Page images

invited, and gave no promise of that maritime distinction, and commercial wealth, to which the wise policy of her subsequent rulers have led her to attain. From the times of the conquest to the discovery of America, England had been engaged in perpetual wars, either foreign or domestic; and thus, while the southern portion of Europe and the free cities on the Rhine were advancing so rapidly in opulence and power, England was destitute of even the germ of that naval strength to which she is so much indebted for her present greatness. Every article of foreign growth or fabric which she consumed, was wafted to her shores in the barks of other nations, and the subsequent mistress of the seas scarcely dared to float her flag beyond the limits of her own narrow jurisdiction. Scarcely an English ship traded with Spain or Portugal before the beginning of the fifteenth century, and it required another half century to give the British mariner courage enough to venture to the east of the Pillars of Hercules.*

Feeble as the marine of England then was, her reigning monarch, Henry VII., did not lack the spirit required for undertaking great enterprises, and accident only deprived him of the glory of being the patron of the discoverer of America. Columbus, after the failure of his own native country of Genoa to encourage his great enterprise, and his second rebuff from his adopted country, Portugal, fearing another refusal from the king of Castile, to whose court he then directed his steps, dispatched his brother Bartholomew to England to solicit the aid of Henry VII., who being then at peace, was supposed to have leisure to undertake a great enterprise which promised such renown to himself and emolument to England. Bartholomew was captured by pirates on his voyage, and robbed of all his effects, which, with an illness that followed, prevented him from presenting himself at court, after he arrived in England, until he could provide himself with suitable apparel Feb. 13, 1488.7

by his skill in drawing maps and sea-charts. He

brought himself to the notice of Henry by presenting him with a map, and upon his representing to him the proposal of Columbus, he accepted it with “ a joyful countenance, and bade him fetch his brother.” So much delay had been produced by the circumstances mentioned, that Bartholomew, hastening to Castile, learned at Paris, from Charles, king of France, that his brother Christopher's efforts had already been crowned with the most brilliant success.

When we reflect upon the difficulties which were thrown in the way of Columbus at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, even after they became convinced of the practicability of his scheme,

* Robertson's Virginia, p. 18, 19. + This date is preserved in some curious verses upon the map, of which we give a specimen: “ Bartholmew Colon de Terra Rubra." "The yeere of Grace, a thousand and four hundred and fourscore" "And eight, and on the thirteenth day of February more, " In London published this worke. To Christ all laud therefore.' Hacklyt, vol. III

p. 22.

and the yet more arduous difficulties which he encountered on his voyage, from the mutinous timidity of his crew, we may well doubt whether Henry's courage would have sustained him in the actual accomplishment of the enterprise, or whether England at that time afforded mariners sufficiently hardy to have persevered a sufficient length of time in a seemingly endless voyage upon an unknown sea.

Fortunately, perhaps, for mankind, the courage of England was June 24, 1497. not put to the test of making the first great adven

ture; and whether she would have succeeded in that or not, she was not destitute of sufficient courage to undertake an enterprise of very considerable magnitude at that day, soon after the existence of land in our western hemisphere had been discovered.

The merit of this new enterprise is also due to a native of Italy, and his motive was the same which prevailed in most of the adventures of the time, the desire to discover a new route to India.

Giovanni Gaboto, better known by his anglicised name of John Cabot, a Venetian merchant who had settled at Bristol, obtained from Henry a charter for himself and his three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Santius, allowing them full power and authority to sail into all places in the eastern, western, or northern sea, under the banners of England, with five ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to discover countries before unknown to Christians, to plant the banners of England in all such places, and to take possession of them, to hold as vassals of England, to have the exclusive monopoly of the trade of all such places, paying to the king one-fifth of the clear profits of every voyage. All other persons were prohibited from visiting such places, and the Cabots were bound always to land on their return only at Bristol.

Under this patent, containing "the worst features of colonial monopoly and commercial restriction," John Cabot, and his celebrated son Sebastian, embarked for the west. The object of Cabot being to discover the passage to India, he pursued a course more northwardly than any selected by previous navigators, and the first land he reached was the coast of Newfoundland, which on that account he named Prima Vista; next the Island of St. John; and finally the continent, among the “polar bears, the rude savages and dismal cliffs of Labrador;" and this seems to have been the only fruit of the first British voyage to America.

In the following year a new patent was given to John Cabot, Feb. 3, 1498. and the enterprise was conducted by his adventurous

and distinguished son, Sebastian. In this expedition, which was undertaken for the purposes of trade as well as discovery, several merchants of London took part, and even the king himself. Cabot sailed in a northwest course, in hopes of finding a northwest passage to India, as far probably as the 58th or 60th degree of latitude, until he was stopped by the quantities of ice which he encountered, and the extreme severity of the weather;

he then turned his course southward and followed the coast, according to some writers to the coast of Virginia, and in the opinion of some, as far as the coast of Florida. The only commodities with which he returned to England, as far as our accounts inform us, were three of the natives of the newly discovered countries. He found, upon his return, the king immersed in his preparations for a war with Scotland, which prevented his engaging in any further prosecution of his discoveries, or entertaining any design of settlement.

It is not our purpose to notice the Portuguese discoveries under Cotereal, the French under Verrazzani and Cartier, or their abortive attempt at settlements in Canada and New England. Nor shall we notice the extensive inland expedition of the Spaniards under Soto from Florida, through the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, across the Mississippi, and into Louisiana,-or the attempts of the French at settlement in Florida and the Carolinas,these matters belong rather to the history of the United States, than to the sketch of the history of Virginia which we propose to give. We pass at once to the British attempts at colonization in America.

The progress of maritime adventure extended rapidly. The evidence exists of several English voyages having been made not only to the coast of North America, but the Levant, the harbors

of northern Africa and Brazil. The visits to the fisheries 1548.

of Newfoundland had become frequent; and the commerce from that source had become of such importance, and had been the subject of such long and oppressive exactions, as to require the action of parliament for their prohibition.

India was still the great object with the merchants, and the dis1550.

covery of a nearer passage than that offered by the Cape

of Good Hope, the great desideratum with mariners. The northwestern passage had been attempted thrice by the Cabots in vain; a northeastern expedition was fitted out, and sailed under the command of Willoughby and Chancellor. Willoughby with his ship's company were found in their vessel frozen to death in a Lapland harbor; Chancellor with his vessel entered the port of 1554. Archangel, and discovered” the vast empire of Russia, till

then unknown to Western Europe. This discovery led to the hope of establishing an intercourse by means of caravans 1568.

across the continent to Persia, and thence to the distant

empire of Cathay. Elizabeth afforded every encouragement to the maritime enterprises of her subjects, and especially encouraged the newly estab

lished intercourse with Russia. The hope of discovering a 1576.

northwest passage was by no means as yet relinquished. Martin Frobisher, after revolving in his mind the subject for fifteen years, believed that it might be accomplished, and “determined and resolved within himself to go and make full proof thereof,” “knowing this to be the only thing in the world that was left

[ocr errors]

yet undone, whereby a notable mind might be made famous and
fortunate.” Frobisher was too poor to supply himself with the
means of carrying his designs into execution ; but after much solici.
tation at court he was patronised by Dudley, Earl of Warwick,
who supplied him with two small barks, the one of twenty and
the other of twenty-five tons burden, and a pinnace of ten tons.
With this little fleet he set sail. The expedition was entirely unfor-
tunate. One of his barks deserted and returned home, the pinnace
went down in a storm,“ whereby he lost only four men;" with such
small vessels and crews did the hardy mariners of that day ven-
ture to cross the Atlantic. The Admiral's mast was sprung, and
the top-mast blown overboard, by the same storm in which he lost
the pinnace; but, nothing daunted, he persevered, and entered Hud-
son's Bay. The only thing accomplished by the voyage was the
taking possession of the cold and barren wilderness in the name
of Elizabeth, carrying home some of the gravel and stones, one
of the latter of which, resembling gold, or probably having some
gold artificially mingled with it after it reached London, caused
the gold refiners nearly to go mad, and the merchants to under-
take one of the wildest expeditions recorded in the annals of dis-
covery; besides this show of gold, which was pronounced very
rich for the quantity, the only other acquisition was a poor native,
whose simplicity was imposed upon by the most treacherous de-
vices, until he was decoyed to the English vessel, and then seized
by force, and carried away from his friends. He bit off his tongue
from despair, and died soon after his arrival in England, from cold
taken on the voyage.
The mania which the story of the little bit of gold produced in

London caused a fleet of several vessels to be fitted out, of 1577.

which the queen herself furnished one, to bring home the rich produce of these icy mines. The ships returned with black earth, but no gold. The spirit of avarice was not to be stopped in her career by a

single failure; a new fleet of fifteen vessels was fitted out, 1578.

and to Martin Frobisher was given the command. A colony was to be planted for the purpose of working the mines, while twelve vessels were toʻbe sent home with ore. After almost incredible difficulties, encountered amid storms and “mountains of floating ice on every side,” the loss of some vessels, and the desertion of others, they reached the northern Potosi, and the ships were well laden with the black earth; but the colonists, being disheartened by their hardships, declined settling on the coast, and all returned to England. We are not informed of the value of the proceeds of

While the British queen and her merchants were indulging themselves in fancies as brilliant and as evanescent as the icebergs which encumbered the scene of the delusion, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a man of insuperable energy and fearless enterprise, formed a design of promoting the fisheries, and engaging in useful colonization.

the cargo.

With this view he obtained a patent of the same character with

most of those which were granted to the early proJune 11, 1578.

moters of colonization in America, conferring unbounded privileges upon the proprietor, and guarantying no rights to the colonists. The first expedition, in which Gilbert had

expended much of his private fortune, failed, from what 1579.

cause is uncertain. The second expedition, undertaken four years afterwards, was 1583.

still more unfortunate ; for it lost to the world the gallant

and accomplished projector of the expedition. Five vessels sailed from Plymouth on Tuesday, the 11th of June, 1583. Two days afterward, the vice-admiral complained of sickness aboard, and returned with the finest ship in the fleet to Plymouth. The admiral, nevertheless, continued his course with his little squadron, and took possession, with the feudal ceremony, of Newfoundland, to be held by him as a fief of the crown of England, in accordance with the terms of his charter.

The looseness of morals displayed by the mariners of that day is truly disgusting, and increases our wonder at the daring of men who could venture so far from home, in such frail barks, with almost a certainty of encountering on the great highway, in their fellow-men, greater perils than were presented by all the terrors of the deep. Robbery by sea was too common, and often committed in violation of the most sacred obligations, even upon persons engaged in the very act of relieving the distress of the depredators. Gilbert seems to have been cursed with a remarkably riotous and insubordinate company. The sick and disaffected were left at Newfoundland to be sent home with the Swallow, and the admiral proceeded with his three remaining barks.

On Tuesday the 20th of August they sailed from the harbor of St. Johns, and on the 29th, in about latitude 44 degrees, the largest remaining vessel, by the carelessness of the crew, struck, and went to pieces, and the other barks were forced by a high sea and a lee shore to struggle for their own preservation, which they accomplished with difficulty,—alleging, at the same time, that they could see none of the crew of the wreck floating upon timbers, but all seemed to have gone down when the ship broke up. A few, however, escaped to Newfoundland in the ship's pinnace, as was afterwards discovered.

This calamity, followed by continual storms, in an unknown and shoaly sea, enhanced by an extreme scantiness of provisions, and want of clothes and comforts in the two little barks which yet

remained, induced the admiral, at the earnest solicitaAug. 31.

tion of his men, to return homeward. Sir Humphrey Gilbert was vehemently persuaded by the crew of the Golden Hind to remain with them during the voyage ; but, as some malicious taunts had been thrown out by some evil-disposed person, accusing

* See a remarkable instance in Hacklyt, vol. III., 191, 196, &c.

« PreviousContinue »