Category Archives: Freelance Writing Projects

Lewis Evan Jones Jr. — A Christmas Shipwreck, 1844

The following article is a transcription from a photocopied document of unknown origin. My copy was obtained from D. L. Bond, great-grandson of the article’s subject, Lewis Evan Jones Jr. of Cedar County, Nebraska. I believe this item was originally published, in whole or in part, in the Hartington News, prior to 1901, as it is referenced in another story authored by Lewis Evan Jones Jr., that was written in 1901.
C.H. Jones
Raleigh, N.C.


Shipwrecked“Lewis Evan Jones Jr. – A Christmas Legend

In the year 1840, then about fourteen years old, I left my father’s printing office to see a little of the world. The first voyage took me from Liverpool to the headwaters of the Baltic Sea – Cronstadt, the seaport of St. Petersburg in northern Russia. Subsequent voyages were made to the Mediterranean and Black Seas, call at all the important ports.

The spring of 1844 found me working in a cotton press at Charleston, SC, the first, I believe, in the world to compress cotton, which reduced the bales to almost one-half the size of those coming from the plantations. I had visited all the principal seaports on the Atlantic and Gulf coast previous to this time, and had many adventures. However, the month of June, 1844, being unusually warm, I became acquainted with the captain of an English brig returning home from Galveston, Texas, and called at Charleston in search of freight for England. Here he found a cargo of cotton for Liverpool, and the weather becoming warmer daily, he induced me to go with him for a nice summer voyage, which turned out very pleasant and agreeable. From Liverpool I went to Wales to visit my parents, calculating to return to the US with some American vessel.

Returning to Liverpool I found the English brig Alpha, of London, with which I had left Charleston, loading a cargo of salt for the Russian navy at Revel, on the headwaters of the Gulf of Finland. The old Captain, whom I found on the passage from Charleston very agreeable, prevailed on me to go with him on this voyage expecting to be back in time to go to Charleston or New Orleans for the winter season, where the times were good and the wages high.

In this way I left Liverpool in the early fall, having come from South Carolina, where the thermometer stood at 100 in the shade, scantily clad, sailing for the Baltic Sea thus late in the year, but hoping to make a quick trip before the Baltic closed for navigation. We passed up the Baltic Sea and entered the Gulf of Finland in good season, unloaded our cargo of salt, which, by the way, was a valuable article in that part of the world, the reason that custom house officers searched every pocket on our persons every time we went ashore.

From Revel we sailed down the Baltic Sea, and called at several seaports in search of a back cargo, as ours was a tramp ship. Finally calling at Memel, Prussia, we found a Catholic church, already framed, waiting transportation to Limerick, Ireland. Thus we were in luck, for this was a large church building which gave us all we wanted to carry. Having all the men to load that could conveniently work, we left Memel in good spirits, hoping in good time to reach our destination, and again sail for Charleston or another southern city. Passing out of the Baltic and Cattegat Seas, we had made very fair progress approaching the Highland of Scotland, our men singing the familiar songs, “Annie Laurie” and “Bonnie Lassie”. When all was going on in the happy mood, and we had sighted Cape Wrath lighthouse, the most northern part of Scotland, a terrible gale came on from the south that continued to blow like fury for four long weeks, so much so that we could carry no sails, but close reefed main top sails, to keep us as much as possible to the wind, to save our deck being swept by tremendous waves in which we were engulfed.

Here we were, drifting helpless in the North Sea, in the month of December, going due north, and the days shortening rapidly, until we had but four hours daylight, not a stitch of clothes nor bedding dry, provisions giving out rapidly, until all hands from the Captain to the cook volunteered to go on short allowance of hard tack, which was about all we had left. Our water casks were nearly all empty, but by spreading sails on the deck we managed to save some hailstones which were continually pelting us. It was too cold to snow. If your could have seen me at that time it would have reminded you of Joseph, whom his brethren sold into Egyptian bondage, about every stitch of clothing I had of all shades and colors, were stitched together in one garment, which was about all I could carry. In the same way I had stitched together my four blankets, all wet through, which kept the biting winds from my body. Thus we drifted day after day in the bowels of the North Sea, with no intermission in the fury of the elements.

One morning, if I may call it such, the man on the lookout shouted “Land, land!” The Captain, who had become discouraged of ever seeing land again, said to me, who stood close to his side, “It is Greenland, sure; I did not think we had drifted this far North.” As we neared this rugged promontory we could see plainly that it was not a main land, but some rugged island in the midst of the waste of waters. Consulting our charts, we came to the conclusion that they must be the Faroe Islands belonging to Denmark, and four hundred miles north of Cape Wrath, Scotland. Our hearts leaped with joy, as these islands were known to be settled sparsely by a hardy race of people, said to produce oats, potatoes, etc, besides being daring fishermen. The wind also seemed to slacken in its fury. All our ambition then was to communicate with the people on shore in order to replenish our larder and fill our water barrels. As the wind slackened up we made sail to find some landing place. We could not come within four of five miles of the isles, as currents were whirling, and turned our vessel around several times. At one place the land sloped down to the water’s edge and looked like a small harbor. It was impossible to approach near. We hoisted flag of distress to entice these people to have compassion on our plight. It must have been the late storm that made it impossible for them to get their boats out from shore. Now it looked hard for us poor mortals to come in sight of the promised land, like the patriarch of old, and denied the pleasure of treading its soil.

While in this dilemma the wind changed for the first time in four weeks to the north, blowing about a half gale. Our old Captain gave the order to square the yards and set all the sail we dare carry, and sail back for the land we were blown from (Cape Wrath) four weeks previous. As the old Captain remarked “Boys, make our crackers last three days and I promise you, if this wind continues, to be in some safe harbor by that time.” We all did our duty, as this was a race between life and death. At the expiration of three days, at ten o’clock in the forenoon, we furled sail and tied our vessel up at a small sea port, the most northern harbor in the highlands of Scotland, called Stormness, and indeed it is rightly called, for this is a stormy coast and no mistake.

This was the 24th day of December, 1844, and our Captain, as they generally advised by ship owners when making long voyages, was very anxious to get to Limerick and deliver the church we had on board at as early a date as possible, concluded to get in provisions and water as fast as they could be got on board. Stormness is a small outfitting port for vessels calling, like ours, in distress. All was ready early in the afternoon, and we cast off with the well wishes of the sturdy of the small harbor. The wind had been blowing a gale so lately that the sea was not yet calmed. Our course after we left Stormness, was through and an archipelago of islands, some very small and not inhabited, called the Hebrides. Among this group is and important island called the Isle of Skye. Twenty miles northwest of this are a group of small islands called the Lewis islands. Through the channel between the Isle of Skye and the Lewis islands we had to beat up against head winds, the sea being very rough. About six o’clock in the evening, by moonlight, we got to near the Lewis group of islands, our craft becoming unmanageable and drifting very rapidly before the winds and waves toward dangerous and lofty cliffs where no ship or boat could live. As a man clinging tenaciously to life, the first thing I did was get out my knife, cut the lashings that fastened the long boat down to the deck. Just as I had the ropes all cut I wondered what next I could do, when a tremendous wave swept the deck clean of everything portable, including the boat I had just cut loose, and on which I thought our lives depended. We were now close to the rocky shore and the Captain shouted at the top of his voice through the terrible tempest of wind and wave crashing against the high, rocky cliff, to “take to the rigging”, as by this time every wave washed over the deck of the vessel. I had, after losing the boat, a good hold on the main mast shrouds. At the request of the Captain to take to the rigging, I found two of the crew crouched at my feet praying fervently. I will say here that at this moment, in the very jaws of death itself, I did not think we were lost. In mounting the rigging I shouted out to these two men, “This is no place to pray–save your lives!” Before I had gotten ten feet up the rigging a tremendous wave, in fact the largest I had ever seen, picked up the vessel bodily on its crest and landed it fifty feet above the low water mark. The other waves that came after were not of sufficient strength to move the great mass, lying as on a shelf on the side of a mountain. Another thing was in our favor: the tide was ebbing very fast, so much so the vessel was left above the reach of other waves. We did not wait for the tide to ebb, but everyone managed, some by jumping, and others by ropes, to reach the rugged rocks. There was but one accident, that of the mate who broke his leg by jumping on the rocks. While in the rigging, waiting to see if another wave would dislodge us, I had formulated a plan by which I could reach the rocks easiest. I came down from the rigging, ran out on the bowsprit and slipped down on the martingale, where I had but a few feet to drop. My first duty then was to help the mate, who had broken his leg, out of the reach of the receding waves. Finding that crew and officers were all saved, our next duty was to get ashore and secure provisions, water, and sails to build shelter, for we knew not how long we would have to remain here before we would be discovered and rescued, for this was a barren island, uninhabited, with cold and stormy weather. After the water had receded sufficiently to allow us to go on board safely, we unbent the sail, running riggings, provisions, our clothing and firewood ashore, for we knew not what kind of a home we had. We found 100 feet above our vessel the island gradually sloped off on the land side down to the water’s edge. Here we concluded to build our tent and spend Christmas day. By this time the flood tide was coming in rapidly, and a little before daylight the waves, one after another, began shaking our vessel, which stood there majestically, with her mast still standing. Like the big wave that carried her up to her perch, another came and took her away from her snug roost. When about 500 feet from the shore both her anchors dropped about the same time, and thus she rode with her head into the wind, her anchors holding her fast, while the waves overwhelmed her, and often we could not see her for some moments. Finally the anchors dragged and allowed her coming nearer the shore when all at once a giant sea struck her and dashed her, mast and all against the rocks, a complete mass of kindling wood, ship, church and all, and afterwards strewed for many miles on this and adjacent islands. It was a horrid spectacle to see the noble craft, which myself and the Captain had for a home from the time we left Charleston the previous June (balance of crew were shipped at Liverpool), and there we were in the dead winter, shipwrecked on a barren island in a stormy clime at the time our friends were visiting and feasting in their cozy and comfortable homes. It was fortunate for us the moon was full (and in these latitudes the tides at these times are much higher than any other) or I no doubt would not be here to relate this unfortunate catastrophe.

After the vessel had disappeared we went to work to prepare a home with what wreckage we could pick up, and the sails we had rescued from our doomed ship. Some of the crew had gone to explore the island, others were burning what dry wood there was to attract our neighbors from other islands, and the cook had seen a tremendously large rooster, the only living thing to be seen. Where he came from was a conundrum, but he likely escaped from some previous wreck. However this might have been, the rooster was there, big and fat. As superstitious as sailors are, I had no trouble to make them believe that Providence place him there for our Christmas dinner. This rooster, by some means, had his wing broken, or it is doubtful whether we could have captured him at all, for he jumped from crag to crag, and was as tired as ourselves when captured. The cook was instructed by the captain to make the best use of what was sent to us, no doubt, from above. One of the men, being religiously inclined, was requested by the captain to make a prayer before sitting down to this sumptuous Christmas dish. In this way, in our humble abode, we relished our humble dinner as we never relished a dinner before. Thus we spent Christmas on a barren island, cut off from all the world. In a couple of days, finding wreckage floating about, the sturdy fishermen of an adjacent island, when the wind and waves had exhausted themselves, seeing the beacon light from our retreat, came out and took us with them to their own island, about ten miles distant. Here we found a small colony of ten or twelve families, among whom was a Mr. McDonald, Justice of the Peace and owner of the island. They lived close together and farmed small tracts of land, besides fishing. Arriving there we were treated very humanely by Mr. McDonald. There being no vacant houses he had a very respectable barn cleaned, putting in a fresh load of straw for our comfort during our stay. We resided here about eight days, gathering what part of the wreck we could collect, awaiting the sea to calm, for our only chance to get away was an open fishing boat to the Isle of Skye, a distance of about 25 or 30 miles. When it was useless to stay here longer we expressed to Mr. and Mrs. McDonald our wishes to get away. Our Captain had no money to pay us our wages, but consented to stay there and dispose of what was saved of the ship and church. The kind justice advanced one pound ($5) each and paid the boatmen for taking us to the Isle of Skye. Thus we left these kind and humble people, dwelling in content on a rough and stormy coast. Our next journey was on foot across the Isle of Skye, to Oban, ten miles distant. Oban is a small town, having a little business in small vessels with Glasgow and other places. After waiting here two days a small steamer, which traded between these islands, came along, and as we were shipwrecked seamen, gave us free passage to Glasgow. Here was a large seaport with vessels lading for all parts of the world. Most of the crew shipped for different places, but myself and one other wanted to go to Liverpool, as we had friends there who would help us in the dilapidated condition we were in. A large steamer was making regular trips between the two places carrying passengers and freight. I made application to the captain of this steamer for free passage stating our condition. He did not answer and as he did not refuse I took it for granted. St. George’s Channel on this passage was very rough, the sea continually breaking over the vessel, keeping us continually wet. Here during a cold and stormy night, crouched down in one corner, as hungry as I had ever been, I passed the night. Getting to Liverpool in the forenoon my spirits revived as we entered the dock, soon to be among friends. As soon as the stage to land passengers was put out I was the first to step out on it with a bag of soiled and water-soaked clothing, which I saved from the shipwreck and packed across the Isle of Skye, but our uniformed officer grabbed it from my hand, saying I could have it when I paid my passage. This was the meanest act I had yet seen. What could I do to resent this indignity, especially when the police were there at the fellow’s service? But I soon found friends, and my sister gave me money to redeem my historic wardrobe. After spending a few days in Liverpool and with my parents in Wales, I crossed over to France and remained there during the summer, and the fall of 1845 found me again in South Carolina.

Lewis Evan Jones Jr.
Wynot, Nebraska”

Lewis Evan Jones (1825 – 1910) — Mutiny on the Ocean Waves

The following document is a transcription from a photocopy of a letterpress set pamphlet style publication with colored paper wraps, measuring approximately 8 1/8” x 4 3/8”. Text pages number 36 pages. There is no date of publication, but the text is dated 1901 at the end of the story. The cover bears the following information; handwritten at the top of the wrap in ink (“No. 1.)”, title is indicated as “MUTINY ON THE OCEAN WAVE”, author is listed as “By LEWIS E. JONES, SR.”*, and imprint is “Herald Printing House, Hartington”.

* Note that Lewis E. Jones Sr. is actually indicated as Lewis Evan Jones Jr. for the sake of this archive, as his father’s name was also Lewis Evan Jones. Once in America, this author had a son, also named Lewis Evan Jones, who for the sake of this archive is denominated as Lewis Evan Jones III.

Note: In handwriting at the end of the editors note (between brackets) in the introduction is written “age 17” to indicate that Lewis Evan Jones was only seventeen years old when he participated in this voyage.


Mutiny on the Ocean Wave.

[The following story was written by Mr. Lewis E. Jones, from memory, and is vouched by him that every word is true and happened as it is written. This voyage was made by him from Liverpool to New York, from there to Baltimore, from there to Rotterdam, Holland, from there to Liverpool, thence to Charleston, South Carolina, in the ship St. Lawrence of New York, during the years 1842 – 43. – Ed.]

Short stories told now and then.
Relieve the craniums of some men;
Such cumbrous stuff is not to save,
Then why carry them with you to the grave.

291One day while strolling leisurely along the dockside of Liverpool, I heard two boys converse together, which attracted my attention. One said to his companion that the American ship St. Lawrence, of New York, lying in the Princess Dock, wanted a boy; that he was going to see if he could secure the place. This was near dinner time. After dinner I went down to that ship, and saw the mizzen royal flopping in the wind. This is the loftiest of the fourth sail on the third mast. One of the big boys spoken of was on his way up the rigging to furl this sail. He seemed very clumsy and slow getting up the rigging, and when he got up did not know how to gather the sail together so as to make a neat job of it. I noticed a man whom I learned was the chief mate, watching him from the dock. After he had made several attempts, the mate called him down. The boy walked off crest-fallen. After he had disappeared, I walked up to the mate, thinking that this was his way of finding out what a boy could do, I asked him if I could go up and furl that sail. He asked where I had learned to furl such sails. Answering him that many times a day in the Mediterranean it was my business to furl the royals, while the men were at the heavier sails. He doubted that such a small boy as I was could furl such sails in heavy winds. It was blowing quite stiff at this time. Finally he said I could try. I went aboard, doffed my jacket, and went up the rigging one a trot, getting out on the royal yard, gathering the sail on one side and then the other, passing the gaskets around, gathering the slack of the sail in the center, passing around a netting made for that purpose, I had the bunt in the center like a drum, all in ship shape. I descended the rigging as lively as I went up, picking up my jacket and walked where the mate stood, watching my every movement. He also walked towards me without saying a word, handing me a card which instructed the shipping master who was shipping a crew for this ship, to place me on the list. There were many of these shipping masters in Liverpool, as well as every large seaport. When a ship has taken in all her cargo, the captain a few days previous instructs one of these shipping masters to ship so many men for his ship, to sail on such a day for such a place. Master-riggers with a gang of men having bent all the sails, examined all the rigging, replacing all the defective, you will understand this was an American ship, all hands had abandoned her, when in fact they had no right to leave until she arrived at some designated port in the United States. When men are not properly treated, they abandon their ships at the first opportunity. This was the case with the St. Lawrence. Not one left but the captain, first and second mates.

Mr. Moore I found was the name of the first mate, who had given me the card, instructing the shipping master to ship me at $10 per month, and come aboard next morning. The men received $15 per month. She was bound for New York with a general cargo and 300 Irish passengers.

Captain Brown I found in the morning, a perfect gentleman, looked more like a clergyman than a sea captain. He took me to the cabin and talked very kind with me, inquiring about my nativity, relatives, etc. He seemed to be well pleased with me, instructing me to come to him if I should want anything during the voyage. He asked me to take care of the cabin until he could engage a steward, and gave me perfect liberty to make the cabin my home should he get a rough crew – he knew not what kind of men the crew would turn out to be, for he had never seen one of them. I thanked him very much, but stated that I would like to be with the men as much as possible, that I went to sea not of necessity, but to learn to become a seaman. He commended my resolution and promised to assist me in my endeavors.

In three days after this ship was ready for sea, and the crew came on board as well as the passengers. We went out of the Princess Dock and dropped anchor in the Mersey. Next morning the captain came on board, ordered the anchor to be raised and sails set loose. I loosed the three sails on the royal masts, by order of the mate, for he had learned, he said, I was an expert with these light sails. Most of the men were heaving up the anchor. When I came down the rigging, I took hold of the long leaver, for she had what was then called patent windlass – two long levers working up and by 15 or 20 men. When I took hold of the lever the next man to me was a splendid, fine looking man. His bronzed face indicated he had seen service in the tropics. This was the first time I had ever seen him, but he struck me as an ideal seaman, such as I would like to pattern after. He wore a red flannel shirt, white duck pants and a jaunty straw Manila hat on his head. He smiled on me as I took hold of the leaver by his side. I was glad to be noticed by such a powerful and perfect man as I considered him to be. Whilst I was doting on him the mate came along with loud curses on his lips, telling the men that they were not half heaving; passing along after abusing nearly all the men, he came to where I was. He was rolling up his shirt sleeves, for he had taken off his coat before. He roared out, “you man, with the red shirt, why don’t you heave?” This shipmate, for I was glad to call him such, answered he was doing his duty. At this the mate jumped about with his clenched fist, saying he was the first man he would commence on when we got under way. The man with the red shirt paid no attention to his threats, only he turned to me and thanked the mate for this timely warning, so that he could be on his guard. After the mate had left, he smiled on me and said, “if I am the first he is going to pick on, he will have a tough chicken to pick.” Thus we left Liverpool with fair wind and all sails set.

The first thing when a ship is well underway is to divide the crew into two watches, when all the men are assembled on the quarterdeck. Thus we were all ordered to come aft, and the division was made, by the captain having the first choice, named the man at the wheel. The mate then selected the man whom he called “the man with the red shirt.” Then the captain made another choice, then the mate, and so on until whole crew were selected, and the watches formed. On this particular occasion the men were all selected, the mate had to take me, for I was the last. I was glad that the man with the red shirt was on the same watch with myself. I had taken a great liking to him and he also to me. We were strangers to one another. I had never seen one of them before. However, that night, when on watch, I learned from my newly made friend, the man wearing the red shirt, was a countryman of mine, who lived in a small seaport only twelve miles from my home. He also informed me there were two other men on board from the same place, one of whom was on our watch. He stated they always sailed on the same ship – they had been together in the English and American Navies, and had been together for many years in vessels of both nations. I was glad to learn I had countrymen on board, the first I had since I went to sea. The name of my friend with the red shirt was Jack Thomas, the other in our watch was named Dick Lewis, and the one in the captain’s watch was named John Evans. There was another young man in our watch that I had taken a liking to. He was a native of New York City, named Wm. McFarlane, whom we called Yankee Bill. All this crew were more intelligent than the common run picked up in foreign ports.

After a few days out from Liverpool we had very high winds and disagreeable weather. The sea was very rough. The poor passengers were very sick and suffered much. The captain had appointed me store keeper to deal out water and provisions to the emigrants. At that time steerage passengers in sailing vessels had so much water and provisions dealt out to them daily. At night I had to stand watch like the balance of the crew. It is the custom on all ships to wash the decks every morning at six o’clock, whether they need washing or not. On the third or forth morning out of Liverpool, the weather was very stormy and the sea running high. Buckets, scrubbing brushes, brooms, etc., were brought out for that purpose, when the mate came forward and ordered Yankee Bill to go out on the fore poop deck to wash to pump water to wash decks. We had a small hand pump, such as is used in cisterns, for that purpose, on the larboard bow. The wind was blowing almost a gale on that side, and sea splashing over continuously. The men all wondered at the mate giving such an order, when water was plentiful on deck. Bill told him he could furnish all the water required from lee-scuppers, as the water was almost knee deep as the ship careened over. This would not satisfy the mate. Bill dipped up water in buckets as fast as required. The mate became boiling mad because his orders were disobeyed. He walked back to the stern of the ship and took an iron belaying pin out of the rail. These pins were used where very heavy weight is to be sustained, otherwise wooden pins are to be used. These iron pins are about a foot in length and one and a quarter inches in diameter. With one of these pins in his hand he rushed to where Bill was filling water buckets. He aimed a full blow with this weapon on Bill’s head, but the ship plunged at the moment and he only received a light blow on the side of his head. Bill was bleeding profusely. At that moment Jack Thomas came like a flash of lightening, grasping the iron bolt from the mate’s hand and threw it overboard, telling Bill he was a better man than Mr. Moore, to settle his grievance there and then, and he would see no one should interfere. By this time Bill had the mate more than a foot of water with his foot on his neck. The ship was rolling and plunging, the water rushing backward and forward, so that occasionally Mr. Moore could see about him. He saw and begged me to call the captain, for I was an eye witness to the whole transaction.

The cooks gally was close by. The cook, a large negro hailing from Sierra Leone, a British West African Colony, rushed out of the galley with a large carving knife in his hand, to the assistance of the mate. Dick Lewis, who had come on the scene, saw the negro rushing into the fray, gave him such a blow under the ear, that he also fell in the water by the side of the mate, while Dick Lewis disarmed him of the knife, throwing it overboard.

They did not mutilate the two prostrate me, but made them swallow their fill of salt water. At this time I thought it my duty to call up the captain and the second mate, who were asleep in the cabin, informing captain Brown the men were killing Mr. Moore. He hurriedly slipped on his pants, boots, and coat, rushing on deck with a cutlass in his right hand (a short sword about a foot and a half long) and a book containing the riot act in the other. By the time he came on deck the men had released the half drowned bullies. Mr. Moore, like a drowned rat, went to his room to put on dry clothes. The negro went to the gally, where he barricaded himself, swearing he would scald the first man who came there.
The captain instructed me to tell the first watch to come on the quarterdeck. All the men came cheerfully. The first thing the captain did was to read the riot act, from the book he brought with him from the cabin, whilst I held his cutlass. After this reading he commenced to examine witnesses to get at the origin of the riot. Jack Tomas was the first witness to the whole affair. While he was explaining the mate’s actions, gentlemanly and cool, Mr. Moore leaped on deck, passing the captain and myself, who were standing before the men, pulled out a heavy claw hammer from under his coat-tail, and made a desperate attempt to strike Jack Thomas in the head with the hammer. Dick Lewis, who stood by the side of his friend, saw the mate’s movements, jumped to the front of him, receiving quite a cut on his head. In less time than it takes to write this, Jack Thomas knocked him down. Whilst both him and Dick Lewis, who was bleeding, took the cutlass from me and threw it overboard, together with the hammer taken from the mate. After this the men carried Mr. Moore to the cabin and placed him in bed.

Here were men well formed by nature
In deadly combat for their rights;
The elements above and the waters below,
Protesting against these unholy fights.

The men after this went forward to consult the other watch, which was called yup for breakfast, who knew nothing of what had taken place during the morning watch.

After learning all that had taken place, and fully argued among themselves, they came to the conclusion to send word to the captain, through me, for I was the only confidant both sides had, and to tell the truth I had seen the whole trouble, besides hearing Mr. Moore’s threat while hoisting anchor at Liverpool, that the whole affair rested on his shoulders, and that he received nothing more than he deserved.

The decision of the men of both watches was that the mate should be put out of commission, that the captain could find a man among the crew fully as able as Mr. Moore, to take his place until we arrived at New York, and if they violated any law they were willing the courts to decide.

Receiving this message, I went to the cabin, to tell him the decision of both watches. He tried hard to pump out of me if Jack Thomas and Dick Lewis were not the leaders, and that they were bad men. I told him what Mr. Moore had said and threatened the first time he ever saw them when hoisting anchor in the river Mersey. I told him also that the two men he mentioned were gentlemen in every sense of the word, and by what I had seen of them, they had a perfect right to defend themselves as they did, and if they did not, I would consider them craven cowards, that all this unfortunate affair was entirely the work of Mr. Moore.

He sent the second mate on deck to take charge of the ship, and told me after breakfast to come to him, so that I could carry his decision to the men. After breakfast the men waited to know what to do, and I went to find out what the captain had decided on. He inquired of me which of the men I thought the most capable for the position of mate, for he had seen very little of them. I told him that I had never seen a single one of them in my life before they came on board his ship, and it was not right for me, a mere boy, to give advice to a man of his mature age, but if he would allow me to give my opinion, – if it had not been for the unfortunate occurrence that had happened, Jack Thomas or Dick Lewis could have filled the position with honor, but since neither of the two could be considered, there was a man in his watch that I thought well suited to take the place. He is of a mature age, a sailor every inch of him, had the appearance of having seen much service. He is of course in your watch, but you should take one from the mate’s watch, to keep the division even. If you want my advice, I have but formed little friendship with the crew thus far, I would appoint Mr. Mitchell, second mate, to be first mate, in place of Mr. Moore, and take a man from your own watch for the place of second mate, who will always be under your eye. That man, I opine, you already have in your mind – it is old John Evans, the oldest and one of the most able among your crew.

The captain seemed surprised at the able advice given him by a person of my age. He, however, seemed to be pleased with my logic. He considered for a moment and then told me he would like to speak with John Evans. In passing out of the cabin I had to pass Mr. Moore’s room, and saw that he had been listening to our conversation, for the door was partly open. He had partly recovered from the terrible beating he had received. Arriving on deck I saw the men sitting on some spare spars always carried in case of accidents. They were conversing about the output, which they called “Mutiny”.

I told John Evans the captain would like to speak with him. He went down to the cabin. He was down about half an hour and arranged with the captain to work his watch while Mr. Mitchell would take Mr. Moore’s place. When this became known to the crew they were delighted, for everyone on board loved and respected old John Evans, the oldest man on board, and the one who had seen the most service on all the oceans of the world. From this out we had a pleasant voyage, but sometime very rough. We arrived in New York in four weeks, dropping anchor in the river, the captain going ashore in a boat. While in harbor at anchor two men at a time keep watch all. I was on watch from 10 to 12. In the morning it was discovered that six barrels of the cook’s grease (this grease is part of the cook’s emoluments) the brass bell on the poop deck, several ropes and light sails had disappeared during the night. No one seemed to know anything about them. Ten men had been on watch during the night, no one seemed, or pretended to know anything about them. The captain came in a tug-boat which took us to the wharf. A dozen or more boarding house runners with hacks ready to dispatch the crew with their respective baggage to their respective houses were on the dock. In less than ten minutes all the crew had abandoned the ship, and no effort was made to trace the robbery of the night before, as there were several bum-boats visiting vessels at anchor that night, likely it was sold to them more for revenge than depravity. The crew had received as they always do, a month’s wages in advance at Liverpool, therefore they had no pay coming to them. Mr. Moore did not appear on deck after he was deposed. I went ashore with the men, since the voyage was at an end, therefore not wanted. In this way I boarded for about a week, the boarding master promising me he would get a good ship in short time. I was getting tired and did not know how to pass the time away.

One fine morning sitting on a bench in Central Park, Capt. Brown came and sat by my side, asking me what made me leave his ship in the way I had. I told him it was my understanding that all crew leave when the voyage is at an end. He said he did not want me to leave, and asked if I would not like to go with him another voyage. I asked if Mr. Moore was still with him. He said he was, that Mr. Moore was a good man, but once in awhile a little hot-headed, that he would be kind to me. I told him if Mr. Moore would treat me right I would go with him another voyage. He was pleased and gave me ten dollars to pay what I owed my boarding house and bring my clothes on board. Next morning I went down to where the St. Lawrence was. I did not see anyone on board, so I took my clothes down to the forecastle, took off my best clothes and put on a working suit. Coming on deck the first person I saw was Mr. Moore. He asked me what business I had on board. I told him Capt. Brown had hired me, and asked what he had for me to do. It seemed that my presence was not agreeable to him. He walked off without saying another word. I picked up a broom and commenced sweeping the deck, seeing nothing else I could do. I went over several times, thinking that he could see I was only killing time. After some time thus employed, I went down the forecastle, intending to change my clothes and go ashore, for I did not deserve to be treated in this way.

After sitting down a short time thinking of how to act, I heard the voice of Captain Brown on deck giving some orders. I went up and told him I was there according to promise, what work did he want me to do. He asked me to come with him to the cabin, where he told me that he was going to take in ballast and sail for Baltimore, for he had engaged to take a cargo of tobacco to Rotterdam, Holland.. All he had for me to do was to act as watchman and take care of the cabin until the crew were shipped, when he would have a steward employed, or if I wished he would keep me as steward. I thanked him for his kind offer, but declined for the reason I stated to him before, that I went to sea for the purpose of learning to be a seaman, not a steward or sea cook. He saw my point and said I was perfectly right. For the present he hoped I would take care of the ship and gave me the keys of the state room. He said that Mr. Moore was perfectly satisfied that I would take care of the ship, which would give him more time to visit his relatives for he had many in New York. By degrees Mr. Moore and myself became friends, for the reason I never had been his enemy. When he had trouble at sea with the men, he knew it was his own fault and I told him so more than once. Because I lived with the men forward I did not consider I lived with brutes, but with men who knew their rights and were able to maintain them. We lived thus about ten days. I always showed him civilities his position entitled him to receive.

On Sunday morning, the second I had spent in New York, I walked along the wharves on East River, looking on all the large ships lying there, I spied a number of drays bringing provisions to a large, full rigged ship, according to amount, I thought she was destined for a long voyage. By inquiring I found the ship was called Columbia, bound for New Zealand on a trading which might take several years before her return. I was surprised to see my old friend John Evans in full command. He saw me and invited me to come on board. I found by him that through the influence of some captains he had sailed with before, he got the position of chief mate, that Jack Thomas was second mate, Dick Lewis, boatswain, their newly made friend, Yankee Bill, was with them before the mast. In remarking what strange coincidence that they should be together again on the same ship, old John Evans, who had been with them for many years, said he could not go without them, they were as worthy as any men who ever trod a ship’s deck, and as true as steel. I saw the whole four in prime health and spirits. Jack Thomas jokingly remarked to old John Evans that he should share the extra pay he got from the St. Lawrence as mate, with me, for it was me who got him the position. The old man put his hand in his pocket and handed me a ten dollar gold piece, which he insisted on me to take. I was never more glad than to see those men on a good ship, but in all probability, would never see them again. The ship soon after cleared the harbor with fair wind and all sails set. I made up my mind never to mention their names when Mr. Moore was present.

In the course of ten days we shipped a new crew at New York for a run to Baltimore. These men were all foreigners, Sweeds, Danes, Norwegians, and all from the northern part of Europe. There was not an American or Englishman among the crew. The weather was stormy and the passage rough. Mr. Moore as usual finding there was not an Englishman nor an American among the crew, commenced his brutality on them as he had done before. I felt sorry for them but knowing they came from military empires, where a poor man has no right to protest against their superiors. However the poor fellows were glad to reach land, for they had only shipped for the run from New York to Baltimore.

Having discharged ballast and taken on a cargo of tobacco for Rotterdam, Holland, we shipped another crew, a duplicate of the last, Mr. Moore had a lively time kicking and knocking these men to his entire satisfaction. I was treated humanely, and as these men had no spirit to defend themselves I had nothing to do but pity them. It took us two months to reach Rotterdam. As usual the men all deserted, leaving a months wages behind. I was pleased to find that some of the men were acquainted here, who went to an old Jew merchant and made arrangements with him to pawn all their wages, half cash and half clothing, this accomplished they all deserted. In a few days the old merchant came down to the captain with the bills, which he refused t pay because they had deserted. The old fellow did not seem to care much for this refusal, but smiled and took considerable snuff.

This vessel made considerable money by making it untenable for the men to stand the abuse. We had shipped in Baltimore two Chinamen, one for cook the other steward. They were fine, quiet, gentlemanly and remarkably clean, understanding their business thoroughly. The mate found they were packing up to leave, had them put in irons and fastened to the ringbolts below decks, for he did not want them to leave as they were experts at their business. They called me to the cabin to act as steward while we remained at Rotterdam. I had these two men to wait on as well as the officers. The second mate acted as cook. The first opportunity I had, my resolution was put in force. I went straight to the American Consul and told him there were two American citizens, for such they had become on board the American ship St. Lawrence in irons. He told me very surely he would see to it. The next day he came down in his carriage, and arm in arm with Captain Brown, went down to the cabin, drank a bottle of champagne, then both came on deck, the captain taking him to his carriage, and shook hands very cordially. In an hour or two the Chinamen were released. The first opportunity they had (the mate having gone ashore on business) they left the ship, thanking me, for they suspected I had been the cause of their release, and said I could have all their effects left behind, consisting of fine clothing, hair mattress and fine blankets to the value of $200. In a couple of weeks we had unloaded our cargo and taken in ballast for Liverpool. A new crew had been shipped, something of the same character as the last. Just as we were ready to cast off two officers came on board and told us not to touch the cables with which the ship was fastened. They told the captain that the Jew merchant had got a judgment against the ship for the sailors wages which had to be paid before we could leave. Nothing could be done but pay the judgment with costs. Captain Brown told me, for I was the only confidant all hands had, that it was preposterous to make him pay when the men were deserters. I reminded him that when in Venice we had to comply with the laws of Venice. We were delayed a long time in a canal coming out of Rotterdam on account of stormy weather and head winds. We made a long voyage to Liverpool, but when we reached there, the crew, as usual, deserted. I could not leave for I had too much wages coming to me. They treated me kindly, and all I had to do was act as watchman. I was allowed to board with a friend, and night watchman hired. No fires are allowed in Liverpool docks, consequently everyone has to board ashore.

Here we found a cargo of general merchandise for New York, and I made up my mind to leave when we reached there, as my voyage would expire then. The crew we got here were but little better than the last two or three we had run across, for we had few Americans and Englishmen among them. We did not have such men as Jack Thomas, Dick Lewis and John Evans, who dared to do right in any position they were placed. Mr. Moore had many of these men under his thumb. We had a long and stormy voyage. Our masts were sprung, so that we could carry but little canvas. Provisions and water giving out rapidly. Many vessels spoke us and offered. We refused every offer. The mate getting uglier daily. I was determined to make some effort to get better treatment. I spoke with several of the men that we should go boldly and inquire of the captain the reason for refusing assistance when offered, and we on short allowance. I could get no one to go with me, but went alone. Captain Brown had always been my friend, and was not averse to speak with me on the subject. He stated the reason he refused assistance was that we had been long on the passage and the voyage had been disastrous to the owners financially. He asked me to inform the men that if the wind continued in the same direction it was in for two days longer we would be in Charleston, S.C., for we had already passed the stormy Cape Hatteras, that in the condition the masts were in he had to run in the direction the wind blew. We had sailed more than one thousand miles beyond our destination – New York, he begged the sympathy of the men in his unhappy condition. He thanked me for acting as medium between him and the crew.

I went forward where the men were waiting the result of my visit. I passed Mr. Moore on the way. He looked daggers at me but said nothing. I explained to the men what the captain informed me, with a great deal of sympathy in my words. All were glad to know were we were, but were surprised that we were near Charleston in place of New York. They all agreed to take things as they were, for a few days at least, hoping soon to be ashore. That evening when our watch was on deck from eight to twelve o’clock, Mr. Moore came forward and ordered me to fore top sail yard to keep lookout for land. Thinking nothing wrong, as this is always a rule when nearing land at night. I felt very sleepy and fearing to fall asleep I tied myself to the halliards so I could not fall off, finding a gasket on the yard for that purpose. I had been there about two hours and thought it was near twelve o’clock when the watches changed, and a man come to relieve me. All at once the yard went down without notice given, and came down with a thud. It was well I had the foresight to lash myself to the halliards and went down with it, as the sudden jar would sure throw me overboard. When I came down on the deck the bell struck eight bells and the watch relieved. Mr. Moore was jumping about the deck saying he would kill the man who let go of the top sail halyards if he knew who he was. I said nothing, but suspicioned it was him who was guilty.

Next day in the forenoon watch he came to me, said he thought next day we would be in Charleston, all the hands were busy cleaning the paint work as was the custom. He ordered me to get a pail of water and ashes and scrub the martingale. I knew this was a risky job with the swell that was then in the sea. This martingale reached within five or six feet of the water and when the ship plunged it often dipped. The voyage was then so near up that I did not wish to disobey my superior officer, willingly went at it. The vessel often plunging until my feet was in the water, and dozens of dog fishes, a species of shark, trying to get at them. Little scrubbing was done by me and glad to hear the sound of the eight bells, when I came up on deck and the other watch coming on duty. I pretended to be cheerful, but my mind was far from being so. That evening we sighted land, and the next forenoon we landed at one of the wharves of Charleston, S.C. having been ninety days out from Liverpool. The captain soon went ashore.

I was glad this unpleasant voyage was at an end. As soon as the vessel was fastened I went down to the forecastle to change and pack up my clothes and go ashore. Mr. Moore came to the companionway and said that the Captain wanted me to came and take care of the cabin, for the sheriff had taken the cook and steward to jail during the vessel’s stay in port. This was the law then, when slavery was in full force, and half the city’s population being slaves, free negroes talked too much politics to the slaves therefore, would have no access to them. He told me the ship had to have new masts and rigging, which would consume about seven or eight weeks, the captain was going to New York, there would be only him, second mate, and myself in the cabin, and the captain had gone ashore to find a negro woman for cook and my work would be light. I told him this was the opportunity I had been looking for, that I could help and learn to rig a ship and that it would be a school for me. He would not listen to this philosophy, but must come to the cabin. I told him plainly that I could not think of it, as it had come to this my voyage was up, and I was going ashore. He said I could be arrested as a deserter. I then stated I had signed articles in New York to go from there to Baltimore, from there to Rotterdam, from there to Liverpool then to any port in the United States and thought I was now in a port of the United States and my voyage at an end. He went back to the cabin, got the articles, but I discovered and told him that those were the articles signed by the present crew to go from Liverpool to New York. I agreed with him that the voyage of these men was not up until they reached New York. Finding he could do nothing with me he walked off with curses on his lips, I walked ashore.

My first inquiries was for the Mayor’s office, and after walking quite a number of streets found the Mayor at his office in the court house. This was the same Mayor Brown, who a year after, sent to Liverpool for me as witness in a state case which I described in a story written to the News last Christmas. I explained to the Mayor that I wanted to part with my ship, and gave him my reasons for doing so, and whether I could collect the wages due me. He said the St. Lawrence was in the hands of the Underwriters, that the captain or owners had nothing to say until she was thoroughly repaired and ready for sea. I then asked the status of the men who shipped from Liverpool to New York. He answered that their voyages was also up as well as my own.

After I learned this I hired a spring wagon and went down after my clothing. I also informed the men of the result of my inquiry. Every man quit work and followed me up to town. We had not gone more than a quarter of a mile when the second mate overtook us and said the captain had sent him to inform us to come down next morning he would pay us all off. This was a jolly night for the crew of the St. Lawrence. All happy it terminated as it did.

Next morning we all went down on board the ship and settled with the captain satisfactory. I was the last and expected a good lesson for the part I had played, but the captain did not mention a word on what had passed. He had given me money on several occasions. I had kept an account of all sums I had received and told him the amount. He said, “never mind, that was my gift and not charged to you.” We shook hands on parting. He hoped I would prosper as I deserved.

In a few days the hands had scattered on different vessels and different destination. I found employment in a cotton press, where I often met Captain Brown. One day sitting down in the office he told me his ship repairs would soon be completed and asked me if I would go with him to Liverpool, as the ship was loaded with cotton and the riggers had nearly completed their work, another vessel had taken his freight to New York. I told him I would be glad to sail with him, but as long as Mr. Moore was on her I would not set a foot on the deck, not because I feared him physically, but feared his treachery. I told how he tried to throw me overboard from the topsail-yard and the way he sent me to scrub the martingale, hoping no doubt that sharks would get hold of me. Captain Brown was horrified at such villainy. He told me the reason for his being mate that he and his friends in New York were in New York were nine-sixteenths parts of the ship, while he and his friends owned but seven-sixteenths parts (you will understand that a ship is divided into sixteen parts or ounces as they are called, so that one man may own hundreds of ounces in different ships without owning a whole one.) The captain told me that he had tried many times to sell his interest but ship owners were so well acquainted with Mr. Moore, that they would not buy as long as Mr. Moore and his friends owned controlling interest. He also told me that the friends of Mr. Moore did not want to elevate him as captain. After hearing this I told him that as poor as I was I would not change positions with him. With this he left the office, parting as friends.

To finish this story I must tell what happened a few years after, when working on a weekly newspaper in a small town on the west of England – a watering resort. Many of the aristocracy living in the neighborhood, having parks and gardens extending down to the seashore, with sailing yachts anchored before their doors. With these they go on pleasure excursions often during fine weather in summer. They generally keep an old seaman by the year to take care of and the sail the small crafts. In summer they have regattas at the different water resorts, and set time to run at the different circuits. The editor of the paper on which I worked went around to report the incidents of the races. He asked me to go with him in his buggy, there was an exciting race to take place next day about fifteen miles from our town. Arriving there the little town was in its holiday attire, the yachtsmen in uniforms were the lions of the day. The morning turned out fine, but the wind blowed hard and the sea was rough for the small crafts that were there to test their valor. The course to run was about twenty miles. A ship was anchored at both ends which they had to go around. Twenty yachts were booked for the race. The programs were printed and held by most of the excited crowd, naming the yachts and captains of each by the flags displayed. Thousands from the surrounding country lined the shores and housetops and every avenue from which the race could be seen. At the firing of a gun they all started. The friends of each yacht straining every nerve to keep track of his favorite. The wind blew hard. Before the wind we could not judge which was making the best time. In coming back they had to beat against the wind, and here the tug of war was displayed. They had to tack more than twenty times from one side of the narrow straight to the other, for it was not more than a mile wide. One yacht would gain on the other and their positions changed often. The men on shore becoming excited and bets were changed from one craft to the other continually. In the last half hour a yacht called Arvonia and another called Dolphin seemed to gain gradually. It was a grand sight to see these small cutters ploughing through the water, carrying such large sails that they were almost on beam ends, covered literally by foam. On and on they came, changing positions often. Experts could see the Arvonia and Dolphin, though not the fastest, but better handled, stood good chance of winning. The best were high on these two boats. Sometime these boats could not be seen for the foam they made. When the Arvonia once came in sight it was with the topmast carried away. There was excitement, among those who had bet heavy on her, that can hardly be described. Just at this moment the wind freshened to about a gale. The top mast was quickly cut away, and the Arvonia, relieved of too much canvas, rushed forward like a wounded bull. She rounded the ship anchored for mark, the cannon fired as the signal, then the other slow craft Dolphin, in two seconds had the gun fired for her. The other yachts steered away and gave up the contest. That evening the people of the town gave a grand banquet to the yachtsmen. Our editor was presented with two tickets to the banquet, one for him and one for me. The mayor of the town presided at the table, with Capt. Thomas, of the yacht Arvonia, on the right and Capt. Lewis, of the Dolphin, on the left. In a neat speech he presented the first prize, a handsome gold goblet, to the gallant master of the cutter Arvonia. Capt. Thomas in a patriotic speech acknowledged the great honor done them by the hospitality of the little town. The second prize was then presented to Capt. Lewis, of the Dolphin, a miniature ship made of ivory, with rigging of gold thread. He also made a neat little speech in acknowledgment of the kindness they had received during their stay by the kind and happy of the town and surrounding country. Many others made patriotic speeches, commemorating the innocent and recreative pleasures of yachting. After the inner man had been satisfied the meeting broke up, with all present singing “Brittania Rules the Waves”.

In breaking up all the present took the two gallant captains by the hand, with great praise for the manner of handling their crafts.

I was considerably excited and waited till the last, when I took those two gallant tars by the hand, never having given a thought until I heard their voices that they were my shipmates on the ship St. Lawrence. Jack Thomas and Dick Lewis. I spent the next day with them on their yachts, for they were as glad to see me as I was to see them.

To end this story. They told me that when I saw them leaving New York, on the ship Columbia, they went to New Zealand and traded in the Orient about three years: that our old friend John Evans had died with cholera at Calcutta; that Yankee Bill had fell from the yard arm off Cape of Good Hope, and lost: that they were both married and settled down at their old home and lived comfortable and both were happy.

Peace to their ashes is the tribute of an old shipmate who has also retired from the hardships seen at sea.

Dear friends I’ll keep your memory green.
You were men when I was sweet sixteen:
No doubt you’ve paid the debt of nature.
Like gallant chiefs at last surrender.

Yours respectfully,

L. E. Jones, Senior
St. James, Nebraska, January 1, 1901.

Robert Beheathland – Jamestowne First Family Founder and Sole Survivor

The following article appeared in the August, 2014 edition of the Willis-Gordon-Garnett and Allied Families Journal. It is an update of the Beheathland article which originally appeared on this website, here.

American’s love our nation’s history, particularly the histories (some might say myths) associated with the nation’s founding, and stories of the intrepid explorers, early colonists, and pioneers who carved a nascent civilization out of a remote wilderness. As children we were taught about the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts and their desire to found a community where they could practice their religion without persecution. Unfortunately, we were rarely taught much beyond the basic myth of their earliest aspirations and successes.

The old families of New England who claim founding family status in America take a great deal of pride in their heritage – and deservedly so. However even today, the lion’s share of Americans have little idea that the Pilgrims of Plymouth were actually latecomers to England’s colonial ambitions. Few American’s realize that while New England’s founding families were still in England, the Netherlands, and Holland, America’s true first families were already established and achieving a certain amount of success in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

After the Confederacy’s defeat in the American Civil War, it became politically expedient to revise American history in order to diminish the importance of the South’s contribution to the American drama. For a century and a half, the story of Jamestown’s settlement became a margin note in the history texts. The story of her adventurers and original planters all but forgotten, buried in the brackish blackwater swamps of the Chesapeake Bay. The memory of Jamestown was kept alive by native Virginians who knew themselves to be descended from the earliest colonists. Even among those old families however, there remained little depth of understanding about who their founding ancestors were, or what motivated them to venture from England into the wholly unknown wilds of Virginia. Thanks to the work of the Jamestowne Society, the determination of the Jamestown Rediscovery Team under the leadership of head archeologist Dr. William Kelso, and a small but enthusiastic community of historians and genealogists, the true history of Jamestown and her “Original Planters” is being recovered and preserved.

Along with the effort to recover the true history of Jamestown’s founding, a renewed enthusiasm among descendants of Jamestown’s first families to know their ancestors personal stories has emerged. The goal of this article is to provide a deeper understanding of what sort of world these men and women occupied both before and after the first unsteady settlement of English colonists on the banks of the Chesapeake. In particular, we’ll focus on one very important 1607 colonist – Robert Beheathland – who holds the distinction of being the only original colonist to survive in Virginia long enough to marry, have children, and establish himself as the founder of America’s true, original, first family.

Robert Beheathland was born in the last decades of the sixteenth century at St. Endellion, in County Cornwall, England.1 He arrived in Jamestown in 1607, probably aboard the Susan Constant with Captain John Smith. He survived the first, most terrible year of the Jamestown experiment. He survived the “Starving Times”, when some colonists resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. He survived the Anglo-Powhatan wars, and the disease, failures, and hunger which plagued the nascent colony during the first decade of its founding. He married Mary Nicholson sometime after 1608 and she bore him a son and two daughters who survived into adulthood. Their eldest, Dorothy, was born about 1610. The youngest, Mary Bernhard, was born about 1615. Both girls married and had children. Robert and Mary Beheathland’s son John, traveled back to England on family business, but died on the return voyage to Virginia without ever having married or having children. Thus the Beheathland surname died on the American continent, even while Robert Beheathland’s descendants flourished.

While those facts are interesting in every respect, it has been my observation that too often genealogists get lost in the facts of birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, and when and where wills were proven. We often forget that the people who we so carefully document were just that – real people. They were individuals with complicated stories, personalities, dreams, hopes, ambitions – and fears. People with families dependent upon them, or hopes for them, or both. We too often get so sidelined by the rigid facts that we neglect to step back and thoughtfully consider the world in which these people lived. We neglect to ask ourselves what motivated them to become who they became or how in the face of incredible odds they managed to survive. To answer these questions we often have to turn toward the larger social and civil history of the lands they left behind.

Before we go into the details of the life and death of our earliest European ancestor on American soil – Robert Beheathland – we’re going to take a step back and consider some aspects of his world. Moreover, we’re going to examine what could possibly have motivated him in 1607, to put himself on a sixty-foot long wooden sailing vessel, bound on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, destined for a place that didn’t even have a name yet. In due course, the place Beheathland eventually made his home would come to be called Jamestown. But before there was Jamestown, before the Virginia Colony or even the Virginia Company which founded both, there was England. England in Robert’s era was no less wild – though in a wholly different manner – than the wilds of unknown Virginia. Understanding England in Robert Beheathland’s era is crucial to understanding how Jamestown and the first English Colonies in America came to exist. Jamestown, as it evolved, displayed itself as a perfect microcosm of the whiplash social and civil environment that defined early seventeenth century England.

Tudor & Jacobean England

England in the early seventeenth century was, contrary to our modern interpretation, not a terribly romantic place in which to live. While it’s true that this period is considered the “Golden Age” of discovery, we should keep in mind that everything that glitters is not gold. There were perhaps a few thousand people in all of England, Ireland, and Wales who could be considered truly wealthy. Among them, a few hundred perhaps, who were generally independent men. The rest, millions of people throughout the country, were “subjects”. “Subject” to corrupt courts, corrupt landlords, and corrupt aristocrats – “subject” to a corrupt system that was rotten from the core to the skin.2

Even among the wealthy and powerful, survival was tenuous. Political intrigues and backhanded maneuvers by upstarts and competitors often resulted in a total reversal of fortune. If the fall from grace – grace of the sovereign, grace of a patron, grace of a landlord or employer – was severe enough, you could find yourself homeless, in jail, or headless. Occasionally all three in quick succession, as Sir Walter Raleigh found out not long after his beloved sponsor Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne to the less benevolent James I (IV) of Scotland.3

At court in London there were constant political intrigues, plots against the crown or against favorites at court. There were spies and spy watchers, and an endless whisper of suspicion and rumor against any and all. England, in the era of Robert Beheathland, was not yet an imperial power. It was hardly even a united kingdom. It teetered on the brink of civil upheaval and suffered dreadfully from political corruption and social injustice from the parish level, to the seats of Parliament, to the very crown.4

Persecution of Catholics and Dissenters

Under Henry VIII, who reigned from 1509 to 1547, Catholics were converted by force, exiled or killed. Their property and lands confiscated and redistributed to loyal favorites. Under Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter who reigned from 1548 until 1603, it still wasn’t healthy to be a Catholic, but it was even worse to be a non-conformist. Under her successor, James I, who reigned from 1603 until 1625, religious tolerance was encouraged from the throne, but the Church of England stubbornly refused to go along. A schism developed between James’ supporters, the Established Church, and the growing community of non-conformists and dissenters who opposed the church, sought to limit the power of the monarchy, and demanded greater civil liberties, including freedom to practice the faith of their choosing, and rights of free speech and free assembly. The end result of this schism was the English Civil War in which the King (Charles I) was executed by the non-conformist Oliver Cromwell. For a period Cromwell and Parliament ruled England. England fell into factions and rebelled – violently.

This was a difficult time to be a person of conviction and courage. The political and social winds changed direction so schizophrenically and with a force so deadly, that it was impossible to know where to stand, and who to stand with, lest you be blown over or mowed down. This was the era in which the first English colonies in the New World were planned, conceived, and born.5

Economic Paradigm Shift

If all this religious and political intrigue was not enough, let’s consider the economics of life in England at the time. This period – late Tudor through the Jacobean – introduces to Europe the first real whiff of Capitalism and economic competition. Pre-Renaissance England, like most of Europe, had been entirely feudal. The greatest majority of the people lived on the land; land owned by a feudal lord who in turn paid tribute and loyalty to a greater lord or a prince or king. The people worked the land collectively and were generally guaranteed employment for life, a home of reasonable quality in which to live, and protection from enemies, criminals and invaders. This, of course, in exchange for their unquestioning loyalty, their labor, and occasionally their willingness to go to battle and perhaps die in defense of the status quo.

With the rise of international trade, organized banking systems and fractional reserve lending, sovereign debt, competition at court, religious conflict, an emergent class of professional lawyers who advised the nobility and the King, and the introduction of the concept of competitive Capitalism, things got much more complicated for the average person just trying to make a living. The result by the end of the sixteenth century, was that most of the common lands which had been farmed cooperatively by the tenants of nobles were closed, fenced off, sold, or confiscated. Tenants, the overwhelming majority of whom claimed ancestral ties to the land going back to the Anglo-Saxon era, were turned out to fend for themselves. With nowhere to go except into towns in an attempt to find wage paying work, and with few skills other than farming, they were lost – completely destitute. The cities began to fill up with what chroniclers of the era called beggars, sharpers, drifters, and all variety of vagrants. These people formed the first great underclass of the first true city in the British Isles – London.

Between 1500 and 1600 London’s population exploded from 60,000 to 225,000 as a result of these sweeping social and legal changes. By 1660 the population of London swelled to 460,000 souls. One in ten Englishmen lived in the city. This was a complete reversal of the demography from just two generations earlier.6

We can hardly imagine what a walled city of half a million people must have been like. A city with no sanitation services, no running water, no toilets, or waste water disposal. Nor did they have building codes, zoning restrictions, fire codes, hospitals, a police force or emergency services of any sort. The place was a teeming, seething, reeking, den of chaos in which just about anything could and did occur without warning. Food shortages were the norm. Inflation was rampant. Crime was endemic. Employment in anything legal was the exception rather than the rule. Violence, lack of sanitation, deprivation, sickness, and disease kept the life expectancy to about thirty years old. The infant mortality rate was a frightening 50%.7

Dysentery was a favorite friend, as was typhoid. The bubonic and pneumonic plagues made several visits and in 1665 did their part to diminish the over-crowding problem by wiping out 30-40% of London’s population (deaths were estimated at 100,000 people in less than one year alone.)8 When the plague was done, the Great London Fire of 1666 destroyed much of the city, especially the poorly constructed slums and suburbs where foreign immigrants and new arrivals from the countryside were forced to live.9 There was no FEMA to come to anyone’s aid. People lived out of doors. They got sick. The sick died. The dead often lay in the streets for days before being dragged off by dogs or hauled to mass graves on the edge of town. It was truly a hellish existence for the greatest swath of society. Not a romantic period at all. This is a place that most people – if they could have – would have left. Even if it meant crossing an ocean and landing in a wilderness to do it.

The overwhelming majority of Jamestown’s first colonists were recruited (or conscripted) from the ranks of London’s citizens. There is good evidence that about half of these were from the lower classes of slum dwellers – people with very few options and absolutely no financial resources with which to improve their condition. Given the limited opportunities and dreadful living conditions that London offered its poorest citizens, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the Virginia Company was successful in recruiting “adventurers” willing to risk the months-long Atlantic Crossing. These folks had little to lose and everything to gain if the adventure succeeded. But what about the other half of the colonists, the “gentlemen” and the more fortunate participants who were recruited from remote regions of the kingdom?

Robert Beheathland, as example, never lived in London so far as we know. At the time just before the first Jamestown voyage, he was just a teenager living on the far western coast of England. His home, St. Endellion in County Cornwall, is literally as far west from London as one can travel without going for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. In the seventeenth century it was a rural, under-populated countryside that offered physical distance from the plagues of the city, and a good, healthy, fresh air life to its inhabitants. On face value it would seem incredible that someone from a place seemingly as bucolic and safe as St. Endellion would chose to risk life and limb to go to Virginia. We have to look closely at the reach of social upheaval and the economics of early 17th century England to understand such a decision.

First – Cornwall was still staunchly Catholic in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Landed gentry and noble families who escaped the plagues, perils, and persecutions of a century earlier still clung (usually secretly) to their Catholic faith in Cornwall, but that holding-on was tenuous at best. A Catholic who came to the attention of the established church authorities (whether by his own actions or that of a competitor) could be exiled, jailed, have his lands seized, lose his life, or perhaps all of the above. One way a family ensured its survival against this kind of persecution was by sending its children out of the country. It was an early form of spreading the risk. There is excellent archeological evidence from Jamestown that there were practicing Catholics among the earliest colonists.10 What’s more, early promoters of colonization openly stated that they believed “planting colonies” was a preferred way of getting rid of undesirables in England, from criminals and vagrants to political enemies to religious dissenters like Catholics and non-conformists.11

Next – We know that risk and debt often played a big role in a family’s decision regarding participation in capital ventures. It was not uncommon for rural landowners of this period (more common among so-called “gentlemen”, semi-noble, and noble families, than among yeomen farmers) to get into significant debt by over-extravagant living. The nobility were often land-rich and cash-poor, which made it difficult to live “up to” their position in society without going into debt. One solution to this dilemma – an often ruinous solution – was to participate in a capital venture that promised tremendous rewards – if it paid off. The Jamestown adventure was just such a capital risk. The formation of the Virginia colony was not a government sponsored operation. It was a privately funded venture – no different from a high-tech start-up today. The “adventurers” were the early investors. They either invested cash to fund the start-up, or they invested flesh and blood. Some landowners who wanted to get rid of their tenants put them on boats to the colonies with a hope of a return on their labor if they survived. Some, seeking greater returns, sent excess family abroad.12

Captain John Smith in his reports back to the Virginia Company complained bitterly about the over-abundance of “gentlemen” among the first colonists, and not enough people with the skills, knowledge, and willingness to do the difficult, physical work required to carve a functional, self-sufficient community out of the raw wilderness of Virginia.13 Robert Beheathland was listed among the first planting of colonists at Jamestown as just such a soft-handed “gentleman.” Most of these “gentlemen” were the fourth or fifth sons of cash-poor, landed gentry or lower nobility. They were, in the coldest view of seventeenth century life, excess to the needs of society.

Robert Beheathland was the youngest of four sons.14 That was a terrible thing to be in seventeenth century in England. Every good landed family needed a male heir to take over the property. It needed a spare in case the eldest died young. This second son was usually educated in the law in order to assist his older brother in the management of the estate, keep the family on solid financial and legal footing, while also earning a living on the bench. If there was a third son, he was trained for the clergy or sent into the Army or Navy to seek his fortune on his own wits. Good situations in any of these professions could be purchased at an affordable price. Fourth, fifth, or later sons – they were simply out of luck. After establishing the third son, most families were out of funds to purchase good positions in professional society, pay for education, or support the spare children beyond their most basic needs – certainly not enough to marry, have a home, or start a family. Robert was unfortunate in regard to the order of his birth. He didn’t even have the benefit of being a lowly yeoman farmer’s son – a boy who would have been raised knowing the generalities of everything from farming and livestock management, to building, to carpentry, to blacksmithing. He had few skills and no money. His prospects for making his own way would have been extremely difficult and his family was under no legal or even traditional obligation to maintain him. The venture offered by the Virginia Company provided Robert’s father, as well as many others like him, a potential means to make a quick return on investment while disposing of an unwanted expense – if things worked out right. If they didn’t, then his loss, in the cold, hard economics of 17th century life, would be no real loss at all – except the obvious sadness of losing a child who, given the circumstances, had a very limited chance of survival at home.

Given the time that’s passed since Robert Beheathland’s era and our own, we can’t know which of these possibilities put Beheathland on the boat that left Blackwall in late December 1606. What we can know with a moderate level of confidence is that it was probably not young Robert’s idea, and he probably wasn’t happy about it. He certainly knew that he had no other prospect, so – like many others who followed him in the decades and centuries to come – he put his head down and steeled himself to his fate.

The voyage wasn’t an easy one. Before the adventurers were even twenty miles off the coast of Devon, the weather turned, preventing the three vessels from sailing west. The ships – the Susan Constant, the Discovery, and the Godspeed – languished off the English coast for nearly a month. Burning through their stores of fresh water and food, enduring freezing temperatures and drenching rain, the colonists broke out early into bitter regrets. There was lots of whining and complaining – followed by the death of one of the passengers. This early bad luck didn’t bode well for the future success of the voyage.15

The English Class System – Compressed
There were even greater complications for this first voyage than bad weather and bad timing. This collection of would-be colonists, sailors, adventurers, and officers represented a microcosm of 17th century English social strata; all trapped together on board three tiny vessels. The people languished without anything to distract them over a many months long voyage, without enough food, clean water, or privacy. All ranks of society pressed together on the turbulent seas, cheek by jowl. It would have been impossible for difficulties not to break out. The most dramatic event that occurred was a petty, high seas power struggle which threatened the lives and futures of every member of the crew and would-be colonists.

Christopher Newport was the Captain of the Susan Constant, the flagship of the little fleet. According to Virginia Company orders, Newport also served as commandant of the overall voyage until the colonists were safely planted in Virginia and a governor could be selected. On the high seas, his position was one of absolute authority. He had the power of arrest, and even the authority to execute someone if the offense was serious enough – like mutiny, for example.

Another important person on the voyage was Captain John Smith. Smith was already a legend in England, well-known for his exploits from Turkey to Russia, to his mercenary battles against Spain. His career was renowned because he was his own biggest promoter. Among his myriad talents was that of published author and gifted storyteller. He was headstrong. He was smart. And – to his detriment among the elite on board the ship – he didn’t subscribe to the classic English custom of mild-mannered deference to his social betters. He believed in trusting ability and accomplishment before birth and title, and he let everyone know it.

Smith was born into a small-hold, yeoman farm family in a remote part of eastern England. He left home at sixteen years old and went to sea. Over the course of a thirty-year career he made himself into one of the world’s greatest adventurers, survivors, and professional soldiers. He was a geographer, a map maker, a writer, and even a bit of a poet. He was a true Renaissance man in nearly every respect. He’d been all over the world and survived to tell it.16 It was his experience in dangerous expeditions like the one to Virginia that brought Captain John Smith to the attention of the Virginia Company. The organizers became convinced that they needed his experience, his bravery, and his wits to make a go of it. He was one of the few men in the kingdom with the skills and the fortitude to make a venture like this one succeed. He was recruited by the founders of the Company – among them his biggest fan, Richard Hakluyt – to join the venture and take a leading role in its direction.17

Christopher Newport was not John Smith’s biggest fan. Newport was made Master of the Royal Navy in 1606, just before his jaunt to Jamestown. Prior to this Royal appointment, he made a vast fortune for himself and others among London’s merchant elite, acting as a privateer, picking off Spanish treasure ships as they made the perilous crossing from Central America back to Spain, laden with tons of gold and silver. Newport’s successes were just as well documented as Smith’s and his swashbuckling reputation was further buoyed by his immense, if recently acquired wealth – the sole advantage that Captain John Smith lacked. While Newport was no noblemen in the strict English sense, he was firmly entrenched among the newly minted class of self-made aristocrats swiftly gaining importance in Capitalist England. Because of his immense wealth, he was able to move among the nobility and upper gentry as a relative equal, even if he lacked a title or old family lineage.

Unfortunately, there was not enough room to accommodate both Newport’s and Smith’s egos in all of the Atlantic Ocean. There certainly wasn’t room for both on board a single tiny ship.

In the short run Newport won the dangerous game the two played during the voyage. John Smith was placed under arrest on charges of mutiny. He was put in chains in the ships hold until Newport could determine what to do with him. Whether these charges were legitimate or trumped-up, it’s difficult to know, but given the accusation that Smith intended to murder his superiors (Newport, et al), seize the ships, and then make himself “King” of Virginia, the charges do seem a little extreme (and given Smith’s carelessness for titles, also unlikely.). Newport planned to execute Smith when the ships made landfall, but that plan didn’t quite work out.

“…Such factions here we had, as commonly attend such voyages, that a paire of gallowes was made, but Captain Smith, for whom they were intended, could not be persuaded to use them.”

General History of Virginia, by Captain John Smith

Captain Smith had friends and supporters on board all three vessels. Once they were all united on land, Newport had to accept the fact that their high opinion of the man outnumbered his fears. Technically he could have carried out the execution, but that would not have played well back in London given the overwhelming number of voices claiming Smith’s innocence and demanding his release. The last thing Newport needed was a genuine mutiny. He had more than 110 people on board three ships to care for, including prospective colonists and crew. His fate and reputation depended upon him getting them safely to their destination without catastrophe or insurrection. He swallowed his pride and got on with business, hoping for a new day of reckoning with Smith. Smith remained under arrest for the remainder of the voyage. It’s unlikely that he remained a silent, cooperative prisoner.

Captain John Smith was a man either loved or hated by any who knew him. There was no middle ground. Likewise, he was a man of strong opinions. He either determined you were valuable and worthy of his respect, or he dismissed you entirely. Sometimes his opinions and loyalties switched directions in a blink. He was as unpredictable as he was ruthless. Generally speaking however, his concerns were directed in the best interest of the colony’s survival. If history has painted his character fairly, he rarely put his own gratification – either material or psychological – above the well-being of the colony at large. The same could not be said of his enemies, most of whom glorified and pampered themselves while the colonists suffered.

Robert Beheathland had a few things going for him that some of his fellow-colonists did not. The first was that Captain John Smith apparently liked him. It was simple luck that most likely put Robert on board the same ship with Smith. He may even have been chosen by Newport to tend to Smith – bring him food and water, check on him, etc. – when Smith was in chains in the ships hold. That would make sense given Robert’s youth and elevated social station. Newport would have considered Robert a safe caretaker, someone who could not materially or physically assist the prisoner, someone who would not have the fortitude to go against the true authority on board the vessel. Beheathland was a “gentleman” after all, and he knew his slightly elevated place in the pecking order. He knew as well that Smith was a commoner of no social consequence – something that would have mattered materially back in England. Once in Virginia, the usefulness of such distinctions would quickly come into question. This was something Smith anticipated – while Newport and his fellow aristocrats clearly did not.

The other advantage that Robert Beheathland had over his companions was his youth. He was probably not more than twenty years old when he boarded the ship that would carry him to Virginia. Because he was young his habits were not fixed. He had not grown as lazy and arrogant as some of his fellow “gentlemen”. In addition, his youth made him teachable and probably even eager under the right tutelage. Captain Smith provided a mentor the likes of which most of us can only dream of.

Consider it. You’re an impressionable youngster from the rural hinterlands of England, stuck on board a ship with forty grown men, the majority of whom are Londoners in lace sleeves and ruffled collars. You have just been given the assignment to spend time with the toughest, shrewdest, leanest, meanest, adventurer in English history. This man is swarthy, scarred, built like a fortress, and he has the most amazing stories to tell. You spend your time listening to his tales of outsmarting the Turks, whipping the Spaniards, surviving off the land across the wilderness of Russia with enemies in hot pursuit. Who are you going to align yourself with? The effete, lace-cuffed captain and his lace-cuffed friends at the helm? Or the unsinkable, unkillable, undefeated superhero in the hold? You’re an untested boy who is stuck on a voyage to the edge of the world. It’s not a difficult decision to make.


Newport accomplished his mission. He got the ships and his human cargo safely to Virginia. The fleet anchored in the broad river up the Chesapeake Bay on May 13, 1607. In a demonstration of loyalty to their king, they named the river “James”.18

Captain Smith was still under considerable suspicion by the elite men of the voyage when the contents of the box containing the orders of the Virginia Company were unlocked and read aloud before the whole party of colonists. According to the rules outlined by the Company, Edward Maria Wingfield (1550 – 1631), was named President of the infant colony. His appointment was an obvious one. He was a nobleman. As important, he was one of the prime movers in the Virginia Company “showing great charge and industry”. He was one of the four incorporators of the London Virginia Company in the Virginia Charter of 1606, and one of its biggest financial backers. He recruited about forty of the 105 colonists, and was the only shareholder in the venture to sail with the expedition.19

Wingfield’s first decision as leader was the selection of the site of where the company would land and make fortifications, the place that they would name “Jamestowne” in deference to their sovereign, James I.20 Even in this early decision, Wingfield revealed his worthiness to lead such an adventure as woefully inadequate. The site was low, swampy, and wet. The water supply was brackish and stagnant. The area was infested with mosquitoes and ticks, and the soil was unsuitable for cultivation, being too thin, too salty, and too acidic to grow much of anything successfully except scrubs and marsh grasses. The only benefits the site offered was a deep water landing for the temporarily moored ships and an excellent view of vessels approaching from the Chesapeake and from upriver. At least in this regard the site offered a reasonably good defensive position.21

The orders from the Virginia Company complicated the politics of the new colony. John Smith’s name appeared second on the list of seven councilors appointed to govern the infant colony, just after that of Bartholemew Gosnold, Wingfield’s cousin, and also a mover and shaker in the financing of the Virginia Company expedition. Wingfield, a man of social and financial consequence, determined immediately to hate and distrust John Smith. He made the unilateral decision to exclude Smith from the crew of counselors who would govern Jamestown, going against the explicit instructions from the Virginia Company. Unfortunately for Wingfield, democracy was already beginning to flower in the nascent colony. The colonists steadfastly demanded Smith be freed from his arrest and restored to the governing council. The colonists won the day, much to the chagrin of Wingfield, Newport, and a host of lace-cuffed “gentlemen” who desperately wanted to put the brash, low-born soldier in his place.22

It’s not my goal here to recount the entire history of the Jamestown settlement. What is important to know is that Wingfieled failed miserably as a leader and was sent back to London in short order to answer for his mismanagement. Wingfield’s cousin, Gosnold died within three months of landing in Virginia, and so shortly John Smith was made president of the colony. With the colony on the brink of collapse, John Smith whipped the place into shape and saved the entire venture. He saved the colonists from starvation and eradication at the hands of the natives. He didn’t make a lot of friends, however. The “gentlemen” especially, grew to resent him because he enforced a “No work, no food” law which required every man to pull his own weight – or starve.23 Under Smith there was no deference given to social rank or political connection. Even the effete, lace-cuffed gentlemen were required to cut and split wood, raise and repair buildings, plow fields, cook and clean, and tend to all the necessary chores required to keep the colony afloat. It’s not surprising to learn that after the imposition of the “No work, no food” rule, the overall health of the colonists improved remarkably.

At Smith’s right hand throughout the early drama of the colony, throughout the intrigue and death-defying exploits amongst the native Indians – along with a few other hand-selected followers – was “Master Beheathland.” Robert Beheathland proved himself as a bodyguard and a skilled soldier on several occasions when the natives attempted to double-cross Smith and his companions. Beheathland’s name appears glowingly in the written accounts penned by Smith in reports to the Virginia Company, as well as in later recounting of his exploits in Virginia.24

Of the 105 or so original colonists, most never intended to stay in Virginia. The greatest number of the “gentlemen” believed they would come to the colony, discover piles of gold lying on top of the ground, make a fortune and return to England fabulously wealthy. In fact, of the few men who actually made it back to England, most returned broke, sick, disgruntled, and telling anyone who would listen what an absolute catastrophe the place was. Those survivors were the lucky ones. Of the original 105 or so men who arrived at Jamestown in 1607, only 37 remained alive after the first year. The rest were leveled by disease, execution, murder, accidental death, hunger – and some were killed by the natives.25

Researchers have spent years pouring over the statistics and reports of this early settlement. They have discovered that the 15 to 20 men who spent weeks and months exploring the inland with John Smith, spending time with the natives and even dealing with violent attacks and weeks of sleeping outside, survived at a much higher rate than the men who remained safely ensconced inside the palisades at Jamestown. Historians now believe Captain Smith and his men’s higher rate of survival is due to a healthier setting, fresh food, clean water, and exercise. The men who remained at Jamestown were prisoners to an infected and violent environment.26 Robert Beheathland was always with Smith.27 This simple fact helped him live.

In Smith’s company, he learned invaluable lessons of survival that would pay off in the months and even decades to come. He learned how to trade according to native Indian custom. He learned how and what to plant in order to eat year-round and what could be collected wild in the forest. He learned at least the rudiments of the native language and native customs. He learned how to maneuver outdoors in an inhospitable environment. He learned how to work hard, how to navigate the waterways and travel quickly and quietly over land, and how to sleep with one eye open. In essence, he learned how to live – while most of his peers at Jamestown only learned how to die in competitively spectacular and tragic ways.

At Jamestown they died from malaria, bowel infections, and starvation. They died by the gallows, blade and bullet execution. They died at the hands of their fellow colonists in blinding fits of frustrated rage, and in some cases – the worst of all during “The Starving Times” – they were eaten by their compatriots. Jamestown was a horrible place. It’s no wonder that Captain John Smith and his loyal band stayed as far away from the fort for as long as they could. The native Indians, no matter how strange, were not as barbaric or desperate as their fellow Englishmen.28

Gradually things did improve for the colony. Additional supply ships arrived, bringing victuals, tools, and eventually fresh colonists who were better suited to building a community in the wilderness. Among them were carpenters and blacksmiths, foresters and farmers, men that Captain John Smith approved of and saw real value in. Some women even began to arrive and this brought stability and a measure of civilization to the community. It’s recorded in the early Jamestown history that Robert Beheathland married a woman named Mary Nicholson. Since Robert was quite young when he first ventured to Virginia, it’s unlikely he was married prior to his journey. It’s far more likely that Mary ventured to Virginia only after Robert survived the first two or three most difficult years of the experiment. It’s certain she did not come to Jamestown prior to 1608, as this is the first supply of colonists to include any women. We know very little of Mary except that she was believed to also be from St. Endellion, Cornwall. It’s fairly certain that Robert knew Mary prior to his adventure. It’s possible that they were as close kin as cousins.

Mary Nicholson must have been made of as tough a substance as her husband Robert. In Virginia she gave her husband at least three children who survived into adulthood. These include Mary, John, and Dorothy. Dorothy married Randall Crewe (c.1604 – c.1630), of Cheshire England,29 from whom our direct line descends.

In 1620 Robert Beheathland returned to England as a representative of his fellow colonists for the purpose of petitioning the Royal Council of England for a qualified governor for the colony in Virginia. In 1639, Robert and Mary’s son, John, made the voyage from Virginia to Cornwall, in order to sue Ursula Beheathland (John’s aunt by marriage to Anthony Beheathland, Robert’s brother, John’s uncle) for John’s portion of his grandfather, Richard Beheathland’s estate. He won in court (£80), but John died en route back to Virginia before he could reunite with his family.

Can you imagine traveling across an ocean for £80? Risking your life for it, as John did? In the 17th century £80 would have been worth about $23,000 today.30 While we may not risk life and limb for $23,000, we might think seriously about it. In colonial Virginia £80 would buy an awful lot of land, tobacco seed, and labor to work it all into a profitable crop.

We know that Robert Beheathland was deceased by 1628, when his widow Mary’s name appeared in court records in regard to land she inherited. In this record, she is shown remarried to a Lieutenant Tomas Flint of Elizabeth City. In subsequent court records, her daughter Dorothy’s name appears in tandem with her husband, Randall Crewe. From Randall and Dorothy, as the 17th century gave way to the 18th, a vigorous and successful family line filled Southside Virginia and the northern border counties of central and eastern North Carolina with innumerable descendants bearing the surnames Crew, Crewe, and Crews. Most of these early descendants became farmers. More than a few climbed swiftly into the gentry class, building wealth and social status by acquiring large tracks of land, buying and selling slaves, and growing tobacco for export into an insatiable European market.

Robert Beheathland is designated an “Original Planter” of the Jamestown Colony. His descendants can claim ancestry from one of the very first European families of this nation. Of the 105 or so colonists to land and stake claim to Virginia soil in 1607, it appears that only Beheathland lived long enough to have descendants who survived into the modern era.31 Robert Beheathland lived through a period of upheaval and conflict that we cannot comprehend. He persevered when all others around him either perished or fled. He found a way to succeed in a world racked by betrayal, failure, war, and incomprehensible suffering and loss. The fact that Robert Beheathland not only survived but thrived is something we can all – as his living legacy – take a great deal of pride in. We descend from remarkably resilient stuff – a particularly American flavor of ancient nobility.

Notes & Footnotes

1. The Jamestowne Society. “Washington & Northern Virginia Company – Biographies of Ancestors of Members – Robert Behe(a)thland.” Last modified, November 2003.

2. For a precisely detailed, incredibly well-researched picture of the everyday person’s life in Tudor England, consult, Picard, Liza. Elizabeth’s London – Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. (St. Martin’s Press, 2004.)

3. Picard, Elizabeth’s London – Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. Chapters14 and 15.

4.For an accessible examination of the high-level political intrigues of the Tudor and Jacobean eras, consult the following three volumes:

Jardine, Lisa and Alan Stewart. Hostage to Fortune – The Troubled life of Francis Bacon. (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998.)

Cooper, John. The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England. (Pegasus, 2013.)

Budiansky, Stephan. Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage. (Plume, 2006.)

5. Trevelyan, Raleigh. Sir Walter Raleigh: Being a True and Vivid Account of the Life and Times of the Explorer, Soldier, Scholar, Poet, and Courtier – The Controversial Hero of the Elizabethan Age. (Macmillan, 2002.)

6. Stone, Lawrence. “The Residential Development of the West End of London in the Seventeenth Century,” in After the Reformation: Essays in Honor of J. H. Hexter, ed., Barbara C. Malament and Jack H. Hexter. (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1980)

7. Historic Royal Palaces. “Death,” by Dr. Peter Marshall. Accessed June 22, 2014.

8. Platt, Colin. King Death – The Black Death and Its Aftermath in Late Medieval England. (Toronto: University Press, 1997; first published 1996.)

9. Leasor, James. The Plague and the Fire. (London: House of Stratus, 2001.)

10. Keslo, Dr. William. Jamestown, the Buried Truth. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.)

11. Richard Hakluyt, “A Discourse Concerning Western Planting Written in the Year 1584,” in Maine Historical Society Collections, ed., Charles Deane (Maine: Maine Historical Society, 1831.)

12. Rabb, Theodore. Enterprise and Empire: Merchant and Gentry Investment in the Expansion of England, 1575-1630. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.)

13. Smith, Captain John. Writings with Other Narratives of Roanoke, Jamestown, and the First English Settlement of America, ed., James P. Horn (Library of America, 2007.)

14. “Virginia Gleanings in England”, in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 11, (Baltimore, Maryland: The Genealogical Publishing Company, 1980.) 657. (Originally published in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1904.)

15. Smith, Captain John. A General Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, with the Names of the Adventurers, Planters, and Governours, from their first beginning, An. 1584 to this present 1624. (Murfreesboro, NC: Johnson Publishing Company, facsimile reprint, c. 1980.) 41 – 42.

16. Smith, Writings with Other Narratives.

17. Hakluyt, “A Discourse Concerning Western Planting Written in the Year 1584,” in Maine Historical Society Collections.

18. Philip Barbour, ed., The Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter, 1606-1609, (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press,1969.)

19. Barbour, The Jamestowne Voyages.

20. Barbour, The Jamestowne Voyages.

21. Barbour, The Jamestowne Voyages.

22. Barbour, The Jamestowne Voyages.

23. Barbour, The Jamestowne Voyages.

24. Smith, A General Historie of Virginia.

25. Barbour, The Jamestowne Voyages.

26. Keslo, Jamestown, the Buried Truth.

27. Smith, A General Historie of Virginia.

28. Keslo, Jamestown, the Buried Truth.

29. Hotten, John Camden, ed., “The Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Political Rebels; Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went From Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600 – 1700. With Their Ages, the Localities Where They Formerly Lived in the Mother Country, the Names of the Ships in Which They Embarked, and Other Interesting Particulars,” from Manuscripts Preserved in the State Papers Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, England. (New York: Reprinted by Empire State Book. Originally printed in London, 1874.)

Quoted from text: “Servant’s – Randall Crew aged 20 yeres in the Charles 1621.”

30. To arrive at the rough figure of $23,000.00, I used a publicly available inflation rate calculator available at: This tool only allows historical inflation rates to be calculated from data going back to 1751, therefore it is to be presumed that the actual value of the original £80 was actually worth even more than £13,453.51 in today’s money. After resolving a general increase from inflation, I applied the daily (06/22/2014) conversion rate (1 to 1.70) for BPS to USD, thus arriving at $22,870.96.

31. Thorndale, William. “William Spencer and the Whiting Family of Earliest Virginia” in The Virginia Geneolgist, Vol. 36, No. 4, October – December 1992. (Falmouth, VA: John Frederick Dorman, 1992) 289.

Summary of article: Until recently it was believed that one other original Jamestown colonist – William Spence(r) – also survived to marry and have descendants. There is a great deal of debate raging among historians, archeologists, and genealogists as to whether Spence’s descendants actually survived. Initially William Spence (no “r”), who arrived on the Susan Constant in 1607, was confused with William Spencer, who arrived aboard the Sarah in 1611. Spencer’s family has survived – that is not in question. However, he is not considered an “Original Planter”. It appears now that William Spence (no “r”, who arrived on the Susan Constant in 1607) and his wife were killed by natives during the Anglo-Powhatan war. Their 3 year-old daughter Sarah was left an orphan with no further indication of her survival past the single court record appointing a guardian for her in 1624. Given this new information it appears that only Beheathland’s descendants can, with any certainty, claim “first family” status.

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