LADY REBECCA and Lady Nicotine together saved Virginia for the English. One of those dusky protectoresses shielded the colony in its feebleness and the other gave it strength to stand alone.
The Indians hardly knew what to do with those first Englishmen to settle down among them. At other times, when they could easily have snuffed them out, "God so moved their hearts" that they fed them and saved them from starvation.
As Jamestown grew stronger, it waxed bolder and forced the issue between the white man and the red by seizing Pocahontas and holding her as a hostage for the good conduct of her father, Chief Powhatan. But the captive soon took captive John Rolfe, gentleman, who fell a ready prey to the by no means artless daughter of the forest.
With "her incitements stirring me up," as Rolfe confessed, he was blind to the color of his tawny sweetheart and to her faults, save only her "heatheness." When that stain had been washed away at the baptismal font, and her heathen name changed to Rebecca, he married her, and they dwelt together "civilly and lovingly."
After that first Anglo-American marriage had been blessed by a baby boy, the trio went to England on a visit. With them went the feathered chief Tomocomo, carrying a bundle of sticks under his arm.
Tomocomo had been sent along by the curious and crafty father of the bride, who instructed him to see the King and Queen and to tell him, on his return, what they looked like. He was also charged by Powhatan to cut a notch in a stick for every person he saw in England. Unfortunately the bundle gave out before he could complete the census.
At court and everywhere they went, there was much ado over the "American Princess." But her royal progress was stopped by an attack of smallpox, and Pocahontas found a grave far from her homeland.
Brief as it unhappily was, that matrimonial alliance between nations brought a saving peace to the Jamestown colony that lasted as long as the father of Pocahontas lived. It also bore fruit on some of the proudest family trees that were to spring from the soil of Virginia. The Randolphs, with John of Roanoke, and the Bollings, with Edith Bolling Wilson, mistress of the White House, are among those who cherish their descent from the son of Lady Rebecca.
That union of races bore still other fruit on a lowlier tree, and on the alter of its memory uncounted millions have burnt fragrant incense. In the honeymoon of Rolfe and Pocahontas, the bridegroom watched over some Indian weeks transplanted in their garden by the James and succeeded in domesticating the tobacco plant. And Lady Nicotine became the savior of Virginia economically after Lady Rebecca had saved the colony from her people.
The colonists had found no gold to send to England in payment for their necessary supplies, but in tobacco they found "something just as good." Its leaf became the medium of exchange at home and in foreign markets. Starting with the shipment of 40,000 pounds in 1620, the export rose in two years to 60,000 and in six years more to half a million pounds.
The truth broke upon the understanding that Virginia was not to be a mere mining camp and trading post, but a land of homes. No member of the home-making sex had come at first except a lady and her maid. They had hardly more than landed when the maid lost her heart and the lady lost her maid.
A few cargoes of maids and widows were shipped out from England as exports and all duly invoiced as "young, handsome and chaste . . . agreeable and incorrupt." They were worth their weight, not in silver, or gold, but in tobacco, the new currency of the colony. A maid of Jamestown, might bring her importer as much as 150 pounds of the leaf.
With land for the asking, a woman in the house and soon with children as hostages to fortune, the ambitious colonists pushed up the rivers that were the first highways of the Venetian-like colony. Even today 10 counties of that tide water Virginia still are getting along without railways.
Tobacco had decreed that Virginia should be a land of planters. Large plantations were carved out by younger sons from England, disinherited by her law of primogeniture, and afterward by a few cavaliers of the fallen King Charles. Indentured servants were shipped over to cultivate those great estates. Thus an English shire was transplanted in the New World, with the castes and customs of the Old World reproduced in it.
They were loyal Englishmen, those forbears of "the first families of Virginia." But they brought with them the Englishman's stubborn sense of his rights, which a Virginia planter, in good time, was to proclaim as the birthright of Americans as well.
Something else than tobacco was domesticated in Virginia soil at one and the same time. It was in 1619 that the first legislative assembly in America, the House of Burgesses, met at Jamestown. A contrasting and fateful event occurred in that very year of 1619, when John Rolfe recorded in his diary: "About the last of August came a Dutch man-of-war that sold us twenty Negars."
Thus America started with her house divided against itself. Liberty and slavery were pitted against each other in a long-drawn-out tragedy whose closing act is not yet.
James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 20, 1927, p. 18