ROMANCE AND TRAGEDY
THE LEGEND OF POWHATAN.
THE age of Elizabeth was an age of wonders. The extension of commerce and the revival of learning, the reformation of religion and the revolution of science, the rise of civil liberty and the invention of negro slavery, the theory of the planets, the proof of the circulation of the blood, and the discoveries in the New World, all combined, at once, by their variety and oppositeness to stimulate and astonish the minds of men. It was a dozen epochs crowded into one. The wildest romances were seriously believed, and the soberest facts laughed at as chimeras. Every thing which was simple and matter of fact was rejected. The more improbable a thing was, the more willingly men received it as truth. At such a time the stories of the traveler found a ready audience.
Captain John Smith, the historian of Powhatan and Pocahontas, was a traveler who narrated his own adventures. As a story-teller he was a success. What he tells us of Powhatan and his amiable daughter, is told as an aside to the stirring drama of his own life. Left an orphan, in England, at fifteen, but with competent means, he was apprenticed to a trade, while his guardians appropriated his fortune to themselves. He had read books of romance and adventure enough to inspire him to run away. But he was no ordinary boy. He rambled around over Europe, meeting with various adventures, taking part in the Continental wars until the peace of 1598. Being nineteen years old and eager for adventure, he enlisted in an army of mercenaries, employed in the war of the Netherlands. After a year or two of hacking at his fellow-men, he fell in with three rogues for companions, who robbed him and escaped. One of these gallants he afterward met, and ran through with his sword.
Our hero next appears on a ship bound for Italy. Getting into a quarrel with the passengers over religion and politics, they settled the argument by pitching him overboard. But "God got him ashore on an island." He was picked up by a trading vessel, the Britaine, which seemed to have no particular destination, but lingered around for freight. The "freight" wanted was a Venetian merchant vessel, which no sooner "spoke" than the Britaine fired a broadside. A lively fight followed, but the merchant surrendered to the pirate. Of the spoils, Smith got "five hundred sequins, and a little box God sent him, worth as much more." His acknowledgments of Providence are touching.
Having wandered around Italy till he was tired, Smith went to Vienna, and enlisted in the arm of the Emperor Rudolph, in the war against the Turks. The Turks had shut up Lord Ebersbraught in the besieged town of Olumpagh. Smith had invented a system of signals, which he had once providentially explained to Ebersbraught. Letters from A to L were represented by one torch displayed as many times as the letter was removed from A; letters M to Z were represented by two torches, similarly displayed. Three torches signified the end of a word. Going upon a hill, Smith flashed his torches to the besieged, signaling that they would attack at midnight on the east. The garrison were to make a sortie at the same time. On the opposite to that of the intended attack, Smith set up some stakes in the plain, and strung them with long lines of powder strings. At the moment of the attack these were touched off, resembling the flash of musketry, and the Turks prepared, in force, to resist the attack from this quarter. Their mistake was discovered too late to prevent the rescue of the garrison. From this time on, Smith bore the rank of captain.
Still more chivalric are his performances in another siege. During the slow toil of the besieging Christians in making trenches and fortifications, the Turks would frequently yell at them, and ridicule their work. In order to pass away the time and "delight the ladies," the Turkish bashaw sent a challenge for single combat with any Christian. John Smith, aged twenty-three accepted it. A theater was built, the armies drawn up, and the bashaw appeared to the sound of music. His caparisoned horse was led by two janizaries, and his lance was borne by a third. On his shoulders were a pair of silver wings, and his costume was ornamented with jeweled plumes. "This gorgeous being Smith did not keep long in waiting. Accompanied by a single page, he took position, made a courteous salute, charged at the signal, and, before the bashaw could say 'Jack Robinson,' thrust his lance through the sight of his beaver, face, head, and all, threw him to the ground, and cut off his head." A friend of the bashaw's then challenged Smith. The fight was with pistols, the Englishman winning another head. Smith then became challenger. The combat was long and doubtful. The weapons were battle-axes. Once Smith dropped his, and the Turks set up a great cheer, but "by his judgment and dexterity in such a business, by God's assistance, having drawn his fanchion,, he pierced the Turk so under the culets, thorow backe and body."
Smith was eventually taken prisoner, but only to meet with a new adventure. He was sent to be the slave of the beautiful Charatza Tragabigzanda at Constantinople. He was by no means ill-favored, and the tender passion soon inflamed the heart of the young mistress. But controlling herself, she sent him away to her brother Tymor, "to learn the language, till time made her mistress of herself." Smith thought he would, ere long, become her husband, but in an hour after his arrival the brother stripped him naked, forged a great iron ring about his neck, with a bent stick attached to it, and sent him about the vilest tasks. One day Tymor was alone with him in a field. Mad with rage, Smith sprang on him, beat out his brains, dressed himself in the dead man's clothes, and made his escape. After wandering several days in a desert, he found a kind-hearted man, who knocked off the iron, and helped him to a ship homeward bound.
Such was the man who, in 1605, returned to smoky, pestilential, and filthy London, a city without sidewalks or lighted streets, its houses, built of wood, vilely constructed and ventilated, one-half of its people religious bigots, the other half abandoned debauchees. The town was feverish with excitement over the stories of the great Virginia, where gold was as common as iron, where copper was dipped out of the rivers by the bowl full, where the inhabitants decked out in pearls as large as peas, supplied all visitors with the rarest fish and game and the finest fruits, "four times bigger than those in England." So, in 1606, when a charter was granted for a colony in Virginia, notwithstanding several previous ones had utterly failed, and left no monument but the story of their fate, Smith joined the expedition. Edward Wingfield was president. It is not wonderful that this crowd of seventy-one persons soon fell to quarreling. They were from the slums of London--thieves, plugs, cut-throats, idlers--in search, not of glory, but of a country where money could be had without labor, men, as Smith said, "more fit to mar a state than to make one." Their settlement in Virginia was called Jamestown. here they had a rough time.
The engraving on the opposite page gives a faithful view of the first day's work in the wilderness. It was a struggle for existence rather than for wealth. Discipline there was none. The president was accused of keeping the choicest stores for himself. The men would not work, supplies ran low, disease and famine alike attacked the unhappy adventurers. One night they had an ugly row, in which all took part. Their preacher, Mr. Hunt, a good man, pacified them, and the next day the crowd partook of the holy communion. All these colonial undertakings, no matter how abandoned the men, wore a cloak of religion. The ostensible aim, as expressed in the Jamestown charter was, "by the grace of Almighty God, to propagate the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of all true knowledge, and worship of God."
But the quarrel was ever breaking out anew. Conspiracies to kill Smith, depose Wingfield, and escape to England in the pinnace were as thick as hops. Sometimes one faction had the upper hand, sometimes the other. The intelligent directors, safe at home, had instructed the colonists to search for a passage to the North Sea, and in exploring rivers, when they reached a fork to take the branch leading to the north-west as most likely to come out right. In obedience to this, Captain Newport, Smith, and others shortly ascended the river which the savages called POWHATAN. The country, too, bore the name, and the various tribes of Indians, whatever else they called themselves, were continually mentioning the same mysterious word. On their journey the explorers were hospitably treated, receiving presents of fruit, game, and vegetables, as well as a roast deer and baked cakes. They reached a wigwam village, governed by a king, the name of town and ruler both being Powhatan. This chief is supposed to have been a son of the great Powhatan. The natives made elaborate feasts, and in return their chief was entertained on the ship, where the English pork and peas and the liquors quite enraptured him. When the latter grew suspicious of a cross erected as a sign of English dominion, Newport told him the arms represented Powhatan and himself, and the middle their united league.
On the morning after the feast on shipboard, the noble red man found himself too sick to get up; no doubt, the result of the hot drinks he had taken to so kindly. After a multitude of feastings from other chiefs, the explorers returned to find that the colony had suffered a severe attack from savages. The president was cursed to his face for his failure to erect fortifications. He was accused "of ingrissing to his private use oatmeale, sacke, oyle, aqua vitae, beef, and egges;" while the others had only "a half pint of wheat, and as much barley boyled with water for a man a day, and this being fryed some twenty-six weeks in the ship's hold, contained as many wormes as graines." As a result of the quarrels, Wingfield was deposed and imprisoned. Wingfield denies embezzling the delicacies. "I never had but one squirrel roasted!"
The colonists hung one of the council, and Smith himself came near it. The pious frauds had a church, however, with "Common Prayer morning and evening, every day two sermons, with an Homily on Sundaies." Smith seems to have been almost alone in his efforts to build up the colony. Every one else was crazy about gold. He made several short voyages, securing small amounts of corn from the Indians, which, with the swans, geese, and ducks on the rivers, wild "pumpkins and persimmons," made life quite tolerable, so that for a while the "tuftaffety" gentlemen of the colony quit wanting to return to England. Necessity, however, again drove Smith to make a more extended voyage up the Chickahominy.
They proceeded up the river as far as possible with the pinnace. Then Smith took two of the crew, Robinson and Emry, ashore with him, where two Indians were hired to take them further in a canoe. The crowd in this canoe paddled some twenty miles. For convenience in getting supper, they pulled ashore. Leaving one Indian and the two Englishmen to "boyle the pott," Smith took the other Indian with him to look around in the neighborhood for game. He had gone some distance when cries and yells were heard from the canoe, and then all grew still. Smith rightly conjectured that the men had been attacked and killed. Seizing his guide, he bound him fast to his own arm with a garter, and made ready to fight. No Indians were yet in sight, but an arrow, winged by a hidden hand, struck Smith's thigh. Shortly a score of savages jumped from their cover. Holding his terrified guide before him as a shield, Smith began a retreat to the boat. His pistol he fired as often as he could, and at every shot the savages fled. When the sound died away they would again appear and discharge their arrows, but the unlucky Indian tied to Smith's arm protected him well. But for an accident, the retreat would have been successful, and the story of Powhatan never have been set afloat in the current of history. While walking backwards, intent on his enemies, Smith fell into a quagmire, both his guide and himself sinking up to their breasts. To escape was out of the question. Almost dead with the cold, Smith threw away his weapons. The Indians then ran to him and pulled him out of the mud, built a fire, rubbed his benumbed limbs, and took him before their king, Opechancanough, a brother, as it transpired, of the great Powhatan.
Smith was a man of resources. He drew out a compass, which greatly interested the savage, and then proceeded to "demonstrate by that globe-like Jewell, the roundness of the Earth and Skies the Spheare of the Sunne, Moone, and Starres, and how the Sunne did chase the night round about the world continually; the greatness of the Land and See, the diversitie of Nations, varietie of Complexions, and how we are to them Antipodes." These wonderful qualities of a compass have, probably, never been made use of by any but our own Smith.
The secret of his demonstration is lost to science. At any rate, it evidently impressed the savage, as it must the reader, with the ingenious intellect of the lecturer. The king saw his captive was an extraordinary man. Smith was placed under guard, and the Indians formed in procession to conduct him to Orapaka, a "Town and Seat much frequented by Powhatan and the Imperial Family." The king walked first, followed by poor Smith, held by three lusty savages. On either side walked a file of six more, with their arrows notched. The remainder followed in single file. The village celebrated the strange capture with games, dances, and feastings. Smith was placed in a long house, with forty savages for a guard. For supper he had a quarter of venison and ten pounds of bread. Each morning three women brought him three great platters of fine bread and more venison than a dozen men could devour. In spite of the plenty, Smith's appetite was poor, as he thought they fed him highly in order to eat him. His captors were preparing to attack Jamestown, and Smith exerted himself to explain the terrible cannon, the mines with which the fort was, he said, surrounded, and the certain failure which would result from an attack. To prove it, and to procure some presents for the Indians, he asked the king to send messengers to the fort. This request was granted. Three naked savages set out through the snow and ice of winter on the trip. Smith took care to send a letter, scratched on some bark, telling the colonists that he was safe, and how to both treat the messengers well, yet to frighten them with the cannon, and to send him certain trinkets. When the messengers returned, great was the astonishment of the village that Smith had been able to talk so far to his friends, and that the messengers had brought what he predicted they would bring.
After many days of delay and ceremony, the Indians decided to take Smith before their emperor, Powhatan, the Indian Caesar, who had conquered the entire region, to whom innumerable chiefs and tribes were subject. Such was the extent of his name that the English, understanding little of the language but hearing the word often repeated, by turns regarded it as we have seen, as the name of a river, of the country, of the people, of a town, and of the chief whom they met in their first voyage. This man had extended his dominions till they were many times the size of his original inheritance. The hereditary chiefs or "kings" of the subject tribes were permitted to rule their own tribes as before the conquest, and their local laws and customs were not interfered with, on condition of their paying annual tribute to Powhatan of "Skins, Beades, Copper, Pearl, Deare, Turkies, wild Beastes, and Corn," a system of government strangely similar to that of the Roman Empire. His subjects regarded him as half man and half God, a rather intimate union of church and state.
When the dauntless Smith was presented to this important personage, he seemed about sixty years old, his hair was gray, his figure tall and majestic. He was reclining at the end of a long apartment, on a chair or couch of state, covered with great robes of furs, with a coronet of immense, gayly colored plumes on his head. At his head and feet sat two shapely young Indian girls, in scanty attire, his youngest and favorite wives, adorned with beads and decorated with the most gaudy paints. Around the room were arranged fifty of the tallest warriors in his dominions. This "palace guard" was increased to two hundred from this time on account of the English. He is said to have lived "in great barbaric state and magnificence." At night a sentinel was posted on each corner of the house, who was required at certain intervals to give a signal to the guard in the house. If he slept or omitted the signal he received terrible punishment. Powhatan had a large number of towns or seats in which he, from time to time, made his residence, according to the season or the character of the game which each place afforded.
On Smith's entrance into the dusky emperor's hall of state, a terrific shout was set up. The Queen of Appomattox (a name now familiar to every American), brought a copper basin of water, while her companion attended with a bunch of feathers on which to dry Smith's hands. The emperor, having assured himself that Smith's hands were clean, proceeded to ask him innumerable questions as to where he was from, where he was going, what brought the whites to his kingdom, what were their intentions, what kind of a country they lived in, and how many warriors they had. No doubt, the slayer of three Turkish bashaws, and the pet of the princess, Tragabigzanda, was equal to his opportunities. It is possible that the old savage regarded him as a liar, for after his questionings were over, Smith says, "a long consultation was held, but the conclusion was, two great stones were brought before Powhatan; then as many savages as could, layd hands on him, dragged him to them, and theron laid his head," preparatory to beating out his precious brains with their war-clubs. By lucky accident Smith escaped the doom through the famous intercession of Pocahontas, "the king's dearest daughter, whom no entreaty could prevaile, but gat his head in her arms, and laid her own upon his to save him from death," an incident which has been expanded, moralized upon, and applauded in turn by a hundred historians.
No doubt poor Smith received the caresses of the Indian maiden with a sensation rarely the lot of mortals to enjoy, for the stern old emperor looked at the scene for a moment, muttered a few words in his strange tongue, and, with his own hand lifted the girl and Smith from the ground. Smith was still doubtful of his fate for a day or two. During this time he busied himself carving wooden toys for Pocahontas, who had saved him by her intercession. These filled the childish hearts of herself and her companions with delight. While making himself popular with the young girls, Smith noticed with satisfaction that the chiefs still admired and wondered at the compass as much as ever. In the picture on the opposite page the wily Englishman is presenting Pocahontas with a wood doll, which he has just manufactured.
One day, old Powhatan laid aside his dignity, as most kings do at times, and disguising himself in the most horrible manner, with two hundred others, "as blacke as himselfe," hid behind a curtain in a large house, to which Smith was presently brought. He sat down by the fire, thinking the apartment otherwise unoccupied, when with unearthly shrieks and a "hellishe noise," the savages jumped from their hiding-place, brandishing weapons, and making horrible contortions as they circled around him. He supposed his end was at hand. The affair was only a joke, though he was well-nigh dead with apprehension. There are still savages, white enough, who enjoy such jokes. Powhatan explained the matter with many grins, furnished him with guides, and sent him back to Jamestown. Smith promised to send his liberator "two gunnes and a gryndestone." This promise he fulfilled by offering his guides two culverins and a mill-stone, which they could not possibly transport. He took care both to frighten by firing the culverins and to pacify them with many presents for Powhatan and his wives.
Smith's life, however, was scarcely safer among the ruffians at the fort than among the savages. On the day of his return, his enemies, headed by Ratcliffe, the president, arrested him on the charge of murdering his two companions, Robinson and Emry, found him guilty, and sentenced him to be hung the next morning, a sentence of which the fulfillment was only prevented by the arrival of Newport, from England, the same evening. The affectionate Pocahontas and her father did not forget Smith. Two or three days after his return a fire broke out, destroying their buildings and supplies at the fort. Shortly afterward, Pocahontas, a perfectly nude maiden, appeared at the fort with a train of attendants such as herself, bringing presents of corn and game to Smith and his friends. This visit was only the first of a long series, in which Pocahontas came to the fort regularly, at least twice a week, with abundant gifts. She was only eleven or twelve years old, evidently of a kind and generous nature, but full of the fun which belongs to youth. On the occasions of her visits to the fort, she became well acquainted with the men. Her sportiveness was manifested by "making cart wheeles," falling on her hands, "heels upwards," and turning over and over around the fort.
During Smith's seven weeks' captivity, which had been a great advantage in gaining the confidence and darning the language of the Indians, he, in order to awe them, greatly bragged of the immense power and skill of Captain Newport. Though he secretly despised the man, Smith, priest-like, set up the bogus image before the worshiping multitude, and called it divine. Powhatan naturally had a great desire to see Newport, and he was promised the pleasure. The new-comers on the ship completely demoralized the prices in trade with the Indians. The sailors were foolishly granted the privilege of trading, and it soon took a pound of copper to buy the quantity of corn for which only an ounce of the metal had previously been required. Only such Indians as had his special license were allowed by Powhatan to visit the fort and trade. One poor redskin slipped in one day without license, and furtively sold a little basket of corn. For this offense the emperor had him killed. Newport sent forward to Powhatan presents, much too rich to be wise, and followed himself with Smith and forty men.
When they arrived at Werowocomoco, the wary Newport declined going ashore, for fear of treachery, till Smith first examined the situation. Even Smith, before crossing the crazy traps, which bridged a network of creeks, required a large number of Indians to precede him, and retained others as hostages, lest the affairs should be pitfalls. The village wore a holiday look. Fifty great platters of fine bread stood in front of Powhatan's lodge. The emperor received Smith with great state and display, caused him to sit on the right hand of his throne, and renewed the old acquaintance with friendly conversation, in which Smith's joke about the "gunnes and gryndestone" drew much loud laughter. Smith presented Powhatan with a suit of red cloth, a white greyhound, and a hat. He was lodged with Powhatan, and served by a young Indian woman, who was appointed to attend him, with an abundance of rich and various food. In the evening there was a feast, with songs, dances, and speeches. Next morning Newport came ashore, and was royally entertained for four days. Powhatan spared no effort to elaborate his hospitality, proclaiming death to any subject who offered any discourtesy to his guests. Newport gave him a white boy, Thomas Savage, as a present.
When they came to trade, Powhatan was much too crafty for Newport. He affected great dignity, said the great Powhatan could not enter into a dicker. "Let Captain Newport lay down all his commodities. Such as Powhatan wants he will take and then make such recompense as is right." Such was his speech. Newport fell into the trap. He received four bushels of corn when he should have had two hundred. Smith seeing this failure, apparently by accident glanced some blue beads, so that their glint caught the eye of the Indian, who at once became eager to see them. Smith denied having them, then protested he could not sell them, that they were made of the same stuff as the sky, and were only to be worn by the greatest kings on earth. All this inflamed the savage's anxiety to the highest pitch, and he offered twenty, fifty, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred bushels of corn. Smith yielded to this last offer with great show of reluctance, took his corn, "and yet," he says, "parted good friends."
The presence of Newport's ship at the colony was a constant demoralization. Such of the shoremen as had any thing of value whatever traded it to the sailors for liquor or ship stores, which were wasted in excesses. Smith wanted Newport to leave, but he caught the "gold fever," and remained fourteen weeks, diligently loading his vessel with river sand, in which were shining particles of mica, which he insisted were gold. The idle colonists gave up regular work, in spite of Smith's expostulations, and dreamed of fabulous wealth. The ship remained so long that its stores were exhausted, and instead of the colony receiving supplies from Newport, actually had to divide its meager store to revictual the ship for the return. Newport sailed proudly away with his cargo of dirt, but not without doing a mischief to the colony. Powhatan, with a motive clear as day to Smith, sent Newport twenty turkeys, asking for twenty swords in return, which the goose at once sent him. Soon afterward he sent a like present and message to Smith, but obtained no swords for his trouble, which angered him. Though professing friendship, the Indians began to give trouble with their thieving. Several men from the fort were waylaid in the forest and stripped of their weapons. Thus matters went on till Smith took several of the Indians prisoners, and by dint of threats and promises learned from them that the crafty Powhatan, seeing the superiority of English weapons, and designing to massacre the colony, had undertaken to trade for weapons with Newport and Smith, and, failing with the latter, to take them from the colonists whenever caught out alone. Another sign of hostility was the return of the boy Savage, with bag and baggage, to the fort. Learning that some of his people were prisoners, the emperor of Virginia sent the lovely Pocahontas, "who not only for feature, countenance, and proportion, much exceedeth any of the rest of his people, but for wit and spirit the only nonpareil of his country," to Smith to deny hostile intentions and ask for the release of his men. Any favor asked by Pocahontas was certain to be granted, and after prayers, and a hearty meal, the warriors were given back their bows and arrows, and restored to liberty.
On September 10, 1608, Smith was made president of the colony. He at once stopped the erection of a pleasure house, which Ratcliffe, who had succeeded Wingfield in the presidency, was having built for his own use, and set the men about useful labor. Things had barely begun to run smoothly when the marplot Newport returned with several wild schemes. He brought with him orders for a coronation of Powhatan as emperor, together with elaborate presents for the old Indian.
A more foolish thing was never perpetrated. The effect of the coronation was to increase Powhatan's notion of his own importance, and make it impossible to maintain friendly relations with him. Smith's hard sense protested against the folly, but finally he insisted on at least trying to get Powhatan to come to Jamestown for the ceremony. With this object he went to Powhatan's residence, but finding him away from home, was compelled to wait a day for his return. In the meantime Pocahontas had some more of her fun. Smith and his men were sitting around a fire in the open air, when they were alarmed by the most frightful uproar in the surrounding woods. They seized their arms and thought they were betrayed. In a moment Pocahontas came running up to Smith, and told him he might kill her if any hurt was intended, and explained that it was only sport. At the head of her thirty young women, attired as we have intimated was their fashion, she led them in a wonderful "anticke," dancing, singing, crying, leaping, casting themselves in circles around the visitors, and "falling into their infernal passions." An hour was spent in this "mascarade." Then "they solemnly invited Smith to their lodgings, where he was no sooner in the house, but all these nymphs more tormented him than ever, with crowding, pressing, hanging about him, most tediously crying, "Love you not me? Love you not me?" After this he was seated at the most elaborate banquet of savage dainties which the ingenuity of Pocahontas and her nymphs could devise. The feat at last broke up, and his dusky tormentors escorted him to his lodging with a fire-brand procession.
In the morning, Smith, his head no doubt a little thick from the frolic, stated his wish to Powhatan, agreeing to assist him in a war against his enemies, the Monacans, if he would come to Jamestown. But this proud representative in the American forest of the divine rights of kings, haughtily replied: "If your king has sent me a present, I also am a king, and this is my land; eight days I will stay to receive them. Your father is to come to me, not I to him, nor yet to your fort; neither will I bite at such a bait; as for the Monacans, I can revenge my own injuries."
"This was the lofty potentate," says a charming writer, "whom Smith could have tickled out of his senses with a glass bead, and who would infinitely have preferred a big shining copper kettle to the misplaced honor intended to be thrust upon him, but the offer of which puffed him up beyond the reach of negotiation."
Smith returned with his message. If the mountain would not come to Mahomet, then Mahomet must go to the mountain. Smith describes with rare humor the ridiculous ceremony of the coronation, the last act of which shows that Powhatan himself must have seen the size of the joke. "The presents were brought him, his bason and ewer, bed and furniture set up, his scarlet cloke and apparel with much adoe put on him, being assured they would not hurt him. But a foule trouble there was to make him kneel to receive his crown; he not knowing the majesty, nor wearing of a crown, nor bending of the knee, endured so many persuasions, examples, and instructions as tyred them all. At last, by bearing hard on his shoulders, he, a little stooped, and three having the crown in their hands, put it on his head, when by the warning of a pistoll the boats were prepared with such a volley of shot, that the king started up in a horrible feare, till he saw all was well. Then remembering himself to congratulate their kindness, he gave his old shoes and his mantell to Capt. Newport!" The mountain labored, and brought forth a mouse.
This magnificent failure to get two ship loads of corn which Newport had promised, reduced the colonists almost to starvation. Smith finding no corn was to be procured peaceably from the Indians, began a more radical policy. Taking a strong force with him, he again sailed up the Chickahominy, and declaring his purpose to be to avenge his captivity and the murder of his men, he made war. It was not long before the Indians sued for peace, and paid one hundred bushels of corn, a serious inroad on a small harvest, for their crops had failed.
Things went on poorly enough at the fort. Out of three hundred axes, hoes and pick-axes, only twenty could be found, the thievish colonists having secretly traded them off to the Indians. The hundred bushels of corn were soon gone. In their extremity Powhatan sent word to Smith to visit him, send him men to build him a house, give him a grindstone, fifty swords, some big guns, a cock and hen, much copper and beads, and he would in return load Smith's ship with corn. Unwilling to miss an opportunity, however slight, to procure supplies, Smith resolved to humor Powhatan by sending some workmen, among whom were two knavish Dutchmen, to build the house, and to follow with a force strong enough to take old Powhatan's corn by force if it could not be had peaceably.
It was midwinter. A severe storm detained Smith and his men on the way, and compelled them to celebrate their Christmas among some friendly Indians. While the winter storm raged without, the men were warmly lodged among the savages, and feasted around the roaring fires on splendid bread, fish, oysters, game, and wild fowl.
Proceeding on their journey, their landing at Powhatan's residence had to be made by wading breast deep through the half frozen shallows and mire for a half mile. Powhatan sent down provisions for them, but pretended not to have sent for them at all. Smith reproached him with deceit and hostility. Powhatan replied by wordy evasions, and seemed coolly indifferent about his new house. He demanded guns and swords in exchange for corn, which Smith refused. The old emperor then said he doubted the intentions of the English, for he had heard that they came not so much for trade as to invade and possess his country. For what good purpose did Smith and his men carry arms, if they really came on an errand of peace? Let them leave their weapons in their vessel, in order that his people might not be afraid to bring in their corn, and as a proof that their intentions were peaceful. "Let us all be friends together and forever Powhatans." The secret of Powhatan's conduct lay in the fact, not entirely discovered by Smith for some months, that the two Dutchmen, yielding to the seductive influence of Powhatan's abundant table and comfortable quarters, had betrayed the destitute condition of the colonists to him.
At an interval in the dispute Smith managed to trade an old copper kettle to the emperor for eighty bushels of corn. Then the debate was renewed with the same vigor. Powhatan, liar that he was, said that he had lived to see the death of three generations of his people, and his experience taught him that peace was better than war. Why then would the English try to take by force what they could quickly have by love? Why would they destroy Powhatan and his people who provided them food? What could be gained by war? Powhatan in his old age could take his people, hide their corn, burn their lodges, fly to the forest, and live there in the cold, subsisting on acorns and roots. But this would not only make him and his people bitterly unhappy; the English themselves must starve if they destroyed the people who furnished them food. Powhatan and Captain Smith would alike end their lives in misery. He concluded with an earnest appeal to Smith to have his men lay aside their guns and swords.
But Smith was proof against this eloquence. Believing that Powhatan's purpose was to disarm the English and then massacre them, he ordered his men to break the ice and bring the vessel nearer shore. Then more men were to land and an attack was to be made. The intellect of the Indian and the white man were well matched in their insight into character and in craftiness. No diplomacy inferior to that of the Indian emperor could have so long retained the upper hand of Smith. No leader of less courage and resources than John Smith could so long have maintained a starving colony in the hostile dominions of the great Powhatan. In order to consummate the movement by which his entire force should become available for action, Smith kept Powhatan engaged in a lengthy conversation. But the Indian outwitted him. Suspecting his motive, Powhatan, skillfully excused himself for a moment, leaving three of his most entertaining wives to occupy Smith's attention, and passing through the read of his bark dwelling, escaped to the forest, while the house was silently surrounded by his warriors.
When Smith discovered his danger, he rushed boldly out, fired at the nearest Indian, and made his way unhurt to the shore. The English, then, with leveled muskets, forced the Indians to load the boat with corn. Night came on; the work was done, but the vessel could not sail till high tide. Smith and his men had to pass the night ashore. Powhatan designed to surprise them by an attack while at their supper. Once more the gentle Pocahontas saved Smith. Slipping into the camp, she took Smith aside, hurriedly told him that her father would shortly send down an abundant supper for the English, but, that while the latter were engaged in the meal, an attack would be made by her father with all his warriors. Smith offered her handsome presents and rewards, but with tears running down her cheeks, she refused them all, saying, that if she were seen to have them, it would cost her her life. Once more urging Smith to depart, the affectionate girl turned from him and fled into the forest, the gloom of which was deepened by the thickening shadows of a winter twilight. Presently ten huge savages came, bearing a hot supper for the English, and urged them to eat. But Smith compelled the cooks first to taste their own broth as an assurance that it was not poisoned.
The night was one of anxiety. Large numbers of savages could be seen lurking around. No one was permitted to sleep, but all were required to be prepared for a fight at any moment. Their vigilance saved them, and in the morning the homeward trip was commenced. It was a dark prospect for the colonists. They had escaped this time, but could they always do as well? Where were their supplies to come from, if not from the Indians? Meanwhile, the Dutch traitors made a trip overland to the fort, represented that Smith had sent them, and procured guns, ammunition, fifty swords, tools, and clothing. They also induced six "expert thieves" to desert with them to Powhatan.
On the way back Smith had a thrilling adventure with Opechancanough, the savage to whom Smith had delivered his lecture on astronomy. In the hope of securing corn, Smith took fifteen men and went up to the chief's house, where he found himself betrayed and surrounded by seven hundred armed savages. Smith spoke to his men, told them to follow his example and die fighting. He then openly accused Opechancanough of an intent to murder him, and challenged him to single combat, the Indian to choose the weapons, and the victor to cut off the other's head and be lord over the countrymen of the vanquished. This the Indian refused, denied his hostile intention, and laid a handsome present just outside the door. Had Smith gone outside, he would have fallen, pierced by a hundred arrows. Seizing an opportunity, he rushed up to the king, grabbed him by the hair, placed a loaded pistol at his head, and marched him around, half dead with fight, before all his warriors. Looking on Smith as a god, the people threw down their arms. It was not long till they were trading in good style. Here smith was overtaken by a messenger from the fort, who had gone to Powhatan's residence, seen great preparations for war, and only escaped alive through being concealed by Pocahontas in her lodge, and, having been furnished by her with provisions for his journey, safely conducted away at night.
New disasters at the fort required Smith's presence. Beset by hostile savages along the river, he at last reached home, with five hundred bushels of corn as the result of this exhausting campaign in the dead of winter. New hardships beset the colony, but were met with renewed energy on the part of Smith. The renegade Dutchmen managed through confederates in the gang of ruffians within the fort to continue the thefts of arms and ammunition.
One day, Smith, while walking in the forest, encountered the gigantic king of Paspahey, and a terrible combat ensued. The savage, of great strength and stature, slowly forced Smith into the water, intending to drown him. But the Indian stumbled over a stone. To regain his balance he threw up his hands. At the same instant Smith's iron hand grasped his throat; with the other hand the Englishman whipped out his sword to kill his foe. But the Indian pleaded for his life. Smith was a kind-hearted fellow, and besides, full of vanity. The notion struck him that it would be a fine thing to take the big Indian prisoner to the fort as proof of his prowess. This he at once proceeded to do. Our artist has given us a vivid picture of the scene of the combat, just at the moment when Smith, clutching his adversary's throat, paused with sword in air. The Indian was taken safely to the fort and put in chains. He subsequently managed to escape, probably through the help of Smith's enemies.
Shortly afterward, on a trip up the Pamunkey (now York) River, Smith was attacked by this king's people, but when they knew their foe, they threw down their arms, and their best orator addressed Smith, telling him that his ex-captive was there and proceeding to justify the escape. "Do you blame the fish for swimming, or the bird for flying? Then you should not blame my master for obeying the instinct of his nature to escape to the freedom of his forests. Why do you pursue us and force us at too great loss to avenge the injuries we receive at your hands? The red man is a savage; he knows not the white man's God. But these are his rivers and forests. Here his people have hunted and fished, planted seed and gathered harvests, for many generations. Yet the white man seeks to take what is not his. If you succeed in conquering us, we will simply abandon the country of our fathers, and remove to a place where we will be beyond the white man's reach. If that were done the English would gain nothing, but would lose the corn and fruit we are willing to sell them. Why not, then, let us enjoy our houses, and plant our fields in peace and security, seeing that you as well as we will be benefited by our toil?" The result of this speech was a friendship which lasted for many years.
A singular incident at this time raised Smith's reputation to the highest pitch among the savages. Two of Powhatan's people had stolen a pistol. Smith arrested them, threw one in the dungeon, and gave the other a certain time to produce the pistol, in default of which the prisoner should die. Smith, pitying the fellow in the dungeon, sent him some food and some charcoal for a fire. At midnight the other returned with the pistol, but his friend was found badly burned, and smothered to death with charcoal fumes. The grief of the poor fellow was so great that Smith said, if he would be quiet he would restore his companion to life. Little thinking a recovery would take place, Smith applied stimulants and rubbed the Indian's body, when suddenly he sat up! To the great sorrow of his friend the "dead" Indian was crazy. Smith, catching the spirit of the thing, told the other to be quiet, and he would restore reason to his friend also. The patient was laid by the fire and allowed to sleep till morning. He awoke in his right senses. Thenceforth the Indians believed Smith could restore the dead to life. For three months, the colonists, through the iron discipline of Smith, enjoyed peace and prosperity. Twenty cabins were built at the fort; a blockhouse erected for defense, through which lay the only entrance; a good well was dug, and a considerable quantity of tar and soap ashes manufactured.
One day the unlucky colonists found that their abundant store of corn was eaten up by the rats, which, from the few brought over in the ship, had increased to thousands. Without corn for bread work had to be stopped. No provision, except wild roots and herbs, could be procured at that time of year. Eighty men were sent down the bay to live on oysters; twenty went up the river to subsist on fish. The Indians to show their friendship, brought to the fort what game they could find. Sturgeon were abundant. Those of the colony who were not too lazy, dried the fish, pounded it to powder, mixed it with herbs, and made a very tolerable bread. The majority, however, would rather starve than work. They importuned and abused Smith because he refused to trade guns, swords, and ammunition for corn. He, at last, issued an order, reciting that every man able to work who failed to gather each day as much provision in a day as he himself did, should be taken across the river, and left as a drone. Some of the vagabonds preferred to desert to the Indians, where they could partake of the abundance without labor. But Powhatan and his tributary chieftains imitated Smith, and all whites who refused to work were flogged and sent back to the fort.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh
The Legend of Powhatan
Created November 16, 2000
Web design and graphics by Kathy Leigh