Page images
PDF
EPUB

Powhatan, whose dominions, hereditary and acquired by conquest, comprised the whole country between the rivers James and Potomac, and extended into the interior as far as the falls of the principal rivers.

Campbell, in his "History of Virginia," states the number of Powhatan's subjects to have been eight thousand. Powhatan was a remarkable man; a sort of savage Napoleon, who, by the force of his character and the superiority of his talents, had raised himself from the rank of a petty chieftain to something of imperial dignity and power. He had two places of abode, one called Powhatan, where Richmond now stands, and the other at Werowocomoco, on the north side of York River, within the present county of Gloucester. He lived in something of barbaric state and splendor. He had a guard of forty warriors in constant attendance, and four sentinels kept watch during the night around his dwelling. His power was absolute over his people, by whom he was looked up to with something of religious veneration. His feelings towards the whites were those of implacable enmity, and his energy and abilities made him a formidable foe to the infant colony.

Besides the large confederacy of which Powhatan was the chief, there were two others, with which that was often at war. One of these,

called the Mannahoacs, consisted of eight tribes, and occupied the country between the Rappahannoc and York rivers; the other, consisting of five tribes, was called the Monacans, and was settled between York and James rivers, above the Falls. There were also, in addition to these, many scattering and independent tribes.

Captain Smith describes at considerable length their manners and customs, dress, appearance, government, and religion. They did not differ materially, in any of these respects, from the northern tribes. They had the straight black hair, the tall, erect, and graceful forms, and the copper complexion. Their characters displayed the same virtues and vices, which those, who are in any degree familiar with the early history of our country, recognise as peculiar to the Indian race. They were equally removed from the romantic beau-idéal, which modern writers of fiction have painted, and the monstrous caricature, drawn by those, who, from interested motives, have represented them, as "all compact" of cruelty, treachery, indolence, and cowardice.

As soon as the colony had landed, the box containing their orders was opened; and it was found that Edward M. Wingfield, Bartholomew Gosnold, John Smith, Christopher Newport, John Ratcliffe, John Martin, and George Kendall were appointed a council. They were to choose

a President from among their own number, who was to hold his office a year, with the privilege of having two votes. The council made choice of Mr. Wingfield as President.

It is curious that almost the first act of the council should have been one of disobedience to their superior power; for, though Captain Smith had been expressly named one of the council, they excluded him, and gave their reasons for so doing in a speech made probably by the President, to the whole colony. However dissatisfied they might have been, the time was too precious to be spent in brawls and wrangling. All hands set themselves diligently to work. The council planned a fort, others cut down trees to clear a place to pitch their tents, while others were employed in making nets and preparing spots for gardens. The "overweening jealousy" of the President would not permit any military exercises or any fortifications to be erected, except a barrier of the boughs of trees in the shape of a half-moon. Soon after, an expedition was sent to discover the head of James River, consisting of twenty men, under the command of Newport and Smith, whose noble nature did not suffer him for a moment to abate any thing of his zeal for the good of the colony, under the influence of personal pique or disappointment. by several habitations, and on the

They passed sixth day ar

rived at the Falls, and erecting a cross, took possession of the country in the name of King James. Here they visited Powhatan, whose town consisted of but twelve houses pleasantly situated on a hill. He received them with seeming kindness, and gratefully accepted a hatchet which Captain Newport presented to him. Their further progress up the river was obstructed by the Rapids or Falls. They were kindly and hospitably treated by the natives, whom they encountered in their excursion.

On their return they found, that the colony had in their absence suffered from the carelessness of the President in leaving them without military defences; for the Indians had attacked them, wounded seventeen men, and killed one boy. The writer of the narrative contained in Smith's History says, that had not a cross-bar shot from the ship, struck off a bough from a tree in the midst of the Indians and caused them to retire in affright, the colonists would have been entirely cut off, they being securely at work and unarmed. The President, made wiser by experience, ordered the fort to be palisadoed, the ordnance to be mounted, and the men to be armed and exercised. They were frequently attacked by the savages, whose numbers and activity generally gave them the advantage, notwithstanding the superiority of the whites in arms.

At the end of six weeks, Captain Newport, who had been engaged merely to transport the colony, made preparations for returning to England. The enemies of Captain Smith pretended, out of compassion to him, a desire to refer him to the council in England to be reprimanded by them, rather than expose him to the publicity of a legal trial, which might injure his reputation and endanger his life. But he was not a man to be bullied or cajoled. He was strong, not only in the consciousness of innocence, but in the affections and respect of a large majority of the colonists. He loudly demanded a trial, the result of which was highly honorable to him. The arts of his enemies were revealed, and those who had been suborned to accuse him betrayed their employers. He was acquitted by acclamation, and the President condemned to pay a fine of two hundred pounds, which Smith generously added to the public property of the colony. Many other difficulties had arisen, which were amicably adjusted, by the "good doctrine and exhortation" of Mr. Hunt, who seems to have richly deserved the blessing promised to the peace-makers, and, by his influence, Captain Smith was admitted a member of council. On the next Sunday, they all partook of the communion, as a bond of Christian harmony, and

« PreviousContinue »