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The Awakening of Europe by  M. B. Synge


 

 

VIRGINIA

"The silent ocean of the past, a waste

Of water weltering over graves."

—CULLEN BRYANT.

THOUGH Sir Humphrey Gilbert had laid down his life, his efforts at colonisation had not been in [80] vain. His step-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, now took up his work, in something of the same spirit, though his efforts, too, were doomed to failure.

At this time Raleigh was in high favour at the Court of Elizabeth, and she readily helped him to follow in Gilbert's steps and found a colony in America.

So on April 27, 1584, two sea-captains with their ships left England to find some suitable part of the country with good soil, good water, and possibly gold, as yet unclaimed by Spaniards. The sea-captains, following the track of Columbus, sailed to the West Indies, whence they coasted northwards some 120 miles and entered a harbour which seemed promising. They knelt down, thanked God for their safe arrival, and took possession of the country in the name of Queen Elizabeth and her courtier Raleigh.

The beauty of the new country filled them with rapture. Wild grapes grew in plenty, the forests were filled with birds, the air was delicious, the growth luxuriant. There was no doubt this would make a grand site for the first English colony over the seas. Would the native Indians object?

"Oh no," said the sea-captains when they arrived in England. "The natives were most gentle, loving, and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the Golden Age."

Raleigh listened to this glowing account and [81] decided to begin a colony there at once. His fame rose higher than ever, for he had given to his queen a new country, to which she now gave the name of Virginia, after herself—the Virgin Queen—while Raleigh was to become "lord and governor of Virginia."

Seven ships and a hundred colonists were soon ready, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, who with Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher stood in the forefront of Elizabeth's sea-heroes. After eighty days on the high seas, Grenville's fleet arrived on the coast of Virginia. All looked fair and prosperous.

"It is the goodliest soil under heaven—the paradise of the world," said Sir Richard Grenville with enthusiasm, as he set to work to make the new colony a success. But his little band of Englishmen turned out to be gold-seekers rather than colonists. They lived on food furnished by the Indians, while they made search for gold, until the day came that the Indians turned on them, fighting took place, and the supply of food was stopped. Matters grew from bad to worse. Starvation stared them in the face. Their commander had sailed to England for help. They were in despair, when an English ship one day hove in sight, with Sir Francis Drake on board bringing aid for the colony. With one accord the would-be colonists begged to be taken home, and Drake could not refuse them; one and all embarked [82] for England, and so perished the next attempt at colonising Virginia.

An old story tells us that these colonists first brought the tobacco-plant back to England, for they had learnt to smoke from the Indians. But we know now that Hawkins had already introduced it into England years before this, and that Drake and Raleigh were both great smokers.

One day, the story runs, Raleigh sat smoking his pipe, when his servant entered his room with a flask of spiced ale. Aghast at seeing smoke coming from his master's mouth, as if he were on fire, he dashed the contents of the flask into Raleigh's face.

The first potato is said to have been planted in Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh, though again Hawkins and Drake had been before him by introducing it into England and Germany. And a German poet, Heine, quaintly remarked, "Luther shook Germany to its foundation, but Drake pacified it again: he gave us the potato."

Yet once more Raleigh fitted out a colony for Virginia. This time seventeen women were sent to make comfortable the new homes beyond the sea. Under the command of John White they sailed away for the New World, but again they were doomed to failure. The Indians refused help and food, and fighting took place. The only brightness amid the general gloom was the birth of a child, the first English baby born in America, [83] called after the colony, Virginia. Matters grew worse, and John White sailed to England for help. He arrived to find the Spanish Armada threatening the invasion of England; no one had any thoughts for the distant colony in the Far West. The Armada came and went before anything was done, and when White at last reached the shores of Virginia, he found the place a desert, every trace of the colonists gone, nor was anything ever heard of them again!

And so perished Raleigh's second attempt at colonising in America. He fitted out no more expeditions, and it was many years before anything further was done in this direction.


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