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America's Beginnings

God's Plantation - Chapter 1

by Phyllis Mackall

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I … willingly depend upon God's almighty providence which never fails them that trust in him. -- Sir Francis Drake on the Spanish Main, 1572.

It was just a schoolboy's visit to his lawyer cousin in London.

But God used that day in the mid-1500s to drop a Scripture into young Richard Hakluyt's heart that not only influenced the course of his life, but blossomed 50 years later into the first permanent English settlement in North America -- Jamestown, Virginia.

Richard's cousin and namesake was a noted geographer who had become the lad's guardian after his father's death in 1557.  As young Richard was visiting his cousin's rooms, he noticed some books and maps "lying open upon his board," he wrote many years later. His guardian, noticing his interest,

…began to instruct my ignorance and pointed with his wand to all the known seas, gulfs, bays, straits, capes, rivers, empires, kingdoms, dukedoms, and territories.

From the map he brought me to the Bible and turning to the 107th Psalm, directed me to the 23th and 24th verses, where I read, that "they which go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep."

The words of the prophet together with my cousin's discourse … took in me so deep an impression, that I constantly resolved, if ever I were preferred to the university … I would by God's assistance prosecute that knowledge and kind of literature, the doors whereof … were so happily opened before me.

Young Richard earned his master's degree from Oxford University, became an Anglican clergyman, and developed into England's leading geographer. Skilled in foreign languages, Rev. Hakluyt read all the accounts he could find of foreign and English explorations, and he sought out and carefully interviewed sea captains and sailors who had been to the mysterious New World. He then published these reports and letters, as well as maps, in best-selling books. His lifelong passion was to see the virtually unexplored North American continent explored, colonized -- and evangelized -- by England. "Preacher Hakluyt" wrote and argued persuasively on the subject before Queen Elizabeth I, her successor, King James I, and anyone else who would listen.

Elizabeth was too preoccupied with the dangers posed by Spain and its "invincible" Armada to turn her considerable energies to colonizing that wilderness that Sir Walter Raleigh had named Virginia for her, the Virgin Queen.

In 1578, however, she did grant a private patent or monopoly to Raleigh's half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, to colonize in North America. He dreamed of an English empire beyond the seas, but he went down with his ship off of Newfoundland in 1583.

The following year, Elizabeth granted a fresh patent to Raleigh, who was as enthused about colonization as his brother had been, but she decided Raleigh was too valuable to leave England, so he was forced to send others to the New World in his place. Raleigh sponsored five expeditions to Roanoke Island in modern-day North Carolina, losing his fortune (and eventually his head).

As historian William Perry, Bishop of Iowa, pointed out, Raleigh…

…is not only to be regarded as the founder of the transatlantic colonies of England, but also has the credit of securing for the colonists those guarantees of political rights and privileges which formed the grounds on which, in later years, the people of North America made successful issue with the mother-land in the struggle which resulted in independence.

In the charter granted to him on Lady-day, 1584, not only was he empowered to plant colonies upon "such remote heathen and barbarous lands, not actually possessed by any Christian prince nor inhabited by Christian people," as his expeditions might discover, but the lands thus acquired by discovery were to be enjoyed by the colonies forever, and the settlers themselves were to "have all the privileges of free denizens and persons native of England…"

Explorers' ships traditionally carried chaplains, for church and state went hand in hand in efforts for discovery and settlement. It is believed that when John Cabot discovered and claimed North America for the English in 1497, he was accompanied by a minister of the Church of England.

A Master Wolfall was appointed by Queen Elizabeth's Council "to be their minister and preacher" when Sir Martin Frobisher's fleet left England in 1578 in a futile attempt to mine for gold along Hudson's Bay in Northern Canada. Rev. Wolfall was described in one of Rev. Hakluyt's books as having "a good, honest woman to wife, and very towardly (pleasant) children, being of good reputation … the only care he had to save souls and to reform these infidels" (Indians). He preached many sermons and celebrated Holy Communion both on the ships and on the frozen shores.

The first Protestant to minister the Word and Sacraments within the territory of the United States, according to Bishop Perry, was Rev. Francis Fletcher, long-suffering chaplain during Sir Francis Drake's epic voyage around the world in 1577-79. Rev. Fletcher later wrote a book about this first circumnavigation of the globe by an Englishman.

And what an Englishman! Drake, born in Devonshire about 1541, was one of 12 sons of an "ardently Protestant" shipyard chaplain. During a time of religious persecution, the family lost their possessions and fled to Kent, where they lived in poverty on an old ship.

Drake grew up to become the Robin Hood of the seas and the thorn in the flesh of the Spanish king. He gleefully swooped down on treasure-laden Spanish ships and settlements, treated his victims with courtesy and grace, and merrily sailed back to England with the loot: gold, silver, jewels, Chinese porcelain and silk, wine, spices, linen, food, arms, etc. At one point he held the world's record for plunder.

And it was all legal -- at least from the biased viewpoints of Drake and his monarch. Spain and England were engaged in a cold war, and Drake was allowed to dabble in guerilla warfare on the high seas during his searches for the Northwest Passage. Queen Elizabeth even gave him a commission, making him a privateer. Otherwise, people might have called him a pirate.

The queen was one of his backers. After one of his successful voyages, she was able to pay her bills and replenish her wardrobe. And she loved the Peruvian emeralds in the crown he "acquired" during a voyage to the New World. Backers of his 1577-79 voyage enjoyed a 4,700 percent return on their investment.

To Drake, these profitable excursions not only served to weaken the might of the colossus that was Spain, but spelled sweet revenge for a treacherous attack Spanish ships had made on the English in 1568 in the Gulf of Mexico. Drake lost many friends that day, and he barely escaped with his own life.

Drake ran a tight ship, and his men were devoted to him. Divine services were held twice a day. Special thanksgiving services were held after narrow escapes from death, which were not infrequent. Drake himself preached to his men, and he often was found reading Psalms or Christian books. He was not shy about sharing his Protestant faith; he once tried unsuccessfully to convert a Spanish priest he had captured.

The light-hearted privateer was admired by most of his Spanish victims. They reported how graciously "The Dragon" had treated them. He entertained some with banquets and music (he had musicians aboard). He gave lavish gifts to others. And he always provided his victims with ample means of survival.

Drake, ever chivalrous, never killed in cold blood. Not one Spanish life was lost during the many raids he and his men staged on Spanish ships and settlements in the New World during their 1577-79 voyage. Drake worried over the one Spaniard who was wounded. And not even his bitterest foes ever accused him or his men of molesting the Spanish or Indian women.

Drake's kindness extended to galley slaves (whom he always freed, whether black or white), and to the black slaves the Spaniards had imported from Africa to labor in their colonies. Bands of these runaway slaves, known as Cimaroons, were living in the jungles of Panama. Drake first encountered the Cimaroons in 1571, and they proved loyal friends on many occasions, helping him raid the treasures of their former masters.

In 1573, Drake and his men were visiting in one of the Cimaroon's jungle villages en route to ambush a mule train laden with gold and gems. His hosts showed him a very tall tree with notched steps, and led him up into it. It was a historic occasion. To the North Drake could see the familiar waters of the Atlantic. To the South he could see the Pacific Ocean. He asked God to grant him life to sail an English ship someday on those waters. When that day occurred about six years later, his chaplain recorded that Drake fell to his knees and offered thanks.

Historians have praised his patience with the California Coast Miwok Indians, whom he met during his epic voyage. Drake and his men landed June 17, 1579 at Drake's Bay, North of San Francisco Bay, to rest and repair their ship, the famed Golden Hind. As was their custom, they prudently built a fort as protection against the Indians.

The Miwoks were hostile until Rev. Fletcher held a prayer service on June 21. The Indians became awestruck at the sight of the rough sailors lifting their eyes and hands toward heaven "to indicate by these symbolic gestures that God is over all."

The English asked God to reveal Himself to the Indians, and, in the words of Rev. Fletcher, "to open their blinded eyes to the knowledge of Him and of Jesus Christ, the salvation of the Gentiles." The service was concluded with prayer and the singing of Psalms, then the only hymns used in the Anglican Church.

God answered their prayers. The Indians succumbed totally to Drake's boyish charm. They couldn't do enough for him: They made long speeches to him, crowned him, entertained him, fed him the best that they had (including acorn bread), and constantly begged to hear more of those Psalms.

Shortly before he left California, Drake named it Nova Albion (Albion being the Greek name for England). Thus, California actually was the first "New England" in America.

The Indians were inconsolable when their beloved English friends left them after five weeks -- a refreshing ending for once to encounters between Indians and white men in the New World.

Indians in North Carolina later complained that they found the white man's religion absolutely desirable -- but why didn't the white man follow it himself?

 

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