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While the French were busied in establishing themselves upon the banks of the St. Lawrence, their ancient rivals steadily progressed in the occupation of the Atlantic coasts of North America.

Generally speaking, the oldest colonies of England were founded by private adventurers, at their own expense and risk. In most cases, the soil of the new settlements was granted to powerful individuals or companies of merchants, and by them made over in detail to the actual emigrants for certain considerations. Where, however, as often occurred, the emigrants had settled prior to the grant, or were in a condition to disregard it, they divided the land according to their own interests and convenience. These unrecognized proprietors prospered more rapidly than those who were trammeled by engagements with non-resident authorities. The right of government, as well as the nominal possession of the soil, was usually granted in the first instance, and the new colonies were connected with the crown of Great Britain by little more than a formal recognition of sovereignty. But the disputes invariably arising between the nominal proprietors and the actual settlers speedily caused, in most cases, a dissolution of the proprietary government, and threw the colonies one by one under royal authority.

The system then usually adopted was to place the colony under the rule of an English governor, assisted by an upper House of Parliament, or Council, appointed by himself, and a Lower House, possessing the power of taxation, elected by the people. All laws, however, enacted by these local authorities were subject to the approbation of the British crown. This was the outline of colonial constitutions in every North American settlement, except in those established under peculiar charters. The habit of self-government bore its fruit of sturdy independence and self-reliance among our transatlantic brethren, and the prospect of political privileges offered a special temptation to the English emigrant to embark his fortunes in the New World. At their commencement trade was free in all, and religion in most of the new colonies; and it was only by slow degrees that their fiscal regulations were brought under the subordination of the mother country.

Although a general sketch of British colonization in North America is essential to the illustration of Canadian history, it is unnecessary to detail more than a few of the leading features of its nature and progress, and of the causes which placed its interests in almost perpetual antagonism with those of French settlement. This subject is rendered not a little obscure and complicated by the contradictory claims and statements of proprietors, merchant adventurers, and settlers; the separation of provinces; the abandonment of old, and the foundation of new settlements.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert, of Compton, in Devonshire, formed the first plan of British colonization in America. Queen Elizabeth, who then wore the crown, willingly granted a patent conveying most ample gifts and powers to her worthy and distinguished subject. He was given forever all such “heathen and barbarous countries” as he might discover, with absolute authority therein, both by sea and land. Only homage, and a fifth part of the gold and silver that might be obtained, was reserved for the crown.

The first expedition of Sir Humphrey Gilbert failed in the very commencement. The adventurers were unfortunately selected; many deserted the cause, and others engaged in disastrous quarrels among themselves. The chief was ultimately obliged to set out with only a few of his own tried friends. He encountered very adverse weather, and was driven back with the loss of a ship and one of his trustiest companions (1580). This disaster was a severe blow to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, as most of his property was embarked in the undertaking. However, with unshaken determination, and aided by Sir George Peckham, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other distinguished men, he again equipped an expedition, and put to sea in the year 1583.

The force with which this bold adventurer undertook to gain possession of a new continent was miserably small. The largest vessel was but of 200 tons burden: the Delight, in which he himself sailed, was only 120 tons, and the three others composing the little fleet were even much smaller. The crew and adventurers numbered altogether 260 men, most of them tradesmen, mechanics, and refiners of metal. There was such difficulty in completing even this small equipment, that some captured pirates were taken into the service.

The expedition sailed from Concert Bay on the 11th of May, 1583. Three days afterward, the Raleigh, the largest ship of the fleet, put back to land, under the plea that a violent sickness had broken out on board, but, in reality, from the indisposition of the crew to risk the enterprise. The loss of this vessel was a heavy discouragement to the brave leaders. After many delays and difficulties from the weather and the misconduct of his followers, Sir Humphrey Gilbert reached the shores of Newfoundland, where he found thirty-six vessels engaged in the fisheries. He, in virtue of his royal patent, immediately assumed authority over them, demanding and obtaining all the supplies of which he stood in need: he also proclaimed his own and the queen’s possession of the country. Soon, however, becoming sensible that this rocky and dreary wilderness offered little prospect of wealth, he proceeded with three vessels, and a crew diminished by sickness and desertion, to the American coast. Owing to his imprudence in approaching the foggy and dangerous shore too closely, the largest vessel struck, and went to pieces. The captain and many of the crew were lost; some of the remainder reached Newfoundland in an open boat, after having endured great hardships.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert altogether failed in reaching any part of the main land of America. The weather became very bad, the winter approached, and provisions began to fail: there was no alternative but to return, and with bitter regret and disappointment he adopted that course. The two remaining vessels proceeded in safety as far as the meridian of the Azores; there, however, a terrible tempest assailed them. On the afternoon of the 9th of September the smaller of the two boats was observed to labor dangerously. Sir Humphrey Gilbert stood upon her deck, holding a book in his hand, encouraging the crew. “We are as near to heaven by sea as by land,” he called out to those on board the other vessel, as it drifted past just before nightfall. Darkness soon concealed his little bark from sight; but for hours one small light was seen to rise and fall, and plunge about among the furious waves. Shortly after midnight it suddenly disappeared, and with it all trace of the brave chief and his crew. One maimed and storm-tossed ship returned to England of that armament which so short a time before had been sent forth to take possession of a New World.

The English nation was not diverted from the pursuit of colonial aggrandizement by even this disastrous failure. The queen, however, was more ready to assist by grants and patents than by pecuniary supplies. Many plausible schemes of settlement were put forward; but the difficulty of obtaining sufficient means of carrying them into effect, prevented their being adopted. At length the illustrious Sir Walter Raleigh undertook the task of colonization at his own sole charge, and easily obtained a patent similar to that conferred upon Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He soon sent out two small vessels, under skillful naval officers, to search for his new government. Warned by the disasters of their predecessors, they steered a more southerly course. When soundings indicated an approach to land, they already observed that the breeze from the shore was rich with delicious odors of fruits and flowers. They proceeded very cautiously, and presently found that they had reached a long, low coast, without harbors. The shore was flat and sandy; but softly undulating green hills were seen in the interior, covered with a great profusion of rich grapes. This discovery proved to be the island of Okakoke, off North Carolina. (1584.) The English were well received by the natives, and obtained from them many valuable skins in exchange for trinkets. Some limited explorations were made, after which the expedition returned to England, bearing very favorable accounts of the new country, which filled Raleigh with joy, and raised the expectations of the whole kingdom. In honor of England’s maiden queen, the name of Virginia was given to this land of promise.

Sir Walter Raleigh now embarked nearly all his fortune in another expedition, consisting of seven small ships, which he placed under the able command of Sir Richard Greenville, surnamed “the Brave.” The little fleet reached Virginia on the 29th of June, 1585, and the colony was at once landed. The principal duties of settlement were intrusted to Mr. Ralph Lane, who proved unequal to the charge. The coast, however, was explored for a considerable distance, and the magnificent Bay of Chesapeake discovered.

Lane penetrated to the head of Roanoke Sound; there, without provocation, he seized a powerful Indian chief and his son, and retained the latter a close prisoner, in the hope, through him, of ruling the father. The natives, exasperated at this injury, deceived the English with false reports of great riches to be found in the interior. Lane proceeded up the river for several days with forty men, but, suffering much from the want of provisions, and having been once openly attacked by the savages, he returned disheartened to the coast, where he found that the Indians were prepared for a general rising against him, in a confederacy formed of the surrounding tribes, headed by a subtle chief called Pemisapan. In the mean time, however, the captive became attached to the English, warning them of the coming danger, and naming the day for the attack. Lane, resolving to strike the first blow, suddenly assailed the Indians and dispersed them; afterward, at a parley, he destroyed all the chiefs with disgraceful treachery. Henceforth the hatred of the savages to the English became intense, and they ceased to sow any of the lands near the settlement, with the view of starving their dangerous visitors.

The colonists were much embarrassed by the hostilities of the Indians; the time appointed by Raleigh and Greenville for sending them supplies had passed; a heavy despondency fell upon their minds, and they began earnestly to wish for a means of returning home. But, suddenly, notice was given that a fleet of twenty-three sail was at hand, whether friendly or hostile no one could tell: to their great joy, it proved to be the armament of Sir Francis Drake. Lane and his followers immediately availed themselves of this opportunity, and with the utmost haste embarked for England, totally abandoning the settlement. (1586.) A few days after this unworthy flight, a vessel of 100 tons, amply provided with aid for the colony, arrived upon its deserted shores; the crew in vain searched the coast and neighborhood for their fellow-countrymen, and then steered for England. A fortnight after Sir Richard Greenville arrived with three well-appointed ships, and found a lonely desert where he had expected a flourishing colony: he also returned to England in deep disappointment, leaving, however, a small party to hold possession of the country till he should return with ampler resources.

The noble Raleigh was not discouraged by this unhappy complication of errors and disasters; he immediately dispatched another expedition, with three ships under the command of John White. But a terrible sight presented itself on their arrival: the fort razed to the ground, the houses ruined and overgrown with grass, and a few scattered bones, told the fate of their countrymen. The little settlement had been assailed by 300 Indians, and all the colonists destroyed or driven into the interior to an unknown fate. By an unfortunate error, White attacked one of the few tribes that were friendly to the English, in the attempt to revenge the cruel massacre. After this unhappy exploit, he was compelled, by the discontent of his followers, to return to England, for the purpose of procuring them supplies. From various delays, it was not till 1590 that another expedition reached Virginia. But again silence and desolation reigned upon that fatal shore. The colony left by White had been destroyed like its predecessor. Raleigh at last abandoned the scheme of settlement that had proved ruinously disastrous to him and all concerned, and the brave Sir Richard Greenville was soon after slain. (1591.)

The interest of the public in Virginia remained suspended till the year 1602, when Captain Bartholomew Gosnold undertook a voyage thither, and brought back such brilliant reports of the beauty and fertility of the country, that the dormant attention of the English toward this part of the world was again aroused. In 1606, Arundel, Lord Wardour, sent out a vessel under the command of Captain Weymouth, to make further discoveries. The report of this voyage more than confirmed that of the preceding.

The English nation were now at length prepared to make an efficient attempt to colonize the New World. In London, and at Plymouth and Bristol, the principal maritime cities of the kingdom, the scheme found numerous and ardent supporters. James I., however, only granted such powers to the adventurers as suited his own narrow and arbitrary views: he refused to sanction any sort of representative government in the colony, and vested all power in a council appointed by himself. Virginia was, about that time, divided somewhat capriciously into two parts: the southern portion was givens to a merchant company of London, the northern to a merchant company of Bristol and Plymouth.

The southern, or London Company, were the first to commence the work of colonization with energy. On the 19th of December, 1606, they dispatched an expedition of three vessels, commanded by Captain Newport, comprising a number of people of rank and distinction. Among these was Captain John Smith, whose admirable qualities were afterward so conspicuously and usefully displayed. The expedition met with such delays and difficulties that it was at one time on the point of returning to England. At length, however, they descried an unknown cape, and soon afterward entered Chesapeake Bay, where the beauty and fertility of the shores even surpassed their expectations. On first landing, they met the determined hostility of the savages, but when the fleet proceeded to Cape Comfort, they there received a more friendly reception, and were invited ashore. The Indians spread their simple stores of dainties before the strangers, smoked with them the calumet of peace, and entertained them with songs and dances. As the expedition moved higher up the bay, where no English had been before seen, it met with a still more cordial welcome.

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement established in America, although it has not since risen to very great importance. The site was chosen by this expedition about forty miles above the entrance, upon the banks of James River, where the emigrants at once proceeded to establish themselves. They suffered great distress from the commencement on account of the bad quality of the provisions, furnished under contract by Sir Thomas Smith, one of the leading members of the company. Disease soon followed want, and in a short time fifty of the settlers died. Under these difficult circumstances, the energy and ability of Captain John Smith pointed him out as the only person to command, and by the consent of all he was invested with absolute authority. He arranged the internal affairs of the colony as he best could, and then set out to collect supplies in the neighboring country. The Indians met him with derision, and refused to trade with him; he therefore, urged by necessity, drove them away, and took possession of a village well stocked with provisions. The Indians soon returned in force and attacked him furiously, but were easily repulsed. After their defeat they opened a friendly intercourse, and furnished the required supplies. Smith made several further excursions. On returning to the colony, he found that a conspiracy had been formed among his turbulent followers to break up the settlement and sail for England; this he managed to suppress, and soon again started to explore the country. In this expedition he rashly exposed himself unprotected to the assaults of the Indians, and was taken prisoner after a most gallant attempt at escape. He was led about in triumph for some time from village to village, and at length sentenced to die. His head was laid upon a stone, and the executioner stood over him with a club, awaiting the signal to slay, when Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian chief, implored her father’s mercy for the white man. He was inexorable, and ordered the execution to proceed; but the generous girl laid her head upon that of the intended victim, and vowed that the death blow should strike her first. The savage chief moved by his daughter’s devotion, spared the prisoner’s life. Smith was soon afterward escorted in safety to Jamestown, and given up on a small ransom being paid to the Indians. (1608.)

Smith found, on his arrival, that the colonists were fitting out a pinnace to return to England. He, with ready decision, declared that the preparations should be discontinued immediately, or he would sink the little vessel. His prompt determination was successful, and the people agreed to remain. Through the generous kindness of Pocahontas, supplies of provisions were furnished to the settlement, till the arrival of a vessel from England, replenished its stores. Soon after his happy escape from the hands of the savages, Smith again started fearlessly upon an expedition to explore the remainder of Chesapeake Bay. He sailed in a small barge, accompanied only by twelve men, and with this slender force completed a voyage of 3000 miles along an unknown coast, among a fierce and generally hostile people, and depending on accident and his own ingenuity for supplies. During several years Pocahontas continued to visit the English, but her father was still hostile, and once endeavored to surprise Smith and slay him in the woods; but again the generous Indian girl saved his life at the hazard of her own: in a dark night she ran for many miles through the forest, evading the vigilance of her fierce countrymen, and warned him of the threatened danger. An open war now ensued between the English and the Indians, and was continued with great mutual injury, till a worthy gentleman named Thomas Rolfe, deeply interested by the person and character of Pocahontas, made her his wife; a treaty was then concluded with the Indian chief, which was henceforth religiously observed. (1613.)

The colony meanwhile proceeded with varied fortunes. The emigrants had been very badly selected for their task: “poor gentlemen, tradesmen, serving-men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoil a commonwealth than either to begin or maintain one.” These men were tempted into the undertaking by hopes of sudden wealth, and were altogether disinclined to even the slight labor of tilling that exuberant soil, when only a subsistence was to be their reward. In 1619 James commenced the system of transporting malefactors, by sending 100 “dissolute persons” to Virginia. These men were used as laborers, or rather slaves, but tended seriously to lower the character of the voluntary emigration. In 1625 only 1800 convicts remained alive out of 9000 who had been transported at a cost of L15,000. The contracted and arbitrary system of the exclusive company was felt as a great evil in the colony. This body was at length superseded by the forfeiture of its charter, and the crown assumed the direction of affairs. Many years of alternate anarchy and tyranny followed. During the rebellion of Bacon in 1676, the most remarkable event in this early period of Virginian history, English troops were first introduced into the American colonies. Sir William Berkeley, who was appointed governor in 1642, visited the insurrectionists with a terrible vengeance, when the death of the leader, Bacon, left them defenseless. “The old fool,” said Charles II. (with truth), “has taken away more lives in that naked country than I for the murder of my father.” But, though the complaints of the oppressed were heard in England with impartiality, and Berkeley was hunted to death by public opinion on his return there to defend himself, the permanent results of Bacon’s rebellion were disastrous to Virginia: all the measures of reform which had been attempted during its brief success were held void, and every restrictive feature that had been introduced into legislation by the detested governor was perpetuated.

Among the first settlers in Virginia, gold was the great object, it was every where eagerly sought, but in vain. Several ships were loaded with a sort of yellow clay, and sent to England under the belief that it contained the most precious of metals, but it was found to be utterly worthless. The colonists next turned their attention to the cultivation of tobacco. This speedily became so profitable that it was pursued even to the exclusion of all other industry.

There yet remains to be told one terrible incident in the earlier story of Virginia, an incident that resulted in the total destruction of the Indian race. The successor to the father of Pocahontas had conceived a deadly enmity against the English: this was embittered from day to day, as he saw the hated white men multiplying and spreading over the hunting grounds of his fathers. Then a fierce determination took possession of his savage heart. For years he matured his plans, and watched the favorable moment to crush every living stranger at a blow. He took all his people into counsel, and such was their fidelity, and so deep the wile of the Indian chief, that, during four years of preparation, no warning reached the intended victims. To the last fatal moment, a studied semblance of cordial friendship was observed; some Englishmen, who had lost their way in the woods were kindly and carefully guided back again.

One Friday morning (March 22d, 1622) the Indians came to the town in great numbers, bearing presents, and finding their way into every house. Suddenly the fierce shout of the savages broke the peaceful silence, and the death-shriek of their victims followed. In little more than a minute, three hundred and forty-seven, of all ages and sexes, were struck down in this horrid massacre. The warning of an Indian converted to Christianity saved Jamestown. The surviving English assembled there, and began a war of extermination against the savages. By united force, superior arms, and, it must be added, by treachery as black as that of their enemies, the white men soon swept away the Indian race forever from the Virginian, soil.

As has been before mentioned, the northern part of Virginia was bestowed by royal grant upon a Merchant Company of Plymouth, and other southern and western sea-ports. The first effort to take possession of the new territory was feeble and disastrous. Twenty-nine Englishmen and two Indians were sent out in a little bark of only fifty-five tons burden (1606); they were taken by the Spaniards off the coast of Hispaniola, who treated them with great cruelty. Some time after this ill-fated expedition had failed, another colony of 100 men, led by Captains Popham and Gilbert, settled on the River Sagadahock, and built a fort called by them St. George. (1607.) They abandoned the settlement, however, the following year, and returned to England. The next project of British North American colonization was set on foot by Captain John Smith, already so highly distinguished in transatlantic history. (1614.) After much difficulty, he effected the equipment of two vessels, and sailed for the Virginian shore; but, although successful as a trading speculation, the only permanent fruits of the voyage was a map of the coast, which he presented to Charles I. The king, always interested in maritime affairs, listened favorably to Smith’s accounts of the New World, but proved either unable or unwilling to render him any useful assistance. The next year this brave adventurer again crossed the seas in a small vessel containing only sixteen emigrants. The little expedition was captured by the French, and the leader, with great difficulty, effected his return to England.

Meanwhile, a man named Hunt, who had been left in charge of one of the ships in Smith’s first expedition, committed an outrage upon the natives that led to deplorable results (1616); he inveigled thirty of them on board, carried them suddenly away, and sold them into slavery. The savages rose against the next English party that landed upon their coast, and killed and wounded several in revenge. Captain Dormer, a prudent and conciliatory person, with one of the betrayed natives, was sent by the company to explain to the furious Indians that Hunt’s crime was the act of an individual, and not of the nation: this commission was well and wisely executed. For about two years Dormer frequently repeated his visits with advantage to his employers, but finally was attacked by strange savages and wounded fatally.

But still, through all these difficulties and disasters, adventurers pressed on to the fertile Western desert, allured by liberal grants of land from the chartered companies. The undefined limits of these concessions led to constant and mischievous quarrels among the settlers, often attended with violence and bloodshed; from these causes the early progress of the colony was very slow. One hundred and twenty years after England had discovered North America, she only possessed a few scattered fishing huts along the shore. But events were now at hand which at once stamped a peculiar character upon the colonization of this part of the New World, and which were destined to exercise an influence upon the human race of an importance even yet incalculable.