Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Thirteen Original Colonies

This chapter is given up almost wholly to facts. It deals largely with the beginning of the thirteen original colonies from which sprang the Republic, the operation of which now gives so many thousands of men in-door employment four years at a time, thus relieving the penitentiaries and throwing more kindergarten statesmen to the front.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


It was during this epoch that the Cavaliers landed in Virginia and the Puritans in Massachusetts; the latter lived on maple sugar and armed prayer, while the former saluted his cow, and, with bared head, milked her with his hat in one hand and his life in the other.

Immigration now began to increase along the coast. The Mayflower began to bring over vast quantities of antique furniture, mostly hall-clocks for future sales. Hanging them on spars and masts during rough weather easily accounts for the fact that none of them have ever been known to go.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye

The Puritans now began to barter with the Indians, swapping square black bottles of liquid hell for farms in Massachusetts and additions to log towns. Dried apples and schools began to make their appearance. The low retreating forehead of the codfish began to be seen at the stores, and virtue began to break out among the Indians after death.

Virginia, however, deserves mention here on the start. This colony was poorly prepared to tote wood and sleep out-of-doors, as the people were all gents by birth. They had no families, but came to Virginia to obtain fortunes and return to the city of New York in September. The climate was unhealthy, and before the first autumn, says Sir William Kronk, from whom I quote, "ye greater numberr of them hade perished of a great Miserrie in the Side and for lacke of Food, for at thatte time the Crosse betweene the wilde hyena and the common hogge of the Holy Lande, and since called the Razor Backe Hogge, had not been made, and so many of the courtiers dyede."

John Smith saved the colony. He was one of the best Smiths that ever came to this country, which is as large an encomium as a man cares to travel with. He would have saved the life of Pocahontas, an Indian girl who also belonged to the gentry of their tribe, but she saw at once that it would be a point for her to save him, so after a month's rehearsal with her father as villain, with Smith's part taken by a chunk of blue-gum wood, they succeeded in getting this little curtain-raiser to perfection.

Pocahontas was afterwards married, if the author's memory does not fail him, to John Rolfe. Pocahontas was not beautiful, but many good people sprang from her. She never touched them. Her husband sprang from her also just in time. The way she jumped from a clay-eating crowd into the bosom of the English aristocracy by this dramatic ruse was worthy of a greater recognition than merely to figure among the makers of smoking-tobacco with fancy wrappers, when she never had a fancy wrapper in her life.

Smith was captured once by the Indians, and, instead of telling them that he was by birth a gent, he gave them a course of lectures on the use of the compass and how to learn where one is at. Thus one after another the Indians went away. I often wonder why the lecture is not used more as a means of escape from hostile people.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


By writing a letter and getting a reply to it, he made another hit. He now became a great man among the Indians; and to kill a dog and fail to invite Smith to the symposium was considered as vulgar as it is now to rest the arctic overshoe on the corner of the dining-table while buckling or unbuckling it.

Afterward Smith fell into the hands of Powhatan, the Croker of his time, and narrowly saved his life, as we have seen, through the intervention of Pocahontas.

Smith was now required in England to preside at a dinner given by the Savage Club, and to tell a few stories of life in the Far West.

While he was gone the settlement became a prey to disease and famine. Some were killed by the Indians while returning from their club at evening; some became pirates.

The colony decreased from four hundred and ninety to sixty people, and at last it was moved and seconded that they do now adjourn. They started away from Jamestown without a tear, or hardly anything else, having experienced a very dull time there, funerals being the only relaxation whatever.

But moving down the bay they met Lord Delaware, the new Governor, with a lot of Christmas-presents and groceries. Jamestown was once more saved, though property still continued low. The company, by the terms of its new charter, became a self-governing institution, and London was only too tickled to get out of the responsibility. It is said that the only genuine humor up to that time heard in London was spent on the jays of Jamestown and the Virginia colony.

Where is that laughter now? Where are the gibes and bon-mots made at that sad time?

They are gone.

All over that little republic, so begun in sorrow and travail, there came in after-years the dimples and the smiles of the prosperous child who would one day rise in the lap of the mother-country, and, asserting its rights by means of Patrick O'Fallen Henry and others, place a large and disagreeable fire-cracker under the nose of royalty, that, busting the awful stillness, should jar the empires of earth, and blow the unblown noses of future kings and princes. (This is taken bodily from a speech made by me July 4, 1777, when I was young.—THE AUTHOR.)

Pocahontas was married in 1613. She was baptized the day before. Whoever thought of that was a bright and thoughtful thinker. She stood the wear and tear of civilization for three years, and then died, leaving an infant son, who has since grown up.

The colony now prospered. All freemen had the right to vote. Religious toleration was enjoyed first-rate, and, there being no negro slavery, Virginia bade fair to be the republic of the continent. But in 1619 the captain of a Dutch trading-vessel sold to the colonists twenty negroes. The negroes were mostly married people, and in some instances children were born to them. This peculiarity still shows itself among the negroes, and now all over the South one hardly crosses a county without seeing a negro or a person with negro blood in his or her veins.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


After the death of Powhatan, the friend of the English, an organized attempt was made by the Indians to exterminate the white people and charge more for water frontage the next time any colonists came.

March 22, 1622, was the day set, and many of the Indians were eating at the tables of those they had sworn to kill. It was a solemn moment. The surprise was to take place between the cold beans and the chili sauce.

But a converted Indian told quite a number, and as the cold beans were passed, the effect of some arsenic that had been eaten with the slim-neck clams began to be seen, and before the beans had gone half-way round the board the children of the forest were seen to excuse themselves, and thus avoid dying in the house.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Yet there were over three hundred and fifty white people massacred, and there followed another, reducing the colonists from four thousand to two thousand five hundred, then a massacre of five hundred, and so on, a sickening record of death and horror, even worse, before a great nation could get a foothold in this wild and savage land; even a toe-hold, as I may say, in the sands of time.

July 30, 1619, the first sprout of Freedom poked its head from the soil of Jamestown when Governor Yeardley stated that the colony "should have a handle in governing itself." He then called at Jamestown the first legislative body ever assembled in America; most of the members whereof boarded at the Planters' House during the session. (For sample of legislator see picture.) This body could pass laws, but they must be ratified by the company in England. The orders from London were not binding unless ratified by this Colonial Assembly.

This was a mutual arrangement reminding one of the fearful yet mutual apprehension spoken of by the poet when he says,—

"Jim Darling didn't know but his father was dead, And his father didn't know but Jim Darling was dead."

The colony now began to prosper; men held their lands in severalty, and taxes were low. The railroad had not then brought in new styles in clothing and made people unhappy by creating jealousy.

Settlements joined each other along the James for one hundred and forty miles, and the colonists first demonstrated how easily they could get along without the New York papers.

Tobacco began to be a very valuable crop, and at one time even the streets were used for its cultivation. Tobacco now proceeded to become a curse to the civilized world.

In 1624, King James, fearing that the infant colony would go Democratic, appointed a rump governor.

The oppression of the English parliament now began to be felt. The colonists were obliged to ship their products to England and to use only English vessels. The Assembly, largely royalists, refused to go out when their terms of office expired, paid themselves at the rate of about thirty-six dollars per day as money is now, and, in fact, acted like members of the Legislature generally.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In 1676, one hundred years before the Colonies declared themselves free and independent, a rebellion, under the management of a bright young attorney named Bacon, visited Jamestown and burned the American metropolis, after which Governor Berkeley was driven out. Bacon died just as his rebellion was beginning to pay, and the people dispersed. Berkeley then took control, and killed so many rebels that Mrs. Berkeley had to do her own work, and Berkeley, who had no one left to help him but his friends, had to stack his own grain that fall and do the chores at the barn.

Jamestown is now no more. It was succeeded in 1885 by Jamestown, North Dakota, now called Jimtown, a prosperous place in the rich farming-lands of that State.

Jamestown the first, the scene of so many sorrows and little jealousies, so many midnight Indian attacks and bilious attacks by day, became a solemn ruin, and a few shattered tombstones, over which the jimson-weed and the wild vines clamber, show to the curious traveller the place where civilization first sought to establish itself on the James River, U.S.A.

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The author wishes to refer with great gratitude to information contained in the foregoing chapter and obtained from the following works:

The Indian and other Animalcula. By N. K. Boswell, Laramie City, Wyoming.

How to Jolly the Red Man out of his Lands. By Ernest Smith.

The Female Red Man and her Pure Life. By Johnson Sides, Reno, Nevada (P.M. please forward if out on war-path).

The Crow Indian and His Caws. By Me.

Massacre Etiquette. By Wad. McSwalloper, 82 McDougall St., New York.

Where is my Indian to night? By a half-bred lady of Winnipeg.