Biography of Thomas Dale

You could write a great movie script about a man like Thomas Dale. He wasn’t the most light-hearted of guys, and he ruled with an iron fist. He didn’t believe in fuzzy bunnies, candy or rainbows. Luxury didn’t exist in the New World. He was a military man–knighted by King James I, he knew you had to do what needed to be done in order to survive. If one of his underlings refused a work order, that underling would be granted three years work as a slave instead. If that didn’t work, death would suffice. You were free only so long as you followed the rule of order.

While the harshness of his rule might be undeniable, so too was his effectiveness. He was sent to the Virginia Colony to act as the “Marshall of Virginia” by the Virginia Company of London for exactly that reason. His reputation was solid. He arrived in Jamestown as part of a three ship entourage on May 19 of 1611, only a year after The Starving Time, a brutal winter period that saw the vast majority of the colonists die of hunger. He immediately set forth to make things better. He started by calling the Jamestown Council to order. During this session, he established guidelines for rebuilding the colony.

Before he arrived, the settlers might as well have been living as a pack of animals. Thomas Dale helped establish “Dale’s Code”, or more formally the “Articles, Lawes, and Orders Divine, Politique, and Martiall” which was a strict code of laws.

Economic prosperity was no more than a distant mirage before Dale arrived. He increased the amount of land granted to settlers that had already been living in the colony, while later arrivals to Jamestown would be provided with less. This allowed veteran settlers to markedly increase food production. The economy would become much healthier after John Rolfe’s hybrid tobacco yield in 1614. During that same year, Dale established the production of salt.

These policies worked in part due to other actions: if you were caught stealing extra rations, you were strapped to a tree and left to starve. In addition, Dale attacked the Native American tribes that had once surrounded Jamestown, and helped end the first Powhatan War.

Dale also recognized how terrible a location the original Jamestown was built upon. He gave up the relative discomfort of the old site, and dreamed instead of new potential at the junction between the Appomattox and James Rivers. This location never panned out. He also began to develop at a location that would eventually be named Farrars Island, but that was destroyed by a Native American massacre that resulted in the deaths of a third of the colonists present at the time. By that time, Dale had already returned to England.

What Is The Starving Time?

The name itself should give you an idea of the subject: The Starving Time was a period without food. The New World was a great place for adventurers to explore, but it was also an example of how harsh the force of Mother Nature can be when not respected. The Virginia Company of London helped find enough investors to set off into the unknown, but money can only do so much. There were no maps, no guarantees of success, and no expectations of survival. If you left England, you might never return–and most didn’t.

When you explored the New World, you did so without much help. There were no hospitals and no personal injury lawyers to make sure you came out on top if you got hurt traveling around what was at the time mostly untamed wilderness. That’s why most people who made the journey were only looking to strike it rich. The especially cruel winter from 1609 to 1610 was known as The Starving Time, and it ended most of those dreams.

It didn’t help that many of the colonists who settled Virginia were so-called gentlemen. These weren’t workers. These were a class of the entitled. They expected that those of lower standing would do all the hard labor themselves and that the wealth would trickle upward, so to speak. It turns out that wealth doesn’t trickle in either direction. Jamestown was founded in a terrible location. Clean water was difficult to find, and hunting was mostly unsuccessful. The area was chosen because of its soil, which was perfect for farming, and its defensible location.

Problems resulted with this location almost immediately because the settlers of Jamestown didn’t have adequate time to sow seeds for a fall harvest. The lack of reliable food for the coming winter was only the start of their problems. With at least half of the population useless, there weren’t enough houses built by the onset of winter, nor was the Native American population a reliable source of resupply. The only real chance settlers had was the hope of resupply ships, but the ships did not come. The Starving Time was upon them.

Rule over Jamestown spiraled out of control quickly. If you opted to abandon the colony, you would be shot down by the Native Americans who had essentially laid siege. If you stayed, you would starve. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the possibility of cannibalism was discussed in reports out of the colony. Martial law was mandated.

The Starving Time resulted in the deaths of about three-quarters of those who tried to colonize Virginia. When help finally arrived in 1610, it was decided that Jamestown would be abandoned. Almost immediately after their departure, another ship carrying the first governor of Virginia made contact with the settlers and ordered them back to the colony. After this, Jamestown continued to struggle with flatlined morale, and under much harsher rule.

What Was So Special About John Hancock’s Signature?

American historians are known for their ability to find healthy debate in literally any historical topic, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the somewhat unusual signature of John Hancock raises eyebrows from time to time. Hancock gained even more notoriety after signing the Declaration of Independence first, and his signature certainly seems to have cemented his place in history because it stands out far more than the others. He signed directly under the last line of the document, and his signature is the biggest, boldest, and most centered of the whole bunch. That’s not all.

The laymen might look at the signature and simply conclude: “Oh hey, that one’s bigger than the rest. This guy must have thought highly of himself.” The historians take it one step further than the rest of us. There was no structure on the declaration; you couldn’t just sign on the dotted line and be done with it. If you wanted the moment to matter, you had to be methodical. John Hancock was.

That’s why historians and handwriting analysts have mostly concluded that his signature shows his brazen self-esteem. They believe that Hancock was extroverted, authoritative, and believed himself to be important. They believe he lacked the humility common among other men within the group. The signature achieves other historically contextual goals: because it remains directly below and in the center of the document, it can never go unnoticed. When one thinks of the Declaration of Independence, there are a number of names that come to mind–and a number which do not. John Hancock is one of the former. On top of that, the placement might suggest optimism in the signing.

The signature seems to be well-practiced, nearly impeccable, and calligraphic. All of these aspects imply confidence, perhaps even theatricality. Showmanship may have been important to the man. This is a guy who takes pride in his seat at the table, and he is ultimately confident in the event’s important. Furthermore, his signature is underlined. This is yet another sign of confidence, perhaps even heightened ego.

These are all aspects that normal people could analyze if push comes to shove, but here’s one that’s not: the signature is slanted to the right, which indicates a very specific personality type. These are extroverted individuals. They work to express themselves to others. Unsurprisingly, those who write with a right slant are often innovators. They have bold new ideas and the confidence with which to bring them into the world. Their lives revolve around social gatherings; they are comforted by the presence of friends and family.

Who knew that a signature could say so much to others? Take that to heart the next time you sign an important document!

James Oglethorpe Bio

As you probably learned from grade school history classes, the colonization of the “New World” wasn’t an easy task, and the European leaders could only hope to achieve success by sending their best people. After all, this land offered unparalleled bounty and new resources that most people back home could hardly even fathom. In the form of new fruits and vegetables and domesticated animals that had long since been tamed, the continent was up for grabs. James Oglethorpe was the founder and eventual leader of the colony in present-day Georgia, born on December 22, 1696 in England. When elected to lead, he had no idea how difficult this new trial would be.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of Oglethorpe’s style of leadership was the shift toward social reform. When planning the new Georgia colony, he looked far beyond the wealthy elite back in Britain–no, he wanted to bring the poor. He was especially interested in resettling any of those poor who then resided in a debtor’s prison, an institution for people unable to lift themselves out of debt. While the British may have typically rewarded poverty with prison, Oglethorpe thought a better reward was a chance at a whole new life.

Unfortunately, this goal was difficult to pursue. Not only did social realities conflict with his own dreams to make a better world for those stuck underneath the heel of the rich, but logistics got in the way as well. Restrictions had previously been placed on the size of each parcel of land and the rules regarding inheritance were perhaps overly strict.

Even so, many of the poor were able to establish themselves under Oglethorpe’s leadership. In addition, the new colony received an influx of religious refugees from other European countries like France, Germany, and Switzerland.

There were other obstacles to governing the Georgia colony. The spectre of war with Spain loomed over the New World with increasing darkness, and the British government pushed the leadership across the Atlantic to prepare itself militarily. This resulted in a positive feedback loop of sorts–economic prosperity was nonexistent and military obligations got in the way of already limited commerce, which itself resulted in the stunted progress of Oglethorpe’s goals for social progress. The cycle continued.

War eventually did break out, and Oglethorpe was forced to make ultimately unsuccessful sieges of St. Augustine between the years of 1740 and 1743 to push out the Spanish. James Oglethorpe returned to England after the last failure, where he maintained his place in the British Army. From then on, he continued to seek promotion in the military, and in 1785 he took on the role of the first U.S. ambassador to Britain. He died later that same year at the age of 88 in Cranham, England.

Historic Places to Visit in Virginia

Every now and then, we all get the longing for a little travel under our belts. And at this point, the most difficult thing about traveling (apart from saving the money) is usually deciding where we want to go. What new sights are there to see in the world? Luckily, the state of Virginia has a lot of that covered in a relatively small area. Historically significant to the country’s origins with great contributions through many of the most tumultuous periods, including the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. The towns of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg create a cluster trifecta within only miles of each other, all flanked by the scenic James and York Rivers, each of them offering several sites of history and entertainment.

Jamestown – the first permanent English settlement, established in 1607 under the Virginia Company, in what was later to become the United States of America. Jamestown served as the first capital after Virginia had become an official colony of England in 1624 and remained so until 1698 when strain between the English settlers and Algonquian tribes reached a breaking point after the deaths of Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas, forcing the English to move the capital to Williamsburg following conflicts that left Jamestown storehouses in ruin. Now the town of Jamestown features historic re-enactments of a Powhatan village and a replica of the ships that sailed from England in 1606 that would later help establish Jamestown. There are also galleries that provide historical information regarding the Virginia Company before the colony of Virginia was established and the beginning of trade that would later establish the controversial history of the slave trade in America.

After the fall of Jamestown, Williamsburg became the established capital of Virginia in 1699. It was city-building project spearheaded by Gov. Francis Nicholson in ambition of creating a “new and well-ordered city,” one that might uphold the highest standards as capital to the largest of the British colonies. Due to this ambition, the city quickly became a focal point of culture and society in the Virginia colony, drawing new citizens to it. For the following 81 years, it would certainly hit a high mark. The city’s university, the College of William and Mary, would provide the educational background for several key historical figures, including three future United States Presidents. Williamsburg also featured the erection of the first hospital in the country dedicated to mental illness in 1773. And soon after that, General Washington would lead a siege from Williamsburg to Yorktown, a siege that would eventually bring an end to the American Revolution and bring about independence from England. Due to great preservation efforts from the likes of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and historical recognition during a visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, much of colonial Williamsburg remains intact to this day for visitors to see in its almost exact likeness from 300 years ago.

Yorktown finishes what is known as the “Historic Triangle” within Virginia. It began as a small fort settlement built in 1620 which encouraged more settlers to it with the guarantee of safety. Captain Martiau had been granted land holdings for his efforts, though he died in 1657, and the effort to create a more permanent settlement was carried out by his grandson who sold 50 acres for the establishment of what was called “York Town” as a port town along the York River in 1691. This would later become crucial as Yorktown developed into a thriving post for trading all manner of goods, and its security provided a great deal of transportation of supplies to either side during the Civil War, depending upon who held the town at the time. Today, Yorktown features all manner of tourism such as hotels and restaurants while preserving some of its more aged heritage in museums and restored buildings, such as the Grace Episcopal Church – the oldest building in Yorktown, which has survived since its erection in 1697.

Who Was William Powell?

Colonizing the Americas wasn’t an easy task just asked the residents of Pennsylvania. You couldn’t bring everything over with you. You had to build settlements when you finished your journey overseas, and you had to find food on your own. If the members of the community weren’t up to the task and didn’t pull their own weight, then the community couldn’t thrive and sometimes didn’t survive at all. William Powell was known as somewhat as a gentleman by those around him, and he was a landowner and militia officer who was to play a major role in the new world in Virginia. He would become a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619 and provide representation for James City County in Virginia before his death.

Powell made quite the splash during his time as one of the earliest Virginian colonists. Historians are not sure whether he was born in 1577 or 1585, as there were men born in the same years that bore the same name. What we do know is that he was born in England, and he travelled to Virginia with the Third Supply mission that was comprised of nine ships in 1609. This particular mission was important, as it would help resupply the surviving colonists in Jamestown who were in an increasingly precarious position.

It wasn’t long before Powell was put to work for the greater good.

The Acting Governor Captain at the time–John Percy–gave Powell the charge to capture or kill a chief of the Paspahegh, Wochinchopunck. The band of Native Americans was seemingly responsible for the killing of several colonists after having previously escaped custody. Powell failed to capture the man, and instead decided to put him to the sword. At this point Powell was made a captain. He was placed in a position of power in the small community, and allowed to take charge of the town defenses.

Friendly Native Americans provided a man named Richard Pace with advance warning of an imminent attack on the colony, and Pace went on to tell Powell. Subsequently, Powell was able to warn nearby plantations. Although this action probably helped minimize casualties and is that which Powell is best known for conducting, the attack was still a catastrophic slaughter. Around 350 of only 1,258 Virginia colonists were killed on the day of the attack, March 22, 1622.

The exact time of Powell’s death is also unknown, but historians agree it was either late 1622 or very early the next year. Not long after the Virginia massacre, the then Captain William Powell was killed during a raid while attempting to achieve vengeance against the Native Americans responsible for decimating their community.

Who was Colonel John Lightfoot III

The term “ancient planters” often refers to a group of individuals who migrated across the Atlantic Ocean to the Colony of Virginia with the promise of personal fortune to be made by expanding British territory into what is present day American mainland. Originally under the supervision of the Virginia Company of London established in 1606, many invested coin in exchange for shares of the company or ventured to the colony on the company’s behalf. However, the early years were not nearly as fruitful as the company hoped and, at the end of the administration of Sir Thomas Dale – the deputy governor of the Virginia colony – in 1616, funds to pay out dividends to investors weren’t available. Instead, the company utilized an alternative of land grants to repay investors who had ventured to Virginia, whether it be on the company’s coin or their own out-of-pocket expense. Often, the case was that investors received what was called a “first dividend” of 100 acres of land within the 100 square miles of territory that was deemed to be used for settlement, in lieu of monetary compensation for their investment into the company. Those who ventured across the Atlantic to Virginia after Gates’ administration were still granted land, but at a considerable reduction. Because it was determined that the first colonists had endured the brunt of the dangers involved with colonization, those that arrived after the fact only received 50 acres of land.

One of these later arrivals was John Lightfoot III. Sources disagree on his birthday, narrowed down somewhere between 1646 and 1648. In 1658, he and his brother Phillip were brought to the Virginia colony, supposedly with no formal learning beyond grammar school (this is speculated due primarily to the lack of educational facilities in Virginia at this time). Details are scarce about early family life, but it is determined that he married Anne Goodrich of Rappahanock County in 1681 and later moved to New Kent County where he settled for the rest of his life. The Lightfoots provided for a family of five children, born between the years of 1683 and 1696.

During this period, Lightfoot became the subject of substantial windfall from family inheritance. Between a dowry of suspected, considerable worth for his marriage (the rights to which he would later sell to his brother) and an inheritance left to him by his grandmother, Lightfoot seemed to have managed avoiding much of the dangers of the colonization. He was said to have inherited the estate of his father in 1687 as well. Records also indicate that he had been deeply involved in affairs of state and military and had attained the rank of Colonel within the Army of Virginia.

By 1701, only a few years before his death, Lightfoot had journeyed back to England as a member of the Colonial Council, returned to the Virginia as a tax collector, and later served as Commander in Chief to King and Queen County. He was also partly responsible for the recall of then-governor Nicholson, who had fallen out of favor with the colonists. Lightfoot later died in 1707 in New Kent County. His current place of burial is unknown.

JAMESTOWN: GOOD READING OPTIONS

Jamestown was a brutal existence. While it is a valuable piece of American history, even being more than 150 years before America was founded,  to learn about it as it really was might be a little too strong for those who would prefer a visual approach through film.

Books can paint a picture without so much of the brutality, other than what a reader can paint into his or her own thought.  Books about Jamestown can tell detailed, comprehensive stories from various perspectives, and the brutal conditions can be described in ways that can make you almost feel it and even hear the conversations taking place among the settlers and between settlers and natives. It would almost be like you were reading a journal from one of the settlers, or someone from the outside with a third-person account.

When it comes to history, books are the best way to get the full picture. Many of them are interpretative works, while others are strictly factual and objective (and may be drier reads as a result). But any book, or multiple books, can help bring education about early America and how hard it was to survive and thrive and make America what it is today.

Jamestown has been covered well in the literary realm, and not as much in movies or TV. So if you want to know more about Jamestown, you might have to put away Netflix and settle in with a good book. Fortunately, we have some good examples to present to you here. You can find many of these in a public library, on Amazon or from Goodreads.

  • Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Birth of a New Nation by David A. Price. This work looks deep into the colony using original documents. Debunks some common myths about the colony, explains the actual relationship between the settlers and the Powhatan Indians, and develops Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas and John Smith in more realism.
  • Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William M. Kelso. This book takes an archaeologist’s turn, as Dr. Kelso and his team dig up James Fort and find a treasure trove of artifacts, bones, and structures, some of which was believed to be washed away by the James River. Everything that was found tells a story and reveals much about the settlement and its culture and how it managed to survive as the first permanent English settlement in America.
  • Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America by Benjamin Woolley. Woolley takes Jamestown and expands it beyond the birth of an American colony and writes about it in a broader context that goes beyond America, into Mexico and Africa. The settlers themselves wrote about a “savage kingdom” in reference to its small island settlement on the James River in the Virginia wilderness, with tough winters and foreign Native Americans surrounding the camp.

These are just three ideas, and there are several more that take various entertaining perspectives of Jamestown, to help paint a realistic picture of what our predecessors endured to build a new nation.

JAMESTOWN: GREAT VIEWING OPTIONS

Jamestown was a first and great societal and communal experiment.

It was the foundation for America and its way of life. It was about how to survive in a New World, how to go to work and support your family and help your neighbors who couldn’t help themselves.

It was about self-determination, and the dangers of “it takes a village.”

If Jamestown didn’t survive, the Mayflower may not have happened, and the western United States might still be speaking Spanish. And Hawai’i may still be its own island kingdom.

No matter which side of the history you are on – whether all this stuff is good or bad for the country and whether it is a beacon of hope for others or just another imperialist and oppressive nation – there is very little question that Jamestown set the tone for everything that came after.

But the history of Jamestown has been fractured in the last 400 years. Some of what happened have been interpreted, rather than reported, and we may need to find multiple sources to get the full picture of what it was like.

Fortunately, we have compiled a short list of movies and documentaries that can help tell the story of Jamestown and present it in a factual and objective way as possible. Grab your popcorn and open your minds to education!

Pocahontas

Yes, this is the 1995 Disney animated cartoon film featuring Pocahontas, the Native American woman who encountered the settlers at Jamestown and helped the new arrivals cope with new surroundings and new neighbors who were already in the neighborhood. While specific details are left out or changed for the film, the overarching facts about Jamestown are included, from John Smith and Pocahontas as characters to the ship and the rationale for the settlement. A good jumping-off point for young school-age children.

Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower

While the History Channel made a documentary about the Mayflower’s trip across the Atlantic more than a decade after Jamestown was settled, this can give viewers an idea of what life was like for the Jamestown settlers as they traveled across the Atlantic and first made landfall. After all, transportation options did not improve very quickly in the 17th century, so the latter travelers did not sail in the lap of luxury relative to the Jamestowners. This video follows the Pilgrims from their original decision to leave England, across the Atlantic, then to the early days of settling in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  What these Pilgrims went through could easily be transferred 15 years earlier to the original settlers down in Virginia.

These two films would be great offerings to understand a little bit more about Jamestown, some of the hardships experienced by the settlers and the sacrifices they made in order to settle a new territory that would become the richest nation in the world with the most diverse opportunities for all. It’s always good to see that America wasn’t always the land of milk and honey.

Is The Movie The New World Historically Accurate?

You probably already know the answer to that question. Let’s face it: when Hollywood meets history, Hollywood wins. Facts don’t really matter as much as telling a compelling story that people would want to experience again and again, and The New World definitely fits that bill. The 2005 film was both written and directed by Terrence Malick, and is sometimes heralded as one of the best films of that decade. Although many loved it for its memorable story, acting, cinematography, and fantastic music, we’ll do our best to pick it apart piece by piece and obliterate any respect you might have for this (maybe) historically inaccurate Hollywood blockbuster. Actually, it’s hard to do that.

These are just a few of the most obvious historical errors we found.

First of all, the film built on the already-present historical inaccuracies of Disney’s retelling of this historical period piece. When John Smith and Pocahontas met, Pocahontas was ten or eleven years old. She wasn’t exactly ripe for the picking, and there is no historical evidence whatsoever that these two were in any way romantically involved. The film would most definitely make you think otherwise.

Although John Smith writes that Pocahontas saved him from execution by placing her (very young) head over his own, some scholars indicate that he may have either lied or been altogether mistaken in his retelling of events. Instead, it’s possible that his potential execution may have been nothing more than a ceremony played out to integrate him into the tribe as a full-fledged member. In other words, he might have never been in any danger at all. Sometimes cultures clash and a lot is lost in translation. There’s no telling what was actually happening since we weren’t there and Smith is hardly a reliable source of information.

In The New World, the Native American tribe is portrayed as innocent and mostly peaceful. In reality, Pocahontas’s father Powhatan was more into domination than submission, and that was the way he ruled throughout the region. Although the film portrayed them as violent with the English, that was probably more the rule than the exception. If a nearby tribe came into conflict with Powhatan’s, then that other tribe would be subjected to conquest. That’s the way it was. Yes, it can definitely be argued that Malick’s interpretation of the Native Americans is a lot softer–nicer, rather–than a lot of other movies that present them as cruel, ruthless barbarians, but it’s still a fabrication far from reality. Not everything is so cut and dry.

In the way of complete inaccuracy, that’s really all there is. The viewer, unfortunately, doesn’t get to see much of the Native American way of life and the film arguably focuses on historical aspects that are either untrue or don’t matter as much as the larger forces at work, but the clash between the two cultures is steeped in truth. The visual representation of Jamestown, Phoenix is perhaps the most realistic part, but the love story we could most certainly do without. Not everything needs to be romanticized in order to be fun or relatable, and sometimes history demands the truth.