IN a Virginia wilderness, where the holly and the mistletoe grow and the solitude is broken by the mocking bird, a brick tower crumbles in a weedy churchyard on a curving bank of the James River. That ivied ruin in a sheep pasture at Jamestown is the sole remaining relic of the viceregal capital of England's first over-sea dominion. It is the starting point of an empire whose morning drumbeat now encircles the earth. There, too, the United States of America started.
The broken belfry at Jamestown marks the birthplace of the two mightiest powers in the world today. In the same hill where Britain planted her now wide-flung empire, the seed of American independence also was dropped. For the English, unlike their Spanish and French competitors, began and continued their colonization of the New World, not as a governmental, but as a private enterprise. They brought with them to Jamestown, to Plymouth, to Boston, to St Mary's, to Charleston, to Philadelphia, not a royal soldier, nor one royal official, nor a penny out of the royal treasury. They neither asked nor received anything from King or Government, except 13 pieces of paper which were hardly more than the charters that any group of men, wishing to incorporate themselves, may obtain today on application to a clerk in a State capitol.
Spain and France lost the New World, because they planted in it the infertile seed of their decaying feudalism at home, which England already had discarded. She was the first in Europe to get rid of that system, thanks to the English Channel, which left her less dependent than her neighbors on a martial aristocracy. When the War of the Roses stopped her feudal barons fighting among themselves, they ceased to be a military caste and lost the original excuse for their existence, which also lost them their privilege of holding serfs.
With peace at home and 25 miles of water between her and any foreign foe, England started in at once to become a nation of shop-keepers, as Napoleon scornfully called her before his imperial eagle was winged by her silver bullets. At the same time, the yellow and white metals of the New World were flooding Europe with money, and the tradesmen of London succeeded in draining much of it into their coffers.
Money became the new standard and badge of English success, in place of land and serfs. The once despised money-makers suddenly rose to wealth and power. Not the King or the upper class, but that newly enriched middle class became the patron, the financial backer of American colonization. From it also came the leaders of the colonies.
A few speculators, merely taking a flier in America, were the instruments for establishing the first English colony. They had seen the newly organized East India Company cleaning up a 100 percent profit, and they incorporated themselves as the London Company, with a royal grant that gave the corporation the ownership of Virginia. That name then covered all the unoccupied country between the Spanish in Florida and the French in Canada. It also embraced everything from sea to sea, but this was yet supposed to be a matter of only a hundred miles or so.
Besides that newly-risen middle class in England, another class arose on the ruins of feudalism just in time to do the hewing, digging, building and peopling of the colonies. Please mark that point, for upon it turned the history of the New World. Private capital established the English colonies and a free people colonized them. Individual initiative, self government and democracy won the race for the English-speaking settlers.
Spain and France were without a supply of free labor to export to their colonies, because their masses still were tied down in serfage. French America was lost, at last, because it had to depend on the Indians to defend it against the overwhelming numbers of the English colonists. And Spanish America remains today more Indian than Spanish.
Yet all this was undreamed of in the philosophy of the 105 Englishmen aboard the Susan Constant of 100 tons, the Goodspeed of 40 tons and the Discovery of 20 tons, as they sailed, of an April day in 1607, between the Capes of Virginia, which they named for Henry, Prince of Wales, and for his brother who was to be King Charles I. Onward the three little cockle shells fared into that noble highway, Hampton Roads.
After 37 days at sea, the ship's weary voyagers gave to a big of land, which came out to welcome them, that most restful of our geographical names, Point Comfort, which has been made still more inviting by the prefix Old. The next jutting shore was yet to take from Christopher Newport, commander of the fleet, that strangest and most puzzling of our place names—Newport News.
Into and up the James River, the boats wound their course for 30 miles, until they came to a little peninsula, where they tied up to trees on the bank, and their crew and passengers jumped ashore from their cramped quarters. As they stretched their legs and looked about them, they recked not that they were founders of an empire and planters of a republic. They had come, like the Spanish before them, only to pick up gold on the strand, and, like the French, to find a short cut to the spices and riches of the East. How little do men ever glimpse the purpose that is using them for its tools!
James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 15, 1927, p. 14