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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 River.
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 houseboats.
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 project.
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 it.”
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 room.
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 houseboat cruise.
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 Chesapeake Bay.
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 far inland.
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 Norfolk.
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 river.
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 World.
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 voyagers.
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 else.
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 boat in.
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 questions.
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 the James.
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 waters.
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 Discovery!
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, and Gadabout.
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 all!
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 country.
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 colonization.
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 Williamsburg.
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 banks.
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 island.
[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 time.
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 fort.
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 Indians.
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 James Towne.
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 umbrella.
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–” Fire!”
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 famine too.
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 house?”
“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 to.”
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 houseboat.
“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 the cruise.
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 unhistoric soil.
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 SETTLEMENT.]
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 married.
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 day.”
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 Pocahontas story.
“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 disturb it.
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 Towne.”
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 clothes.
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.