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America's Beginnings

God's Plantation - Chapter 7

by Phyllis Mackall

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And seeing thou hast honored us to choose us out to bear thy name unto the gentiles, we therefore beseech thee to bless us, and this our plantation, which we and our nation have begun in thy fear and for thy glory… And seeing, Lord, the highest end of our plantation here is to set up the standard and display the banner of Jesus Christ, even here where Satan's throne is, Lord, let our labor be blessed in laboring the conversion of the heathen. And because thou usest not to work such mighty works by unholy means, Lord sanctify our spirits, and give us holy hearts, that so we may be thy instruments in this most glorious work … And seeing by thy motion and work in our hearts, we have left our warm nests at home, and put our lives into thy hands, principally to honor thy name, and advance the kingdom of thy son, Lord give us leave to commit our lines into thy hands; let thy angels be about us, and let us be as angels of God sent to this people … Lord bless England our sweet native country … And Lord hear their prayers for us and us for them, and Christ Jesus our glorious Mediator for us all. Amen.

-- Prayer written by Rev. William Crashaw of Temple Church and appended to the code of laws strictly enforced at Jamestown. This prayer was "duly said morning and evening upon the Court of Guard, either by the captain of the watch himself, or by some one of his principal officers."

Rev. Hunt was successful in his role as peacemaker. One of the first settlers recalled, "he went from one to the other with words of counsel, how that we should love and forgive our enemies."

To seal his success, Rev. Hunt celebrated the first Holy Communion at Jamestown on June 21, 1607, the Third Sunday after Trinity. Smith recorded, "we all received the holy Communion together as an outward and visible pledge of reconciliation." Some Indians observed the service with silent respect, for the importance of the sacrament had been described to them.

The Epistle for the day, from I Peter 5, was appropriate: "All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." The Gospel of the day told of the lost sheep sought and found, and the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

The next day, the ships and their 40 seamen were returning to England, so many prayers were said for Captain Newport's safe journey.

The best account of the religious life in early Jamestown has come down to us from Captain Smith's pen. Chaplain Hunt's ministry made such an impact on the colorful soldier of fortune that Smith wrote 20 years later n his memoirs:

Now because I have spoke so much of the body, give me leave to say somewhat of the soul, and the rather because I have been often demanded by so many how we began to preach the Gospel in Virginia, and by what authority, what churches we had, our order of service, and maintenance of our ministers, therefore I think it not amiss to satisfy their demands, it being the mother of all our plantations…

When I first went to Virginia, I well remember, we did hang an awning (which is an old sail) to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun, our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewed trees till we cut planks; our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees; in foul weather we shifted into an old rotten tent, for we had few better…

This was our church, till we built a homely thing like a barn, set upon cratchets, covered with rafts, sedge and earth; so was also the walls; the best of our houses (were) of the like curiosity, but the most part far much worse workmanship, that neither could well defend wind nor rain, yet we had daily Common Prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons, and every three months the holy Communion, till our minister died. But our prayers daily with an homily on Sundays, we continued two or three years after, till more preachers came.

Meanwhile, relations with the Indians waxed hot and cold.  Then summer heat and sickness struck. Twenty-one deaths occurred in one month alone. Provisions ran short. President Wingfield reserved the two remaining gallons of wine for the Communion table. One-half of the colonists died before autumn.

Colonist Percy lamented:

There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such miseries as we were in this new discovered Virginia … Our food was but a small can of barley sod in water to five men a day. Our drink cold water taken out of the river; which was at flood very salt, and at low tide, full of slime and filth; which was the destruction of many of our men. Thus we lived for the space of five months in this miserable distress, not having five able men to man our bulwarks upon any occasion. If it had not pleased God to put a terror in the savages' hearts, we had all perished by those wild and cruel pagans.

Smith was able to trade for food with the Indians from time to time in the following months, allowing the colonists to survive. The winter of 1607-08, however, was one of the coldest on record. The colonists' problems were compounded in early January 1608, when their church and other buildings caught fire and burned.

"Good Master Hunt, our preacher," said Smith, "lost all his library, and all that he had (but the clothes on his back) yet none ever saw him repine at his loss. Upon any alarm he would be as ready for defense as any; and till he could not speak he never ceased to his utmost to animate us constantly to persist; whose soul questionless is with God."

All sources agree about Rev. Hunt's Christ-like nature. Church historian Dr. Francis Hawks was quoted as stating:

Not an incident is related of him which does not illustrate the possession of a Christian spirit. The wholesome influence by which he was able to control the angry passions of his companions was probably founded in their respect for his consistent piety, and as we hear of no efforts made to enrich himself in the colony, it is not difficult to believe that his emigration resulted from an honest desire to supply the ministrations of the Gospel to the destitute and benighted.

Had nothing more been related of him than that he was twice able to reconcile discords of angry rulers without being claimed as a partisan by either, he would have left behind him a reputation becoming the Minister of Him who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Help finally arrived the month of the fire when Captain Newport returned with more supplies and more men. The sailors and newcomers helped rebuild the church and other buildings. This second church must have seen the last rites performed for Rev. Hunt, who died sometime that first winter. He is not mentioned again in the chronicles of the settlers, and his will was "proved" in England on July 14, 1608.

The learned chaplain must have preached long, learned sermons during his lifetime. When President Wingfield's religion was questioned later, he defended himself by saying he "never failed to take such notes in writing of Mr. Hunt's sermons as his capacity could comprehend." (Wingfield also was blamed for not having a Bible. He explained this by saying that his Bible had been inadvertently omitted when his trunk was packed in England).

Perhaps the most touching of Rev. Hunt's eulogies comes, again, from Smith. He called Rev. Hunt "an honest, religious, and courageous Divine; during whose life our factions were oft qualified, our wants and greatest extremities so comforted, and they seemed easy in comparison of what we endured after his memorable death."

Smith is here referring to the tragic "Starving Time" the colonists suffered during the winter of 1609-10 {??}. Their ranks had been increased by hundreds of new settlers, both men and women, who arrived in October, 1608 and August, 1609. But after the "Starving Time," the populace dwindled from 500 to about 50, who were forced to eat anything they could get their hands on, including dogs, cats, rats, and worse. One settler threw his Bible into the fire, declaring that God had forsaken them. The settlers were determined to leave for blessed England on the first ships that called -- after burning Jamestown with all its "incredible" memories.

Their supply ships had sailed on June 1, 1609 to a glorious send-off, including inspiring sermons. However, the lieutenant governor, Sir Thomas Gates, and the new administrators encountered a fierce storm off of Bermuda. Shipwrecked, they spent the winter in Bermuda building new ships to take them to Jamestown. Electrifying accounts of their miraculous survival were later published in England, inspiring Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

Accompanying Gates' fleet was a new minister for the colony, Rev. Richard Bucke, who was kept busy with daily prayers, two sermons on Sundays, six burials, a marriage, two christenings, and Communion services while on Bermuda. As the English left Bermuda in their crude cedar ships, Gates erected a cross "in memory of our great deliverance." The new ships were named Deliverance and Patience. Gates had no way of knowing just how apt those names were.

When he finally arrived at Jamestown on May 23, 1610, the colonists' patience had worn out. He found the fort dismantled, the palisades torn down, and the gates forced off their hinges.

The newcomers went at once to the unfrequented church, and Gates had the bell rung to gather the survivors for "zealous and sorrowful prayer," led by Rev. Bucke. In discussions afterwards, Gates agreed with the emaciated settlers, and decided to abandon Jamestown.

June 7th, and June 8th, 1610 were two of the most crucial days in the history of the United States. Jamestown was abandoned -- but not burned -- at noon on the 7th. At eventide, the ships drifted down the river, heading for the Atlantic Ocean -- and home.

On the morning of the 8th, the ships lay at anchor at the mouth of the James River waiting for the return of the tide. They were within hours of sailing. Suddenly an English ship was spotted!

It had been sent by the company-appointed Governor of Virginia, Lord Delaware, to announce his arrival from England. He had not been able to leave with Gates' fleet the year before. Gates and his vessels turned back to Jamestown. Jamestown was saved!

As Rev. Bryan wrote in Colonial Churches, "evidently it was God's will that Virginia should be tried, but it was not His will that she should be abandoned." Lord Delaware was well aware of the miracle of the timing of his arrival. In a few more hours, Gates' ships would have left for good, and Delaware would have found an abandoned fort and settlement, a sad reminder of the earlier failures on Roanoke Island.

On the first Sunday after Trinity, June 10th, 1610, Delaware's three ships arrived off the fort. He and his retinue landed that afternoon. Although the lieutenant governor and the few survivors were drawn up under arms to receive him, before he acknowledged their courtesy or showed any authority, Delaware fell on his knees and offered long and silent prayer to God. He then marched to the little church.

After prayers and a sermon by Rev. Bucke, the governor's commission was read, the seals of office were surrendered to him, and he addressed the assembly with words of encouragement and admonition. A new day had dawned for Jamestown.

A deeply religious man, Delaware was careful to repair the church, which was in the same disrepair as the rest of Jamestown. Colonist William Strachey, the secretary-recorder, gives this picture of religious life in Jamestown under Lord Delaware and Gov. Gates:

The Captain General hath given order for the repairing the church, and at this instant many hands are about it. It is in length threescore foot, in breadth twenty-four, and shall have a chancel in it of cedar, with fair broad windows, to shut and open, as the weather shall occasion, of the same wood, a pulpit of the same, with a font hewen hollow, like a canoe, with two bells at the West end. It is so cast, as to be very light within, and the Lord Governor and Captain General doth cause it to be kept passing sweet, and trimmed up with divers flowers, with a sexton belonging to it: and in it every Sunday we have sermons twice a day, and Thursday a sermon, having true [two] preachers, which take their weekly turns; and every morning at the ringing of the bell, about ten of the clock, each man addresseth himself to prayers, and so at four of the clock before supper. Every Sunday, when the Lord Governor and Captain General goeth to church, he is accompanied with all the counselors, captains, and other officers, and all the gentlemen, with a guard … in his Lordship's livery, fair red cloaks, to the number of fifty both on each side, and behind him: and being in the church, his Lordship hath his seat in the choir, in a green velvet chair, with a cloth, with a velvet cushion spread on a table before him, on which he kneeleth…

Rev. Bucke, a worthy successor to Rev. Hunt, seems to have shared Drake's and Smith's happy facility for being in the right place at the right time when history was being made.

He was still ministering in Jamestown in 1619, when Governor George Yeardley called a meeting in the new, wooden church to make "some kind of laws for the whole colony."

This meeting on July 30th, 1619, was the first representative legislative assembly in America. It marked the beginning of the present system of legislative government in the United States; the General Assembly of Virginia has continued without interruption since that time.

In 1624, a year before his death, King James dissolved the Virginia Colony {Company Charter}, and Virginia became a royal colony, which it remained until 1776.

It was recorded of that historic day in July, 1619: "forasmuch as men's affairs do little prosper where God's service is neglected, all the burgesses stood in their places, until a prayer was said by Mr. Bucke that it would please God to guide and sanctify all our proceedings to His own glory and the good of the plantation."

 

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