ALTHOUGH the Virginia climate is as genial as any in the United States, it was a deadly thing to the earliest settlers. The first Summer slew almost half of the colonists in Jamestown. Only 38 of the original 105 lived to greet a second colony, which arrived in the Winter. Out of a total of 197 that came in the course of the year, there were only 53 survivors on the first anniversary of the colony.
Since the winds all around the temperate belt blow from some quarter in the west three-fourths of the time, they come to England mild and moist from off the sea. Those Englishmen in Jamestown withered and froze in the extremes of the prevailing wind that came to them laden with the Summer heat and the Winter cold of the Western prairies and plains. Had they settled on the Pacific instead of the Atlantic Coast of America, and in the latitude of Puget Sound, they would have been more in their native element.
Moreover, a now imperial and ubiquitous race was learning its first lesson in adapting diet and clothing to strange climes. Nor had the Englishmen yet acquired the habit of traveling with his bathtub, or discovered that filth is the breeding ground of disease.
The early settlers had to make a radical change in foods, and man is most conservative in the kitchen and at the table. They had to learn from the Indians how to prepare and cook those strange foods.
It seems strange now that the English at Jamestown should have starved or dragged out a wretched existence on barley water in the land of the oyster, the turkey and the canvas back, that trinity of the American epicure whose god is his belly. But they were neither hunters nor fishermen. "Though there be fish in the sea, fowls in the air and beasts in the woods, their bounds were so large, they so wild and we so ignorant that we cannot much trouble them," wailed John Smith.
The first, second and third lots of men that the London Company sent out hardly could have been more ill chosen for the real job ahead of them. In one invoice there were a mason, two bricklayers and six carpenters, to 36 "gentlemen"! Another consignment invoiced two goldsmiths, two refiners, a jeweler and 30 "gentlemen," some of whom were attended by valets and footmen! There was not a family among them. Nor was there a horse, nor a cow, nor any domestic animal, except a coop of chickens.
A sorry crew they were, those half a hundred poor, sick, hungry, disappointed gold-seekers. They quarreled with such bitterness as only men can when there is not enough food to go around and they have been shut up together in their misery until they had the sight of one another.
After that snarling crowd at Jamestown had overthrown two presidents of the council that was supposed to govern them and were soon to shoot another councilor as a traitor, they were taken in hand by the rough-handed John Smith. He set nets and weirs in the river. Under his goading, 20 houses were built, a well was dug and 30 acres of ground broken. His iron dictatorship was brought to an abrupt end by the blowing up of the dictator in an accidental explosion of gunpowder, and he raided away to seek the aid of surgery in England.
In failing to discover gold, Smith had discovered, and for the first time, the true key to the treasures of America. "Nothing is to be expected thence," he warned the company in London, "but by labor." Thirty carpenters, blacksmiths, mason, farmers and fishermen, he informed the company, would be worth more than all the "gentlemen" who had been sent out—"unruly gallants, packed thither by their friends to escape ill destiny."
To John Smith rightfully belongs the credit of first proclaiming the truth that here was a land, unlike Mexico and Peru, that would yield only to toll; that it held no spoil for the predatory classes of Europe. To the drones in the hive at slothful Jamestown he roared the stern command, "He that does not work shall not eat." That would do very well for the inscription on the corner stone of this Nation.
James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 18, 1927, p. 16