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Spotlight: Early Jamestown Settlement


We published our entry on the early Jamestown settlement today. The story of the first permanent English colony in America is a long one and so packed with details that some of the most fascinating stuff can get lost. So let me call your attention to this moment from deep inside the entry:

In June [1611 Sir Thomas] Dale’s men faced down a Spanish reconnaissance ship at Point Comfort at the mouth of the James. They managed even to capture three of its men, including the commander, Don Diego de Molina, and a turncoat Englishman, Francis Lembry, who in 1588 had piloted a ship in the Spanish Armada. The Spanish seized one of Dale’s men, John Clark—he later served as master’s mate on the Mayflower—increasing the fear that Spain might return in force and finish off a colony that seemed perpetually to be on the verge of the abyss. But the Spanish never came, and in August Sir Thomas Gates did, along with 300 new colonists who boosted the population to about 750.

You almost need to do a double-take. The Spanish sent a ship to Jamestown? And one of the Spaniards was actually an Englishman who had piloted a ship in the Armada? And the Spanish captured one of the colonists and he later served on the Mayflower? Even the footnotes to the Jamestown story would make good adventure novels.
As for Don Diego and his man Francisco, they sat in a Jamestown jail until 1616, when they were placed aboard Captain Samuel Argall‘s ship Treasurer bound for England.* Also along for the ride were John Rolfe; his new wife Pocahontas (or Lady Rebecca); possibly their infant son Thomas; Pocahontas’s sister Matachanna; and her husband, the priest Uttamatomakkin, who had been sent by Powhatan to count England’s trees.** All arrived safely except for Lembry. When the ship was within sight of England, Argall hanged the traitor from the Treasurer‘s yardarm.
* Bonus fact about the Treasurer: Along with the more famous Dutch man of war White Lion, it arrived in Virginia in 1619 with the colony’s first African slaves.
** Seriously. An earlier Indian visitor, who saw only London and the Thames River, had mistakenly reported that there were next to no trees in England, explaining why the English sought timber in Virginia.
IMAGE: The Battle of Gravelines during the fight with the Spanish Armada in 1588. Not Francis Lembry’s best day but, perhaps, not his worst, either.

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