Virginia: The Old Dominion
Frank W. Hutchins and Cortelle Hutchins
Part 1 out of 4
Distributed Proofreading Team
VIRGINIA: THE OLD DOMINION
As seen from its Colonial waterway, the Historic River James, whose
every succeeding turn reveals country replete with monuments and
scenes recalling the march of history and its figures from the days
of Captain John Smith to the present time.
FRANK AND CORTELLE HUTCHINS
With a map, and fifty-four plates, of which six are in full color,
from photographs by the authors.
[Illustration: The Portico of Brandon, from the Garden.
(See page 119)]
THE HONOURABLE FRANCIS E. HUTCHINS, THE FATHER OF ONE AUTHOR,
THE MORE THAN FATHER-IN-LAW OF THE OTHER, AND THE EVER-STAUNCH
FRIEND OF GADABOUT, THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
This volume was formerly published under the title, "Houseboating on a
Colonial Waterway"; but its appropriateness for inclusion in the "See
America First Series" to represent the State of Virginia is so obvious
that the publishers have, in this new edition, changed the title to
"Virginia: The Old Dominion," and reissued the book in a new dress,
generally uniform with the other volumes in the series.
I. ALL ABOUT GADABOUT
II. OUR FIRST RUN AND A COZY HARBOUR
III. LAND, HO! OUR COUNTRY'S BIRTHPLACE
IV. A RUN AROUND JAMESTOWN ISLAND
V. FANCIES AFLOAT AND RUINS ASHORE
VI. IN THE OLD CHURCHYARD
VII. SEEING WHERE THINGS HAPPENED
VIII. PIONEER VILLAGE LIFE
IX. GOOD-BYE TO OLD JAMES TOWNE
X. A SHORT SAIL AND AN OLD ROMANCE
XI. AT THE PIER MARKED "BRANDON"
XII. HARBOUR DAYS AND A FOGGY NIGHT
XIII. OLD SILVER, OLD PAPERS, AND AN OLD COURT GOWN
XIV. A ONE-ENGINE RUN AND A FOREST TOMB
XV. NAVIGATING AN UNNAVIGABLE STREAM
XVI. IN WHICH WE GET TO WEYANOKE
XVII. ACROSS RIVER TO FLEUR DE HUNDRED
XVIII. GADABOUT GOES TO CHURCH
XIX. WESTOVER, THE HOME OF A COLONIAL BELLE
XX. AN OLD COURTYARD AND A SUN-DIAL
XXI. AN UNDERGROUND MYSTERY AND A DUCKING-STOOL
XXII. A BAD START AND A VIEW OF BERKELEY
XXIII. THE RIGHT WAY TO GO TO SHIRLEY
XXIV. FROM CREEK HARBOUR TO COLONIAL RECEPTION
XXV. AN INCONGRUOUS BIT OF HOUSEBOATING.
XXVI. THE END OF THE VOYAGE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE PORTICO OF BRANDON, FROM THE GARDEN (In full color)
(See page 119) Frontispiece
MAP OF THE JAMES RIVER FROM RICHMOND TO ITS MOUTH
THE HOUSEBOAT GADABOUT
IN THE FORWARD CABIN.--LOOKING AFT FROM THE FORWARD CABIN
ALONG THE SHORE OF CHUCKATUCK CREEK (In full color)
"JUST THE WILD BEAUTY OF THE SHORES, THE NOBLE EXPANSE OF THE
STREAM, ... AND GADABOUT"
JAMESTOWN ISLAND FROM THE RIVER (In full color)
IN BACK RIVER.--THE BEACH AT JAMESTOWN ISLAND
WHARF SIGN AT JAMESTOWN ISLAND.--THE "LONE CYPRESS"
THE BRIDGE ACROSS BACK RIVER.--THE ROAD ACROSS THE ISLAND
THE RUINED TOWER OF THE OLD VILLAGE CHURCH
A CORNER IN THE OLD GRAVEYARD (In full color)
VIEW FROM THE CONFEDERATE FORT.--LOOKING TOWARD THE FIRST LANDING-PLACE
LOCATING WHAT IS LEFT OF THE SITE OF THE FIRST SETTLEMENT
AN EXCURSION DAY AT JAMESTOWN ISLAND
GADABOUT LOOKING FOR THE LOST ISTHMUS.--A VISIT TO THE "LONE CYPRESS"
ONE OF THE EARLIEST EXCAVATIONS.--HUNTING FOR THE FIRST STATE HOUSE
ENTRANCE TO CHIPPOAK CREEK.--COVE IN CHIPPOAK CREEK
RIVERWARD FRONT OF BRANDON (In full color)
A SIDE PATH TO THE MANOR-HOUSE.--THE WOODSWAY TO BRANDON
IN THE DRAWING-ROOM
"VENERABLE FOUR-POSTERS, RICHLY CARVED AND DARK"
A CORNER IN THE DINING-ROOM.--THE DRAWING-ROOM FIREPLACE
TREASURED PARCHMENTS, INCLUDING THE ORIGINAL GRANT OF 1616
THE ANCIENT GARRISON HOUSE
MISS HARRISON IN THE COURT GOWN OF HER COLONIAL AUNT, EVELYN BYRD
STURGEON POINT LANDING.--AT THE MOUTH OF KITTEWAN CREEK
THE FOREST TOMB.--THE OLD KITTEWAN HOUSE
HUNTING FOR THE CHANNEL.--APPROACHING A NARROW PLACE
AN ANCESTRESS OF WEYANOKE.--CHIEF-JUSTICE JOHN MARSHALL
UPPER WEYANOKE.--AT ANCHOR OFF WEYANOKE
PRESENT-DAY FLEUR DE HUNDRED
A FISHING HAMLET.--A RIVER LANDING
"LITTLE BOATS WERE NOSING INTO THE BANK HERE AND THERE"
RIVERWARD FRONT OF WESTOVER
THE HALL, WITH ITS CARVED MAHOGANY STAIRCASE
THE HEPPLEWHITE SIDEBOARD WITH BUTLER'S DESK.--"FOUR-POSTERS AND THE
THINGS OF FOUR-POSTER DAYS"
THE ROMANTIC CENTRE OF WESTOVER; EVELYN BYRD'S OLD ROOM
THE COLONIAL COURTYARD GATES.--TOMB OF COLONEL WILLIAM BYRD
THE DRAWING-ROOM MANTELPIECE AT WESTOVER
TOMBS IN THE OLD WESTOVER CHURCHYARD
(In the foreground is the tomb of Evelyn Byrd)
A TRAPPER'S HOME BY THE RIVER BANK.--"OFTEN ... THE WANDERING HOUSEBOAT
COMES ALONG TO FIND ONLY AN EMPTY PIER"
BERKELEY; THE ANCESTRAL HOME OF A SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF
INDEPENDENCE AND OF TWO PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES
THE FIELD ROAD AND THE QUARTERS
RIVERWARD FRONT OF SHIRLEY (In full color)
THE OLD "GREAT HALL"
THE KITCHEN BUILDING, FIFTY YARDS FROM THE MANOR-HOUSE
A BRICK OVEN IN THE BAKE-ROOM
SOME NOTEWORTHY PIECES OF OLD SHIRLEY PLATE
PEALE'S PORTRAIT OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
DUTCH GAP CANAL.--FALLING CREEK
THE VOYAGE ENDED, GADABOUT IN WINTER QUARTERS
ALL ABOUT GADABOUT
It was dark and still and four o'clock on a summer morning. The few
cottages clustering about a landing upon a Virginia river were, for the
most part, sleeping soundly, though here and there a flickering light
told of some awakening home. Down close by the landing was one little
house wide awake. Its windows were aglow; lights moved about; and busy
figures passed from room to room and out upon the porch in front.
Suddenly, with a series of quick, muffled explosions, the whole cottage
seemed carried from its foundations. It slipped sidewise, turned almost
end for end, then drifted slowly away from its neighbours, out into the
darkness and the river. Its occupants seemed unconscious of danger.
There was one of them standing on the porch quite unconcernedly turning
a wheel, while two or three others were watching, with rather amused
expressions, two little engines chugging away near the kitchen stove.
And thus it was that the houseboat Gadabout left her moorings in the
outskirts of old Norfolk, and went spluttering down the Elizabeth to
find Hampton Roads and to start upon her cruise up the historic James
But to tell the story we must begin before that summer morning. It was
this way. We were three: the daughter-wife (who happened to see the
magazine article that led to it all), her mother, and her husband. The
head of the family, true to the spirit of the age, had achieved a
nervous breakdown and was under instructions from his physician to
betake himself upon a long, a very long, vacation.
It was while we were in perplexed consideration as to where to go and
what to do, that the magazine article appeared--devoted to
houseboating. It was a most fetching production with a picture that
appealed to every overwrought nerve. There was a charming bit of water
with trees hanging over; a sky all soft and blue (you knew it was soft
and blue just as you knew that the air was soft and cool; just as you
knew that a drowsy peace and quiet was brooding over all); and there,
in the midst, idly floated a houseboat with a woman idly swinging in a
hammock and a man idly fishing from the back porch.
That article opened a new field for our consideration. Landlubbers of
the landlubbers though we were, its water-gypsy charm yet sank deep. We
thirsted for more. We haunted the libraries until we had exhausted the
literature of houseboating.
And what a dangerously attractive literature we found! How the cares
and responsibilities of life fell away when people went a-houseboating!
What peace unutterable fell upon the worn and weary soul as it drifted
lazily on, far from the noise and the toil and the reek of the world!
All times were calm; all waters kind. The days rolled on in
ever-changing scenes of beauty; the nights, star-gemmed and mystic,
were filled with music and the witchery of the sea.
It made good reading. It made altogether too good reading. We did not
see that then. We did not know that most of the literature of
houseboating is the work of people with plenty of imagination and no
We resolved to build a houseboat. There was excitement in the mere
decision; there was more when our friends came to hear of it. Their
marked disapproval made our new departure seem almost indecorous. It
was too late; the tide had us; and disapproval only gave zest to the
As a first step, we proceeded to rechristen ourselves from a nautical
standpoint. The little mother was so hopelessly what the boatmen call a
fair-weather sailor that her weakness named her, and she became Lady
Fairweather. The daughter-wife, after immuring herself for half a day
with nautical dictionaries and chocolate creams, could not tell whether
she was Rudderina or Maratima; she finally concluded that she was
Nautica. It required neither time nor confectionery to enable these two
members of the family to rename the third. They viewed the strut of
plain Mr. So-and-So at the prospect of commanding a vessel, and
promptly dubbed him Commodore.
An earnest quest was next made for anybody and everybody who had ever
used, seen, or heard of a houseboat; and the Commodore made journeys to
various waters where specimens of this queer craft were to be found.
All the time, three lead pencils were kept busy, and plans and
specifications became as autumn leaves. We soon learned that there was
little room for the artistic. Once Nautica had a charming creation, all
verandas and overhanging roofs and things; but an old waterman came
along and talked about wind and waves, and most of the overhanging art
on that little houseboat disappeared under the eraser.
"That's all good enough for one of those things you just tie to a bank
and hang Chinese lanterns on," he said. "But it would never do for a
boat that's going to get out in wide water and take what's coming to
When we concluded that we had the plans to our satisfaction (or rather
that we never should have, which amounted to the same thing), we turned
over to a builder the task of making them into something that would
float and hold people and go. The resulting craft, after passing
through a wrecking and some rebuilding, we called Gadabout. She was
about fifty feet long and twelve feet wide over all, as the watermen
say; and was propelled by twin screws, driven by two small gasoline
engines. Though not a thing of beauty, yet, as she swung lazily at her
moorings with her wide, low windows and the little hooded cockpit that
we tried hard not to call a porch, she looked cozy and comfortable. Her
colouring was colonial yellow and white, with a contrast of dark olive
on the side runways and the decks.
Inside, Gadabout was arranged as house-like and, we thought, as homelike
as boating requirements would permit. There were two cabins, one at
either end of the craft. Between these, and at one side of the
passageway connecting them, was what we always thought of as the
kitchen, but always took care to speak of as the galley.
At first glance, each of the cabins would be taken as a general
living-room. Each was that; but also a little of everything else. At
customary intervals, one compartment or the other would become a
dining-cabin. Again, innocent looking bits of wall would give way, and
there would appear beds, presses, lavatories, and a lamentable lack of
Both cabins were finished in old oak, dark and dead; there is a
superabundance of brightness on the water. The ceilings showed the
uncovered, dark carlines or rafters. The walls had, along the top, a
row of niches for books; and along the bottom, a deceptive sort of
wainscoting, each panel of which was a locker door. Between book niches
above and wainscoting below, the walls were paneled in green burlap
with brown rope for molding. The furnishing was plain.
[Illustration: THE HOUSEBOAT GADABOUT.]
The kitchen or galley was rather small as kitchens go, and rather large
as galleys go. It would not do to tell all the things that were in it;
for anybody would see that they could not all be there. Perhaps it
would be well to mention merely the gasoline stove, the refrigerator,
the pump and sink, the wall-table, the cupboards for supplies, the
closet for the man's serving coats and aprons, the racks of blue willow
ware dishes, and the big sliding door.
One has to mention the big sliding door; for it made such a difference.
It worked up and down like a window-sash, and always suggested the
conundrum, When is a galley not a galley? For when it was down, it
disclosed nothing and the galley was a galley; but when it was up, it
disclosed a recess in which two little gasoline motors sat side by
side, and the galley was an engine-room.
It was a very ingenious and inconvenient arrangement. Operating the
stove and the engines at the same time was scarcely practicable; and we
were often forced to the hard choice of lying still on a full stomach
or travelling on an empty one.
There yet remains to be described the crew's quarters. The crew
consisted of two hands, both strong and sturdy, and both belonging to
the same coloured man. Though our trusty tar, Henry, had doubtless
never heard "The Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell'" and had never eaten a
shipmate in his life, yet he had a whole crew within himself as truly
as the "elderly naval man" who had eaten one. There was therefore no
occasion for extensive quarters. Fortunately, an available space at the
stern was ample for the crew's cabin and all appointments.
All these interior arrangements were without the makeshifts so often
found in houseboats. There were no curtains for partition walls nor
crude bunks for beds. People aboard a houseboat must at best be living
in close quarters. But, upon even the moderate priced craft, much of
the comfort, privacy, and refinement of home life may be enjoyed by
heading off an outlay that tends toward gilt and grill work and turning
it into substantial partitions, real beds, baths, and lavatories.
Gadabout was square at both ends; so that the uninitiated were not
always sure which way she was going to go. Indeed, for a while, her
closest associates were conservative in forecasting on that point. But
that was for another reason. The boat was of extremely light draft.
While such a feature enables the houseboater to navigate very shallow
waters (where often he finds his most charming retreats), yet it also
enables the houseboat, under certain conditions of wind and tide, to go
sidewise with all the blundering facility of a crab.
[Illustration: IN THE FORWARD CABIN.]
[Illustration: LOOKING AFT FROM THE FORWARD CABIN.]
At first, in making landings we were forced to leave it pretty much to
Gadabout as to which side of the pier she was to come up on, and which
end first, and with how much of a bump. But all such troubles soon
disappeared; and, as there seemed no change in the craft herself, we
were forced to believe that our own inexperience had had something to
do with our difficulties.
To Gadabout and her crew, add anchors, chains and ropes, small boats,
poles and sweeps, parallel rulers, dividers and charts, anchor-lights,
lanterns and side-lights, compasses, barometers and megaphones,
fenders, grapnels and boathooks--until the landlubberly owners are
almost frightened back to solid land; and then all is ready for a
OUR FIRST RUN AND A COZY HARBOUR
Daylight came while Gadabout was lumbering down the Elizabeth, and in
the glory of the early morning she followed its waters out into Hampton
Roads, the yawning estuarial mouth of the James emptying into
She would probably have started in upon her cruise up the historic
river without more ado if we had not bethought ourselves that she was
carrying us into the undertaking breakfastless. The wheel was put over
hard to port (we got that out of the books) and the craft was run in
behind Craney Island and anchored.
While our breakfast was preparing, we all gathered in the forward
cockpit to enjoy the scene and the life about us. The houseboat was
lying in a quiet lagoon bordered on the mainland side by a bit of
Virginia's great truck garden. Here and there glimpses of chimneys and
roof lines told of truckers' homes, while cultivated fields stretched
The height of the trucking season was past, yet crates and barrels of
vegetables were being hauled to the water's edge for shipment. The
negroes sang as they drove, but often punctuated the melody with strong
language designed to encourage the mules. One wailing voice came to our
ears with the set refrain, "O feed me, white folks! White folks, feed
me!" The crates and barrels were loaded on lighters and floated out to
little sailing boats that went tacking past our bows on their way to
It was a pretty scene, but there was one drawback to it all. Everything
showed the season so far advanced, and served to remind us of the
lateness of our start. We had intended to take our little voyage on the
James in the springtime. It had been a good deal a matter of sentiment;
but sentiment will have its way in houseboating. We had wished to begin
in that gentle season when the history of the river itself began, and
when the history of this country of ours began with it.
For, whatever may have gone before, the real story of the James and of
America too commences with the bloom of the dogwood some three hundred
years ago, when from the wild waste of the Atlantic three puny,
storm-worn vessels (scarcely more seaworthy than our tub of a
houseboat) beat their way into the sheltering mouth of this unknown
That was in the days when the nations of Europe were greedily
contending for what Columbus had found on the other side of the world.
In that struggle England was slow to get a foothold. Neglect,
difficulty, and misfortune made her colonies few and short-lived. By the
opening of the seventeenth century Spain and France, or perhaps Spain
alone, seemed destined to possess the entire new hemisphere. In all the
extent of the Americas, England was not then in possession of so much
as a log fort. Apparently the struggle was ended and England defeated.
No one then could have imagined what we now behold--English-speaking
people possessing most and dominating all of that newfound Western
This miracle was wrought by the coming of those three little old-time
ships, the Sarah Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery.
It was in the year 1607 that the quaint, high-sterned caravels,
representing the forlorn hope of England, crossed the ocean to found a
colony on Roanoke Island. Storm-tossed and driven out of their
reckoning, they turned for refuge one April day into a yawning break in
the coast-line that we now call Chesapeake Bay. Following the
sheltering, inviting waters inland, they took their way up a "Greate
River," bringing to it practically the first touch of civilization and
establishing upon its shore the first permanent English settlement in
the New World--the birthplace of our country.
The civilizers began their work promptly. Even as they sailed up the
river looking for a place to found their colony, they robbed the stream
of its Indian name, Powhatan, that so befitted the bold, tawny flow,
bestowing instead the name of the puerile King of England. That was the
first step toward writing in English the story of the James River, the
"Greate River," the "King's River."
It was later by three hundred years lacking one when our houseboat came
along to gather up that story. But to our regret it was not springtime.
The dogwood blossoms had come and gone when Gadabout lay behind Craney
Island; and she would start upon her cruise up the James in the heart
of the summertime.
In some way that only those who know the laze of houseboating can
understand, the hours slipped by in that tiny, tucked-away haven, and
it was the middle of the afternoon when Gadabout slowly felt her way
out from behind the island and started up the James in the wake of the
Sarah Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery. That historic wake we
were to follow for the first thirty miles of our journey, when it would
bring us to the spot on the bank of the river where those first
colonists landed and built their little settlement which (still
honouring an unworthy king) they called James Towne.
As Gadabout sturdily headed her stubby bow up the wide, majestic
waterway, we looked about us. After all, what had three centuries done
to this gateway of American civilization? Surely not very much. Keeping
one's eyes in the right direction it was easy to blot out three hundred
years, and to feel that we were looking upon about the same scene that
those first colonists beheld--just the primeval waste of rolling
waters, lonely marsh, and wooded shore.
But eyes are unruly things; and, to be sure, there were other
directions in which to look. Glances northward took in a scene
different enough from the one that met the eyes of those early
Upon the low point of land along which they at last found a channel
into the James and which (in their relief) they named Point Comfort,
now stood a huge modern hostelry.
To the left of this, the ancient shore-line was now broken by a dull,
square structure that reared its ugly bulk against the sky--a strangely
grim marker of the progress of three centuries. For this was the grain
elevator at Newport News, spouting its endless stream to feed the Old
World, and standing almost on the spot where those first settlers in
the New World, sick and starving, once begged and then fought the
Indians for corn. Lying in the offing were great ships from overseas
that had come to this land of the starving colonists for grain.
Beyond all these could be seen something of the town of Newport News
itself. Towers and spires and home smoke-wreaths we saw, where those
beginners of our country saw only the spires of the lonely pines and
the smoke from hostile fires.
As our houseboat skirted the southern shore of the James in the sunny
afternoon, our engines chugging merrily, our flags flying, and our two
trailing rowboats dancing on the boiling surge kicked up astern, we
felt that our cruise was well begun. Not that we were misled for a
moment by that boiling surge astern into the belief that we were making
much progress. We had early perceived that Gadabout made a great stir
over small things, and that she went faster at the stern than anywhere
Yet all that was well enough. So long as the sun shines and the water
lies good and flat, dawdling along in such a craft is an ideal way to
travel. If the houseboat is built with the accent on the first
syllable, as it ought to be, the homey feeling comes quickly to the
family group aboard. Day after day brings new scenes and places, yet
the family life goes on unbroken. It is as though Aladdin had rubbed
the wonderful lamp, and the old home had magically drifted away and
started out to see what the world was like.
Now, just ahead of us where the chart had a little asterisk, the river
had a little lighthouse perched high over the water on its long
spindling legs. Gadabout ran just inside the light and quite close to
it. It is an old and a pretty custom by which a passing vessel "speaks"
a lighthouse. In this instance perhaps we were a trifle tardy, for the
kindly keeper greeted us first with three strokes of his deep-toned
bell. Gadabout responded with three of her bravest blasts.
It was not long before the sun got low, and with the late afternoon
something of a wind whipped up from the bay, and the wide, low-shored
river rolled dark and unfriendly. We found our thoughts outstripping
Gadabout in the run toward a harbour for the night.
That word "harbour" comes to mean a good deal to the houseboater who
attempts to make a cruiser of his unseaworthy, lubberly craft. A little
experience on even inland waters in their less friendly moods develops
in him a remarkable aptitude for finding holes in the bank to stick his
Sometimes the vessel is seaworthy enough to lie out and take whatever
wind and waves may inflict; but that is usually where much of the charm
and comfort of the houseboat has been sacrificed to make her so. Then
too the houseboater is usually quite a landlubber after all; so that
even if the boat is strong enough to meet an angry sea, the owner's
stomach is not. And, over and above all this, is the fact that
miserably pitching and rolling about in grim battle with the elements
is not houseboating.
It is easy then to see that snug harbours count for much when cruising
in the true spirit of houseboating, and in the charming, awkward tubs
that make the best and the most lovable of houseboats.
So, as Gadabout was passing Barrel Point and the wind was freshening
and the waves were slapping her square bow, we were thinking not
unpleasantly of a small tributary stream that the chart indicated just
ahead, and in which we should find quiet anchorage. There seemed
something snug and cozy about the very name of the stream, Chuckatuck.
In this case the pale-face has left undisturbed the red man's
picturesque appellation; and we knew that we should like--Chuckatuck.
Just before we reached the creek, two row-boats put out from the river
shore filled with boys and curiosity. A cheery salute was given us as
the houseboat passed close by the skiffs, and we thought no more of
them. But after a while footsteps were heard overhead and we found that
we had a full cargo of boys. They had made their boats fast to
Gadabout's stern as she passed, and were now grouped in some
uncertainty on the upper deck. A nod from Nautica put them at ease, and
in a moment they were scattered all over the outside of the boat,
calling to one another, peering into windows, and asking no end of
The boys proved helpful too. They were fisher-lads, well acquainted
with those waters, and were better than the chart in guiding us among
the shoals and into the channel of the creek.
[Illustration: ALONG THE SHORE OF CHUCKATUCK CREEK.]
A low headland prevented our getting a good view up the stream until
Gadabout swung into the middle of it. We seemed to be entering a little
lake bordered by tree-covered hills. At the far end of the blue basin
was a break and a gleam of lighter water to show that this was not
really a lake but a stream. There it made the last of its many turnings
and spread its waters in this beautiful harbour before losing them in
On the hills to our right, houses showed among the trees, some with the
ever-pleasing white-pillared porticoes; and on the hills to our left
was a village that straggled down the slope to the wharf as if coming
to greet the strangers. In this little harbour was quite a fleet,
mostly fishing craft, and all bowing politely on the swell of the tide.
There was such diversity of opinion among our self-constituted pilots
as to the best place for us to drop anchor, that the Commodore turned a
deaf ear to them all and attempted to run alongside a schooner to make
inquiries. She was a good sized craft, and it did not seem as if he
could miss her. He claimed that he did not. He explained that when we
got up there, our ropes fell short and we drifted helplessly past
because the blundering captain of the schooner had anchored her too far
away from us.
Kindly overlooking this error of a fellow navigator, the Commodore
patiently spent considerable of the beautiful summer evening in getting
Gadabout turned around; and then again bore down upon the schooner.
This time her being in the wrong place did not seem to matter; for we
reached her all right, and there probably was no place along that side
where we did not remove more or less paint. The captain of the schooner
gave us the needed information about the harbour; our lines were cast
off, and the houseboat was soon anchored in a snug berth for the night.
Then, sitting upon our canopied upper deck, enjoying the last of our
city melons cooled with the last of our city ice, we looked out over
what we supposed was but the first of many such beautiful creek-harbour
scenes to be found along the river. We did not know that there was to
be no other like Chuckatuck.
After a while, a small steamer came in from the James, a boat plying
regularly between Norfolk and landings along this creek.
It was just the kind of steamer, any one would say, to be running on
the Chuckatuck--a fat, wheezy side-wheeler that came up to its landing
near us with three hearty whistles and such a jovial puffing as seemed
to say, "Now, I'm certainly mighty glad to get back again to you all."
Just the sort of steamer that wouldn't mind a bit if the pretty girls
were "a right smart time" kissing goodbye; or if the Colonel had to
finish his best story; or if old Maria had to "study a spell" because
she had "done forgot" what Miss Clarissa wanted the steward to bring
from the city next day.
As the sun sank behind the hills (or rather some time after, for we
never could be nautically prompt), our flags were run down and the
anchor-light was hoisted on the forward flagstaff.
The summer night closed in softly; the blue waters grew dark, and
caught from the sky the rich lights that the setting sun had left
behind. We could see figures sitting upon the white porticoes looking
out over the miniature harbour. Somewhere were the music of a
merry-go-round and the calls and laughter of children. In from the
wider waters came more boats, their white sails folding down as they
neared their haven. All the beautiful mystery of the deepening twilight
touched water and masts, and shadowed the circling shore.
Then came the long hours of darkness when, with all aboard asleep,
Gadabout lay quietly at anchor, the riding-light upon her flagstaff
gently swaying throughout the night. Silently, with none to heed and
none to know, was enacted again in the gloom the play that is as old as
the first ship upon tideway. With bow turned up-stream, Gadabout sank
slowly lower and lower, as even little Chuckatuck heard the voice of
the far-away ocean calling its waters home. Then, crossing slowly over
her anchor and turning to head the other way, Gadabout rose once more
higher and higher, as the night wore on and as the great recurring
swell rolled landward again the waters of the sea.
LAND, HO! OUR COUNTRY'S BIRTHPLACE
When we hoisted our anchor next day, it came up reluctantly; and we
sailed away with faces often turned backward toward the little harbour
of Chuckatuck, with its blue of wave and sky, its white of cloud and
beach, its green of circling hills, and the picturesque life on its
Out again in the James (still some four miles wide), we felt that
Nature had almost overdone the matter of supplying us with a waterway
for our voyage. We should willingly have dispensed with a mile or so on
either side of our houseboat. There was a wind that kept steadily
freshening, so that after rounding Day's Point we noticed that the
river was getting rather rough; and we soon found that Gadabout was
equally observing. She rolled and pitched; but with both engines and
the tide to help her along she made good enough headway.
And in navigating the broad stream what advantages we had over those
early mariners upon the Sarah Constant, the Goodspeed, and the
Their passage up this river was upon unknown waters through an unknown
land. We knew just where we were, and where we were going. They even
fancied that they might be upon an arm of the ocean that would lead
through the new-found world and open a direct route to the South Sea
and to the Indies. Our maps showed us that even this wide waterway was
but a river; and that while it flowed some four hundred miles from its
source beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, yet we could ascend it only
about one hundred miles, as we should then come upon a line of falls
and rapids that would prevent farther navigation.
In the case of those early voyagers, savages lurked along the wooded
shores and greater dangers lay in the unknown, treacherous currents and
hidden bars of the stream itself. We should have to imagine all our
savages; and there, on the table in Gadabout's little cockpit, close to
the man (or, quite as likely, the woman) at the wheel, lay charts that
told the hidden features of the river highway.
Quaint old-time Sarah and her sister ships could not have sailed up
this waterway very far before finding navigation difficult. Even small
as they were, they must often have found scant water if the James of
that time, like the James of to-day, had its top and bottom so close
together every here and there. A majestic river several miles wide,
often fifty to seventy-five feet deep, yet barred by such tangles of
shoals as one would not expect to find in a respectable creek. And
shoals too that the colour of the water hides from the keenest eyes.
To be sure, for us it was all plain sailing. The charts told where the
shoals were and how to avoid them. Our chief danger lay in presuming
too much upon our light draft and in venturing too far from the
indicated channels. But how about those deeper-draft, chartless sailing
craft? Well, they managed to get along anyway, and our houseboat must
on after them.
One more straight reach of the river, one more great sweeping bend, and
we should come upon the site of that old village of James Towne. Still
the tawny Powhatan, like many another proud savage, showed small sign
of succumbing to civilization. There seemed scarce any mark of human
habitation. The life of the people, where there were people, must have
been back from the banks. The river itself was empty. Nowhere was there
wreath of smoke or shimmer of sail. Just the wild beauty of the shores,
the noble expanse of the stream, the cloudless blue of the summer sky,
Yet, we were not seeing quite the James that those first English eyes
beheld. For them the slopes and headlands were covered with far nobler
forests and Nature wore her May-time gown. Life and colour were
everywhere. In the clear atmosphere of the Virginia spring, the
woodland was a wealth of living green radiantly starred with flowers.
What a Canaan those weary, storm-tossed colonists must have thought it
We can well imagine the little family groups gathered on the decks,
eagerly planning for their new life. We can see the brightening in the
tired eyes of women and of children as the ships tack near to the
flowery shore; as schools of fish break the river into patches of
flashing silver; as strange, brilliant birds go flaming in the
sunlight; as beauty is added to beauty in this wondrous new home-land.
No! We blunder in our history. There were no women and children on the
Sarah Constant, nor on the Goodspeed, nor on the Discovery. The story
of these ships is not like that later one of the Mayflower. The colour
dies out of the picture; and there remains only the worn, motley band
of men--men who have taken possession of the country by the sign of the
cross, fit omen of the fate awaiting them.
[Illustration: "JUST THE WILD BEAUTY OF THE SHORES, THE NOBLE EXPANSE
OF THE STREAM ... AND GADABOUT."]
At last our houseboat came about the bend in the river and before us
along the northern shore lay Jamestown Island, the site of old James
Towne. We could make out little yet but the low wooded shore and the
wide opening that we knew was the mouth of Back River, the waterway
that cuts off from the mainland that storied piece of soil. Now
Gadabout's steering-wheel was counting spokes to starboard; she headed
diagonally up the river toward the northern shore, and we were soon
nearing the historic island.
So, here was where those three little ships, that we had been following
at the respectful distance of three centuries, terminated their voyage;
here was where that handful of colonists founded the first permanent
English settlement in the New World; here was the cradle of our
However, the place in those old days was not exactly an island,
although even the early colonists often called it so. There was a low
isthmus (that has since been washed away) connecting with the mainland;
so that the site of the settlement was in reality a peninsula. It was a
low and marshy peninsula, an unhealthful place for the site of a
colony. The settlers had a hard time from the beginning. They would
have had a harder time but for the presence of a remarkable man among
them. He was one of the best of men, or he was one of the
worst--dependent upon which history you happen to pick up. At all
events, he was the man for the hour. But for him the colony would have
perished at the outset. This man of course was the schoolboy's hero,
Captain John Smith.
The chief hardships of the colonists at first were scarcity of food and
frequent Indian attacks. To these were soon added a malarial epidemic
caused by the unhealthful surroundings. As if there were yet not
suffering enough, the "Supplies" (the ships that came over with
reinforcements and food) brought bubonic plague and cholera from
English ports. Often, if they had touched at the West Indies, they
brought yellow fever too. The sufferings in that little pioneer
settlement of our country have scarcely been equalled in modern
Time went on; and the population waxed and waned as reinforcements
built it up and as the terrible mortality cut it down again. All the
while there seemed no outcome to the struggle. James Towne had in it
not even the promise of a successful colony. The settlers did not find
the gold and precious stones that were expected, nor did they find or
produce in quantities any valuable commodities. They were not even
self-supporting. The colony held on because constantly fed with men and
provisions by the "Supplies." There was dissatisfaction in London; in
James Towne misery and often despair. The climax of disappointment and
suffering was reached in the spring of 1610, ever since known as the
"Starving Time." In that season of horror, the settlement almost passed
out of existence.
After that matters improved, and chiefly because of a single
development: James Towne learned to grow tobacco; Europe learned to use
it. From that time the place took on new life and made great strides
toward becoming self-supporting. More and better settlers arrived, and
the colony even put out offshoots, so that soon there were several
settlements up and down the river and upon other rivers. And of all,
James Towne was the seat of government, the proud little capital of the
Colony of Virginia.
But trouble was still in store for this pioneer village, and this time
final disaster. The very cause of prosperity became the chief cause of
downfall. Tobacco and towns could not long flourish together. The
famous weed rapidly exhausted the soil, and there was constant need for
new lands to clear and cultivate. The leading Virginians turned their
backs upon James Towne and upon the other struggling settlements too,
and established vast individual estates along the river to which they
drew the body of the people.
To be sure there still had to be some place as the seat of government;
and in that capacity the village hung on a good while longer, though
with few inhabitants aside from colonial officials and some
tavern-keepers. It was not to be allowed to keep even these. Despite
every effort to force the growth of the town, it dwindled; and in 1699
it received its deathblow upon the removal of the seat of government to
The rest is a matter of a few words. The pioneer village was gradually
abandoned and fell to ruins. As though natural decay could not tear
down and bury fast enough, the greedy river came to its aid. Besides
eating away the ancient isthmus, the James attacked the upper end of
the island, devouring part of the site of the old-time settlement.
Between decay and the river, James Towne, the birthplace of our
country, vanished from the face of the earth.
A RUN AROUND JAMESTOWN ISLAND
Now Gadabout, her engines slowed down, drifted almost unguided among
the shallows beside Jamestown Island; for our eyes were only for that
close-lying shore and our thoughts for what it had to tell us.
The end of the island toward us was well wooded though fringed with
marsh. All of it that could be seen was just as we would have
it--without a mark of civilization; wild, lonely, and still. In keeping
with the whole sad story seemed the gloom of the forest, the loneness
of the marsh, and the surge of the waves upon the desolate shore.
When we took Gadabout in hand again, we did not keep along the front of
the island to where the colonists "tied their ships to the trees" and
made their landing; but, instead, we turned from the James and ran up
Back River in behind the island. Our plan was to sail up this stream to
a point where the chart showed a roadway and a bridge, and to tie up
the houseboat there. That would be convenient for us and for Gadabout
too. The roadway we should use in crossing the island to visit the
chief points of interest, which were on the James River side; and
Gadabout would have a more protected harbour than could be found for
her in front.
[Illustration: JAMESTOWN ISLAND FROM THE RIVER.]
Though nothing serious came of the matter, we were not taking a good
time to run up the little stream behind Jamestown Island, as the tide
had long since turned and we were going in on a falling tide. We did
not relish the idea of running aground perhaps, and of having the
ebbing waters leave our craft to settle and wreck herself upon some
hidden obstruction. So Gadabout took plenty of time to run up Back
River, feeling her way cautiously with a sounding-pole, like some fat
old lady with a walking-stick.
There must once have been a better channel here; for in the early days
of the colony, vessels did not always land at the front of the island,
but sometimes ran up Back River as our houseboat was now doing. Indeed,
we were expecting to come soon to the wooded rise of land once called
"Pyping Point," where of old a boat in passing would sound "a musical
note" to apprise the townspeople of its coming. And but a little way
beyond that again, near the present-day bridge where we expected to
stop, we should find the site of the ancient landing-place which was
called "Friggett Landing."
As Gadabout slowly moved along, she occasionally got out of the channel
into the shallows, in spite of chart and sounding-pole; and more than
once she struck bottom. But she always discovered the channel and
scrabbled back into it before the soft mud, even aided by the falling
tide, could get a good hold of her. No, not quite always was she so
fortunate. For at last, in following a turn of the channel toward the
island, she went too far; her stern swung about and grounded in the
shallows; her propeller clogged in the mud, and she came to a stop.
We accepted that stop as final. No attempt was made to put out a kedge
anchor and to "haul off" with the windlass. We simply walked around the
houseboat on the guard taking soundings. Finding that the boat was
settling upon fairly level bottom, and feeling that the farther she
went the worse she would fare, we took our chances as to what might be
under her and made no further effort.
[Illustration: IN BACK RIVER.]
[Illustration: THE BEACH AT JAMESTOWN ISLAND.]
Nautica had a good motto, which was, "When in trouble, eat." So the
next thing was dinner. Then Nautica and the Commodore embarked in a
shore-boat on a voyage of discovery, a search for the lost channel. By
this time the water was but a few inches deep around the houseboat.
Evidently, the explorers would not dare to go far or to be gone long
for fear the ebbing tide would prevent their getting back. But it was
not necessary to go far to find the channel. Indeed it was found
unpleasantly near. The houseboat had stranded on a safe, level shoal,
but almost on the edge of a steep declivity leading down into twelve
feet of water. We felt that if Gadabout had to go aground, she at least
might have done it a little farther away from precipitous channel
Sitting on the upper deck, we talked and read, and watched the water
slowly drawing away from our houseboat until all about us was bare
ground; to starboard a narrow strip of it between us and the channel,
and to port a wide stretch of it between us and the shore.
We thought most and talked most of the historic island on the edge of
which we had become squatters. It was a small stage for the
world-shaping drama that had been enacted upon it.
Toward evening the tide turned again and the truant waters came back,
lapping once more the sides of our boat. The Commodore had to see that
anchors were run ahead and astern, and all made snug for the night.
Then, in the enjoyment of one of the most charming features of
houseboating, an evening meal served on the upper deck, we watched the
sun dip down behind the island and the twilight shadows gather in.
Still about us was no sight or sound of human life. The shadows
deepened and darkness came. Then gradually a faint silvery light stole
over water and marsh and wooded shore; and the stillness was broken by
a burst of faint, high, tremulous tones, as though a host of unseen
hands swept tiny invisible mandolins. The silvery light came from the
rising moon; the rest was just mosquitoes.
Next day, as soon as Gadabout was afloat, she started up stream again
to find the bridge and a landing-place. There was no trouble about the
channel this time. The waterway, as if taking pity upon indifferent
navigators, suddenly contracted to a very narrow stream, deep almost
from bank to bank, so that we could not well have got out of the
channel if we had tried. In such a place, we were stout-hearted
mariners and the good houseboat stemmed the waters gallantly. Already
we were thinking of how we too, in passing "Pyping Point," should sound
a blast most lustily. Perhaps it would not be exactly a "musical note"
such as the townspeople were used to; but being two or three centuries
dead, they probably would not notice the difference. However, we did
not subject them to the experiment. Instead, we suddenly reversed our
engine; Gadabout tried to stop in time; the ladies tried to look
pleasant; the Commodore tried to shun over-expressive speech. There,
just ahead, was a row of close-set pilings, blocking the stream from
shore to shore.
There was nothing to do but to turn back, run around the island, and
attempt to get in behind it at the other end. We probably should have
tried the upper entrance in the first place had it not been that our
chart showed by dotted lines some sort of obstruction there, while it
did not at all indicate the barrier we had just encountered.
Fortunately, as the tide was now rising and as we had got some
knowledge of the channel, Gadabout made good progress in returning down
the stream, and was soon out in the wide James again, sailing along the
front of the island.
As we proceeded, the marshes gave way to a bank of good height edged
with a gravel beach. Buildings were now in sight, and horses and cattle
grazing. We passed a pier with a warehouse on it, bearing a sign which
read, "Jamestown Island, Site of the First Permanent English Settlement
in America, 1607."
Now, a glimpse could be had of a relic of old James Towne, the ruined
church tower, deep-set among the trees. Could our eyes have pierced the
water under us, we might have seen more of the ruins of the ancient
village. For Gadabout was holding in quite close to shore where no
vessel could have gone in James Towne days, as the place was then solid
land and a part of the settlement. Now, that part lay buried at the
bottom of the river, and our boat was passing over it.
Coasting around the end of the island, we came upon a tree standing out
in the water a hundred yards from shore. It was the famous "Lone
Cypress," once growing on the island, now spreading its green branches
in the midst of a watery waste--silently attesting the sacrifice of
historic soil to the greedy river. A little way beyond the tree was
what we were seeking, the upper entrance into the waterway behind the
[Illustration: WHARF SIGN AT JAMESTOWN ISLAND.]
[Illustration: THE "LONE CYPRESS."]
In the days of the old settlement, there was no such entrance at this
end; for here the narrow isthmus extended across, connecting with the
mainland. But the same resistless wash of waves that had carried part
of James Towne into the bed of the river, had broken down and submerged
the isthmus too; and our chart showed that there was water enough for
our houseboat to sail over where the colonists used to walk dry-shod.
As to the obstruction we had seen indicated on the chart, that proved
to be the ruins of an old bridge extending out from the mainland along
the submerged isthmus. But the island end of it had been carried away,
and we readily passed through the opening left and got again into Back
River behind the island. Following this for a few hundred yards, we
found ourselves at last beside the bridge we long had sought. Standing
on the upper deck, we could look down stream to the place where our
houseboat had been stopped by the row of pilings. We had practically
circumnavigated the island.
While making Gadabout fast to some convenient pilings, we heard gay
voices and the rumble of wheels on the bridge.
"Look! Look!" cried one of a carriage-full of hatless girls in white
muslins. "There's a houseboat. How in the world did it get in here?"
And we rather wondered ourselves.
FANCIES AFLOAT AND RUINS ASHORE
It was midday when we tied Gadabout to the pilings beside the bridge,
and the weather was hot and sultry. So, we deferred until evening the
long walk across the island. But already, sitting under our own awning,
we were in the thick of historic association.
Where our houseboat lay, the early colonists used to find haven for
their vessels, "lashed to one another and moor'd a shore secure from
all Wind and Weather Whatsoever." As they found Back River at this
point so we found it, a stream without banks; instead, on either hand
stretched lonely marshes, jungles of reeds and rushes, now as then more
than man high.
But our thoughts, busy with scenes two or three centuries gone, kept
stumbling over two features of the landscape that were out of keeping
with those old times. Back of us, where an isthmus should be stretching
from island to mainland, was the open water gateway through which we
had come; and in front of us, where there should be nothing but river
and marsh, that modern bridge reached from shore to shore.
Our quickened fancy made short work of such anachronisms. We promptly
raised the submerged isthmus, tying the island to the mainland once
more. Then we attacked the bridge; and, as the pilings to which our
boat was fastened did not have any connection with that structure, we
felt no misgivings as the troublesome modernism faded away.
The bridge disposed of, we bethought us that the road with which it had
connected was also a latter-day feature. To be sure, our maps showed us
that in colonial times too a road had crossed the island, and along
much the same lines; but it had come out a little farther down Back
River, at the point already referred to as "Friggett Landing."
To put the roadway right, then, we had first to locate the site of the
old landing. And in this important matter what painstaking
archeologists we were! Not by guesswork, but by a long string, did we
locate "Friggett Landing." After reading all that our authorities had
to say on the subject (and understanding part of it), we sent our man
down stream in a rowboat, confident that he would find the landing at
the end of the measured string. When the string ran out, the rowboat
was opposite a point on the marshy edge of the island about one hundred
feet below the present-day road.
The correctness of our work was at once evident. All the indications
pointed to that; for the place showed not the slightest sign of ever
having been used as a landing-place--which is just what you would
expect after the lapse of two or three centuries.
After that, it was but the work of a moment to crook the end of the
modern road, where it approached the river through a bit of elevated
woodland (the only piece of solid land anywhere near us), and so make
it come out, like the road of old, at the "landing." Now, our man held
aloft a stick with the houseboat's burgee on it, and a photograph was
taken that we might not forget where our diverted road came out and
where to go to meet the "friggetts" that might be coming in almost any
Our trifling bits of restoration made all satisfactory: an isthmus
more, a bridge less, a crook in the end of a road--and the scene went
back, as our thoughts went back, to those old James Towne days. To be
sure, the village itself was still clear across the island on the
"Maine River" side, and we could not catch a glimpse of the colonists
in their little streets nor even of the English colours flying over the
However, there was enough taking place on our own side of the island.
We had no sooner got the isthmus up out of the water than figures began
to move across it. But such figures! Was there a mistake somewhere?
These were not Englishmen, and they were not Indians. Behold, crossing
our isthmus, Dutchmen, Italians, and Poles! Suddenly, from the midst of
the group, came a glint and a flash of blue. Then we understood. These
were the "skilful workmen from foreign parts" early sent over to the
colony to make glass beads, preferably blue ones, for barter with the
Now, there were only two people on our isthmus--an Indian and a
red-headed man. The Indian was tall and "a most strong stout Salvage";
the red-headed man was short but a most strong, stout Englishman. The
Indian was Wowinchopunk, chief of the Paspaheghs; the red-headed man
was Captain John Smith. A desperate hand-to-hand struggle ensued. We
remembered that fight in the school-books, but we had never expected to
really see it. Our sympathies were of course largely with the Captain,
but more with the isthmus. We had raised it out of the water for
temporary purposes only, and with no idea of its being subjected to a
strain like this. It was a relief when the two fighters rolled off into
the water. By the time they had struggled out again, the white man was
victor. As dripping captor and captive set off toward James Towne, we
saw Fame stick another laurel leaf in the wet, red hair in
commemoration of the single combat in which Captain John Smith defeated
the "strong, stout Salvage," Wowinchopunk, on the James Towne isthmus.
For a while after that, nothing much happened over our way. Indians
occasionally passed and repassed; now striding openly across to the
island on friendly visit, now skulking over to pick off unwary
settlers. Once we caught, in a hazy way, the most touching picture
associated with the old isthmus--the little savage maiden, Pocahontas,
with heart divided between her own people and the pale-faces, crossing
over at the head of her train of Indians bearing venison and corn for
the half-famished settlers. Pathetic little figure! Often all that
seemed to stand between the colonists and destruction.
It was the sound of voices that now made us turn and look the other
way. Many people were following the crook in our road, passing through
the bit of woodland and coming out at "Friggett Landing." We had heard
no "musical note," but evidently the townspeople had; and there, surely
enough, was a queer little vessel stopping right where we had marked
the spot. It was a pleasure to see that she so readily took our
measurements for it. But how she got there perplexed us not a little,
as we remembered the row of pilings across the stream that had stopped
the houseboat, and which, even in our ardour to restore the colonial
setting, we had not once thought to remove.
Back and forth across our isthmus played the old-time life of the
colony. Rather sombre figures for a while, and all afoot. Then colour
came, and colour on horseback too. They were seeing more prosperous
times in the little village across the island. Prancing by went the
"qualitye" in flaming silks, and high dignitaries in glittering gold
lace. There was even a coach or two. That one attended by soldiers in
queer "coats of mail" must belong to Sir William Berkeley, governor of
the colony. However, we watched and waited long before anything of
importance happened--probably several years.
But time does not count for much in house-boating.
At last, some soldiers marched across the island from the James Towne
side to ours, and built a fort near the isthmus. Some more soldiers
appeared on the mainland and began to build a fort on their side, near
the isthmus. Then we knew that James Towne was seeing its most stirring
days. Stubborn old Governor Berkeley and hot-headed young Nathaniel
Bacon had fallen out over the Indian question. The people were divided;
and here were the preparations for the trial of arms. While the Bacon
fort, the one on the mainland, was yet incomplete, we beheld a strange
line of white objects fluttering from the top of it. With the aid of
field-glasses and some historical works, we at last made out that it
was a row of women in white aprons. As our eyes became accustomed to
the trying perspective of over two hundred years, we were able to
recognize the charming wives of some of the most prominent men in the
other fort. The ungallant Bacon had sent out and captured these
excellent ladies, and now placed them in plain sight of their husbands,
thus preventing the other fort from opening fire upon him until he had
his fortification completed.
After the ladies had been helped down from the rough earthworks and had
spoken their minds and taken off their white aprons and gone home, the
battle began. Soldiers from the island fort made a sally across our
isthmus, were repulsed, and later abandoned their works and fled
pell-mell toward James Towne.
At the height of our interest, the flow of life across the historic
isthmus lost colour, then died away. No more painted savages; no more
soldiers; no more gay groups of mounted men and women in bright London
dress; no more worshipful personages in rich velvet and gold lace.
Instead, a slow sombre train crossing heavily over and disappearing
along the forest road on the mainland leading to Williamsburg. Here,
colonial records going by, telling that the brave little capital is a
capital no more; there, a quaint church service, bespeaking abandoned
holy walls and sacred doors flapping in the idle wind; and all along,
those shapeless loads, telling of forsaken firesides, empty streets, a
village deserted. After that, came only an occasional ox-cart, a load
of hay, or (from the other direction) a carryall filled with strangers
curious to visit the site of a little village that was once called
Sadly we let our isthmus sink back beneath the waters; we straightened
the old roadway, and rebuilt the bridge. Then we went ashore to visit
the island, knowing that we should find only a few ruins and one of the
best truck farms on the river.
Landing from our shore-boat near the end of the bridge at a little cove
that made in through a greenery of fox grape and woodbine, we reached
the road and started off through the woodland. It was a pleasant walk
among the fragrant pine trees and in the soft light and the lengthening
shadows of the waning summer day. Abruptly the grove ended, and
thereafter the road led across a succession of marshy hollows and
cleared ridges on its way to the other side of the island. About midway
in its course it divided; one branch passing into a large enclosure,
the other making a detour around it.
The enclosed land, twenty-three acres at the southwest corner of the
island, belongs to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia
Antiquities. It was given to that society by the present owner of the
island, Mrs. Edward E. Barney.
[Illustration: THE BRIDGE ACROSS BACK RIVER.]
[Illustration: THE ROAD ACROSS THE ISLAND.]
Passing within the enclosure and following the caretaker, we approached
with interest, and something of reverence too, a grove near the river
bank. It was a grove in whose shadowy depths is all of James Towne that
remains above ground--a ruined church tower and some crumbling tombs.
As we walked along the curving road, we caught glimpses now and then of
the venerable tower; and gradually it emerged as out of the shadows of
the past, and we stood facing it. Silently we gazed at the ancient
pile, the most impressive ruin of English colonization. A hollow shaft
of brick, with two high arched openings, a crumbling top, and a hold on
the heart of every American.
How fitting that the four little broken walls alone remaining of all
that the colonists built, should be not the walls of house or tavern or
fort, but of the tower of the village church! Almost with the solemn
significance of a tomb above the ashes of the dead, stands the sacred
pile over the buried remains of old James Towne.
The ruin is about thirty-six feet high, though doubtless originally
several feet higher. Near the top are loopholes that perhaps suggest
the reason why the tower is of such massive build; in those days the
red man influenced even church architecture.
Excavations to the east of the tower have disclosed the foundation
walls of the remainder of the church, and have helped to fix the date
of erection as about 1639. Within these foundations, the ruins of a yet
older building have been unearthed. They are doubtless the remains of a
wooden church with brick foundations that was built about 1617. So, in
the contemplation of these little ruins within ruins, the mind is
carried back to the very beginnings of our country, to within ten years
perhaps of the day when those first settlers landed.
What this old wooden church looked like probably nobody can tell; but
much has been determined as to the general appearance of the brick
church, that to which the venerable tower belonged.
The visitor will not be far wrong if, as he stands in the presence of
these ruins, he sees in fancy a picture like this: the old tower with
several feet of lost height regained, and with a roof sloping up from
each of the four sides to a peak in the middle surmounted by a cross;
behind the tower, those crumbling church foundations built up into
strong walls, bearing a high-pitched roof; each side of the church with
four flying buttresses and three lancet windows; the entrance, a pair
of arched doorways, one in the front and one in the back of the tower;
above the doorway in the front, a large arched window; and, yet higher,
the six ominous loopholes; all the walls of the structure composed of
brick in mingled red and black, and the roofs of slate.
Now, if the visitor will enter the quaint old church that his fancy has
thus restored--moving softly, for truly he is on holy ground and every
step is over unknown dead--he may see in vague vision a very little of
the ancient interior: the nave lighted by diamond-paned windows, not
stained; the aisles between the rows of pews paved with brick; the
chancel paved with tile; a gallery at the end next the tower; and, over
all, the heavy timbers of the high-pitched roof. Perhaps beyond this
fancy can not safely go.
Pilgrims to this broken shrine will be of two opinions as to a work of
preservation that the Society owning this part of the island has
entered into. About and within the church ruins, we saw evidences of
building in progress, and learned that preparation was being made for a
memorial structure or chapel, to be erected not on but over the old
church foundation walls, to preserve them from the elements. It was to
be a gift to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia
Antiquities from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.
Within the building, the ancient church foundations were to be left
visible. Though the broken tower was to be untouched, yet this building
was to be placed practically against it--to be, in fact, a restoration
of the main body of the church.
From what we learned then and later, it was evident that the work was
undertaken after the most careful study and in the most painstaking
spirit. The structure has since been completed, and is doubtless as
desirable a one as could be erected for the preservation of the church
foundations. Still, there will be the difference of opinion as to the
wisdom of placing a building of any kind close to the old tower. And
this, even though the hard alternative should be to preserve the
foundations with a cement covering merely, and to place some
inconspicuous protection over the chancel.
[Illustration: THE RUINED TOWER OF THE OLD VILLAGE CHURCH.]
To the unimaginative visitor, the plan that has been adopted will
appeal. To him the ancient broken tower, standing alone, would have
little charm in comparison with this faithful restoration of the old
church, that enables him to see what he never could have seen but for
its being shown to him in brick and mortar. But to the pilgrim of the
other sort--day-dreamer, if you will--there must come a sense not of
gain but of loss. He will feel that, for a questionable combination of
a restoration with a ruin, there has been sacrificed the most
impressive spectacle on the island--the ancient church tower of
vanished James Towne, standing in the shadow of the little grove by the
river, broken, desolate, alone.
As we stood amidst ruins and building stuff, we tried to bear in mind
that, of the two pilgrims, the unimaginative one is much the bigger;
but we were so hopelessly a part of the other fellow.
IN THE OLD CHURCHYARD
For two or three days after our visit to the church ruins, rain kept us
prisoners within the houseboat. Such times are good tests to determine
how much one possesses of the houseboating spirit. All the charms
usually associated with such a life are blotted out by the lowering
clouds, washed away by the falling water. And how the houseboat shrinks
when it gets so wet! With decks unavailable, what a little thing the
floating home suddenly becomes! Then there is the ceaseless patter
overhead, and so close overhead that one almost feels like raising an
But to the true houseboater there is a charm in it all. With water
above, below, and all around, the little craft is yet tight and snug.
There is plenty of food for the mind on the book-shelves above and
plenty for the body in the lockers below. Lady Fairweather found a
diversion of her own. She sat for a good part of one wet afternoon,
with a short pole thrust out of a window, a baited hook in the water,
and an expectant look on her face. But we had an omelet for supper.
On the first bright morning we made preparations to visit the island
again. As we were about to start, the sailor rushed into the forward
cabin with story enough in his eyes, but only one word on his lips--"
Then there was commotion. Nautica ran into the galley and Lady
Fairweather ran for the Commodore, who was out on deck. He reached the
galley to find one end of it in flames and himself half buried under a
shower of boxes, cans, paper bags, and packages of breakfast food.
Nautica, suddenly remembering one of the best things for extinguishing
burning gasoline, was making everything fly as she frantically sought
to reach a stowed-away bag of flour. The bag and the Commodore appeared
about the same time, and together they made toward the gasoline stove
from which the blaze was flaming across the galley. In an instant all
of the flour was cast into the flames. It proved wholly insufficient,
though warranted on the bag to go farther than any other brand.
Already the blaze was about the gasoline font. All knew that there was
over a barrelful of the inflammable liquid in the tank on the upper
deck. Calling to the sailor to get the shore-boat ready, the Commodore
scooped up the fallen flour and cast it again on the fire. Distracted
Lady Fairweather suddenly rushed to her cabin and back again, and she
too wildly cast a shower of something white into the blaze. Then she
stood pale and speechless, all unconscious of the dainty, empty pink
box clasped in both hands, and of her own heroism in sacrificing her
complexion to save the houseboat. As it turned out, we had no need to
row ashore. With little or nothing to account for it, except the
perversity of gasoline, or perhaps the contents of the little pink box,
the flames with a final flare went out.
Then we took account of the situation. Flour was everywhere. Nautica
had eyebrows and hair singed, though she found that out only when she
got the flour off. It was hard to tell what was the matter with the
Commodore, or to take his troubles seriously. He had slightly scorched
hands of course. But then one forgot them in looking at his expressive
face made out of flour and soot, and in watching him spill breakfast
food and tapioca when he walked.
We never knew how the fire came to start, any more than how it came to
go out. When fairly presentable again, we went up on the upper deck to
find a cool place under the awning.
Evidently, we were adapting ourselves promptly to the ways of the
country. Having fires seems to have been one of the chief diversions in
old James Towne, and we had no sooner got to the island than we fell in
with the custom. It was not a good custom. Even with the fire out we
were in trouble; for Gadabout hadn't a piece of bread to her name, and
we had thrown on the fire the last bit of flour aboard. We were falling
in with more than one of the ways of the colonists--it was fire and
The Commodore suggested that we send a message to the owner of the
island praying that a "Supply" be despatched to the starving new
colonists. But Nautica held that such an appeal should be made in
person; that the Commodore, like a true Captain John Smith, should
start out himself to get food for his famishing little colony.
Thus put upon his mettle, the Commodore, trailed by the sailor with his
basket, soon set off along the island road. Upon reaching the
neighbourhood of the church ruins he met an old negro.
"Mornin', suh." And the shapeless hat came off in a way that told that
this was a survival of the old school.
"Good morning, uncle. Can you tell me which way to go to find the big
"Yas, suh. I don' b'long heah myse'f, suh; but you see dat brick house
down de road yondah, what's done been burn down? Well, dat was de big
house, yas, suh. But it ain' no good to stop dere now, no, suh. You go
right on by, and de big house now is de firs' little house you comes
According to these directions, the way was now along a road leading
down the island. It ran not far from the river bank and through grounds
having a border of trees skirting the water's edge. At last the "little
big" house was reached. All the members of the family were away for the
summer except one daughter who, with a friend from Richmond for
company, was in charge of the servants and managing the island.
The Commodore introduced himself and his sad story of fire and famine.
He explained that it would be two or three days before supplies could
be got from Norfolk, and darkly hinted at a new chapter of suffering
that might be added to the woeful history of the island unless
something were done at once. The gloomy picture did not seem to impress
the young woman very painfully, for her reply was a laughing one; but a
sack of flour went into the basket and a big loaf of bread besides.
Upon its coming out in the conversation that we wished to remain at our
anchorage for some time and should like to know of any limitations
placed upon visitors, the freedom of the island was most kindly
extended to us. The Commodore proudly returned with his supplies to the
"Saved by the Daughter of the Island!" exclaimed Lady Fairweather. And
by that name we came to speak of our benefactress.
After we had broken bread, borrowed bread and good too, another and
more successful attempt was made to go on the island. Our object was to
visit the old graveyard. Crossing again to the grove on the James River
side, we entered in among the shadows that enwrap the ruined church and
the crumbling tombs of the village dead. The graveyard, or what remains
of it, is coextensive with the grove. When most of the deserted church
crumbled and fell a hundred years ago, some of the bricks were used to
build a wall around the old burying-ground. Parts of it are standing
yet in picturesque, moss-covered ruins.
This time we found workmen engaged on the foundations for the memorial
building. So we were prevented from seeing satisfactorily some of the
tombs, as they were boxed over to protect them while this work was in
progress. However, the caretaker did all that he could for us.
Pitifully few are the stones remaining to mark the graves of that
vanguard of English colonization. For most who lie here, the last
record has crumbled away. Proud knight, proud lady, gentlemen,
gentlewomen, and unknown humble folk, in common brotherhood at last,
"dust to dust" and unmarked level ground above them.
One of the most notable of the remaining tombs is that of Lady Frances
Berkeley, who rests beneath the shadow of the great hackberry tree that
is said to have been brought over, a slender sapling, from England. But
a few parts of words remain on the broken stone, and the date is gone.
Though after the death of her husband, Sir William Berkeley, this lady
became Mrs. Philip Ludwell, yet she clung to the greater name and
insisted that her long sleep should be under its carven pomp.
[Illustration. A CORNER IN THE OLD GRAVEYARD.]
Peeping into a shed that temporarily covered the old chancel floor, we
caught a glimpse of the mysterious tomb of the island. It is an
ironstone tablet, once doubtless inlaid with brass, as the channellings
for the metal are yet clearly defined. They show a draped figure and
some smaller designs that have been taken as indications of knighthood,
and have led to the conjecture that this is the tomb of Sir George
Yeardley, governor of the Colony of Virginia, who died here in 1627. It
is said to be the only tomb of the kind in America. Evidently, the
stone has become somewhat displaced; for instead of being orientated as
it must once have been, it now lies almost north and south.
We were not able to see the grave of William Sherwood, that humble but
hopeful wrong-doer who lies under the chiselled words, "A Great sinner
Waiting for a joyfull Resurrection."
The old graveyard, like the hoary tower, awes the mind and touches the
heart. And this partly because of its pitiful littleness. A handful of
cracked and broken stones to tell of all that terrible harvest that
Death reaped in the ruined village! But perhaps they tell it all as
hosts of tombs could not do. One reads between the stones, then far out
beyond them where mouldering bones are feeding the smiling fields; and
there is borne in upon him the thought that our country had life
through so much of death that this whole island is a graveyard.
After leaving the old tombs, we crossed a roadway and entered a ruined
fort. In those few steps we made a long plunge down the years of
history, and passed far away from old James Towne. None of the
colonists ever saw those walls of earth. They are the remains of a
Confederate fort. But, modern as they are, they have done what they
could to put themselves in harmony with the ancientness all about. The
slopes are grass-grown and even tree-grown. Within the walls is the
caretaker's cottage in the midst of such a wealth of trees, flowering
shrubs, and vines as makes a greenwood retreat. The grass-grown
embrasures and the drooping branches over them form frames for river
views that seem set there in place of the rusty cannon pieces.
It was toward evening when we started back across the island,
houseboatward. We sauntered slowly at first, turning for a backward
glance at the old church tower and pausing again to look out over the
water at the island's outer sentinel, the "Lone Cypress." We paused yet
another time down where the marsh reeds lined the way. Grasping
handfuls of the coarse grass, the Commodore started to illustrate how
the colonists bound thatch, doubtless from that very marsh, to make
roofs for their flimsy cabins. But the marsh furnished something
besides grasses; and before the Commodore's explanation had gone far,
his auditors had gone farther. He valiantly slew the snake, the whole
six inches of it, and hastening forward found those more progressive
houseboaters safely ensconced in the shore-boat.
As the little skiff moved out upon the river, a carriage rattled across
the bridge. Sightseers who had driven over from Williamsburg were
returning. However satisfied they may have felt with their short visit,
we could only pity them. Yet such a visit, of a few hours at most, is
all that is possible here except for one who brings his home with him,
for there is no public house on the island. Stepping aboard Gadabout,
we congratulated ourselves that she enabled us to live indefinitely
right in the suburbs of old James Towne.
However, as days went on, Lady Fairweather became somewhat daunted by
the dire predictions of chills and fever as a result of our long lying
in the marshes; and one day she deserted the ship and sailed away on a
bigger one. We thought she was to be gone only a little while, but she
proved a real deserter and Gadabout saw no more of her to the end of
But chills and fever never came to Gadabout's household, though the
dog-day sun beat upon the waste of reeds and rushes about us and though
striped-legged mosquitoes were our nearest and most attentive
neighbours. Fortunately, the mosquitoes did not feel that hospitality
required them to call upon the strangers or to show them any attention
except in the evening. Even then they were more or less distant, rarely
coming into the houseboat, but lingering in a neighbourly way about
doors and windows, and whispering assurances of their regard through
some crossed wires that we happened to have there.
One of the chief causes of illness among the colonists, impure water,
we did not have to contend with. In the early days of James Towne, the
river was the only water supply; later, shallow wells were dug; both
the river and the wells furnished impure, brackish water. To-day, two
artesian wells are flowing on the island. As we got our supply from
them, we often thought of how those first settlers suffered and died
for want of pure water, when all the while this inexhaustible supply
lay imprisoned beneath their cornfields. But even the water from the
artesian wells we took the precaution to boil. So, pitting screens
against mosquitoes and the teakettle against water germs, we lived on,
chill-less and fever-less in the marshes of Back River.
SEEING WHERE THINGS HAPPENED
We were fortunate in visiting Jamestown Island after considerable had
been accomplished in the way of lessening the number of its historic
sites. For a long while, almost every important event in its story had
occurred at so many different places that it was scarcely possible for
the pilgrim to do justice to them all.
But, some time before our visit to the island, an era of scientific
investigation set in; researches were made among old musty records; and
even the soil was turned up in order to determine the place where this
or that event really did happen. The reduction in the number of places
of interest was astonishing. In every instance, it was found that the
historic event in question had happened at but a single place; and
consequently all its other time-honoured sites suddenly became
An instance or two will serve to illustrate.
Upon our visit to James Towne, we found that the site of the colonists'
first fort (long variously fixed at several points along the river
front) was now limited to a single spot near the caretaker's cottage;
so that all the brave fighting that had been going on at those other
sites, had been for nothing.
In like manner, it had long been well established that Pocahontas and
John Rolfe were married in the church whose tower is yet standing; also
in the brick and wood church that just preceded this one; also in a
rough timber church that just preceded that one. Each of these edifices
was the true, genuine scene of the romantic event.
But, under the new arrangement, we found only one church where Rolfe
and Pocahontas were married--just the old timber one. Indeed, in this
instance, the work of elimination seemed almost unduly rigorous. The
other churches were set aside upon circumstantial evidence merely;
there being nothing against them except that they were found to have
been built some years after the ceremony.
On the whole, however, the work of fixing sites authoritatively was
doubtless just. In any event, there was no opportunity for us to
protest; for by the time we got to the island, they had everything down
on a map in a book. We bought a copy of the book, and resolved to stage
by it the events of the James Towne story. We resolved also to be most
methodical from now on; and to "do" things as nearly as possible in the
same order as the colonists had done them.
So one morning we gathered up our authorities and started out to see
where the settlers first landed and where they first lived. According
to the map, that historic, first landing-place would be anything but a
landing-place to-day; for figure "25" (that was it) stood well out in
the river. The loss by erosion had been great along that part of the
shore since those first settlers arrived. But even though the
landing-place could not be seen, one could look out on the waters
anyway and see where it used to be.
At first we feared that there might be some trouble in telling where
the "25" on the map would be on the water. But it was a very simple
thing to do, largely owing to the thoughtfulness of the settlers in
landing almost opposite a jetty that runs out from the shore a little
above the Confederate fort.
[Illustration: VIEW FROM THE CONFEDERATE FORT.]
[Illustration: LOOKING TOWARD THE FIRST LANDING-PLACE.]
Upon reaching the river front of the island, we took our bearings from
the map and walked slowly toward the water's edge, being careful not to
walk too far as the water's edge is so much closer in now than it used
to be. Going to the uppermost of the several jetties, we sighted along
it straight out over the water and kept on looking, in accordance with
the measurements on the map, until we had looked one hundred and
thirty-five yards; then, turned our eyes sharply to the right and
looked thirty-three and one third yards more. We then had the
satisfaction of feeling that the spot our eyes rested upon was, in
1607, on the shore of the island, and was the place where the original
settlers first landed. Nor was our satisfaction at all dampened by the
discovery that the spot was two spots--Nautica gazing spellbound at one
place, and the Commodore at another.
After all, it made very little difference, for the settlers did not
stay where they landed anyway.
They seem to have built their fort and their little settlement within
it about five hundred feet farther down stream and some distance back
from the shore. It was in the form of a triangle and had an area of
about an acre. Its entire site has been generally supposed to be washed
away, but the recent researches show that such is not the case. A
considerable part of it is left and is now safe behind a protecting
sea-wall. As, at the time of our visit, nothing marked this remnant of
the historic acre, we undertook to locate it. Fortunately, the
Confederate fort stands in such position as to help in running the
boundaries by the map. For a rough approximation, all we had to do was
to get Mr. Leal, the caretaker, to stand at the most westerly angle of
the fort, and his son on the sea-wall at the lower end of the fort, and
Henry on the sea-wall a hundred yards farther up stream; then, straight
lines connecting these three men enclosed all that is left of that
first little fortified settlement where Anglo-Saxon America began.
While the three men stood at the three corners, we took a photograph of
the historic bit of land; and long after they had gone we lingered
reflectively about it.
Here, in that spring of 1607, within the strong palisade, the settlers
built their first cabins. Here, Captain Newport left them, and sailed
back to England. Here, too, he found them again--a pitiful few of
them--when he returned the next winter with reinforcements for the
colony. By another winter, the palisaded village had extended somewhat,
mostly eastward. It then included, so far as we could make out, all the
land now within the Confederate fort and probably also the site of the
present ruined church and graveyard. Upon this little four-acre
settlement hung the destiny of a hemisphere for the next few years.
[Illustration: LOCATING WHAT IS LEFT OF THE SITE OF THE FIRST
We trudged about within the old town limits and tried to picture the
chief events of those years; but we could not remember what they were;
so we sat down on the grassy fort, regardless of ticks and redbugs, to
read up some more. For a while there was no sound but the twitter of
the birds and the murmur of the river. Then the Commodore found
something in his book, and he began very solemnly to tell of how on
that very spot the colonists endured the horrors of the "Starving
Time." At this there was such a genuine exclamation of pleasure from
Nautica that the Commodore knew he was too late; she had not even
heard. She had found something in her book too, and was already
announcing that it was right there that John Rolfe and Pocahontas were
But the Commodore insisted that his story came first, as Nautica's
romantic event was not until 1614, while his famine was in 1609-10.
Nautica sighed resignedly as she agreed that we should starve first and
get married afterward.
After all, we found that we could not speak lightly, sitting there in
the midst of the scene of the "Starving Time." By the winter of 1609-10
there were perhaps five hundred persons in this little settlement by
the river, including now, unfortunately, some women and children. When
there was no more corn, the people managed for a while to keep alive on
roots and herbs; then, half-crazed by starvation, they fell to
cannibalism. Gaunt, desperate, de-humanized, they crouched about the
kettle that held their own dead. A Bible fed the flames, cast in by a
poor wretch as he cried, "Alas! there is no God!"
The succeeding spring brought two ships, a belated portion of one of
the "Supplies." But sixty of the five hundred colonists were found
alive--sixty haggard men, women, and children, hunger-crazed, huddled
behind the broken palisades. Sadly suggestive must have seemed the
names of the two vessels that appeared upon that awful scene--Patience
and Deliverance. But the deliverance that they brought was of a poor
sort. They had not on board provisions enough to last a month.
It was decided that it was vain for the colony to try to hold out
longer. James Towne, upon which so much blood and treasure had been
spent and that had seemed at last to give England a hold in the New
World, must be abandoned. To the roll of drums, the remnant of the
colony boarded the vessels, sails were set, and the little ships
dropped down the river bound for far-away England.
The last sail passed around the bend in the stream, and only a desolate
blotch in the wilderness was left to tell of England's attempt to
colonize America; only a great gash in the forest, there in the quiet
and the sunlight, at the edge of the river. Within it were the
shapeless ruins of those queer things the pale-faces had made--broken
palisades, yawning houses, the tottering thing they called a church;
and, all about, the hideous, ghastly traces of living and of dying. The
sun went down; and, in the gloom of the summer night, from the forest
and the marsh wild things came creeping to the edge of the clearing,
sat peering there, then ventured nearer--curious, suspicious, greedy.
Soft, noiseless, and ghost-like was the flight of the great owl through
the desolation, and his uncanny cry and the wail of the whippoorwill
filled the night as with mockery and mourning.
Quick, startling, and almost miraculous was the next change in the
scene: a change from the emptiness of desolation to the bustling
fulness of life and colour--the harbour dotted with ships, the little
village crowded with people, James Towne alive again. For even in the
dark hour of abandonment, it was not destined that the settlement
should perish. Even as the colonists sailed down the James, a fleet
bearing reinforcements and stores of supplies was entering the mouth of
the river. The settlers were turned back; and following them came the
fleet, bringing to deserted James Towne not only new colonists, but
pomp, ceremony, and the stately, capable new governor, Lord Delaware.
"He was the one who went to church with so much show and flourish,
wasn't he?" asked Nautica.
"Yes," answered the Commodore confidently, as he happened to have his
book open at the right page. "Lord Delaware attended the little church
in the wilderness in all state, accompanied by his council and guarded
by fifty halberd bearers wearing crimson cloaks. He sat in a green
velvet chair and--"
"Where do you think that church was?" interrupted Nautica.
"Right near here. They say it stood about a hundred yards above the
later one whose ruins are over there in the graveyard. And in that
church Lord Delaware and his council--"
"Yes," Nautica broke in again. "That was the church that they were
married in--John Rolfe and Pocahontas."
"To be sure," said the Commodore. "Let the wedding bells ring. It is
time now for the ceremony."
And a strange ceremony it must have been that the little timber church
saw that April day in the year 1614, when the young colonist of good
English family linked his fate with that of the dark-skinned girl of
the tepee. It was the first marriage of Englishman and Indian in the
colony, and meant much to the struggling settlers in furthering
peaceful relations with the savages. Speaking in the society-column
vernacular of a later day, the occasion was marred by the absence of
the bride's father. The wary old chieftain was not willing to place
himself within the power of the English. But the bride's family was
represented by two of her brothers and by her old uncle, Opachisco, who
gave her away. Other red men were present. Doubtless the governor of
the colony, Sir Thomas Dale, who much approved the marriage, added a
touch of official dignity by attending the ceremony resplendent in
uniform and accompanied by colonial officials.
It was a strange wedding, party. While the minister (Was it the
Reverend Richard Buck or the good Alexander Whittaker?) read the
marriage service of the Church of England, the eyes of haughty cavalier
and of impassive savage met above the kneeling pair and sought to read
each other. And a strange fate hung over the pale-face groom and the
dusky bride--that in her land and by her people he should be slain;
that in his land and among his people she should die and find a lonely
grave beside an English river.
"That is just one marriage that you have been so interested in, isn't
it?" The Commodore's tone was one to provoke inquiry.
"Just one?" repeated Nautica, "Why, to be sure, unless it takes two
weddings to marry two people."
"Just one wedding," persisted the Commodore. "Now, I am interested in
dozens and dozens of weddings that happened right here, and all in one
There were several things the matter with James Towne from the outset.
Prominent among them was the absence of women and children. After a
while a few colonists with families arrived; but, to introduce the home
element more generally into the colony, "young women to make wives
ninety" came from England in 1619. The scene upon their arrival must
have been one of the most unique in the annals of matrimony. The
streets of James Towne were undoubtedly crowded. The little capital had
bachelors enough of her own, but now she held also those that came
flocking in from the other settlements of the colony. The maids were
not to be compelled to marry against their choice; and they were so
outnumbered by their suitors that they could do a good deal of picking
and choosing. With rusty finery and rusty wooing, the bachelor
colonists strove for the fair hands that were all too few, and there
was many a rejected swain that day.
We might have forgotten the other important events that had happened
round about where we were sitting, in that first little town by the
river, if a coloured man had not wandered our way. He had driven some
sightseers over from Williamsburg, and while waiting for them to visit
the graveyard, he seemed to find relief in confiding to us some of his
burden of colonial lore and that his name was Cornelius. We had over
again the story of Rolfe and Pocahontas, but it seemed not at all
wearisome, for the new version was such a vast improvement upon the one
that we got out of the books. However, his next statement eclipsed the
"De firs' time folks evah meek dey own laws for dey se'fs was right
heah, suh, right in dat ole chu'ch."
While again facts could not quite keep up with Cornelius, yet it was
true that our little four-acre town had seen the beginnings of American
self-government. So early did the spirit of home rule assert itself,
that it bore fruit in 1619, when a local lawmaking body was created,
called the General Assembly and consisting in part of a House of
Burgesses chosen by the people. On July 30 of that year, the General
Assembly met in the village church--the first representative
legislature in America. The place of meeting was not, as is often
stated, the church in which Rolfe and Pocahontas were married, but its
successor--the earliest of the churches whose ruined foundations are
yet to be seen behind the old tower.
Perhaps our thoughts had wandered some from Cornelius, but he brought
them back again.
"Dey set in de chu'ch an' meek de laws wid dey hats on," he asserted.
And as the House of Burgesses had indeed followed in this respect the
custom of the English House of Commons, we were glad to see Cornelius
for once in accord with other historians.
Then, Nautica spoke of how the very year that saw the beginning of free
government in America saw the beginning of slavery too; and she asked
Cornelius if he knew that the first coloured people were brought to
America in 1619 and landed there at James Towne.
"Yas'm; ev'ybody tole me 'bout dat. Seem like we got heah 'bout as soon
as de white folks."
It was a comfortable view to take of the matter, and we would not
Cornelius told us other things.
"Dis, now, is de off season for touris'," he explained. "We has two
mos' reg'lar seasons, de spring an' de fall, yas, suh. I drives right
many ovah heah from Willi'msburg. I's pretty sho to git hol' of de bes'
an' de riches'. An' I reckon I knows 'bout all dere is to be knowed
'bout dis firs' settlemen'. I's got it all so's I kin talk it off an'
take in de extry change. I don' know is you evah notice, but folks is
mighty diffrunt 'bout seem' dese ole things. Yas, suh, dey sut'n'y is.
Some what I drives jes looks at de towah an' nuver gits out de ker'ige;
an' den othahs jes peers into ev'ythin'. Foh myse'f, now, I nuver keers
much 'bout dese ole sceneries; but den I reckon I would ef I was rich."
PIONEER VILLAGE LIFE
That first little four-acre James Towne, located in the neighbourhood
of the present Confederate fort, soon outgrew its palisades. In what
may be called its typical days, the village stretched in a straggling
way for perhaps three quarters of a mile up and down the river front,
and with outlying parts reaching across the island to Back River. It
usually consisted of a church, a few public buildings, about a score of
dwellings, and perhaps a hundred people.
One of the principal streets (if James Towne's thoroughfares could be
called streets) ran close along the water front. While it must once
have had some shorter name, it has come down in the records as "the way
along the Greate River." Here and there traces of this highway can
still be found; and the mulberry trees now standing along the river
bank are supposed to be descendants of those that bordered the old
village highway. Next came Back Street upon which some prominent people
seem to have lived. Apparently leading across the head of the island
from the town toward the isthmus was the "old Greate Road." There still
appear some signs of this also near the graveyard. Besides these
highways there were several lanes and cart-paths.
The eastward extension of the village, called New Towne, was the
principal part. It was the fashionable and official quarter. Here lived
many "people of qualitye." Royal governors and ex-governors, knights
and members of the Council had their homes along the river front, where
they lived in all the state that they could transplant from "London
The buildings, in the early days of wood and later of brick, were
plainly rectangular. The later ones were usually two stories high with
steep-pitched roofs. Some of the dwellings, or dwellings and public
buildings, were built together in rows to save in the cost of
construction. Probably most of the homes had "hort yards" and gardens.
The colonists were not content with having about them the native
flowers and fruits and those that they brought from England; but they
made persistent efforts for years to grow in their gardens oranges,
lemons, pomegranates, and pineapples.
Usually there was not much going on in old James Towne, but
periodically the place was enlivened by the sessions of the General
Assembly and of the Court. At such times the planters and their
following gathered in; and then doubtless there were stirring days in
the village capital of "His Majesty's Colony of Virginia." Barges of
the river planters were tied alongshore, and about the "tavernes" were
horses, carts and a very few more pretentious vehicles. Many of the
people on the streets were in showy dress; though only the governor,
councillors, and heads of "Hundreds" were allowed to wear gold on their
James Towne, in her later days, seems to have had a "taverne" or two
even when she had scarcely anything else; and doubtless these
"alehouses" were the centres of life in those bustling court and
assembly days. For not only was deep drinking a trait of the times, but
many of the sessions both of the Assembly and of the Court were held in
the "tavernes." Three or four State-houses were built; but with almost
suspicious regularity they burned down, and homeless Assembly and Court
betook themselves and the affairs of the colony to the inns. There, in
the ruddy glow of the great fireplaces, the judges could sit
comfortably and dispense justice tempered with spirits.
So life in James Towne went on until the village had completed almost a
hundred years of existence. But this was accomplished only by the most
strenuous efforts. When at last, in 1699, the long struggle was given
up and the seat of government was removed to Williamsburg, nothing but
utter dissolution was left for James Towne.
The fated little village had played its part. Through untold suffering
and a woeful cost of human life, it had fought on until England
obtained a firm hold in America--a hold that was to make the New World
essentially Anglo-Saxon. Then this pioneer colony's mission was ended.
It was not destined to have any place in the great nation that its
struggle had made possible. One by one the lights in the poor little
windows flickered and went out. The deserted hearthstones grew cold.
Abandoned and forgotten, the pitiful hamlet crumbled away.
James Towne dead, the island gradually fell into fewer hands until it
became, as it is to-day, the property of a single owner; simply a
plantation like any other. And yet, how unlike! Even were every vestige
of that pioneer settlement gone forever, memory would hold this island
a place apart. But all is not gone. Despite decay and the greedy river,
there yet remains to us a handful of ruins of vanished James Towne.
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