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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
The English Establish a Foothold at Jamestown
Smith Compels the Colonists to Work, 1609

In Book III, Chapter XI of his General History of Virginia, Smith describes the situation facing the Jamestown colonists in 1609. According to the excerpt below, what accomplishments did the colonists make in this period? What reasons does Smith give for not having been able to do more? Why did many of the colonists think his speech to "the drones" was cruel? Would you consider Smith's actions to be cruel? Why or why not?

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NOw we so quietly followed our businesse, that in three moneths [February to April 1609] wee made three or foure Last of Tarre, Pitch, and Sope ashes; produced a tryall of Glasse; made a Well in the Fort of excellent sweet water, which till then was wanting; built some twentie houses; recovered our Church; provided Nets and Wires for fishing; and to stop the disorders of our disorderly theeves, and the Salvages, built a Blockhouse in the neck of our Isle, kept by a Garrison to entertaine the Salvages trade, and none to passe nor repasse Salvage nor Christian without the presidents order. Thirtie or forty Acres of ground we digged and planted. Of three sowes in eighteene moneths, increased 60, and od Piggs. And neere 500. chickings brought up themselves without having any meat given them: but the Hogs were transported to Hog. Isle: where also we built a block-house with a garison to give us notice of any shipping, and for their exercise they made Clapbord and waynscot, and cut downe trees. We built also a fort for a retreat neere a convenient River upon a high commanding hill, very hard to be assalted and easie to be defended, but ere it was finished this defect caused a stay.

In searching our casked corne, we found it halfe rotten, and the rest so consumed with so many thousands of Rats that increased so fast, but there originall was from the ships, as we knew not how to keepe that little we had. This did drive us all to our wits end, for there was nothing in the country but what nature afforded. . . . But this want of come occasioned the end of all our works, it being worke sufficient to provide victuall. 60. or 80. with-Ensigne Laxon was sent downe the river to live upon Oysters, and 20. with liutenant Percy to try for fishing at Poynt Comfort: but in six weekes they would not agree once to cast out the net, he being sicke and burnt sore with Gunpouder. Master West with as many went up to the falls, but nothing could be found but a few Acornes; of that in store every man had their equall proportion. Till this present, by the hazard and indevours of some thirtie or fortie, this whole Colony had ever beene fed. We had more Sturgeon, then could be devoured by Dog and Man, of which the industrious by drying and pounding, mingled with Caviare, Sorell and other wholesome hearbesBread made of dried Sturgeon.

Their desire to destroy themselves.would make bread and good meate: others would gather as much Tockwhogh roots, in a day as would make them bread a weeke, so that of those wilde fruites, and what we caught, we lived very well in regard of such a diet, But such was the strange condition of some 150, that had they not beene forced nolens, volens, perforce to gather and prepare their victuall they would all have starved or have eaten one another. Of those wild fruits the Salvages often brought us, and for that, the President would not fullfill the unreasonable desire, of those distracted Gluttonous Loyterers, to sell not only our kettles, hows, tooles, and Iron, nay swords, pieces, and the very Ordnance and howses, might they have prevayled to have beene but Idle: for those Salvage fruites, they would have had imparted all to the Salvages, especially for one basket of Corne they heard of to be at Powhatans, fifty myles from our Fort. Though he bought neere halfe of it to satisfie their humors, yet to have had the other halfe, they would have sould their soules, though not sufficient to have kept them a weeke. Thousands were their exclamations, suggestions and devises, to force him to those base inventions to have made it an occasion to abandon the Country. Want perforce constrained him to indure their exclaiming follies, till he found out the author, one Dyer a most crafty fellow and his ancient Maligner, whom he worthily punished, and with the rest he argued the case in this maner.

The President's Order for the Drones

Fellow souldiers, I did little thinke any so false to report, or so many to be so simple to be perswaded, that I either intend to starve you, or that Powhatan at this present hath corne for himselfe, much lesse for you; or that I would not have it, if I knew where it were to be had. Neither did I thinke any so malitious as now I see a great many; yet it shal not so passionate me, but I will doe my best for my most maligner. But dreame no longer of this vaine hope from Powhatan, not that I will longer forbeare to force you, from your Idlenesse, and punish you if you rayle. But if I finde any more runners for Newfoundland with the Pinnace, let him assuredly looke to arive at the Gallows. You cannot deny but that by the hazard of my life many a time I have saved yours, when (might your owne wills have prevailed) you would have starved; and will doe still whether I will or noe; But I protest by that God that made me, since necessitie hath not power to force you to gather for your selves those fruites the earth doth yeeld, you shall not onely gather for your selves, but those that are sicke. As yet I never had more from the store then the worst of you: and all my English extraordinary provision that I have, you shall see me divide it amongst the sick. And this Salvage trash you so scornfully repine at; being put in your mouthes your stomackes can disgest, if you would have better you should have brought it; and therefore I will take a course you shall provide what is to be had. The sick shall not starve, but equally share of all our labours; and he that gathereth not every day as much as I doe, the next day shall be set beyond the river, and be banished from the Fort as a drone, till he amend his conditions or starve. But some would say with Seneca.

I know those things thou sayst are true good Nurse,
But fury forceth me to follow worse.
My minde is hurried headlong up and downe:
Desiring better counsell, yet finds none.

This order many murmured was very cruell, but it caused the most part so well bestirre themselves, that of 200. (except they were drowned) there died not past seven. . . .


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