Tuesday, July 8, 2014

It all started here

Work with me here.  Imagine you are an English merchant sick to death of the damned Dutch or the Portuguese or those bloody Musselmans selling you pepper, spices and that damned sweet smelling and tasting tobacco for a king's ransom.  You're pretty miffed, I can tell you.

And you speak with your friends and business associates pointing out that everyone else seems to be bloody well going everywhere finding things, colonizing places and generally sourcing all the stuff you want for a whole lot less money... and in the process earning a bucket load of ducats for themselves and you ask yourself one question:

"Why is it that the Hanseatic League is doing so well?"

Answers to the question may come in such as the Dutch are good and energetic sailors and get everywhere.  But they may equally come in as being that they have the support of the Dutch crown who has blessed their endeavors and enabled them to go forth and do business (which of course includes kicking the Portuguese out of pretty much all their colonies in the east) across the seas wherever they may find it.

So why doesn't our queen, then king allow us to do the same thing?

Well in 1606 King James I of include (and VI of Scotland) did just that when petitioned by the Virginia Company.  Adventurers such as Drake and Raleigh had scouted the American coast and found the waterway currently known as Chesapeake Bay and suggested that as it was a major waterway, it may be the way through to the Indies in the far east that the Portuguese had found a century earlier.

It was also a foreign colony and a potential use of some of the surplus manpower left over from a century of foreign wars.

And it was between the Spanish to the south and the French in the north.

So it was on 20 December 1606 a fleet of 3 ships left England for the Americas intent being to take 2 months in the journey, sufficient to arrive in Virginia at planting season to enable the first colonists to survive the first likely terrible winter.

Immediately they hit a storm in the English Channel delaying the fleet for 5 weeks so that they struck land in the Canary Islands in February 1607 and the various island specks in their southerly route through the Caribbean in March and April 1607.  

The southerly route

They finally arrived off Virginia in April 1607 and opened the classified letter from HQ which would give them their final instructions:

1) Explore the Chesapeake Bay as a potential waterway through to the east indies.
2) Set up a colony such as to avoid contact with the Spanish, Dutch and French.

After discovering that the Chesapeake Bay was NOT the way through to the Indies, the party decided to work on Plan B -- a settlement.  They chose it based on their experiences: near water, easily defensible on as many sides as possible, deep water harbor.

The ships that made the journey

This meant in the salt water of Chesapeake Bay, a problem that was was not immediately appreciated as the first discovery was that there were no natives, hostile or otherwise around, which was considered to be a good thing.

Issues immediately arose when natives showed up to trade.  They realized the English had superior technology in so many different areas and were willing to trade food and other necessities.  However cultural differences soon arose which turned to violence exacerbated when the English discovered just why the natives weren't located anywhere near the first settlement that they'd named Jamestown after the King, which were:

1) there was no drinking water
2) there was little food
3) there were loads and loads of disease carrying bugs

The natives had arrived 16,000+ years previously so had had plenty of time to get acclimated to the area but the English had arrived with only their England knowledge and experiences to go on... which proved to be actually of little use.

Within a year 1/2 of the original party were dead of (1) poor water related disease, (2) heatstroke, (3) starvation or (4) arrow wounds ... with #4 being a far distant #4.

If it wasn't so tragic it would be funny.  The tour guide we had reminded us that the English settlers arrived with linen and wool clothing for the summer season when the Indians went around in loin cloths.  They did coat themselves in bear grease to not only ward off the nasty bugs but also which acted as a sunscreen.  The settlers sweated and struggled ... and died in droves.

This carried on for the next 10 years with the new settlement being wholly dependent on resupply from England -- including Sir George Somers who'd rebuilt his fleet in the winter of 1609 in Bermuda and sailed to Jamestown in 1610.  He and Sir Thomas Gates reinforced Fort James along lines designed in England's failed attempts to settle Ireland in the late 1500's but who also gave up on the settlement and had actually embarked everyone on ships abandoning the colony when yet another supply fleet this time led by Lord de la Warr, the new Governor and major shareholder of the Virginia Company, who turned them around and led them back.

Fort James today... in a bit better condition.  This is the 1610 rendition.

By 1618 the Virginia Company was dissolved by the Crown who took possession in the King's name and following a major native rebellion in 1622, the settlement was finally firmly established.  

By 1699 settlement had spread inland and the colony's capital was moved to Williamsburg so Jamestown returned to being a backwater, an irrelevant one at that, and reverted to farm fields.  

Nicotiana plants ... did I mention that this was the early settlement's only cash crop?  The tobacco was tart and stingy not like that perfumed, sweet mush from the Musselmans.  It became a global best seller... and the only crop grown in Virginia other than for immediate subsistence.

It was 300 years later that archaeologists found the original outlines of the original settlement and the discovery centre in Jamestown Settlement was established.  As they correctly say:

"On May 16th, 1607 at a spot about a mile from where you are standing now, a group of 104 colonists disembarked from 3 small sailing ships to establish the first permanent English establishment in North America.  This settlement called Jamestown is where the United States of America really began.  The founding of Jamestown sparked a series of cultural encounters that helped shape our nation and the world."

Like I said before, forget Columbus.  This is how it all began.

Shame it all ended for the British some 170 years later about a 40 minute drive from Jamestown at a small, insignificant fishing village called Yorktown.

This was great.  Go there.

We were there!

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