The first colonists at Jamestown found life on the swampy tip of an Indian hunting ground by the James River to be grueling and often deadly. The Virginia Company hoped to make a start in this new world that would ultimately bring profits to King James, the men who ventured there, and, of course, the Virginia Company itself. But the coming of “the Starving Time,” sometimes hostile tribes, and sickness turned a dream into a nightmare.
What was it like to live long ago when Virginia belonged to England? When there were no cars, no computers, few hospitals and no free public schools?
Without cars, trains or airplanes, people traveled by boat, horseback or on foot by "shank's mare". The reason so many colonial towns were located next to rivers is that often the roads were terrible seas of mud. It was so much easier to travel on the rivers!
The Founding Foodies, by Dave DeWitt, is an easy-going chat on matters historic and gastronomic in the Old Dominion and beyond. DeWitt dismisses some food writers’ contentions that colonial food was poor stuff. Having attended Mr. Jefferson’s university and being thus familiar with the third president’s many accomplishments, he knew that this common opinion was surely an overgeneralization. Jefferson, as well as Washington and Franklin, were trend-setters—learned men who easily absorbed and promulgated cultured styles of fashion, philosophy, architecture, and, yes, food, derived European trends, especially their French allies.
Besides these Founding Fathers’ culinary preferences, DeWitt also looks at curious historical periods of Virginia history where food, or lack of same, played a noteworthy role. At Jamestown, the horrors of spoiled ships’ rations and the colonists’ inexperience with hunting and fishing made them very dependent on the native tribes’ shared knowledge. They did learn to hunt and fish which was well since the supply ship was delayed, nearly resulting in John Smith being hanged. Desperate to turn a profit in the days before tobacco, the settlers took up fishing on a grand scale—thousands of pounds of salted cod to England and dried fish to Spain.
The subtitle of A Brave Vessel by Hobson Woodward says it all: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest. The voyage of the Sea Venture, May to July, 1609, featured an encounter with a perfect storm that flung the little boat ashore on the island of Bermuda instead of its intended destination, the fledgling colony at Jamestown.
The author is a credible historian (the text is fleshed out with ample notes and an extensive bibliography) with a novelist's skill at telling a story enlived with fleshed out characters, dramatic tension, and pacing that make it a true page turner. One of the Sea Venture's passengers was William Strachey, a writer whose extensive chronicle of the castaways' experiences of the desert island was widely circulated on his successful return to England and clearly was familiar to Shakespeare who apparently wrote his play while the news was still fresh.
Who were these people? How did they survive? How did they hand build a boat capable of getting them up to Jamestown and what did they find when they arrived? What elements did Shakespeare incorporate into his play? Fascinating reading, with an amazing finish.
Anyone interested in Virginia's earliest colonial history ought to get to know the passengers and crew of the Sea Venture. This ship was sent to relieve Jamestown's starving colonists but never made it. The survivors landed on Bermuda, known as the Devil's Isle, where their saga continued. Their story was the inspiration for Shakespeare's The Tempest.
The Pilgrims get the fame for their feast in New England, but two years prior on December 4, 1619, thirty-eight Virginians at Berkeley Hundred celebrated “a day of thanksgiving’ to God as required by their charter:
By T.M., a planter and representative from Stafford County
But to return from this digression, the Susquehanoughs were newly driven from their habitations, at the head of Chesepiack bay, by the Cineca Indians, down to the head of Potomack, where they sought protection under the Pascataway Indians, who had a fort near the head of that river, and also were our ffriends.
By Thomas Mathew
When Nathaniel Bacon rose against the colonial government in 1676, the royal governor and his burgesses realized they needed the Queen of Pamunkey's help to staunch the insurrection amongst their own people. A remarkable first-hand account survives from all those years ago. It details the Queen's emotional reaction to their demands.
These five brides from three centuries left distinctive imprints on Virginia history. One was a humble serving girl; another was an Indian princess. The other brides were a mother, granddaughter and great-granddaughter whose marriages would place them in the forefront of national affairs.
For each, their weddings were times of celebration. The future would take them along unexpected and divergent paths.
Jamestown — Autumn, 1608
Sidney King: "It's a colorful country of ours. I've made it my business to make sure Mr. and Mrs. America get a glimpse of things as they happened." - from James A. Crutchfield 's Tribute to an Artist, the Jamestown Paintings of Sidney E. King