Tuesday, February 18, 2014

1617 - A fatal disease strikes Massachusetts Country

March 15, 1617 - Jamestown:  Captain Samuel Argall replaces George Yardley as governor of Virginia. [June, 1617]

Appointed Deputy Governor in 1616, Samuel Argall was to rule the colony until 1619. The enacted laws were merciless indeed but the settlers in Virginia were of those to supervise closely. To cope with the environmental mess, Argall showed strictness and added a hint of zeal that earned him many criticisms. Complaints then flocked to London, accusing him among other things of extortion, oppression, squandering the company's receipts and of tyrannical measures against persons. While Argall was in Virginia, the Earl of Warwick sent his ship the Treasurer, to make a discreet punitive tour in the West Indies under the command of another captain. Unwittingly, Warwick caused a deep confusion of roles which turned against Argall, now accused of piracy. And yet even in the eyes of the Spaniards, this charge did not hold.
The many references, depicting Samuel Argall as a tyrant and a villain, were based on charges brought in the statements of the colony by his most relentless enemy, Sir Edwin Sandys (1561-1629), one of the founder members of the Virginia Company and one of its main backers. These assertions omitted, however, some evidence which refuted them.

Sir Edwin Sandys (December 9, 1561 - October, 1629) -
Hailing from Worcestershire, this English statesman was the second son of Edwyn Sandys, archbishop of York and his wife Cecily Wilford. An Oxford graduate, he refused to take Holy Order despite the benefits he would have got out of it, due to his father's fame. He travelled abroad, went to Venice and chose, on his return in England, to devote himself to politics. Elected Member of Parliament from 1586, he helped James 1 to ascend the throne further to the death of Queen Elizabeth, what was worth to him being knighted in 1603.
He was among the founders of the Virginia Company of London which succeeded in founding in 1607 the first lasting English settlement in America. Edwin Sandys also played a key role in the creation in Jamestown of the first representative colonial assembly.
He wished the extension of the English territory in order to clear the overpopulated British Isles and searched new opportunities for the products of his country. Even though he never set foot in Virginia, he worked relentlessly to the English colonization effort. He supported the policy which allowed the colony to survive the disasters of its debut and remained one of the most influential investors of the Company until it was dissolved in 1624. Having no respite to attract new would be-settlers, he was for that reason a strong supporter of the indentured service and of the headright, a land allocation system to the settlers. He also decided to send women to the colonies in order to decide the men to marry and to work harder for a family.

The Virginia Company was since a few years divided into two factions. One, represented by its President Treasurer Sir Thomas Smyth was close to the Court. It considered the settlers only as employees in the service of the Company whose only role was to ensure its profits. Smyth wanted to be maintained absolute control over all the colony affairs and to apply coercive rules. He had working alongside him Samuel Argall, known for his harshness and greed.
Facing him had gathered more liberal members, convinced that the fact of granting more rights to the settlers and listening to their grievances, would occur in England more favorable feelings towards colonization. They felt that the tyranny of the agents of the Company had in fact greatly damaged its attractiveness and formed a barrier to migration.This party included in particular the Earl of Southampton, Sir Edwyn Sandys and Nicholas Farrar. George Yardley was their representative in Virginia.
Argall or Yardley were alternately governors of the colony according to the squabbles that undermined the backstage of the Virginia Company. These would shut down with Sir Thomas Smyth's retirement in 1619.

Pocahontas at the Court of King James 1

March 17, 1617 - Pocahontas dies at the age of 22 in the port of Gravesend, a few miles downstream from London. She had just boarded with her husband John Rolfe the ship George commanded by Samuel Argall to return to America when she was struck by a fatal disease.

Her body was buried in the St George's parish.
Pocahontas had arrived in London almost a year earlier. She had perfectly done what was expected of her by giving a positive image of the Indians. She had even been presented to king James 1. The only downside came from her abortive meeting with captain John Smith, who had related how she had saved his life as her people got ready to execute him. She had preferred not to speak to him and escape quickly, maybe not wishing to see reappearing painful stories of the past.
She tolerated however badly the unhealthy air of London and the winter mists. She was already sick when boarding with her husband the ship headed to Virginia and there was no doubt that she would never see again her country.
Urgently landed in Gravesend, she had time to comfort her husband by saying to him " everybody has to die, it is enough if our child lives ".

May 15, 1617 - Samuel Argall arrives in Virginia to assume the deputy-governor office during the absence of Lord De La Warr.

June, 1617 - the new governor of Virgina Samuel Argall sets the price of tobacco at 3 schillings a pound.

He decided to enforce this measure by implementing a whole series of punishments for the offenders. These were likely to be enslaved for a three-year-period, a sentence both valid for sellers as buyers.
His interest in tobacco quickly faded but Argall kept the one he showed for slavery. He devoted himself in particular, the next year, to urge the settlers on piety and threatened the families who did not go to church every Sunday, of a conviction of a week to slavery the first time, a month in case of recidivism and a year for a second offence. It was only a penalty and not a status, because for Samuel Argall, to be condemned to slavery meant making his job without pay.
[June, 1618]

1617 - Captain Thomas Graves is given by Thomas Smyth, President Treasurer of the Virginia Company, the foundation of an important plantation at Dance Point on the north bank of the James River. This territory belonged previously to the Paspaheghs.

It was a huge project. The area was around 80 000 acres and the investors in the Virginia Company had devoted considerable financial support. This plantation originally named Smyth's Hundred should be provided with a brickyard and a smithy, and not less than 300 new settlers were announced there to clear and farm this vast space.

Captain Thomas Graves (London 1584 - Accomack (VA) 1635) appeared among the shareholders of the Virginia Company of London. He had arrived in Jamestown during the fall, 1608 aboard the Margaret and Mary but it is possible that he went back to England before the great starvation of 1609 because some of his children were born in London during the years 1610-1612.
Thomas Smyth had to give up his shares in the plantation to the Earl of Southampton in 1620. It now took the name of Southampton Hundred.

1617 - A pestilence hits the Indian tribes of southern New England, already bruised by the violence of two war years against the Tarratines (Mic'maqs). Whole villages are wiped off the map. The population is in some places reduced by 95 %.
It was said that the Black Death which had struck Europe in the 14th century was only little compared to the epidemic which beat down that year on Wampanoags and Massachusetts. It was perhaps a bubonic plague but other opinions lean more logically for smallpox. The real cause of this disaster remains however, a mystery.
It is highly probable that this disease was the leptospirosis, an infection transmitted from animals to humans characterized by the onset of a severe jaundice. It can be spread in contact with the infected urine of a dog or a rat including water contamination.

The European sailors were accused but, for nearly a century, the area was frequented regularly by explorers and fishermen, as well as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch or still English, without ever having caused a disaster of this magnitude. Let us remember however that, about a hundred years before, the Spaniards had used, despite them, this biological weapon to destroy the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Smallpox struck London repeatedly and it could not be excluded that a traveler passing through, carrying the disease, transmitted it to some Indian, causing a real chain reaction.
After their arrival in New England, some Puritans did not miss to read into this tragedy a God's blessing in their intention.

1617 - A French fishing ship attempting to cast anchor in Cape Cod, in the Nauset territory, is burnt down by the Natives and most of its crew killed.

These had been particularly shocked by captain Thomas Hunt's poor behavior who, on condition of beaver trade, had deceived them three years earlier by taking captive 24 of theirs to sell them as slaves. They had since adopted a particularly hostile attitude towards Europeans.
The French sailors who frequented in this time the New England coast were perhaps at the root of the great pestilence which decimated this year most of the tribes of the area. Some villages like Patuxet went totally to disappear making of a populated region a true desert. founded the previous year a settlement in South Carolina.

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