- Historic Sites
Of Raleigh And The First Plantation
The Elizabethans and America: Part II -- The fate of the Virginia Colony rested on the endurance of adventurers, the financing of London merchants, and the favor of a courtier with his demanding spinster Queen.
June 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 4
At home the interest displayed in very different quarters tells its own story. In matters of policy James I did not depart from the stand Queen Elizabeth had taken on America, though there were people, Sir Edwin Sandys among them, who were afraid that he might give way to the Spaniards. Anyway, in the first years that mattered most, he had Cecil beside him to guide policy on the Elizabethan lines. James’s own interest did not amount to much. We have an exchange between Southampton and Salisbury in 1609 which shows what they thought. James had heard of the Virginia squirrels that were said to fly, and asked Southampton whether there were none for him, and whether Salisbury had not provided some for him. Southampton would not have told Salisbury, “but that you know so well how he is affected to these toys.” One notices the contrast between the lightheaded James in these matters and the profound and tenacious concern of the great Queen. And indeed nothing could have advertised that contrast more signally to the world than James’s execution of Raleigh at the behest of Spain.
More worthy of respect is the interest of ordinary Englishmen in all walks of life in the new England rising on the other side of the Atlantic. The bishops raised a fund of some £2,000 for an Indian college and for the support of an Indian school, though the company was too short of funds to use them for the purpose. One day in November, 1620, a stranger stepped into a meeting of the court and presented Raleigh’s history of Guiana, with a map and four great books, for the college; twelve months later a stranger again came forward with more books for the college. Most touching of all are the collections made on board the East Indiamen for Virginia. In 1621 at the Cape of Good Hope, the Royal James collected £70 6 s. 8 d. toward building a free school, the highest amount ten marks from Captain Pring, and so down to 1 shilling from the mariners. Two other ships collected 100 marks—in all £192 1 s. 10 d. —that Virginia might have a school. When we think of the hard conditions of those sailors’ lives, and out of their little pay contributing their shillings, we glimpse something of what America meant for those simple English folk.
On the other hand, there is all that the old country meant for the new. Professor Wesley Frank Craven rightly emphasizes that the beginnings of American history can properly be read only forward from the Elizabethan England of which it was an extrapolation, not backwards from modern America. He is writing in particular about the South, though what he says also applies with little change to the North: The historian who would trace the main threads woven into the pattern of Southern life must, therefore, turn first to England. … For it was the Elizabethan Englishman who planned and undertook the settlements to which most of us look back as on our beginnings. The Elizabethan tongue that once rang out across the James and the York may still be heard in certain out-of-the-way spots of the South. The Elizabethan devotion to Protestantism, born of a long defense of Elizabeth’s church settlement and fed on the fiery materials of John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, still survives to shape the fundamental tenets of the great majority of Southerners. Even the institutional pattern our forefathers adapted to the peculiar requirements of a new-world environment was more Elizabethan than anything else. Though sheriffs, coroners, constables, justices of the peace, juries, and representative assemblies were ancient parts of the English scene, it was as their place and function had been defined under Elizabeth that the early colonists understood them. Here, too, has the South, ever prompt to recognize individual achievement, discovered the first heroic figures of her history—Elizabeth herself and Raleigh.