When it shall please God to send you on the coast of Virginia, you shall do your best endeavors to find out a safe port in the entrance of some navigable river, making choice of such an one as runneth farthest into the land, and if you happen to discover divers portable rivers, and among them any one that hath two main branches, if the difference be not great, make a choice of that which bendeth most towards thee northwest, for that way you shall soonest find the other sea.”
What an insight into the situation of those who first came to Virginia we have in this first item of the “Instructions by Way of Advice,” given by the Virginia council, in London, to the outgoing colonists! Virginia was little more than a name for a vast unknown region, extending from South Carolina to Canada.
Truly these voyagers “Went out, not knowing whither they went.” Where they will land, what they will find, what coasts, what bays and rivers; how broad the land will be, how far away, when they land, it will still be to the long-sought “other sea.” all is unknown.
This was in December, 1606.
The two companies which had undertaken to colonize Virginia were enthusiastic in their work. Already the Northern Company had sent out one ship in the previous August (1606), and of course she had not been heard from. In fact, she never reached Virginia at all, but fell in with a Spanish fleet in the West Indies and was taken, and most of her officers and men were even then in Spanish prisons. Also, in the following June two other ships were sent out by the Northern Company. They reached “Virginia,” away up on the Kennebec river, in Maine, where, after much suffering and many deaths, the colony was frozen out, those who survived returning to England.
The three ships which came to Jamestown came out between these two disastrous ventures, being sent out by the First, or London Company. On December 19, 1606 (O. S.), they set sail with between one hundred and forty and one hundred and fifty colonists; and with the exception of short stops in the Canaries and in the West Indies, they were in the ships until April 26, 1607 (O. S.). For six weeks they were held by unprosperous winds in sight of England; and then it was that we first hear of the character and influence of their pastor, the Reverend Robert Hunt.
As we have seen in the last paper, the far-sighted Christian statesmen and patriots who planned and sustained this first permanent English colony in America were most careful to make full provision for the religious status and spiritual needs of the colony. There could be no question as to the religion.
The recent Romish Gunpowder Plot to blow up the King and the Protestant House of Parliament was yet fresh in all memories. England was enthusiastically Protestant, and Protestantism was practically undivided, and united in the Church of England.
For their pastor Smith records that the Archbishop (Bancroft) of Canterbury appointed the Rev. Richard Hakluyt, the historian of English voyages of discovery, to be minister to the Colony, and that by the authority of Hakluyt the Rev. Robert Hunt was sent out.
“Master Edward Maria Wingfield” speaks as if the choice of Hunt to be their minister had rested with him. “For my first work (which was to make a right choice of a spiritual pastor) I appeal to the remembrance of my Lord of Canterbury, his Grace, who gave me very gracious audience in my request. And the World knoweth Whom I took with me [I. e., Hunt]; truly, in my opinion, a man not any waie to be touched with the rebellious humors of a Popish spirit nor blemished with the least suspicion of a factious schismatic, whereof I had a speciall care.”
Whoever chose him, all agree in praising him. Smith calls him “an honest, religious, courageous divine; during whose life our factions were oft qualified, and our wants and greatest extremities so comforted that they seemed easie in comparrison of what we endured after his memorable death.”
Again it is recorded of him that during the six weeks the ships were kept in sight of England, “All which time Master Hunt, our preacher, was so weake and sick, that few expected his recovery. Yet, although he were but twentie myles from his habitation (the time we were in the Downs), [from which we infer that his home must have been in Kent], and notwithstanding the stormy weather, nor the scandalous imputations (of some few, little better than Atheists, of the greatest ranke among us) suggested against him, 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 godlesse foes, whose disastrous designes (could they have prevailed) had even then overthrowne the business, so many discontents did then arise, had he not, with the water of patience and his godly exhortations (but chiefly through his true devoted examples) quenched those flames of envie and dissention.”
We cannot follow the long and trying voyage (they were eighteen weeks and two days on the way). But after they had left the West Indies “in search of Virginia,” they were caught in a “vehement tempest,” and driven helplessly on beyond their reckoning, so that some even “desired to bear up the helme and return to England than make further search.” * * * “But God, the guide of all good actions, forcing them by an extreme storme to Hull [drive helplessly] all night, did drive them by His providence to their desired port beyond all expectation, for never any of them had seen that coast.”
On Sunday morning early, the 26th of April, corresponding to the 6th of May, as the calendar is now corrected, they entered Chesapeake Bay, and landed on the southern shore.
Our first sight of Virginia, through the eyes of these storm-tossed and cabin-bound colonists, is like a dream of fairyland. It was our most charming season-the early days of May. They wandered on the shore of what is now Princess Anne county, and found, as young Percy, of Northumberland, records, “faire meddowes and goodly tall trees, with such fresh waters running through the woods as I was almost ravished at the sight thereof.”
It was the Third Sunday after Easter, and if on the ships or on the shore that day the service was read, as it is probable that it was, the appropriateness of the Epistle for the day, beginning with 1 Peter 2: 11, and warning them “as strangers and pilgrims,” to practice self-discipline, to submit to authority, and live in love, must have impressed those who heard it.
To this same point they returned three days later, on Wednesday, April 29th, the day after they had found the channel at Old Point, and knew that they could enter the river. Then, after the revered fashion of old Christian explorers and discoverers, they set up a cross at the spot of their first landing, and called that place Cape Henry.
After two weeks of exploration and examination, of which an interesting account is given by George Percy, they finally determined upon an island adjacent to the north bank of the river and forty miles from its mouth. This was selected as their “seating place,” and for three very good reasons: It was sufficiently removed from the sea, and so less liable to attack from outside enemies; it was an island, (and large enough for their purposes, being two and three-quarter miles long), and so afforded better protection from the natives; and there was a channel of six fathoms of water near enough to the shore for their ships to be moored to the trees, thus affording additional protection and an easy landing.
To this place they came on May 13th, and the next day, Thursday, 14th, all hands were brought ashore and set to clearing ground for their settlement and making ready timber for their stockade fort. This stockade was triangular, “having bulwarks at each corner like a half-moon, and four or five pieces of artillery mounted in them.” The side next the river was 420 feet long and the two other sides each 300 feet long. A road ran all around on the inside next the stockade, and next to the road and facing inwards were the cabins occupied by the colonists. In the open space in the middle of the triangle stood the guard-house, the store-house, and when it was built, which was within a few weeks, the church. The settlement was at the upper or western end of the island.
“Now to quote Captain Smith, “because I have spoke so much of the body, give me leave to say somewhat of the soule; and the rather because I have been 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 amisse to satisfie their demands, it being the mother of all our Plantations, intreating pride to spare laughter to understand her simple beginnings and proceedings.
“When we first went to Virginia I well remember we did hang an awning (which is a old saile) to three or four trees, to shadow us from the sunne; our walles were rales of wood; our seats unhewed trees till we cut plankes; our Pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees. In foule weather we shifted into an old rotten tent; for we had a few better, and this came by way of adventure for new.
“This was our church till we built a homely thing like a barne, set upon cratchets, covered with rafts, sedge and earth; so was the walls. The best of our houses [were] of like curiosity; but the most part far much worse workmanship, that neither could well defend [from] wind nor raine. 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 Sundaies we continued two or three years after till our preachers came,”-that is, the next preacher to come after the death of Mr. Hunt.”
Here is a true picture of the beginning of Church life in America. The pioneers, working in summer heat, building a fort, clearing ground, planting corn, getting out clapboard and specimens of timber to send back to England, with sassafras roots and other crude products of the land.
Sunday comes, and they leave their tools, but still taking their arms, they gather under the “old saile” to shadow them from the sun while they hear the familiar words of Common Prayer, and the cheering exhortations of their man of God.
There, doubtless, the first celebration of the Holy Communion was held on Sunday, the 21st of June, 1607, corresponding to July 1st in our calendar. It was the Third Sunday after Trinity; and the next day the ships were going back to England. Note again the appropriateness of the Epistle-1 Peter 5: 5, etc.: “All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace unto 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.”
This probably continued for some weeks, and then was built the first church building of the Church of England in America-the “homely thing like a barne, set upon cratchets, covered with rafts, sedge and earth.”
Soon the sickly season of August and September was upon these unacclimated men, and they died like sheep. Twenty-one deaths are recorded between August 5th and September 6th alone. Provisions were also running short. There were but two gallons of wine left, and this the President reserved for the Communion Table. Mr. George Percy describes this wretchedness: “There were never Englishmen left in a foreigne countrey in such miseries as we were in this new discovered Virginia. Wee watched every three nights, lying on the bare cold ground, what weather so ever came, and warded all the next day; which brought our men to be most feeble wretches. Our food was but a small can of barlie sod in water to five men a day. Our drink cold water taken out of the river; which was at a flood verie salt, and at a 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 bulwarkes upon any occasion. If it had not pleased God to put a terrour in the Savages’ hearts we had all perished by those wild and cruell Pagans.” Such was the first church and congregation at Jamestown.
This poor little building of logs, covered with turf and sedges, lasted only about six months. Early in January, 1608, just after Newport’s return from England, bringing supplies of men and provisions, the town caught fire and the reed thatching of the huts and church made a fire “so fierce as it burned their pallizadoes (although 10 or 12 yarde distant) with their armes, bedding, apparel and much private provision. Good Master Hunt, our preacher, lost all his library, and all that he had but the clothes on his backe, yet [did] none ever see him repine at his losse.” Newport came to their help, and while the men were repairing the storehouse and other buildings, Newport’s mariners rebuilt the church, probably on the site of the old one; and this is the second church built, and like the first, it was a hurriedly-constructed and poor affair.
Just about a year from the time it was built this church witnessed the first marriage in Virginia, which took place about Christmas, 1608, or January, 1609, when John Laydon, a laborer, who had come over in 1607, married Anne Burras, the maidservant of Mistress Forrest. They had arrived about October, 1608. This lady and her maid are the first women whose names are mentioned in the lists of emigrants.
This little church must also have seen the last offices performed for that faithful man of God, “Good Maister Hunt.” The time of his death is not recorded, but it can hardly have been later than the winter of 1608-9. Doubtless his remains rest in the bosom of Old Virginia at Jamestown, among the hundreds and hundreds whose lives were laid down in her foundation.
These two churches are the only ones which captain John Smith knew in Virginia, for he returned to England in October, 1609. Hunt had then been already some months dead.
It witnessed the horrible “starving time” of the winter and spring of 1609-10, and saw the abandonment of Jamestown in June, 1610,
when Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers found the Colony at the last gasp, and took them aboard their ships to carry them back to England-a bitter trial after all that had been endured. And evidently it was God’s will that Virginia should be tried, but it was not His will that she should be abandoned. When the ships were actually going down the river, word came to them that Lord De la Warr was lying at Old Point Comfort with abundant reinforcements and supplies. Virginia was not abandoned, but rescued in the nick of time. With the coming of Lord De la Warr and a well-selected company of emigrants, a new and more hopeful era opened for the Colony. As for the church, although only two and a half years old, it was already in very bad condition. But De la Warr, a deeply pious man, took much pains in repairing it. Strachey gives a bright picture of the church and its worshippers: “The Captaine General hath given order for the repairing of [the church] and at this instant many hands are about it. It is in length three score foote, in breadth twenty-foure, and shall have a chancell in it of cedar, with faire 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 canoa, with two bels at the West end. It is so cast as to be very light within, and the Lord Governour and Captaine General doth cause it to be kept passing sweete, 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 a bell about ten of the clocke each man addresseth himself to prayers, and so at foure of the clocke before supper. Every Sunday when the Lord Governour and Captaine General goeth to church he is accompanied with all the Counsailers, Captaines and other Officers, and all the Gentlemen, with a guard of Halberdiers, in his Lordship’s Livery, faire red cloakes, to the number of fifty, both on each side, and behind him: and being in the church his Lordship hath his seat in the Quier, in a green velvet chair, with a cloath, with a velvet cushion spread on a table before him on which he kneeleth, and on each side sit the Counsel, Captaines and officers, each in their place, and when he returneth home again he is waited on to his house in the same manner.”
Here is great punctilio and formality; but withal De la Warr, Somers and Gates were men of profound piety. Religion was not a matter of ceremonies and services with them, but was the foundation of their lives. They were of the sort that “next to God loved a good fight,” but they loved both truly, and God was ever first.
As for the two ministers who took their turns at Jamestown in those days, one was the Reverend Richard Buck, who had come with Sir Thomas Gates. He was an Oxford man and “an able and painful preacher.” He served the church at Jamestown at least eleven years, and maybe longer, and died in Virginia. He seems to have been of a Puritanical turn of mind, for he called his children, successively, Mara, Gershom, Benoni, and Peleg. The other minister must have come with Lord De la Warr, and his name is not given, but he is thought to have been the Rev. William Mease, who came at this time, and was in Virginia a number of years, being in Elizabeth City parish in 1615. This church, which Newport built and Lord De la Warr renovated, was of course built of wood; and in it, in April, 1614, Pocahontas was married to John Rolfe, probably by Mr. Buck. It is, more probable that Pocahontas was baptized at Henrico by the Rev. Mr. Whitaker, as she seems to have lived there with Sir Thomas Dale at the time of her conversion.
In 1617 Captain Argall arrived in Jamestown, and served as deputy governor. He found the church which De la Warr had renovated again in ruins, and services being conducted in a storehouse. Some time during his tenure of office-i. e., between 1617 and 1619, a new church was built at Jamestown, “wholly at the charge of the inhabitants of that cittie, of timber, being fifty foot in length and twenty foot in breadth”; and this time the site was removed, and the new church was placed to the eastward of the old stockade (outside of it) and in the midst of or adjacent to the rueful graveyard, where so many victims of hunger, heat, cold, fever, and massacre lay buried. It was erected upon a slender cobblestone and brick foundation, only the length of one brick in thickness. This foundation was discovered by the careful explorations of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1891, and lies within the foundations of the next building, that is, of the one the tower of which is now standing. This slender foundation of the church, built between 1617 and 1619, is the oldest structure which has been discovered at Jamestown. It was within this little building that the first House of Burgesses met in July, 1619-the first representative body of English lawmakers to assemble in America. And “forasmuche as men’s affaires doe 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 santifie all our proceedings to His own glory and the good of the Plantation.” Then the small, but august body of Burgesses was organized, and the first laws passed in America by a representative body were then enacted for the regulation both of the Church and of the State.
How long this little building, the third church, lasted and was used, we do not know, but in 1639, January 18th, the statement is made in a letter from the Governor, Sir John Harvey, and the Council in Virginia, to the Privy Council in London, that “Such hath bene our In devour herein, that out of our owne purses we have largely contributed to the building of a brick church, and both masters of ships, and others of the ablest Planters have liberally by our persuasion under writt to this worke.” As this letter was dated January 18th, it may be that the church was finished that year, but there is no definite statement as to this.
The same letter makes mention of the first brick house at Jamestown, which was the residence of Secretary Richard Kemp. It was but sixteen by twenty-four feet in dimensions, but Governor Harvey speaks of it as “the fairest ever known in this country for substance and uniformity”. This fourth church, built by Governor Harvey, stood and was used until September, 1676, when it was burned along with the rest of Jamestown by Nathaniel Bacon and his men. But it is most probable that the tower and walls stood, and that when Jamestown was partially rebuilt between 1676, and 1686, that the original tower and walls built by Harvey about 1639, were repaired and used. Thus repaired, the church continued to be used for many years. After 1699 the meeting of the House of Burgesses were no longer held in Jamestown, but removed to Williamsburg, and the residents at Jamestown became very few, and the congregation of the church at Jamestown was correspondingly diminished. In 1724 the Rev. William Le Neve reported to the Bishop at London that James City parish was twenty miles long and twelve broad, and that there were seventy-eight families in the parish. He held services at Jamestown two Sundays in three, there being about 130 attendants, and his salary was £60. One Sunday in three he preached at Mulberry Island, where there were about 200 attendants, and his salary was £30 per annum. Every Sunday afternoon he lectured at Williamsburg to about 100 people, his salary being £20. Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year to twenty or thirty communicants. The population was gradually drifting away from Jamestown, and the minister at Jamestown would serve other churches also. The fire of 1776 doubtless destroyed priceless church records, and the names of the clergymen who served James City parish can only be gathered here and there from other records. I have gathered twenty-seven names, but the evidence of their connection with the parish is not satisfactory in all cases.
The last minister in the old church was certainly Bishop James Madison, who served the parish from 1785 to 1812. The old church was in ruins before 1812, and the last services in the parish were held in a brick church a few miles off on the road to Williamsburg, called “The Main” Church-that is, the church on the main land as distinguished from the island. This church has now disappeared.
The font of the old church and its interesting communion vessels were taken to Bruton church, in the new Colonial capital at Williamsburg, where they are still carefully preserved.
The old tower has kept its lonely watch for more than an hundred years. After long and inexcusable neglect it is now strengthened and guarded. Long may it stand. The principles, the heroic perseverance, the sufferings, which the very ground of Jamestown brings to mind, together with the imperishable fruits and blessings which went out to the New World from this first English settlement, have their fittest monument in the tower of the church which, in the providence of God, was appointed to bring the everlasting Gospel to these shores.
The following is a list of ministers who are recorded by several authorities-Bishop Meade, Dr. Dashiell, E. D. Neill and others-to have served in James City Parish between 1607 and 1800:
2. Richard Bucke, 1610.
[He was afterwards minister of the church at Kecoughtan in 1615.]
3. Lord De la Warr’s minister, probably William Mease, 1610.
4. David Sandys, E. D. Neill, Virginia Colonial Clergy, page 7, at Captain Sam Matthew’s, in James City, 1625.
5. Thomas Harrison, Chaplain to Governor Berkeley, Neill, page 14, 1644.
6. Thomas Hampton, Henning, 1644, Neill, p. 15; Bishop Meade and Dashiell, Digest of the Councils of the Diocese of Virginia, 1645.
7. Morgan Godwin, Neill, pp. 18 and 20, 1665.
8. Rowland Jones, Neill, p. 21; Senate Document, p. 103, 1674-88.
9. John Gouch, buried at Jamestown, 1683.
10. John Clayton, in letter to Dr. Boyle, signs himself parson at James City; Neill, p. 21, 1684.
11. James Sclater; Dashiell, 1688.
12. James Blair, Bishop Meade, Vol. I., p. 94, 1694-1710.
13. Solomon Whateley, Dashiell, 1700.
14. Hugh Jones, Neill, p. 27, previous to 1724.
15. Sharpe Bromscale, Dashiell, 1721.
16. William Le Neve, sent report to Bishop of London, 1724. 1722-1724.
17. Wm. Dawson, Commissary, 1734-1751.
18. Thomas Dawson, Commissary, 1752.
19. William Robinson, Dashiell, 1744.
20. William Yates, Dashiell, 1754.
21. William Preston, Perry’s Historical Papers, p. 429, 1755.
22. Rev. Mr. Berkeley, Bishop Meade, Vol. I., p. 95, 1758.
23. James Horrochs, Dashiell, 1762.
24. Mr. Gwatkin, Dashiell, and State Papers, 1771-76.
25. J. Hyde Saunders, ordained for James City 1772. Bishop Meade, Vol. I., p. 95, 1773.
26. Mr. Bland, Bishop Meade, p. 113, note Main Church.
27. James Madison, Bishop Meade, Vol. I., p 95.
(Source: Colonial Churches in the Original Colony of Virginia, Publ. 1908. Transcribed by Helen Coughlin)
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