A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part II, Chapter 17." 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


THE Colony of Virginia which had prospered so greatly under Sir Thomas Dale had fallen again on evil days. For Samuel Argall, who now governed, proved a tyrant. Dale had been autocratic, but he had been autocratic for the good of the colony. Argall was autocratic for his own gains. He extorted money and tribute from the colonists to make himself rich, and profits which should have gone to the company went into his pocket. Again and again the colonists sent home complaints of Argall's doings. At length these complaints became so loud and long that the company once more sent Lord Delaware out as Governor.

Samuel Argall a tyrant

But on the way Lord Delaware died, and the party of settlers he was bringing out arrived without him. On their arrival Argall at once took possession of Lord Delaware's private papers, and much to his disgust he found among them one telling Lord Delaware to arrest Argall and send him back to England.


This made Argall very angry; it also made him more despotic and cruel than ever. In consequence still more bitter complaints reached home from the colonists.


At this time the company at home were quarrelling among themselves. But in the end they sent out a new Governor called Sir George Yeardley. He, too, had orders to arrest Argall and send him home. But Argall somehow came to know of it, and he made up his mind not to go home a prisoner. So before the new Governor could arrive he packed up his goods, and leaving the colony to take care of itself, sailed gaily off to England.

Sir George Yeardley arrives, 1619

Argall flees home

The Virginians now were heartily tired of despots, and thought that it was time that they had some say in the matter of governing themselves. At the head of the company at home there was at this time a wise man named Sandys. He also thought that it would be best for the colony to be self-governing.


And so on July 30th, 1619, the first General Election was held in Virginia, and the first Parliament of Englishmen in America met. There were by this time about two thousand people living in the colony, and the settlements were scattered about on both sides of the river for sixty miles or so above Jamestown. So the colony was divided into eleven parts or constituencies, each constituency sending two members to the little parliament. These members were called burgesses, and the parliament was called the House of Burgesses. But there was no special building in which the burgesses could gather, so the meetings were held in the little wooden church at Jamestown. And thus with such small beginnings were the first foundations of a free and independent nation laid. And because of the founding of this House of Burgesses 1619 stands out as the year most to be remembered in all the early days of Virginia.

The House of Burgesses is instituted

But 1619 has to be remembered for another, and this time a sad reason: for it saw not only the beginnings of freedom, but the beginnings of slavery.


Just a month after the opening of the House of Burgesses a Dutch vessel anchored at Jamestown. The captain had been on a raiding expedition off the coast of Africa, and he had on board a cargo of negroes, whom he had stolen from their homes. Twenty of these he sold to the farmers. And thus slavery was first introduced upon the Virginian plantations.

Slavery introduced

In 1619, too, there arrived the first ship-load of women colonists. Nearly all the settlers were men. A few indeed had brought their wives and daughters with them, but for the most part the colony was a community of men. Among these there were many who were young, and as they grew rich and prosperous they wanted to marry and have homes of their own. But there was no one for them to marry. So at length some one at home fell upon the plan of persuading young women to go out to Virginia to settle there, and in 1619 a ship-load of ninety came out. As soon as they arrived they found many young men eager to marry them, and sometimes they must have found it difficult to make a choice. But as soon as a young man was accepted he had to pay the Company 120 lbs., afterwards raised to 150 lbs., of tobacco as the price of his bride's passage across the seas. Then they were free to marry as soon as they pleased.

Wives for the colonists

After this from time to time women went out to the colony. Sometimes we read of "a widow and eleven maids," or again of "fifty maids for wives." And always there came with them a letter from the company at home to the old men of the colony reminding them that these young women did not come to be servants. "We pray you therefore to be fathers to them in their business, not enforcing them to marry against their wills, neither send them to be servants," they wrote. And if the girls did not marry at once they were to be treated as guests and "put to several householders that have wives till they can be provided of husbands."


Helped in this quaint fashion and in others the colony prospered and grew ever larger. It would have prospered even more had it not been for the outbreak of a kind of plague, which the colonists simply called "the sickness." It attacked chiefly the new settlers, and was so deadly that in one year a thousand of them died. Doctors were not very skilful in those days, and although they did their best, all their efforts were of little use, till at length the dread disease wore itself out.

"The sickness"

But in spite of all difficulties the colony grew, the settlements extended farther and farther in a long line up and down both banks of the James from Chesapeake Bay to what is now Richmond. Had the Indians been unfriendly, the colony could not have stretched out in this fashion without great danger to the settlers. But for eight years the Redmen had been at peace with their white brothers, and the settlers had lost all fear of attack from them. The Indians, indeed, might be seen wandering freely about the towns and farms. They came into the houses, and even shared the meals of the farmer and his household. Nothing, to all outward seeming, could be more friendly than the relations between the Redmen and the settlers.


Then after eight years, old Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas, died, and his brother became chief of the tribe. It may be that this new chief was known not to be so friendly to the Pale-faces as his brother had been. In any case the Governor took the precaution of sending a messenger to him with renewed expressions of friendship.

Powhatan dies

Opekankano received the messenger kindly and sent him back to his master. "Tell the Pale-faces," he said, "that I hold the peace so sure that the skies shall fall sooner than it should be broken."


But at this very time he and his people were plotting utterly to destroy the settlers. Yet they gave no hint of it. They had planned a general massacre, yet two days before the 22nd of March, the day fixed for it, some settlers were safely guided through the woods by the Indians. They came as usual, quite unarmed, into the settlers' houses, selling game, fish and furs in exchange for glass beads and such trifles. Even on the night of the 21st of March they borrowed the settlers' boats so that many of their tribe could get quickly across the river. Next morning in many places the Indians were sitting at breakfast with the settlers and their families when suddenly, as at a given signal, they sprang up, and, seizing the settlers' own weapons, killed them all, sparing neither men, women nor children. So sudden was the onslaught that many a man fell dead without a cry, seeing not the hand which smote him. In the workshops, in the fields, in the gardens, wherever they were, wherever their daily work took them, they were thus suddenly and awfully struck down.

An Indian attack, 1622

For days and weeks the Indians had watched the habits of the settlers until they knew the daily haunts of every man. Then they had planned one swift and deadly blow which was to wipe out the whole colony. And so cunning was their plot, so complete and perfect their treachery, that they might have succeeded but for the love of one faithful Indian. This Indian, named Chanco, lived with one of the settlers named Pace, and had become his servant. But Pace treated him more as a son than as a servant, and the Indian had become very devoted to him. When, then, this Indian was told that his chief commanded him to murder his master he felt that he could not do it. Instead, he went at once to Pace and told him of the plot. Pace then made ready to defend himself, and sent warnings to all the other settlers within reach. Thus a great many of the colonists were saved from death, but three hundred and fifty were cruelly slain.

Chanco, the faithful Indian

This sudden and treacherous attack, after so many years of peace, enraged the white men, and they followed the Redmen with a terrible vengeance. They hunted them like wild beasts, tracking them down with bloodhounds, driving them mercilessly from place to place, until, their corn destroyed, their houses burned, their canoes smashed to splinters, the Indians were fain to sue for mercy, and peace once more was restored for more than twenty years.



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
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom