A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part II, Chapter 14." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 14
MORE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH

SMITH had been away from the settlement nearly a month, and he returned to find the colony in confusion and misery. Many had died, and those who remained were quarrelling among themselves. Indeed some were on the point of deserting and sneaking off to England in the one little ship they had. They were not in the least pleased to see Smith return, and they resolved once more to get rid of him. So they accused him of causing the death of the two men who had gone with him, and condemned him to death. Thus Smith had only escaped from the hands of the Indians to be murdered by his own people.

 

The order went forth. He was to be hanged next day.

 

But suddenly all was changed, for a man looking out to sea saw a white sail. "Ship ahoy!" he shouted, "ship ahoy!"

 

At the joyful sound the, men forgot their bickerings, and hurrying to the shore welcomed the new arrival. It was Captain Newport with his long promised help. He soon put a stop to the hanging business, and also set poor Captain Wingfield free. For he had been kept prisoner ever since he had been deposed.

Smith again escapes hanging

Newport had brought food for the colony, but he had also brought many new settlers. Unfortunately, too, one day the storehouse was set on fire, and much of the grain was destroyed. So that in spite of the new supplies the colony would soon again have been in the old starving condition had it not been for Pocahontas. She was resolved that her beloved white chief should want for nothing, and now every four or five days she came to the fort laden with provisions. Smith also took Captain Newport to visit the Powhatan, and great barter was made of blue beads and tinsel ornaments for grain and foodstuffs.

 

After a time Captain Newport sailed home again, taking the deposed President Wingfield with him. He took home also great tales of the savage Emperor's might and splendour. And King James was so impressed with what he heard that he made up his mind that the Powhatan should be crowned. So in autumn Captain Newport returned again to Jamestown, bringing with him more settlers, among them two women. He also brought a crown and other presents to the Powhatan from King James, together with a command for his coronation. So Smith made a journey to the Powhatan's village and begged him to come to Jamestown to receive his presents. But the Powhatan refused to go for he was suspicious and stood upon his dignity.

 

"If your King has sent me presents," he said, "I also am a king, and this is my land. Eight days will I wait here to receive them. Your Father Newport must come to me, not I to him."

The Powhatan's pride;

So with this answer Smith went back, and seeing nothing else for it Captain Newport set out for the Powhatan's village with the presents. He did not in the least want to go, but the King had commanded that the Powhatan was to be crowned. And the King had to be obeyed. He arrived safely at Weronocomoco, and the next day was appointed for the coronation.

 

First the presents were brought out and set in order. There was a great four-poster bed with hangings and curtains of damask, a basin and ewer and other costly novelties such as never before had been seen in these lands.

 

After the gifts had been presented the Englishmen tried to place a fine red cloak on the Powhatan's shoulders. But he would not have it. He resisted all their attempts until at last one of the other chiefs persuaded him that it would not hurt him, so at last he submitted.

his coronation;

Next the crown was produced. The Powhatan had never seen a crown, and had no idea of its use, nor could he be made to understand that he must kneel to have it put on.

 

"A foul trouble there was," says one of the settlers who writes about it. No persuasions or explanations were of any avail. The Englishmen knelt down in front of him to show him what he must do. They explained, they persuaded, until they were worn out. It was all in vain. The Powhatan remained as stolid as a mule. Kneel he would not.

 

So at length, seeing nothing else for it, three of them took the crown in their hands, and the others pressed with all their weight upon the Powhatan's shoulders so that they forced him to stoop a little, and thus, amid howls of laughter, the crown was hastily thrust on his head. As soon as it was done the soldiers fired a volley in honour of the occasion. At the sound the newly-crowned monarch started up in terror, casting aside the men who held him. But when he saw that no one was killed, and that those around him were laughing, he soon recovered from his fright. And thanking them gravely for their presents he pompously handed his old shoes and his raccoon cloak to Captain Newport as a present for King James. Thus this strangest of all coronations came to an end.

he sends a present to King James

This senseless ceremony did no good, but rather harm. The Powhatan had resisted being crowned with all his might, but afterwards he was much puffed up about it, and began to think much more of himself, and much less of the white people.

 

Among others, Smith thought it was nothing but a piece of tomfoolery and likely to bring trouble ere long.

 



THE CROWNING OF POWHATAN
The Powhatan, they had heard, was a king, a sort
of Emperor, . . . they . . . pictured him as
living in a stately palace, wearing a golden crown
and velvet robes.


For some months now he had been President, and as President he wrote to the London Company, "For the coronation of Powhatan," he said, "by whose advice you sent him such presents I know not, but this give me leave to tell you, I fear they will be the confusion of us all, ere we hear from you again."

 

Smith told the Company other plain truths. They had been sending out all sorts of idle fine gentlemen who had never done a day's work in their lives. They could not fell a tree, and when they tried the axe blistered their tender fingers. Some of them worked indeed cheerfully enough, but it took ten of them to do as much work as one good workman. Others were simply stirrers up of mischief. One of these Smith now sent back to England "lest the company should cut his throat." And Smith begged the Company to keep those sort of people at home in the future, and send him carpenters and gardeners, blacksmiths and masons, and people who could do something.

Fine gentlemen of little use to the colony

Captain Newport now sailed home, and Smith was left to govern the colony and find food for the many hungry mouths. He went as usual to trade with the Indians. But he found them no longer willing to barter their corn for a little copper or a handful of beads. They now wanted swords and guns. The Powhatan too grew weary of seeing the Pale-faces squatting on the land of which he was crowned king. He forgot his vows of friendship with Smith. All he wanted was to see the Pale-faces leave his country. And the best way to get rid of them was to starve them.

 

But although the Powhatan had grown tired of seeing the Pale-faces stride like lords through his land, he yet greatly admired them. And now he wanted more than anything else to have a house, a palace as it seemed to him, with windows and fireplaces like those they built for themselves at Jamestown. For in the little native houses which his followers could build there was no room for the splendid furniture which had been sent to him for his coronation. So now he sent to Smith asking him to send white men to build a house. Smith at once sent some men to begin the work, and soon followed with others.

The Powhatan desires a palace

On their way to the Powhatan's town Smith and his companions stopped a night with another friendly chief who warned them to beware of the Powhatan.

 

"You will find him use you well," he said. "But trust him not. And be sure he hath no chance to seize your arms. For he hath sent for you only to cut your throats."

The Pale-faces are warned against the Powhatan

However in spite of this warning Smith decided to go on. So he thanked the friendly chief for his good counsel, and assuring him that he would love him always for it, he went on his way.

 

It was winter time now, and the rivers were half frozen over, the land was covered with snow, and icy winds blew over it. Indeed the weather was so bad that for a week Smith and his men could not go on, but had to take refuge with some friendly Indians. Here in the warm wigwams they were cosy and jolly. The savages treated them kindly, and fed them well on oysters, fish, game and wild-fowl. Christmas came and went while they were with these kindly savages, and at length, the weather becoming a little better, they decided to push on. After many adventures they reached the Powhatan's village. They were very weary from their long cold journey, and taking possession of the first houses they came to they sent a message to the Powhatan, telling him that they had come, and asking him to send food.

 

This the old chief immediately did, and soon they were dining royally on bread, venison and turkeys. The next day, too, the Powhatan sent them supplies of food. Then he calmly asked how long they were going to stay, and when they would be gone.

 

At this Smith was greatly astonished, for had not the Powhatan sent for him?

 

"I did not send for you," said the wily old savage, "and if you have come for corn I have none to give you, still less have my people. But," he added slyly, "if perchance you have forty swords I might find forty baskets of corn in exchange for them."

The Powhatan wants swords

"You did not send for me?" said Smith in astonishment. "How can that be? For I have with me the messengers you sent to ask me to come, and they can vouch for the truth of it. I marvel that you can be so forgetful."

 

Then, seeing that he could not fool the Pale-faces the old chief laughed merrily, pretending that he had only been joking. But still he held to it that he would give no corn except in exchange for guns and swords.

 

"Powhatan," answered Smith, "believing your promises to satisfy my wants, and out of love to you I sent you my men for your building, thereby neglecting mine own needs. Now by these strange demands you think to undo us and bring us to want indeed. For you know well as I have told you long ago of guns and swords I have none to spare. Yet steal from you or wrong you I will not, nor yet break that friendship which we have promised each other, unless by bad usage you force me thereto."

Smith refuses to give them

When the Powhatan heard Smith speak thus firmly he pretended to give way and promised that within two days the English should have all the corn he and his people could spare. But he added, "My people fear to bring you corn seeing you are all armed, for they say you come not hither for trade, but to invade my country and take possession of it. Therefore to free us of this fear lay aside your weapons, for indeed here they are needless, we being all friends."

 

With such and many more cunning words the Powhatan sought to make Captain Smith and his men lay aside their arms. But to all his persuasions Smith turned a deaf ear.

 

"Nay," he said, "we have no thought of revenge or cruelty against you. When your people come to us at Jamestown we receive them with their bows and arrows. With you it must be the same. We wear our arms even as our clothes."

 

So seeing that he could not gain his end, the old chief gave in. Yet one more effort he made to soften the Englishman's heart.

 

"I have never honoured any chief as I have you," he said, with a sigh, "yet you show me less kindness than any one. You call me father, but you do just as you like."

 

Smith, however, would waste no more time parleying, and gave orders for his men to fetch the corn. But while he was busy with this the Powhatan slipped away and gathered his warriors. Then suddenly in the midst of their business Smith and one or two others found themselves cut off from their comrades, and surrounded by a yelling crowd of painted savages. Instantly the Englishmen drew their swords and, charging into the savages, put them to flight. Seeing how easily their warriors had been routed and how strong the Pale-faces were, the savage chiefs tried to make friends with them again, pretending that the attack upon them was a mistake, and that no evil against them had been intended.

The Indians surround the Englishmen

The Englishmen, however, put no more trust in their words and sternly, with loaded guns and drawn swords in hand, bade them to talk no more, but make haste and load their boat with corn. And so thoroughly cowed were the savages by the fierce words and looks of the Pale-faces that they needed no second bidding. Hastily laying down their bows and arrows they bent their backs to the work, their one desire now being to get rid as soon as possible of these fierce and powerful intruders.

 

When the work was done, however, it was too late to sail that night, for the tide was low. So the Englishmen returned to the house in which they lodged, to rest till morning and wait for high water.

 

Meanwhile the Powhatan had by no means given up his desire for revenge, and while the Englishmen sat by their fire he plotted to slay them all. But as he talked with his braves Pocahontas listened. And when she heard that the great Pale-face Chief whom she loved so dearly was to be killed, her heart was filled with grief, and she resolved to save him. So silently she slipped out into the dark night and, trembling lest she should be discovered, was soon speeding through the wild lonesome forest towards the Englishmen's hut. Reaching it in safety she burst in upon them as they sat in the firelight waiting for the Powhatan to send their supper.

The Powhatan plots to slay all the Pale-faces

"You must not wait," she cried, "you must go at once. My father is gathering all his force against you. He will indeed send you a great feast, but those who bring it have orders to slay you, and any who escape them he is ready with his braves to slay. Oh, if you would live you must flee at once," and as she spoke the tears ran down her cheeks.

They are warned by Pocahontas

The Englishmen were truly grateful to Pocahontas for her warning. They thanked her warmly, and would have laden her with gifts of beads and coloured cloth, and such things as the Indians delighted in, but she would not take them.

 

"I dare not take such things," she said. "For if my father saw me with them he would know that I had come here to warn you, and he would kill me." So with eyes blinded with tears, and her heart filled with dread, she slipped out of the fire-lit hut, and vanished into the darkness of the forest as suddenly and silently as she had come.

 

Left alone, the Englishmen, cocking their guns and drawing their swords, awaited the coming of the foe. Presently eight or ten lusty fellows arrived, each bearing a great platter of food steaming hot and excellent to smell. They were very anxious that the Englishmen should at once lay aside their arms and sit down to supper. But Captain Smith would take no chances. Loaded gun in hand he stood over the messengers and made them taste each dish to be certain that none of them were poisoned. Having done this he sent the men away. "And bid your master make haste," he said, "for we are ready for him."

They are ready for the foe

Then the Englishmen sat down to supper; but they had no thought of sleep and all night long they kept watch.

 

Powhatan too kept watch, and every now and again he would send messengers to find out what the Englishmen were about. But each time they came the savages found the Englishmen on guard, so they dared not attack. At last day dawned, and with the rising tide the Englishmen sailed away, still to all seeming on friendly terms with the wily Indians.

They depart in safety

Smith had now food enough to keep the colony from starvation for a short time at least. But his troubles were by no means over. The Indians were still often unfriendly, and the colonists themselves lazy and unruly. Some indeed worked well and cheerfully, but many wandered about idly, doing nothing.

 

At length it came about that thirty or forty men did all the work, the others being simply idle loiterers. Seeing this, Smith called all the colonists together one day and told them that he would suffer the idleness no longer. "Every one must do his share," he said, "and he who will not work shall not eat." And so powerful had he grown that he was obeyed. The idle were forced to work, and soon houses were built and land cleared and tilled.

Another misfortune

At length there seemed good hope that the colony would prosper. But now another misfortune befell it. For it was found that rats had got into the granaries and eaten nearly all the store of corn. So once again expeditions set forth to visit the Indians and gather more from them. But their supply, too, was running short; harvest was still a long way off, and all the colonists could collect was not enough to keep them from starvation. So seeing this Smith divided his men into companies, sending some down the river to fish, and others into the woods to gather roots and wild berries. But the lazy ones liked this little. They would have bartered away their tools and firearms to the savages for a few handfuls of meal rather than work so hard. They indeed became so mutinous that Smith hardly knew what to do with them. But at length he discovered the ringleader of these "gluttonous loiterers." Him he "worthily punished," and calling the others together, he told them very plainly that any man among them who did not do his share should be banished from the fort as a drone, till he mended his ways or starved.

 

To the idlers Smith seemed a cruel task-master; still they obeyed him. So the colony was held together, although in misery and hunger and without hope for the future.

 

At length one day to the men on the river there came a joyful sight. They saw a ship slowly sailing towards them. They could hardly believe their eyes, for no ship was expected; but they greeted it with all the more joy. It was a ship under Captain Samuel Argall, come, it is true, not to bring supplies, but to trade. Finding, however, that there was no hope of trade Captain Argall shared what food he had with the famished colonists, and so for a time rescued them from starvation. He also brought the news that more ships were setting out from home bringing both food and men.

Captain Samuel Argall, 1580-1626

In June, 1609, this fleet of nine ships really did set out. But one ship was wrecked on the way, another, the Sea Venture, was cast ashore on the Bermudas; only seven arrived at length at Jamestown, bringing many new colonists. Unfortunately among these new arrivals there were few likely to make good colonists. They were indeed for the most part wild, bad men whose friends had packed them off to that distant land in the hope of being rid of them forever. "They were," said one of the old colonists who wrote of them, "ten times more fit to spoil a Commonwealth than either to begin one or but help to maintain one."

New colonists arrive

Now with all these "unruly gallants" poured into his little commonwealth Smith found his position of President even more difficult than before. Still, for a time, if he could not keep them altogether in order he at least kept them in check.

 

Then one day by a terrible accident his rule was brought to a sudden end. He was returning from an expedition up the James River when, through some carelessness, a bag of gunpowder in his boat was exploded. Smith was not killed by it, but he was sorely hurt. In great pain, and no longer able to think and act for others, he was carried back to Jamestown.

An accident befalls Smith;

Here there was no doctor of any kind, and seeing himself then only a useless hulk, and in danger of death, Smith gave up his post, and leaving the colony, for which during two and a half years he had worked and thought and fought so hard, he sailed homeward.

 

Many of the unruly sort were glad to see him go, but his old companions with whom he had shared so many dangers and privations were filled with grief. "He ever hated baseness, sloth, pride and indignity," said one of them. "He never allowed more for himself than for his soldiers with him. Upon no danger would he send them where he would not lead them himself. He would never see us want what he either had or could by any means get us. He loved action more than words, and hated falsehood and covetousness worse than death."

he sails homeward

So, loved and hated, but having all unknown to himself made a name which would live forever in the history of his land, the first great Virginian sailed from its shores. He returned no more. Some twenty years later he died in London, and was buried in the church of St. Sepulchre there. Upon his tomb was carved a long epitaph telling of his valiant deeds. But in the great Fire of London the tomb was destroyed, and now no tablet marks the resting-place of the brave old pioneer.

 

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
Ambleside Online.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom