How did Jamestown survive and grow?

Thatching a roof in re-created James fort, Jamestown Settlement

Thatching a roof in re-created James fort,
Jamestown Settlement

In May 1611, a new lieutenant governor, Sir Thomas Dale, arrived in Virginia with a fleet bearing 300 new settlers and soldiers as well as provisions, supplies, livestock and seeds to grow garden crops. These new supplies and the leadership of Dale seemed to rejuvenate the town. Dale was a military man who was appalled at the conditions he found at Jamestown. Within a month of his arrival, he toughened and  expanded the rules laid out by Gates and de la Warr, inflicting harsh punishment upon lawbreakers. Though much criticized in later writings as “cruel and tyrannous,” the Company’s leaders at the time saw Dale’s actions as bringing much-needed order and stability to the colony. Dale built and repaired structures at James Fort and established thriving new settlements up the James River at Henrico and Bermuda Hundred in order to disperse the population.

Company leaders knew that without sufficient fresh recruits and investment, the colony could not long survive. In addition, in spite of some successful trading missions to acquire corn, for the most part the war with the Powhatan Indians continued unabated. Morale among the colonists was reported as being so low that the great majority of settlers would surrender to the Spanish without a shot fired if offered the opportunity to return to England. It is against this backdrop of mixed news that another quite unexpected turn of fortune presented itself.

The Abduction of Pocahontas

The Abduction of Pocahontas

In the spring of 1613, one of Captain Samuel Argall’s trading expeditions ended with the kidnapping of Pocahontas, Powhatan’s favored daughter who had befriended Captain John Smith in an earlier encounter. After many back and forth negotiations between the English and the Indians, a bargain was made which brought about an end to five years of vicious fighting between the two groups. Both sides could now plant their corn, fish, hunt and live in peace without the continual worry of attack. Over time, Pocahontas learned to speak English, converted to Christianity and took the name of Rebecca. In April 1614, she married John Rolfe, one of the English colonists who had arrived in Virginia after having been shipwrecked with Gates’ fleet in Bermuda. Now with peace established between the two peoples, proper attention could be given to the natural abundance of the land. Despite all of the focus earlier on discovering gold, tobacco would hold the key to Virginia’s success.