How Our Beloved America Began

Matthew D. Hutcheson is a Direct Descendant of Plymouth Colony Governor, William Bradford (Sketch Above).

What Can We Learn from Jamestown and Plymouth?

November 6, 2020

© 2020 Carol M. Hutcheson (Matthew D. Hutcheson’s mother).

The beliefs and actions of the two earliest British settlements in North America shaped the American character and culture from the onset.  

How do we know this?  

Because people who were there kept records, and we can read their eyewitness accounts.  

Among the writers were John Smith, John Rolfe, and William Bradford.  

How exciting to understand how early settlers knowingly or unknowlingly shaped the ideas from which The United States Constitution emerged.

Jamestown, Virginia 1606-07

On  December 6, 1606 a group of 104 British men and boys left England for the continent of North America on three ships the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery.  

They were dispatched by the Crown to Virginia, the general British name of the new continent named after the virgin queen, Elizabeth.    

On May 13, 1607 after landing in the new country of Virginia, they established a settlement and called it Jamestown after their king, James I.   

Jamestown was surrounded on three sides which made it ideal for docking ships, it could be easily defended, and no Indians inhabited the area.  

This Jamestown settlement was a pure economic enterprise—to colonize the new land for the expansion and gain of Britain.  

Two English women joined Jamestown in 1608. Ann Burras was an unmarried woman young woman in her teens who accompanied Mistress Forest as her maid. Two months later Ann married a laborer, Jon Laydon who came with the original group. They eventually had four daughters. What an act of womanly courage to voyage to a foreign land for an entirely unprecedented enterprise. Those first years were horrendously hard as one might imagine: starvation, illness, death.

Today two statues stand at the historical Jamestown site: one is of John Smith and the other is of Pocohontas. What was their connection? 

Captain John Smith was one of the six original council members appointed by England who became a great asset to the Jamestown Colony. He brought leadership and discipline to the colonists. Pocohontas was an Indian maiden and daughter of the Indian chieftain, Powhatan. While their names are often spoken in the same breath, there was no love interest. Pocohontas was much younger than John Smith. She probably was among those who fed the starving settlers. She helped Smith when he was captured and about to be killed by her father. A story exists about each trying to teach the other their respective languages. John was wounded by a gunpowder explosion and had to return to England. After his return to England, he wrote his memories in Jamestown as well as other pamphlets about America.  

Pocohontas married John Rolfe on April 5, 1614 as became known as Rebecca Rolfe. They had a son, Thomas Rolfe. She unfortunately died in 1617 on her way to London. The story of John Smith and Pocohontas has been romanticized in books and movies. Disney, like Shakespeare, used historical characters as the basis for excellent historical fiction. 

Imagine what the open seas were like in 1600’s. Adventurers sponsored by various countries sailed the waves from country to country transporting people and trading goods while assessing  the possibility  of establishing new colonies. Lawless Pirates looted the cargo of legitimate ships commandeering products or passengers. Oceanic trade became a world-wide economic system, complete with good and bad guys. 

So what happened in 1619?  

From what we know, the black captives brought to America were originally from the port city of Luanda, now the capital of present-day Angola. It is believed that Luanda, then a Portuguese colony, was engaged in a war between Portugal and the Kingdom of Ndongo. It is estimated that about 50,000 blacks who were taken as prisoners from this war were exported as slaves from Angola. 350 of them were placed on the Portuguese slave ship San Juan Batista. The San Juan Batista was enroute to the Spanish Colony of Veracruz when two pirate ships, The White Lion and Treasurer, intercepted and seized some of the Angolan slaves. The pirate ships with their prisoners landed in Jamestown in 1619.  

 Jamestown settlers had not requested slaves.  Neither had they “systemically” planned to base American economy upon slaves as is often purported. The slaves were brought unannounced. Once on shore, the Pirates persuaded the colonists to trade food and supplies for the slaves.  

By 1619 settlers were being assigned parcels of land. Some men asked that land also be allotted to their wives as well…”because in a newe plantation it is not known whether man or woman be the more necessary.” (historyisfun.org)   

The settlers probably were happy for more people in the settlement and must have reasoned that the slaves would help with the growing the tobacco they were supplying to England. Records kept of the slaves show that William was the first African baby baptized in Virgina to Anthony and Isabella, captured slaves from the White Lion.

The history of Jamestown shows the importance and equality of men and women and the active involvement and cooperation of the European Whites, African Blacks, and Native American Bronze.    

Plymouth Colony (or Plimouth Plantation) 1620

William Bradford is the author of the history which illuminates a second British group who settled on the North American continent. These Pilgrim colonizers came to a new land for completely different reasons than the earlier Jamestown settlers. Bradford arrived as one of the original Mayflower emigrants in 1620 and served as the governor of the Plymouth Colony for almost thirty years, keeping a clear and intriguing record.

Bradford became an orphan at an early age and was raised by two paternal uncles. At age 12 Bradford immersed himself in the scriptures and started attending Puritan meetings. His uncles objected to his religious study fearing he would lose his lands, his reputation and perhaps his eternal soul because The Pilgrim Congregation, after their breaking away from the Church of England, was considered an enemy and  a target for extraordinary religious persecutions.

In about 1606 the original Pilgrim congregation led by pastor John Smyth was divided into two. The smaller group headed by William Brewster met in Scooby mansion owned by Brewster. William Brewster befriended Bradford when he saw this young man basically on his own. Brewster was a strong but extraordinarily gentle man, peaceable and pleasant. 

In about 1606 persecution of the Pilgrim congregation by  the Church of England became fierce. Bradford writes that members of the congregation, especially the leaders, were “hunted and persecuted on every side…some were taken and clapt up in prison, others had their houses beset and watcht night and day.” Under Brewster the congregation realized that there was no hope for them in England and decided to move to Holland. At first they lived in Amsterdam and later in Leyden. Their stay in Holland was marked by hard labor and by “ye grimme & grisly face of povertie.”  

In 1616 or 1617 William Brewster established the “Pilgrim Press” and soon began printing “prohibited books” which he sent to England.  His attacks on King James I and his bishops for their suppression of religious freedom caused him to become even more hated and hunted. This difficulty may have prompted the final decision to voyage to the vast and unpopulated land of America where they could worship as they desired.      

As the day for departure approached, the Pilgrims set aside a day of solemn fasting and prayer to see the Lord’s guidance and blessings in their undertaking. Bradford writes that the Pilgrims had “a great hope and inward zeal…of laying some good foundation..for ye propagating & advancing ye gospel of ye kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of ye world.”   

Brewster who was still being hunted by King James I mysteriously disappeared about the time the Pilgrim’s ship was to launch. Imagine the other passengers surprise when Brewster showed up on board long after the Mayflower was well out to sea.   

How did this little group finance such a trip? The pilgrims were compelled to make an alliance with Thomas Weston and another group of merchant adventurers who financed the trip with promise of work from Pilgrims.   Aboard were 41 Pilgrims, 40 strangers, 23 servants or totaled a different way 50 men, 20 women, and 34 children. The voyage of the Mayflower lasted for more than two months with many near disasters. On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower rounded the trip of Cape Cod into what is now Provincetown Harbor and dropped anchor.

William Bradford says it best:  “Being thus arrived  in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean…”

The First characteristic of America had been set. The right of religious freedom, the right to worship and petition God without the government dictating what religion or what manner the worship was to take place.  

This important freedom was followed by another important principle of self-government.  This important principle was established by the famous Mayflower Compact.

 Once the ship had docked, adventurers started muttering that they were going to do what they pleased and didn’t have to follow any rules. These loud and mutinous speeches prompted the majority on board to adopt a mutual agreement called the Mayflower Compact, signed the first day in harbor, November 11, 1620.  The essence of the agreement was that laws consented to by the majority would be accepted as binding by all for the general good of the Colony. John Carver was elected as the first governor and elected leader in America, perhaps being the first elected leader in the entire world. Signing the document were people whose names are familiar to us: John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, William Brewster, Isaac Allerton, Myles Standish, John Alden and others.

That first winter was difficult and sad.  There were many deaths from cold and over-exertion, a power combination of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis, plus mass exposure to sickness because they lived together in the “Common House.” While both men and women died, mortality ran highest among the wives, with only five of eighteen surviving. Children fared the best, suggesting mothers in particular sacrificed themselves for their children. Out of 100 passengers, scarcely 50 remained. Only six or seven were well enough to do all the work, fetching wood, making fires, preparing food, washing their soiled clothes, etc.  

The Mayflower sailed back to England on April 5, 1621 leaving the Pilgrims on their own. Governor John Carver took sick and died.  William Bradford was elected Governor and served for nearly thirty years. The situation in Plymouth continued to degenerate. They were overcome with sickness, becoming weaker and weaker from starvation. What little food they had was rationed. At a moment of darkness, an Indian from far up the Maine coast, appeared on the scene. His name was Samoset.

Samoset told them that the Patuxet tribe had originally occupied the same area where the Pilgrims had settled but had died of illness, except for one person, a friend of his named Squanto. Squanto could speak English.  How could that be?

Squanto whose real name was Tisquantum was born in 1585.  It seems that he and 23 other Indians were kidnapped by a Captain Thomas Hunt who was anchored in Plymouth Harbor. Hunt lured them on board with promise of trade, but once on board, Hunt locked them up below deck and sailed away to Spain and sold them as slaves.  Squanto was purchased by a sea captain, taken to London and then Newfoundland. Hence Squanto learned English. The captain eventually sailed again to America where Squanto found his own tribe had been wiped out by the plague while he was away. He was the only one of his tribe still alive.   

In March 1621 Squanto was introduced to the Plymouth Colony and proved to be a big help to the struggling colonists particularly in helping them grow corn. Problems with Indian tribes also caused Colonists concern. With Samoset and Squanto acting as intermediaries and interpreters, the Pilgrims entered into a peace treaty with the great chief Massasoit which was to apply roughly to all the tribes in southern New England.  

In the fall of 1621, after bringing in the harvest, the Pilgrims decreed a holiday and celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast.  Massasoit chief and nineteen of his braves attended. The celebration was a great success.  It is unclear if the celebration was repeated on a regular basis. However, the tradition was alive enough that in 1865 President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The rest of the Puritan worshipers who had remained in Leyden, Holland, arrived in a ship.  Although they were happy to see their fellow believers, Plymouth colonists realized there were no supplies for them. The only supplies were for those on the ship. Now they had more mouths to feed.

At this point another decision was made which influenced the political thinking and character of America. Up to this point, there had been a common garden and food was distributed among the people equally, no matter if some worked harder than others or needs were different. Governor Bradford made a startling change. He instituted “free enterprise” in America, an action which really saved the people. He writes:  

“…The Govr (with ye advise of ye cheefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his own perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves…And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number…This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave farr better contente.  The women now wente willingly into ye field, and tooke their little-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.”

Bradford continues with this commentary:

“…The experience that was had in this comone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times;–that ye taking away of propertie and bringing in comunitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.  For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their benefite and comforte…”  (Bradford manuscript 96-97)

In Plymouth was laid the important characteristics of the brand new country. It was to function with written laws and elected officials with citizen support. It introduced private enterprise that was to become an integral part of the American way of life and the basis for phenomenal opportunities and success. It laid the foundation of freedom of religion and worship. These qualities seen in Plymouth coupled with those Jamestown formed the skeleton of America and remain important today.    – Carol M. Hutcheson

Matthew D. Hutcheson’s maternal genealogy:

William Bradford 1589

William Bradford Jr 1624

Hannah Bradford 1662

Faith Ripley 1686

Jerusha Bingham 1704

Lydia Robinson 1741

Benjamin Blodgett 1772

Newman Blodgett 1800

Polly Blodgett

Newman Barker

Florence Barker

Nephi Manning

Carol Manning

Matthew D. Hutcheson

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