On the banks of the Thames at Blackwall stands a monument to a cold December day in 1606 when three small ships set sail from this spot, aboard were the first settlers setting out for the New World since those who had vanished after landing at Roanoake ten years before. It was also fourteen years before the Mayflower made itâ€™s epic journey.
The passage wasnâ€™t an easy one, and it wasnâ€™t made easier that most on board werenâ€™t experienced sailors but merchants who had never been to sea before. At one point they became becalmed in the Irish sea and tempers began to fray during which Captain Smith was accused of wrongdoing and was put under shipboard arrest for the rest of the journey which took months.
Towards the end of April 1607 they came within site of their destination, by then it was discovered that Captain Smith had been wrongly accused. By now many of the men and boys were exhausted by the long and arduous trip, and by sickness, one young man had died on the journey, so as they sailed up a river, which they named after King James, they decided to tie up in a shady bend to recuperate.
A month later the settlers began to establish the Virginia English colony on the banks of the James River 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in which is now Virginia, almost immediately the settlers came under attack by the Algonquian indians, so for security they set about building a fort. Legend has it that Captain Smith was captured by the Algonquians and his life was saved by Pocahontas the daughter of Chief , but this is thought now to have been much romanticized.
Disease, famine and continuing attacks of neighboring Algonquians took a tremendous toll on the population so that by 1609 only sixty of the original two hundred and fourteen settlers survived, but then came the arrival of Lord De La Ware, who had been appointed the governor of the settlement now called Jamestown, with him came supply ships and the colony was able to survive.
The following year saw the arrival of a certain Captain John Rolfe, he had been shipwrecked off the coast of Bermuda but had somehow managed to find his way to the settlement bringing with him tobacco seeds, which thrived in the Virginian climate so that in just two years he was the owner of a sizeable plantation, as the demand grew in the coming years it became responsible for Virginiaâ€™s future economy.
Itâ€™s here in 1613 that Pocahontas enters the story again, during yet another dispute with the Algonquians she was kidnapped by the settlers and taken to the fort she was held as ransom for the English prisoners being held by the Indians, and also some arms which had been stolen by them. She was in her late teens or early twenties, and it was here that she eventually met Captain Rolfe, she was held in captivity for nearly a year, though she was given free run of the fort. When she was finally released she is said to have told her two brothers that she was in love with John Rolfe. What follows is somewhat unclear but the outcome is that within a year the two were married, whether it was a love match or a means of keeping the peace between two warring factions we shall never know.
Their marriage took place after Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and christened Rebecca, for John Rolfe was by all accounts a deeply religious man who debated long and hard about the decision to marry this â€˜strangeâ€™ young woman, then the decision was made on the grounds that it would be "for the good of the plantation, the honor of our country, for the glory of God, for mine own salvation ..."
Pocahontas gave birth to a son they named Thomas, and the couple seemed happy enough so that when John returned to England in 1616 his wife and young son came with him. When they arrived in England they went to London to be received by the King, and Pocahontas became the toast of high society, it was here she met Capt Smith again who had left the colony in 1609, on seeing him she is reported as being unable to speak for she thought he had died, but she soon recovered and together they spoke of the old times, this was the last time the two who would forever be linked together by history would meet.
Seven months later it was time to return to America, but it became clear that Pocahontas was seriously ill, it was agreed she should be taken ashore but sadly all efforts to save her failed, during her stay in England she had developed tuberculosis. She was buried in the vault of St Georgeâ€™s Gravesend. In 1727 the church was destroyed by fire, and when it was later rebuilt all remains, including those of Pocahontas, were reburied in a communal grave. However a statue of her now stands in the churchyard. John Rolfe and their son returned to Virginia.
Relations between the settlers and the Algonquians had always been an uneasy one but in 1622 it spilled over into hostility leaving over 300 settlers dead, but somehow the fort survived. King James used this opportunity to revoke the Charter of the Virginia Company which had run the fort up until 1624 when it became a royal colony. The fort remained in existence until it gradually grew into Jamestown and gradually the fort disappeared, as did the following Jamestown.
The first monument marking their departure was unveiled in 1928 and was topped with a figure of a mermaid, some time later the monument was vandalised and the mermaid was stolen, the existing statue was unveiled by the American Ambassador in 1999.
Original monument before it was vandalised.