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Blood in the Snow

To see a dead Indian.

—Trinculo, The Tempest

On the last day of August 1610 the ship that had been dispatched to fetch food from Bermuda with George Somers—Samuel Argall in the Discovery—returned to Jamestown without having reached the mid-Atlantic isle. Argall and Somers had encountered contrary winds that kept them from heading into the Atlantic. Rather than remain in waters barren of fish, they had sailed first for Cape Cod and then Sagadahoc. They had then become separated in fog off the coast. Argall had fished with some success, paused on August 27 to name Delaware Bay after his commander, and made his way back to Jamestown after ten weeks at sea. The fate of Somers and the Patience was unknown.

Delaware sent the newly returned Argall to Warraskoyack with two companies of soldiers to continue his campaign of violence against Wahunsenacawh and to avenge the perceived treachery of Tackonekintaco. Having heard of the devastation at Kecoughtan, the people of Warraskoyack fled from the approaching soldiers and Argall met no opposition. Strachey remained at Jamestown this time, writing that the soldiers “fell upon two towns of his and burnt them to the ground with all their goodly furniture of mats, dishes, wooden pots, and platters.”

Soon after Argall’s raid, a single vessel from England arrived in Jamestown. The Dainty brought a dozen men and one woman and at least two horses. The arriving colonists reported that just before they left England a ship arrived from Jamestown with news of the Starving Time. Eight months earlier the Swallow had abandoned a trading expedition and sailed for home instead of bringing food back to the struggling colony. Those on board deflected accusations that they had stolen the ship by saying they had no choice but to leave a desperate situation. To bolster their claim, they had described to all who would listen the events of the Starving Time in graphic detail.

“The Indians hold the English surrounded in the strong place which they had erected there, having killed the larger part of them,” a new Spanish ambassador, Alonso de Velasco, wrote to his king after having heard reports by the Swallow, “and the others were left so entirely without provisions that they thought it impossible to escape, because the survivors eat the dead, and when one of the natives died fighting they dug him up again two days afterwards to be eaten. The swine which they carried there and which commenced to multiply, the Indians killed, and almost all who came in this vessel died from having eaten dogs, cat skins, and other vile stuff.”

In response to the renewal of the public relations disaster they had worked to overcome, Virginia Company officials employed their usual tactic of disparaging the reputations of the returning voyagers. “These are that scum of men,” the company said, “that failing in their piracy, that being pinched with famine and penury, after their wild roving upon the sea, when all their lawless hopes failed, some remained with other pirates they met upon the sea, the others resolved to return for England [and] bound themselves by mutual oath to agree all in one report to discredit the land, to deplore the famine, and to protest that this their coming away proceeded from desperate necessity.” With the new charges against the colony the Virginia Company’s ability to raise money and recruits was further compromised. “Thus it looks,” Velasco wrote, “as if the zeal for this enterprise was cooling off.”

As autumn 1610 came to full leaf in Jamestown, William Strachey witnessed a second execution for mutiny. The Virginia Company had outfitted a crew of miners and sent them to the colony with Delaware. Some of the miners allegedly conspired to take a ship and return to England (perhaps planning to look for precious metals on their own before sailing). The plan was betrayed to Delaware, who ordered an immediate hanging.

“My lord for an example adjudged one of them by marshal law to be executed,” Percy reported. “The party being thrown off the ladder, what with the swing and weight of his body the rope did break and he fell upon the ground, and in regard of the accident my lord pardoned him, although it nothing availed him, having received his death with the gird of the rope and extremity of the fall so that within two days after he died.”

This was another gruesome scene, the kind Strachey witnessed but declined to describe in his writings. The journals he kept in Jamestown included their share of violent episodes, but the worst things he saw were written in veiled language or left out altogether. Readers of narratives would not want to hear about botched hangings of colonists or murders of women and children. There was no need to write about that for his own use, and the Virginia Company certainly would not want such material included in official dispatches from secretary of the colony. Thus Strachey remained mute about some of the worst aspects of colonial life.

Soon after the hanging, and perhaps even prompted by it, Delaware ordered a company of men up the James River to march into the interior in search of a lode of shiny metal that had been found on an earlier expedition. Too sick to join the initial venture, the governor appointed George Yardley and Edward Brewster to lead the company. The men living at Kecoughtan had finished harvesting the corn there and so were ordered to abandon the post and prepare to join the expedition. They would travel by boat as far as possible and then hike into the interior. A palisade would be constructed at the mine site and they would spend the winter there digging for silver. Strachey remained behind in Jamestown when the boats departed.

On the voyage upriver a longboat of fourteen miners searching for fresh water went ashore at the village of Appomattox. The residents asked the visitors to leave their weapons in the boat, which turned out to be a fatal decision. During a meal the Englishmen were set upon and killed. Only Dowse the drummer (the same man who had drawn out the Powhatans at Kecoughtan) survived by running to the longboat and making his way out into the river. Learning of the massacre from the escaped drummer, the rest of the force immediately attacked, burning the town and killing and scattering its residents. The depleted company continued as far as they could with the boats, but did not go farther than the riverside.

Late in the fall Delaware left Jamestown to winter with the miners at the northern campsite, and before going he sent Samuel Argall north to the Potomac River to trade for food. Being outside the Powhatan confederacy and not directly affected by English settlement, the Patawomecks proved willing to barter. Argall acquired four hundred bushels of grain and stacks of furs in exchange for scrap copper and lead, ninety-six hatchets, sixty knives, some bells, and twelve pairs of scissors.

On the expedition Argall also recovered an English boy named Henry Spelman who had lived among the Powhatans and Patawomecks for a year. The fifteen-year-old had come to Jamestown in the Gates fleet aboard the Unity. Only a few weeks after arrival he had been left with Wahunsenacawh to learn the Powhatan language, but after a while he ran off and walked through the forest many miles to Patawomeck country. “With this King Patawomeck I lived a year and more,” Spelman said, “at a town of his called Passapatanzy, until such time as a worthy gentleman named Captain Argall arrived.”

Argall and Spelman returned to Jamestown in early winter 1611. When Strachey heard the story of the expedition and learned Spelman’s history, he was pleased to have a new source of information on the people of Virginia. Spelman had learned the language of the Powhatans and the Patawomecks, which would be a great help to the colonists in general and the secretary in particular. Strachey interviewed the teenager and made notes about the circumstances of his release. Spelman told him that just before his release his overseer, Iopassus, came aboard Argall’s ship “about Christmas” and had a long conversation “sitting (the weather being very cold) by the fire upon a hearth in the hold with the captain.” During the visit Iopassus asked to see a Bible a sailor was reading. After examining the illustrations in the book, he offered to tell of the beliefs of the Patawomecks.

“We have five gods in all,” Iopassus said. “Our chief god appears often unto us in the likeness of a mighty great hare; the other four have no visible shape but are indeed the four winds which keep the four corners of the earth. Our god who takes upon him this shape of a hare conceived with himself how to people this great world and with what kind of creatures.” The deity in the shape of a hare created a great deer to live upon the earth, Iopassus said, but the gods from the four corners of the earth were envious and slew the deer. The god in the shape of a hare then made each hair of the deer into another deer and placed people upon the earth—“a man and a woman in one country and a man and a woman in another country, and so the world took his first beginning of mankind.”

Argall then asked what happened to the Patawomecks after death, and Strachey described Iopassus’s answer, as translated by Spelman. “After they are dead here they go up to a top of a high tree and there they spy a fair plain broad pathway, on both sides whereof doth grow all manner of pleasant fruits as mulberries, strawberries, plums, etc. In this pleasant path they run toward the rising of the sun, where the godly hare’s house is and in the midway they come to a house where a woman goddess doth dwell who hath always her doors open for hospitality.” There, Iopassus said, they have a feast of boiled corn, walnut milk, and fruit before continuing on to their destination. “They find their forefathers living in great pleasure in a goodly field, where they do nothing but dance and sing and feed on delicious fruits with the great hare, who is their great god, and when they have lived there until they be stark old men they say they die there likewise by turns and come into the world again.”

Soon after Argall and Spelman came back to Jamestown, blood fell again on the snow of Tsenacomoco. The blockhouse that guarded the neck leading from the colony to the mainland was attacked on February 9 by Wowinchopunck, the leader of Paspahegh, the town the English had overrun in August. The soldiers in the blockhouse went outside and attempted to seize Wowinchopunck, but seeing that he could not be taken alive the captain of the guard stabbed him twice and fled back to the building. The attackers picked up the fallen man and carried him into the woods. One of the blockhouse guard pursued the carriers and catching one, “overthrew him and with his dagger sent him to accompany his master in the other world.”

Late in the winter, the still-ailing Delaware and the remainder of his company abandoned the upriver palisade and returned to the colony. Disease was rife in Jamestown that winter, and among those who died was Kemps, the Powhatan captive who was forced to lead Percy against the Paspaheghs. Percy also reported the demise of Sir Ferdinando Weynman, whose “death was much lamented, being both an honest and a valiant gentleman.”

By March, Delaware’s health was so fragile that he decided to sail to the West Indies, where he might bathe in the geothermal hot springs of Nevis. Leaving the colony he was charged to govern was sure to anger officials and investors of the Virginia Company, but Delaware felt his life depended upon it. At his sailing the governor reported that he left two hundred in the colony supplied with enough food for ten months. In the estimation of those left behind, however, the food stores were meager and the expectations low. “At his going he left Captain George Percy deputy governor, the people (remaining under his command) provided for three months at a short allowance of victuals,” a colonist reported.

After Delaware’s ship was out of view, the warriors from Paspahegh assaulted Jamestown in one of the most successful attacks against the colony. George Percy had doubled the guard at the blockhouse and ordered his men not to be drawn from the tower, but the soldiers stationed there disobeyed his orders, with fatal results. The guards, Percy said, “showing more valor than wit, more fury than judgment,” pursued a small band of Powhatans who appeared near the blockhouse. The interlopers withdrew into the forest and the soldiers followed, only to fall into an ambush, “where being five or six hundred of savages let fly their arrows as thick as hail amongst our handful of men and defeated and cut them all off in a moment, the arrows which they had shot being so many in number that the ground thereabouts was almost covered with them.” The attackers’ cries of “Paspahegh, Paspahegh” brought fifty reinforcements from the palisade, but when they arrived all that remained to do was recover the bodies of the soldiers. A spooked Percy dispatched a boat in an unsuccessful attempt to catch Delaware. To the colonists, the move revealed the deputy governor’s reluctance to lead. For the first time, William Strachey was in the wilderness of the New World without the guidance of a governor he trusted. From his first days under the leadership of Percy, Strachey began to mull the possibility of returning home to London.

Just over a week after the blockhouse ambush, to the relief of the colonists, one of the two ships that had carried Gates back to England came up the James River. The Hercules under Captain Robert Adams carried only thirty people, but in addition to replacing the twenty killed at the blockhouse the arrival did a bit to revive the morale of the dispirited colony. The vessel carried important news for the survivors of the Sea Venture wreck—for the first time they knew that their families and friends were aware they had survived on Bermuda.

One man aboard the Hercules was a new recruit named Robert Evelyn, a Londoner deep in debt who hoped to return from the New World with riches for his wife and children. “I am much grieved at my heart for it that my estate is so mean,” Evelyn had written to his mother as he prepared to leave. “I am going to the sea, a long and dangerous vo[yage with] other men to make me to be [able] to pay my debts and to restore my decayed estate again; which I beseech God of His mercy to grant it may be [made] prosperous unto me to His honor and my comfort in this world and in the world to come; and I beseech you if I do die that you would be good unto my poor wife and children, which, God knows, I shall leave very poor.”

Adams, Evelyn, and the others on the Hercules reported that Thomas Gates had stunned London and all of England by coming back from the grave. When his ships arrived at the Thames quay in September, the story of the survival of the Sea Venture voyagers had spread rapidly through the city. To satisfy the demand for information on the wreck, two who had lived through it immediately published accounts. Silvester Jourdain was first into print with his Discovery of the Barmodas, a short pamphlet telling the story in spare prose. Another Sea Venture passenger, Richard Rich, calling himself a “soldier blunt and plain,” offered the tale in verse under the title Newes from Virginia: The Lost Flocke Triumphant.

Neither Jourdain nor Rich mentioned the fate of Namontack, the Powhatan emissary who had twice been to London before departing on the Sea Venture with Machumps. Gates retold the Bermuda story many times, however, and a Dutch writer living in London heard one of those tellings. Emanuel van Meteren reported that Gates included among his list of the Bermuda dead “a casicke or son of a king in Virginia who had been in England and who had been killed by an Indian, his own servant.” Gates’s suspicion that Machumps had killed Namontack was reported as a certainty, and the former castaway apparently did not mention that the suspected murderer continued to circulate among the colonists in Jamestown without sanction for the alleged crime.

As in earlier times, the most anticipated publication in the weeks after Gates’s return was the one issued by the Virginia Company itself. Now instead of having to explain the death of one of its most promising leaders, the company could hail his survival as proof that God intended the English to prevail in Virginia. As the basis of A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia, the company drew upon Strachey’s letter to the “Excellent Lady” and the derivative report that the secretary had drafted for Delaware’s signature. The company highlighted the successes of Bermuda and Virginia and downplayed or omitted the episodes of mutiny, murder, and bloody battles with the Powhatans. Highlighted was the miraculous—some might even say magical—survival of Thomas Gates and his company on an enchanted island.

This series of fortuitous events proved the intervention of the divine, according to the Virginia Company. Could these coincidences, the company asked, mean anything but that God intended Jamestown to succeed? If Gates had not come from Bermuda, the Virginia settlers would have starved; if Gates had not saved the colony from burning, the palisade could not have been reoccupied; if Jamestown had been abandoned much longer, the Powhatans would have destroyed it; if Gates had left sooner, his fleet would not have met Delaware; if Delaware had not brought ample supplies, his arrival would not have made a decisive difference. This was the hand of God at work, the Virginia Company said, and the preservation of the castaways on Bermuda was final proof that God wanted the English to succeed in the New World.

In crafting their publicity campaign, the Virginia Company made use of the positive elements of Strachey’s unexpected report. His vivid prose was a great help in crafting their publication, and the company wanted more. The organization’s secretary and friend of Strachey’s, Richard Martin, was enlisted to write him and ask for additional writings. The Hercules carried a letter from Martin to Strachey, complimenting his literary efforts and requesting a new report. Strachey may have sent back an additional description of the country when the Hercules returned to England in a few weeks’ time, but more likely he sent nothing immediately and the request by Martin spurred him to begin work on his comprehensive history of Virginia. Strachey was now convinced that he would realize his opportunity for literary success. At long last he had wealthy and well-placed patrons asking him to write something that would have a lasting impact on the literature of the age. He did not intend to let the chance slip by.

The most important news arriving with the Hercules was that it was part of a new supply fleet. The ship had separated from two companion vessels on the way over, but others were expected soon in the Chesapeake. The convoy was under the leadership of Sir Thomas Dale, a career soldier with twenty-three years’ military service. Dale had distinguished himself against Celtic forces in Ireland and the Spanish in the Netherlands, rising from common soldier to knight. While serving in the field with Gates in both conflicts, Dale had used strict discipline, in sharp contrast to Gates’s preference for compromise. The Virginia Company had given Dale the rank of marshal and placed him in charge of the colony’s military activities. He had departed with three ships carrying cattle, armor, and three hundred settlers, including sixty women. While Dale was assigned to oversee military activities only, in the unexpected absence of Delaware he would become the highest-ranking official in the colony and take over as acting governor. The marshal would prove to be a strict leader.

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