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Rev. Robert Hunt at Cape Henry
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America's Beginnings

God's Plantation - Chapter 6

by Phyllis Mackall

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Before the end of the world come … before all things Christ, his kingdom profited, and the last enemy shall be subdued to Christ, his kingdom profited, and the last enemy, Death destroyed, this Gospel must be preached … to all men. Further and hasten you this blessed, this joyful, this glorious consummation of all … by preaching the Gospel to those men. Preach to them doctrinally, preach to them practically, enamore them with your justice, and … your civility; but inflame them with your godliness and your religion. Bring them … to fear and adore the Name of that King of kings, that sends men to teach them the ways of religion for the next world.

Those among you that are old now, shall pass out of this world with this great comfort, that you contributed to the beginning of that Commonwealth [of Virginia], and of that church, though they live not to see the growth thereof to perfection. Apollos watered, but Paul planted; he that began the work was the greater man. And you that are young now, may live to see the enemy as much impeached by that place, and your friends, yea children, as well accommodated in that place, as any other.

…you shall have made this island [Jamestown], which is but as the suburbs of the old world, a bridge, a gallery to the new; to join all to that world which shall never grow old, the Kingdom of Heaven. You shall add persons to this kingdom, and to the Kingdom of Heaven, and add names to the books of our chronicles, and to the Book of Life. 

-- Sermon preached before the Virginia Company in London by John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's, on November 13, 1622.

While King James was prodding his 47 scholars on his pet project of translating the Bible, another Englishman was struggling with a far more difficult group: the Jamestown colonists.

The rowdy crew bound for Virginia could scarcely have survived had it not been for the ceaseless peace-making efforts of their chaplain, Rev. Robert Hunt. "No better man came to America than Robert Hunt," a 20th century English historian wrote about this godly man. {source?}

Captain John Smith reminisced 20 years after the voyage to Jamestown that the Archbishop of Canterbury had appointed Rev. Hakluyt to be minister of the colony, but the archdeacon appointed Rev. Hunt to serve in his stead. The reasons remain as illusive as portraits of the two men.

Rev. Hakluyt was about 55 when the Virginia colonists left England in 1606. Although that was almost elderly by 17th century standards, he lived until age 64. Was it friendship that compelled him to encourage Rev. Hunt to leave England?

Robert Hunt made his will on November 20, 1606, exactly a month before sailing. It is clear from his will that he suspected that his wife, Elizabeth, had entered into an alliance with another man. The man is named. Rev. Hunt's heartbreak doubtless reinforced his missionary zeal, and made it easier for him to leave his wife, daughter Elizabeth, son Thomas, and brother Steven.

"In the quiet of his village home this young English preacher had dreamed dreams and seen visions of a larger world," an unnamed Episcopalian writer commented in 1907 in a memorial published to commemorate Rev. Hunt's celebration of the first Anglican Communion at Jamestown. (A plaque was dedicated in his memory at Jamestown, and on March 7th, 1976, a statue of Rev. Hunt was dedicated in the Washington National Cathedral).

The memorial writer continued, "Men talked ever of strange lands and savage peoples, and he yearned to go forth and claim these lands for the Christ. The words of the first charter to the Virginia Company show that others shared his ideals."

Edward Maria Wingfield, one of the organizers and later president of the colony, took credit for selecting Rev. Hunt. In his Discourse of Virginia, Wingfield claimed, "For my first work (which was to make a right choice of a spiritual pastor), I appealed to the remembrance of my Lord of Canterbury … and the world knoweth whom I took with me."

The world may know the name of Robert Hunt, but details of his life remain sketchy. He was born about 1569, received a B.A. from Oxford University in 1592, and an M.A. in 1595. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Edwards of St. Margarets, Canterbury. In his will, he notes that his brother, who lived in Reculver, was a yeoman. This placed the family above husbandmen and below gentlemen in the social order.

From 1594-1602, Rev. Hunt was vicar of Reculver, Kent, "a noble church" that was torn down in the early 1800s. He became associated with plans for the Virginia Colony during the years he was vicar in Heathfield, 1602-05.

His shipmates feared that he would not be able to complete the voyage, which got off to a bad start in late December, 1606. For six weeks the three tiny ships were forced to remain in English waters due to a hurricane {severe storm}. Rev. Hunt became so ill his shipmates despaired of his life.

Captain Smith recalled, "although he were but twenty miles from his habitation … all this could never force from him so much as a seeming desire to leave the business, but preferred the service of God in so good a voyage, before any affection to contest with his godless foes." Some of the prospective colonists, Captain Smith added, were "little better than atheists," but by his "true devoted example," Rev. Hunt "quenched those flames of envy and dissention."

One modern writer has theorized that Chaplain Hunt read aloud from the Bible two hours every day to relieve the tedium of the four-month voyage. Certainly he held morning and evening worship services as the Englishmen followed the long South Atlantic route of Christopher Columbus, another devout Christian.

They sailed down through the Canary Islands, and beyond to the West Indies before starting up the eastern coast of North America. Their destination was the Chesapeake Bay, which had been tentatively explored by Raleigh's expeditions on the advice of the Indians.

They were almost at Hampton Roads when "a vehement tempest" threatened their ships. On April 25, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport admitted that he was lost, and he proposed that they all return to England. The others refused.

Land was sighted the next morning about 4 o'clock. It was Sunday, April 26th, 1607. God was given the credit for their safe arrival: "But God, the guide of all good actions, did drive them by His providence to their desired port beyond all expectation, for never any of them had see that coast."

Being the Third Sunday after Easter, the service read that day, either on the ship or ashore, included an appropriate Epistle, beginning with I Peter 2:11, warning the colonists "as strangers and pilgrims" to practice self-discipline, to submit to authority, and to live in love.

Landing on the windswept sand dunes in what is now Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Englishmen were "ravished" by the beauty of the countryside. They rested and feasted on roasted oysters abandoned by some unfriendly Indians, and "fine beautiful strawberries."

Colonist George Percy also recorded that "the nine and twentieth day we set up a cross at Chesapeake Bay, and named that place Cape Henry" (for Henry Prince of Wales). To Rev. Hunt goes the honor of having dedicated the land to Almighty God on behalf of the first permanent English settlers.

Explorers from other nations also had erected crosses at various sites across North America; however, this service of prayer and thanksgiving on April 29th, 1607 finds its niche in history as the first official act by the first permanent English settlers in the New World.

The day after the April 29th service at Cape Henry, the colonists sailed across Chesapeake Bay, explored carefully for two weeks, and on May 14th founded Jamestown on the James River (both named, of course for their king).

The wooded peninsula named Jamestown seemed an ideal location: being 40 miles from the mouth of the river, it was well hidden from Spanish ships; being a peninsula, it offered good protection from Indian or Spanish attack; and having deep water around it, ships could be moored to the trees growing in the water.

The 104 colonists (one had died in the Caribbean) were not the first Englishmen to set foot on the rich American soil, but they were the first to successfully transplant the fragile flower of civilization to the New World. The Pilgrims would follow 13 years later.

No record exists of what Rev. Hunt prayed or preached the day he dedicated the Virginia Colony to God and king. Perhaps an echo can be heard in a similar service that Captain Newport and a handful of colonists held about a month later, May 24th, when they explored the James River as far as its falls. Rev. Hunt did not accompany the men because it was a Sunday, Whit-Sunday, and he would have had to have preached in Jamestown.

Captain Newport and his party enjoyed a feast with Chief Powhatan, and then raised a cross (near Richmond, Virginia) with the inscription "Iacobus, Rex, 1607" and Newport's name beneath it. Captain Newport's description of the ceremony in Discoveries in Virginia may shed some light on what happened at the April 29th ceremony:

At the erecting hereof, we prayed for our king, and our own prosperous success in this his action; and proclaimed him king with a great shout." Newport trusted the expedition would "tend to the glory of God, his majesty's renown, our country's profit, our own advancing, and fame to all posterity.

Newport described the natives as being "a very witty and ingenious people, apt both to understand and speak our language. So that I hope in God, as he hath miraculously preserved us hither from all dangers both of sea and land and their fury, so he will make us authors of his holy will in converting them to our true Christian faith, by his own inspiring grace and knowledge of his deity."

 

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