Tobacco, Jamestown, & Pilgrims – Truth

Pocahontas  & RolfeEveryone knows that the religious group known as the Pilgrims that settled the area known as Plymouth were the first permanent settlement right? We all know that such puritans would not ever dream of starting a fight with Native Americans right? And just what was that motivated so many English and other European Nationals to take the risky two month sea voyage to the colonies? Especially considering that early colonists had an average survival rate well below twenty-five percent. Tobacco was something that the Native Americans taught the settlers how to raise, correct? Here are a few facts of the matter that are often confused, some of it through what we are taught in grade school and other of it just perpetual mis-information that is handed down over and over, despite being largely in correct.

Of most importance, the first permanent settlement was not that of the Puritans in the north of the American Colonies, but rather Jamestown, more correctly called James Fort at the time off the coast of Virginia. Granted, there had been other attempts prior to that settlement, including the noteworthy Roanoke Colony that was lost completely. Regardless, the settlement at Jamestown occurred in May of 1607. The settlement was struggling up until roughly 1609. During those early years, the settlement which had a total of around three hundred colonist land from England, had numbers reduced to around sixty. This was largely though just the harsh elements, adaptability, and especially starvation. Starvation in fact was so bad, there are documented cases of after the horses had been exhausted of leather being boiled and eaten and even one fellow officially convicted of killing his wife, with the plan to eat her.

In a large supply shipment that included a huge number of additional settlers in 1609, John Rolfe sailed west to the colony along with his wife. Though there is much to question where and how Rolfe acquired the seeds to sweeter tobacco, which up to that point was grown only in the more southern colonies of Spain, he none the less had them.     It is noteworthy, that tobacco was native to the Virginian Colony, it was of a type that was not favored by the English as a general rule though an not a cash crop to be sure.  Rolfe, due to storms, being off course, and spending time in Bermuda did not arrive until 1610 – his wife and infant daughter did not survive the trip.

The fertile soil and very warm weather of the area around Jamestown proved worth the gamble and the first crop of tobacco that went to England without coming from Spain was worth a fortune. A fortune that would have been well over a million dollars by today’s standards. The following year, in every garden in Jamestown there was a small plot of tobacco being grown. Inside of mere twenty years, over twenty thousand people had come to the Virginian Colony to pursue their own chance at fortune withe tobacco crop. Indeed, it is with a bit of pride that I note, one could easily point to tobacco as the one thing that originally drove the founding of America and it worth noting it continued in economic importance for first hundred years or more of the country.  Rolfe, famously and notably marries Pocahontas in 1614.

So, if the Pilgrims were not first in 1607 with the founding at Plymouth, when did they actually get here? The Mayflower sailed late in 1620, interestingly with a course that should have arrived at the northern edge of the Virginian Colony, around the New York area. Because of the late sailing date, winter storms caused the course to track off and ending well north of the point. Due to the late November landing and very harsh winter weather, they did not disembark from the Mayflower until the following spring in 1621.

As for the Native Americans, if I have my names right (and I could be mistaken about the names, but the story is correct) this is how that plays out. First contact was made with the Pokanoket tribe (part of the Wampanoag Nation) during the first winter, when they were building and still residing on the boat. Their was an English speaker among the tribe (though not of the tribe, but still Native American) who had been captured and taken to England before returning and escaping later. So what of the fighting? Yes, the Pokanoket tribe had several important members captured by the Narragansett tribe. Because of the peaceful relations and assistance received from the Pokanoket, there was dispatched a group of colonists under Myles Standish who skirmished with the Narragansett. The over powering firepower left its mark.

While there was likely a fall feast that included the Pilgrims and many members of the Pokanoket tribe. It is suggested that this first feast in the fall was in celebration of the victory over the Narragansett, though that is not confirmed in any documentation. It is the feast a couple of years later that, during the summer that was labeled the thanksgiving feast. It was, ironically, a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the arrival of new supplies and colonist via ship in 1623.

** – Image is in the public domain, at least I believe, of Rolfe and his second wife, Pocahontas.

One Reply to “Tobacco, Jamestown, & Pilgrims – Truth”

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