Tuesday, October 13, 2009

delanceyplace.com 10/13/09 - jamestown and china

In today's excerpt - England's motivation in
establishing colonies such as Jamestown was
commercial, in large part to find a river
route through North America to the Pacific
Ocean and China. Englishmen invested vast
sums in Jamestown and other colonies in
search of huge payoffs from trade with the

"[Sir Thomas] Smythe was leading the effort
to reorganize the struggling Jamestown
venture under a new royal charter.
Smythe would serve as the treasurer (the de
facto governor) of this 'second'
Virginia Company when it was chartered in May
1609. The Virginia venture
would send out an unprecedented nine-vessel
relief flotilla to Jamestown that
summer, and it evidently was consuming the
lion's share of available capital [in
London]. ...

"With more than six hundred active investors,
the [Virginia] company's objectives were so
multifold that there were heated
disagreements on priorities: Establish a
profitable plantation? Find a passage through
the continent
to the Orient? Secure cargoes of medicinal
herbs? Seek out rumored mineral riches,
especially gold? ...

"As strange as it might seem
to us today, the idea of reaching China by
cutting through the heart of
North America was a powerfully persuasive
idea [at that] time, which
owed its currency to arguments made in a
little book that had recently been
a bestseller. It was a publishing phenomenon
... called A Briefe and True Relation of the
Discoverie of the North Part of Virginia, ...
and the author was John Brereton.

"The volume was inflated with content meant to
lure investors to the cause of exploration
and colonization. ... A
key component was a treatise by Edward Hayes
on colonization and exploration. ... Inspired
by the river systems of Europe and western
Asia, Hayes proposed that there must be also
great rivers in North America draining not
only eastward, into the Atlantic, but also
westward, into the Pacific, within
the temperate zone. The midcontinental gap
between the headwaters of
these as yet undiscovered rivers he imagined
to be perhaps one hundred
leagues, or three hundred miles. Goods could
be transported overland between them by
horses, mules, or 'beasts of that country apt
to labour' such
as elk or buffalo, or 'by the aid of many
Savages accustomed to burdens;
who shall stead us greatly in these

"Hayes argued that a route to the Orient
could be found through the continent of
North America, instead of above it. ... He
also believed that colonization was a
precursor to making a passage search. ... His
passage-making premise was at the core of
English designs on eastern North America.
Both the Jamestown and Kennebec
colonies of the original Virginia Company
were sited with the idea of exploiting a
river course that met Hayes's
transcontinental criteria, and much
of the initial energy at Jamestown was
devoted to investigating such a route,
initially on the river James.

" 'When it shall please God to send you on
the coast of Virginia,' the first
flotilla of the London wing of the Virginia
Company was instructed by its
backers in 1606, 'you shall do your best
endeavour to find out a safe port
in the entrance of some navigable river,
making choice of such a one as runneth
farthest into the land.' And if they
discovered several suitable rivers,
among which one had two main branches, 'if
the difference be not great,
make choice of that which bendeth most toward
the Northwest for that way
you shall soonest find the other sea.'

"This 'other sea' was the South Sea, the East
India Sea, the 'Back' Sea:
the Pacific Ocean."

Douglas Hunter, Half Moon, Bloomsbury,
Copyright 2009 by Douglas Hunter, pp. 24, 50,
71,73, 76.


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