Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Star of Empire

A century nearly has passed since Christopher Columbus undertook to reach the east by sailing west. During this period, the Spaniards have seized the West India Islands, conquered Mexico and Peru. They have a settlement in Florida, at St. Augustine. Every ship sailing to Spain from the new Western world carries silver and gold; and the country of Ferdinand and Isabella is reaping a rich harvest. Trade and commerce feel the quickening influence of the precious metals.

Through all these years neither the French or English have made a permanent settlement in North America. Some Huguenots who settled at Port Royal, in South Carolina, have been massacred by the Spaniards; and from St. Augustine northward there is no human habitation, save the wigwams of the Indians. It is the year 1583, when Sir Humphrey Gilbert, of England, with authority from Queen Elizabeth, sets sail, with two ships and three barks, on a voyage of discovery. He drops anchor on the 3rd of August, in the harbor of St. Johns, Newfoundland, and is surprised to find thirty-six French vessels at anchor there. The crews are catching fish, and drying them on the rocks. Sir Humphrey informs the fishermen that he takes possession of the island for Queen Elizabeth, and that they must obey the laws of England; and if any one says anything against Elizabeth, he shall have his ears cropped, and lose all his goods: more, they must all worship in the way prescribed by the Church of England. Sir Humphrey grants the fishermen leave to dry their fish—a privilege which they always have exercised; but now they must pay for the privilege. Having established English authority, Sir Humphrey sets sail for England; but never again is he to see his native land: his ship goes down in a storm with all on board; but the vessel commanded by his half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, arrives safely in port.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The disaster does not deter Sir Walter from making another voyage. A few months later he is abroad once more, sailing south-west till he reaches the coast of North Carolina, where he drops anchor, and makes the acquaintance of the Indians, who are kind and hospitable. He makes a present of a tin pan to a chief, who bores a hole in the rim, attaches a string, and wears it on his breast as an ornament and shield, and in return gives Sir Walter twenty skins of wild animals, worth a crown apiece; so that the Englishman gives away the tin pan at good profit.. The climate is delightful, the air fragrant with flowers; and Sir Walter, who has a great admiration for Queen Elizabeth—so great that he once placed his scarlet-velvet cloak upon the mud for her to walk on when landing at the Tower—names the country Virginia, in her honor.

Sir Walter returns to England, carrying with him some of the tobacco of Virginia. Smoking is unknown in England; and one day when Sir Walter is puffing his Indian pipe, a servant coming in, thinking he is on fire, dashes a pail full of water upon him, wetting him from head to foot.

The next year Sir Walter sails once more, with one hundred and fifty men, and makes a settlement at Roanoke, leaving John White to govern the colony. Mrs. Dare, wife of one of the colonists, gives birth to a daughter, whom she names Virginia—the first child of English parents born in America.

Sir Walter returns to England, but sails again to Virginia the succeeding year, to find the houses deserted and weeds growing around them. The colonists have disappeared, no one knows whither. Never are they heard from.

On December 19th, 1606, three small vessels glide down the river Thames, spreading their sails for a voyage across the Atlantic. The largest is of one hundred tons, the next largest forty, and the smallest twenty tons. There are one hundred and five persons on board the vessels. They are leaving England to found a state in a wilderness thousands of miles away. They will find no homes awaiting them, no fields cleared, but a land inhabited by savages. Of the party, four are carpenters, twelve laborers, forty-eight gentlemen, who look upon labor as a degrading occupation. They have an indefinite idea of what is before them, and vague conceptions of what they will do in the land whither they are going; but somehow they all expect to make their fortunes, or else meet with exciting adventures, which will pay for all the hardship they may be called upon to endure.

Captain Newport, who commands the expedition, has been in the New World. He carried two crocodiles and a wild-boar to England, and presented them to the king, and the king has lent his influence to help on their enterprise; merchants have aided it. One of the poets of England has addressed an ode to the gentlemen:

"You brave, heroic minds,

Worthy your country's name,

What honor still pursue;

While loitering hinds

Lurk here at home with shame,

Go and subdue.

"And in the regions far

Such heroes bring ye forth

As those from whom we came,

And plant our name

Under the star

Not known unto the North."

One of the gentlemen is Captain John Smith, who is only thirty years of age, but who has had an adventurous life. He was born only a short distance from where Doctor Wicklif lived, in 1579. When he was a school-boy, he had such a longing to be a sailor that he sold his books and satchel to get money enough to go to sea; but just then his father died, and left him a good deal of money, and he concluded to remain in England and be a merchant. He was a headstrong boy, and so wild and reckless that his friends were glad when he entered the service of Lord Willoughby, who sent him to France with his son Peregrin. He did not get on very well with his patron, who soon dismissed him, giving him money enough to get back to England; but John, instead of going home, enlisted with the Dutch to fight the Spaniards, and aided the "beggars" in their efforts to drive Philip out of the country. When at last he set sail for England, he was shipwrecked. Instead of going home to his friends, he went to Scotland, made the acquaintance of Mr. David Hume, who introduced him to King James—who was spanked by George Buchanan. The king had nothing for him to do, and he made his way back to England, went into the woods and built a hut, and began to study military science, resolving to be a general. His friends came to see him in his forest home; but he could not stay there. He must be doing something. So he sails for Germany, to enlist in the service of the emperor, who is fighting the Turks. He is robbed of all his money, and suffers for want of food; and one day he gives lies down, not caring what becomes of him; but a kind-hearted man gives him food, and supplies him with money. This is in France. He discovers the rascal who robbed him.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"You are the villain who stole my purse."

Both draw their swords. Click! click! click! they go, till John has the thief at his mercy.

"Pay me my money, you scamp."

"I have spent it."

The fellow begs for pardon, and John, as kind as he is brave, allows him to go.

At Marseilles he takes a ship for Italy, which is crowded with pilgrims on their way to Rome. A storm comes on. The pilgrims count their beads, and say their prayers, while John calmly looks out upon the waves which every minute threaten them with destruction.

"He is a heretic—a wicked fellow." So the pilgrims whisper to each other.

"He is a Jonah."

"Let us throw him overboard."

They gather around him in anger, and seize him. He makes a brave fight, but it is one against one hundred. Overboard they throw him into the yeasty waves. But he is a good swimmer, and the ship is not far from the shore. The waves toss him to and fro; they roll over him, all but strangle him; but, weak and exhausted, he reaches the shore. The next day a ship comes along, the captain takes him aboard, and in a few days he finds himself at Alexandria, in Egypt. A Venetian vessel sails into port, and a battle ensues between the two ships, in which John makes a brave fight for his friends, who capture their enemy's vessels, and find it laden with silks, spices, diamonds, and jewelry. John's share of the plunder amounts to eleven hundred dollars in money, besides a box of jewels worth a much larger sum.

From Egypt he makes his way into Hungary, joins the Austrian army, and is made a captain of cavalry. His troop is known as the "Fiery Legion." The Austrian general, Count Meldritch, is besieging the fortress of Regal. One of the Turkish generals, Turbashaw, sends a challenge into the Austrian camp: "I challenge any captain of the besieging army to combat."

Many brave men are ready to accept it, but the lot falls on the young captain of the Fiery Legion. The fight is to be in the presence of all the high-born ladies. The combatants meet in the open field, the Turk in a suit of mail wrought with gold, the boy-captain in plain armor. The Turk has eagle's wings attached to his shoulder. Three janizaries attend him: one to carry his lance, the others to walk by his side, and do his bidding.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The ladies on the castle walls wave their mantles as the Turk rides proudly forward to meet his antagonist, and poises his lance and rides at him full tilt; but the next moment the Turk is rolling upon the ground, with his opponent's lance piercing his brain. A loud wail goes tip from the multitude gathered on the castle walls, while shouts of victory rend the air from the Austrian hosts.

Another Turkish general will avenge time death of his friend. That young Englishman's head shall roll in the dust. He sends a challenge. They meet; each shivers his lance; they fire their pistols, but miss; then whip out their swords. A stroke brings the Turk to the ground; another severs his head from his body; and then Captain John challenges any officer in the Turkish army to fight him. General Mulgro accepts the challenge. The Turk comes out with a sword, battle-axe, and pistols.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


He swings his axe, to annihilate the captain at a stroke; but in an instant John runs him through with his sword, and finishes him. The whole army escorts him into camp, amidst shouts of joy, the three Turks' heads being borne by three horses. Count Meldritch makes him a present of a splendid horse, a belt adorned with jewels, and a costly cimeter, and promotes him to be a major, and the emperor makes him a nobleman.

His coat of arms is three Turks' heads, and the motto "Vincere est vivere."

A few days later there is a battle, and the captain of the Fiery Legion goes down amidst a heap of dead, with his blood oozing from a ghastly wound. The Austrians are driven, and he falls into the hands of the Turks, who, thinking that he is a rich nobleman, kindly care for him, expecting that his friends will pay a large sum for his ransom. The pasha sends his prisoner to Constantinople, as a present to his sister. The girl sees how fair he is, and falls in love with him. To save him from being sold, she sends him to another brother, a pasha who lives in the Crimea, on the shores of the Black Sea, asking him to take good care of the fair-faced young man; but the brother shaves the captain's head, dresses him in sheepskins, rivets an iron collar on his neck, and sets him to threshing wheat.

One day the pasha rides out to see how his captive is getting on. He gives the captain a cut with his whip, but in an instant the flail in Smith's hands comes round with a whack upon the Turk's head. Another blow, and he is finished. Smith strips off the clothes of the pasha, secretes the body in a stack of wheat, fills a bag with grain, lays aside his sheepskin clothes, puts on the pasha's, mounts the horse, and flies like the wind across the fields and pasture-lands, reaching the wilderness. The iron collar is still upon his neck, but he muffles it and rides on, day after day, night after night, reaching, after fourteen days ride, the Russian frontier. The military officers are amazed at his story, but help him on, and in a few weeks he surprises Count Meldritch by appearing once more in camp.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


When the war is over, he travels through Germany and France to the Mediterranean, embarking on a French ship for Morocco; but, meeting a Spanish ship, a battle ensues. The young captain fights like a tiger, and the Spaniards are conquered. Instead of going on to Morocco, the ship puts back to port, and, tired of adventures, Smith makes his way to England; but he cannot rest, and now is on his way to the New World.

King James has granted the colonists the exclusive right to occupy a strip of country two hundred and forty miles wide, extending from the southern boundary of the present State of Maryland to Cape Fear. The Government is to be a council and a governor appointed by the king, There can be no religion in the colony except that of the Church of England. There is not a single element of popular liberty in the charter. The colonists have no votes—no voice in anything. Besides being subject in all things, in civil and religious matters, to the king, they are, at the same time, under a company of merchants who have contributed to the outfit. Liberty is not a part of the cargo.

The winds are contrary, and the ships steer southward to the Canary Islands, then west to the West Indies, then north-west to the coast of Virginia. On April 26th, 1607, the vessels enter Chesapeake Bay, and drop anchor under the shelter of a point of land where the water is so smooth, the shores so peaceful and pleasant, that the colonists call it Point Comfort; and Captain Newport names the locality Cape Charles, and the headland on the opposite side of the bay Cape Henry, for the king's two sons.

The Indians who inhabit the country gaze upon the vessels with wonder. Captain Newport (Inlets their fears, and makes them presents, whereupon they invite him to visit their village, where they give him a feast of such luscious oysters as never were seen in England. Captain Smith is sent by Captain Newport to open friendly intercourse with the great chief of the Indians. The man who has had so many adventures in the. East finds the chief wearing a crown of deer horns, colored red, with two eagles' feathers in his hair, and a piece of copper dangling on one side of his head. His body is painted crimson, his face blue. The chief receives him courteously, smoking a pipe, and then handing it to Captain Smith.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The ships sail up a noble river, which Captain Newport names James, in honor of the king. He comes to a beautiful island, where he selects a place for a town, erects houses and a fort, and names it Jamestown—the first permanent English settlement in the new home of liberty. The colonists go on shore, the stores are discharged, and the vessels sail away, leaving the four carpenters, twelve laborers, and forty-eight gentlemen to lay the foundations of a new order of things in the Western world. The gentlemen are unaccustomed to hardship; they are unused to labor; nor have they come to work. Labor is degrading. They are soldiers—adventurers. The summer sun blazes in the heavens like a fiery furnace, and they wilt beneath its fervent heat. Their provisions are damaged; the water is unwholesome. Fever sets in, and in a few days nearly every man, excepting the laborers, is down with fever. The gentlemen lose heart. Death makes its appearance; four die in a single night.

The governor, Edward Wingfield, is a merchant—avaricious, selfish, grasping. He has come to the new world to amass wealth. He reserves all the choice things for himself—the best tidbits and liquors. Captain John Smith, Captain John Ratcliffe, and Captain John Martin—three Captain Johns—are members of the council appointed by the king, and are so incensed at Wingfield's course that they resolve to depose him.

"You refused me a bit of chicken when I was sick, nor would you let me have a drop of beer; and you gave me mouldy corn," is Ratcliffe's accusation.

"You accused me of being lazy," says Martin.

"You called me a liar," shouts Smith.

They seize the governor, carry him on board a small vessel, and keep him as a prisoner. Ratcliffe acts as governor.

The provisions are nearly exhausted, and Captain Smith, with six men, goes in a boat to purchase corn from the Indians; but the red men, knowing the wants of the whites, ask a round price, and will only sell a basketful. The man who cut off the heads of the three Turks is not to be trifled with. He orders the soldiers to fire a volley, to intimidate the savages. The guns flash, and the Indians flee in terror. The captain follows them, and finds a great store of corn; but the Indians, seeing that no harm has come to them, rally, and let fly their arrows. The soldiers fire once more, this time taking aim, and three of the Indians are killed or wounded, while the rest flee in terror, astounded at the effect of the guns. Captain Smith seizes their medicine, or idol, knowing that they will be greatly troubled at its loss. The medicine-man comes to beg him to give it up.

"Fill the boat with corn, and I will restore it."

The Indian is glad to comply, and his followers bring not only corn, but turkeys, ducks, and venison.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Smith ascends the Chickahominy as far as he can go with a large boat, and then, with two soldiers, in a canoe, goes on many miles. The soldiers left with the boat quarrel with the Indians; one is killed, the remainder flee, leaving Smith and his companions to whatever fate may await them. His two companions are killed, and he is taken prisoner. His captors lead him to their chief. He is promised his liberty if he will join in exterminating the colony. He feigns friendship, but informs them that the colonists have terrible weapons, and will destroy them all. "Send and see if it is not so." He writes a note to the colonists to fire their cannon.

The Indians arrive at Jamestown with the letter, and are amazed to see that everything happens just as Smith said it would. Their captive must be a supernatural being, for he can make paper talk. They bring back some gunpowder, which they intend to sow in the spring, and so raise their own powder.

Captain Smith is taken before the great chief, Powhatan, who wears a dress made of raccoon skins, with a crown of red feathers. He sits upon a platform, with his two daughters by his side—the oldest fifteen, the youngest thirteen years of age. They bring a bowl of water, that he may wash his face, and a bunch of feathers for a towel. Then he has his trial, and is condemned to die. An Indian rolls a stone into the wigwam, and the captain's head is laid upon it. Two warriors raise their clubs to beat out Ins brains. His time has come; yet he does not tremble. The Indians shall see that the white man can die without a sign of fear.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The youngest girl by the side of the great chief gazes upon the scene. Her heart is in commotion. A bound, and she is bending over him, shielding him from the clubs ready to descend upon his skull.

"Do not kill him! do not kill him!"

The chief loves his daughter, and for her sake spares the captain's life, and sends twelve warriors to conduct him in safety to Jamestown. Captain Smith sends back a handsome present to the chief and his daughter. He finds the colony divided. There are forty persons in all, but half of them have seized the vessel in the James, and are abandoning the place, intending to sail to England.

Captain Smith loads a cannon, and aims it at the vessel. "Return, or I will sink you."

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The conspirators, awed by the command, return to the shore; and at the last moment the colony is saved from dissolution. Pocahontas is their friend. She comes often to the town, bringing provisions. The Indians who come with her respect the man who had no fear of death, and who can make paper talk.

"In a short time a great boat filled with white people will come from the sea," he says to them, and a few weeks later Captain Newport sails up the James, with one hundred and twenty emigrants. Now the brave man is a prophet; he can tell what is going to happen, and they stand iii fear of him. The new-comers are nearly all "gentlemen," who despise labor, but they have come expecting to find gold as plentiful as in Peru, and are a burden rather than a help.

Captain Smith starts on a grand exploring expedition—up the Potomac, up Chesapeake Bay to the Susquehanna, and up that stream till he conies to a tribe of Indians who use copper hatchets, which they obtain from the far-distant north. Upon Ins return, he makes a treaty with the Rappahannocks, the chief giving up his arrows in token of friendship, and Captain Smith hanging strings of beads around the necks of three of the women of the tribe. After this there is a great feast and much dancing. From the Rappahannock River Captain Smith sails for Craney Island, near Norfolk, where the Indians attack him; but he fires a volley at them, burns their wigwams, and so humiliates them that they bring four hundred baskets full of corn to purchase peace.

At sunset, September 7th, 1608, the party reach Jamestown, after an absence of three months and a journey of nearly three thousand miles.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Another ship arrives with emigrants, among whom are two women—the first in the colony. Two years have passed since the colonists landed at Jamestown; but as yet little has been done toward making a permanent settlement. The gentlemen are idlers, but Captain Smith compels them to work. Some of them are terribly profane, and he makes a law that for every oath they utter they shall have a can full of cold water poured down their backs. He discovers that the chief Powhatan, though professing friendship, is conspiring against the colony, and resolves to seize him; but two worthless fellows flee to Powhatan with information of his intentions. And now Pocahontas comes with the counter-information that her father intends to kill all the English. Captain Smith holds a parley with the chief of the Pamunkeys, who profess to be friendly. While he is talking with the chief in his wigwam, a soldier rushes in.

"We are surrounded by a great crowd of savages," he says, pale with fear.

"Never mind. Look to your guns," is the quiet reply of the dauntless man; then seizing the chief by the hair with his left hand, presents a pistol to his head, accuses him of treachery, threatens to blow out his brains if be does not kneel and ask forgiveness. The chief kneels, promises submission, and also agrees to fill the captain's boats with corn.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"If you do not, I will fill them with the dead bodies of your warriors."

The Indians bring corn and provisions in abundance, standing in fear of such a man.

King James appoints Lord De la Ware (Delaware) governor, who sails from England with nine ships and five hundred emigrants. Two of the ships are wrecked in the West Indies, where De la Ware himself remains

to refit them. The others reach Jamestown. The emigrants are a worthless set—spendthrifts for the most part, scapegraces, sons of nobles and lords, so wild and reckless that their fathers are glad of an opportunity of sending them out of the country.

Captain Smith has been in Virginia three years. Had it not been for him, the colony would have perished. He is terribly burned by an explosion of gunpowder, and resolves to return to England. He bids farewell to the colonists, some of whom are glad to be rid of a man who has compelled them to labor, while others cannot keep back the tears when they remember how his wisdom, endurance, and bravery more than once have saved them from destruction. He returns to England, draws a map of his explorations, which he presents to King James, who holds hint in high esteem.

The colony numbers five hundred when he sets sail, but there is no controlling mind, no government. The new state founded on American soil in a few days is in anarchy. The idlers eat the provisions of the colony, but do no work. Winter comes, and provisions fail. Fever sets in. Starvation is before them. The Indians see how weak they are, and those who go to the wigwams of the savages for food are cruelly murdered. Spring opens, and of the five hundred only sixty remain; the four hundred and more have perished. The survivors, disheartened, abandon the colony, embark on their vessel, and reach Chesapeake Bay. On the morrow they will bid farewell to the shores where disaster and failure have been their portion. What do they see? Two ships. Lord De la Ware has obtained new vessels in the West Indies, and here he is with provisions. Sad the morning, joyful the night. With fresh courage they go back to Jamestown, take possession of their old homes, to begin once more the work of laying the foundations of an empire in the Western world.