This Day (Fingers Crossed Edition)

Published:January 7, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1587, having already seen one colony at Roanoke fail, Sir Walter Raleigh—probably still hung over from the previous night’s Twelfth Night masque—drew up a charter for another one. Except that this colony would not be at Roanoke. His men having chopped the head off a local Indian chief, Raleigh understood that the optics weren’t good. Better to settle up north in the Chesapeake Bay, where the water was deeper and the Indians (fingers crossed) were friendlier. So when he stamped his seal on The Governor and Assistants of the Cittie of Raleigh in Virginea and sent John White and company on their way, this was the agreed-upon plan: Chesapeake. Not Roanoke.


Also on this day, in 1608, fire destroyed the church, kitchen, storehouse, and all but three of the houses at Jamestown. And most of the supplies. I’m tempted to think that the folks up there in Sidney King’s painting are a little too calm (and toasty-looking) for the circumstances. As the historian James Horn has written, “The men were left to face the icy conditions with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the provisions still aboard the ship. It was a crippling blow and immediately reduced the English once again to dependence on the Indians for food.”

Fingers crossed!

IMAGE: Burning of James Fort, 1608 by Sidney King (National Park Service)