I was taught that the Pilgrims were the first American colonists who arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Pfft! The first colonists arrived in America waaaay before that. Be prepared. This is not the warm and fuzzy story we learned in school.
In 1587, John White set sail to Roanoke Island, North Carolina and became the governor of the first colony. After struggling for several months, he left his wife, daughter and infant granddaughter and sailed back to England for supplies. A major war broke out between Spain and England and he couldn’t wrangle a ship. He waited three long years. When he returned to his family and the 112 other colonists, they had disappeared without a trace. His crew could not find any sign that they had ever existed. They did find a wooden post carved with the name “Croatoan.”
Historian’s theories include being killed by Native Americans or taken to another island, Spanish executions, or they may have moved inland and were accepted into a friendly tribe. When we took the tour several years ago, our guide mentioned, “It could have been an alien abduction.” Who knows?
King James organized The London Company to find gold, a new shortcut to the Orient or south seas, and those vanished colonists. In 1606, they set sail for Virginia. They were ill-prepared for the harsh winters, hot summers and insects. Of the original 104, only 38 survived at the Jamestown Fort.
Captain John Smith wrote that he found paradise, but scientists believe they arrived during a drought resulting in famine which continued for the next 15 years. He bolted back to England in the fall of 1609. That winter is known as ‘starving time’ for Jamestown. Hundreds of colonists died. A few survived by the mercy of the Powhatan Native Americans who provided food.
In the first 15 years, 10,000 settlers arrived in Jamestown. Only 20% survived.
The novelty of being the first in a New World attracted many of the well-to-do who’d never raised a finger to take care of themselves. They had a staff which did all the work in the household including meal preparation, stoking furnaces, the wash, and cleaning. They bought whatever they needed. I bet they were shocked when they arrived assuming someone else would hunt and fish, build shelters and plant seed. Instead of working, they starved to death.
In the summer of 2012, archaeologists made a discovery buried during those first years of starvation in a Jamestown cellar. A human skeleton was found underneath a pile of trash and animal bones. They reconstructed her face and called her Jane. Their findings may prove that some of the early settlers resorted to cannibalism including one that was later executed for eating his pregnant wife. According to the article, they had been rumored to eat about anything to survive including shoe leather.
Reconstructing Jane – AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1621 with a great work ethic. They survived and thrived. But according to this article, there are several myths surrounding them.
There is no mention of Plymouth Rock in historical documents. The rock isn’t much to look at and they probably weren’t even aware of the boulder on the beach.
The Pilgrims settled in Holland first and enjoyed freedom from religious persecution. Obviously, they didn’t come to America for that reason. In the article, Robert Tracy McKenzie says they had a hard time finding work and wanted to keep their English culture, traditions, and live alone.
The Pilgrims were not the first to celebrate Thanksgiving. The Native Americans held autumn traditions. Many of the earlier settlers gave thanks. I guess the warm fuzzy idea of the Pilgrims being the ideal immigrants stood out from the other starving colonist’s stories. Shoe leather. Blah!
We think of the Pilgrims as wearing black and never cracking a smile, but they rocked out, drank beer, and had barbecues, played games and wore colorful outfits. Governor Bradford owned colorful hats, a red suit and a purple cloak. Sheesh!
Do you see his purple cape hiding under the documents? The Pilgrims look bored. They’re ready for some beer and a barbecue!
The Pilgrims have always been the symbol of democracy, but in their Compact with King James I, they expressed their loyalty to the sovereignty. McKenzie states they were supposed to settle 200 miles north of Plymouth and disobeyed orders so they wrote the document to show their allegiance and to keep the King off their backs.
So this year when you give thanks, clear the warm fuzz from the room and toast the early colonists of Roanoke and Jamestown. Maybe someday we’ll find those early settler’s DNA in bones discovered on Mars next to a post that says, “Croatoan.”
Did you know these facts about our early settlers?