Fascinating surprise after surprise! I have been delving into certain, 17th-Century, historical details this past year, while working on my Braving the New World series, and I have found a number of pivotal events and precipice moments that have shaped history (and our own lives) more that we can imagine.
We’ll never know all the many nicks of time, daring acts, and bold decisions that have caused the ship of history to set a new sail, changing course, or who we might be today had that course not changed. But we do know a significant number of those “nicks,” so I will mention a few that were new to me and that truly arrested my attention, in no particular order of importance or even date.
A True Nick of Time (Whew!)
The first involves the controversial and not-so-well-known British sea captain, Samuel Argall. Though the subject of some strong criticism, Argall cannot be denied the tremendous debt owed him by England and America and a good many Jamestown colonists. It all hinged on Argall’s bold, record-breaking sail across the Atlantic in 1609, but I’ll let a seafaring mouse from Braving the New World tell you the story. His name is Ned. Sailing up the James River in 1619, he is giving a tour to a newcomer, a young mouse named Falstaff.
“Jamestown owes a lot to Argall. Only 39 he be now, and his ways has a good bit in common with our John Smith, always makin’ a number o’ both friends and enemies. Like Smith, he made some good and clever negotiations with the natives, peaceful when possible, fightin’ when necessary, strong, smart, an’ bold. In year 1609, the cap’n got orders to find a shorter way to get from London to Virginia. Argall struck right out across the 30th parallel line o’ latitude toward the Bermuda Isles, instead o’ the reg’lar and much longer way down, southerly with the currents, across to the Caribbean and then north up the coast. Argall’s little trick cut the crossin’ down from 12 or 18 week to only 9 week and 6 days. And that turned out to be the savin’ grace o’ the colony.”
“Another saving grace for Jamestown?” uttered the fascinated Falstaff.
“It be true, lad,” Ned assured him. “After showin’ the way on the new, quicker trip, Argall went back to England, and that winter was the turribul Starvin’ Time in Jamestown. No Argall. No John Smith. No strong and clever leadership. The next spring o’ 1610, the poor souls that survived boarded ship to abandon the colony. They was headed down the James for Newfoundland, desperate to find enough food and a bigger ship for home, when Argall arrived with the Lord De La Warr, three ships with 150 recruits, and a year’s supplies. They caught ‘em in the bare nick o’ time, they did. They turned ‘em all around, and saved the colony. It was all due to Argall’s new route. No tellin’ what this Virginia would be if England had failed and given up 9 years past. Mayhaps our history would be on a whole ‘nother path.
My next two examples are less the “nick of time” and more a series of pivotal events.
Captain Argall is responsible for another bold deed. In 1613, he kidnapped Pocahontas. He did it to put leverage on her Powhatan father to release hostages and settle some other disputes. The “providential dominoes” began to fall, with consequences of great import. Powhatan at first refused to act, then only halfheartedly. In time, Pocahontas converted to Christianity, learned English language and customs, took the name Rebecca, and married a plantation owner ~ a commoner ~ named John Rolfe. Rolfe happened to have acquired, on pain of death, special tobacco seeds from someone in the Spanish Caribbean. Lady Rolfe’s many bold decisions effected the Peace of Pocahontas. Rolfe’s seeds, with Powhatan help, established a viable agricultural commodity for a faltering Jamestown. Both saved the colony and British colonization in general. The tobacco plantation culture laid the foundation ~ right then in 1616 ~ for the future American South and the Civil War ~ a bloody, awful war that saved a fractured nation and brought about the end of the institution of slavery in America.
The year following the “somewhat friendly” kidnap of Pocahontas (she was at least well treated) witnessed the very unfriendly kidnap of a young (we assume) Patuxet man named Tisquantum. Squanto, as he was and is called, was taken to Spain by a British ship captain to be sold into slavery but was rescued by Catholic friars. Somehow, Squanto found his way to England and was taken in by the treasurer of the Newfoundland colonization group, merchant John Slany. Squanto agreed to go to Newfoundland to help with the Algonkin (that’s the way I’ve chosen to spell it) tribe of Beothuks. There he “just happened” to meet Captain Thomas Dermer and agreed to go with Dermer back to Plymouth Fort, England, to meet Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Sir Ferdinando was a battlefield knight who had turned investor/venturer, interested particularly in “the Maine.” He sent both Dermer and Squanto to John Smith’s New England to research colonization possibilities. Fulfilling a promise, in 1619, Dermer took Squanto home to Patuxet (Plymouth, Massachusetts).
However, home had died. Squanto’s brutal kidnapping had saved him from the ravages of whatever lethal infection had taken his whole tribe and left his former territory abandoned and unclaimed. Another series of remarkable events led to Squanto’s presence with the nearby Wampanoag tribe when the Mayflower passengers decided to settle at Patuxet, already called Plymouth on John Smith’s map. Squanto then eagerly chose to help the Separatist group and became what William Bradford deemed their “gift from God,” essentially saving what was left of the families.
So, another kidnap and another series of unusual choices steer history in a new direction, also helping to lay the foundation for the future America. And here we are today!
Look for an in-depth study of Squanto’s journeys and his choices in my upcoming publication. As Squanto’s history is somewhat difficult, controversial, and confusing, the book is titled Solving the Squanto Mystery. Stay tuned for a lot more!