on Jamestown. Two of the attackers were captured and brought into the palisade. Still smarting from the rejection of his earlier emissaries, Delaware decided to send a bloodier message to Wahunsenacawh. The colonists identified one of the men as a participant in an earlier attack, and he was dragged to a stump where his right hand was hacked off with a sword. The grievously wounded warrior was sent away with a demand to Wahunsenacawh that he cease all hostilities. If those steps were not taken, the man was told, his companion would be executed.

The departure of the mutilated captive coincided with preparations by Gates and Newport to return to England to lobby for more supplies. The Hercules and the Blessing would also carry two reports written by Strachey. The first was the official communication to the Virginia Company carrying Delaware’s signature. A second was the letter from Strachey to the “Excellent Lady,” probably the Countess of Bedford. The map of Bermuda that George Somers had drawn during his months on the island was enclosed with the letter. Since the countess was a prominent stockholder of the Virginia Company, Strachey hoped that his letter to her would be circulated among company officials—all the better for establishing himself as a chronicler of Virginia.

In order to send the ships home with something in their holds, the colonists took lumber and iron ore from the forest near a town called Warraskoyack. While lading the ships the English captured the leader of the town, Tackonekintaco, along with his son, Tangoit, and a third man. The three were brought to Algernon Fort, where Delaware was waiting to see the ships off. There Tackonekintaco was induced to agree to exchange five hundred bushels of grain after the fall harvest for copper, beads, and hatchets. With that promise Tackonekintaco and Tangoit were released, while the third man was held to ensure compliance. The colonists planned to send the man to England and then return him to Virginia for redelivery to his people after the tribute was paid. Before the ships left for England, however, the hostage leaped overboard and made it to shore despite being bound. “The Indians of Warraskoyack would oftentimes afterward mock us,” Strachey said, “and call to us for him and at length make a great laughter and tell us he was come home; how true or false is no great matter, but indeed the old king after that time refused to perform the former bargain.”

After Gates departed for England, an ailing Lord Delaware returned to Jamestown, still residing on his ship rather than on land. Receiving no answer to the message sent to Wahunsenacawh with the handless combatant, he ordered George Percy to take seventy men and attack the nearby town of Paspahegh. Strachey accompanied this raiding party as well, again remaining in the rear guard of the action. On August 9 the soldiers left by water and landed three miles from the town. A captive named Kemps was forced to guide their march through the forest. He attempted to lead the troops astray, Percy said, but upon threat of death finally led them to the outskirts of the town. The troops attacked upon the firing of a pistol, taking the villagers by surprise. “We fell in upon them, put some fifteen or sixteen to the sword, and almost all the rest to flight.”

In the aftermath of the attack a soldier delivered to Percy a Powhatan man, woman, and children who had been taken prisoner. Percy scolded the solider for sparing the prisoners, and the Powhatan man was immediately executed. The woman and children were marched back to the boats. “My soldiers did begin to murmur because the queen and her children were spared,” Percy said. “So upon the same, a council being called it was agreed upon to put the children to death, the which was effected by throwing them overboard and shooting out their brains in the water. Yet for all this cruelty the soldiers were not well pleased and I had much to do to save the queen’s life for that time.”

Percy then sent Captain James Davis and a column of soldiers ashore again to pursue the fleeing Paspaheghs. Davis and his men, “marching about fourteen miles into the country, cut down their corn, burned their houses, temples, and idols, and amongst the rest a spacious temple, clean and neatly kept, a thing strange and seldom seen amongst the Indians in those parts. So having performed all the spoil he could, returned aboard to me again and then we sailed down the river.”

At Jamestown, Davis rowed to Delaware’s ship to report on the raid (inexplicably, Percy remained behind in the pinnace). When Davis returned he told Percy that Delaware had ordered the prisoner executed by burning. The prospect was too horrible for Percy. “I replied that having seen so much bloodshed that day, now in my cold blood I desired to see no more, and for to burn her, I did not hold it fitting, but either by shot or sword to give her a quicker dispatch. So turning myself from Captain Davis, he did take the queen with two soldiers ashore and in the woods put her to the sword.” Upon reflection—perhaps even at the time—Percy suspected that Delaware had made no such order, though he kept his doubts to himself. “Although Captain Davis told me it was my lord’s direction,” Percy wrote later, “yet I am persuaded to the contrary.”

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