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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Infant Colony

By Alexander Whitaker (1585–1616)

[Settled as Minister at Henrico, Virginia, 1611. Good Newes from Virginia. 1613.]

IF we consider the almost miraculous beginning and continuance of this plantation we must needs confess that God hath opened this passage unto us and led us by the hand unto this work. For the mariners that were sent hither first to discover this Bay of Chesapeake found it only by the mere directions of God’s providence; for I heard one of them confess that even then, when they were entered within the mouth of the Bay, they deemed the place they sought for to have been many degrees further. The finding was not so strange, but the continuance and upholding of it hath been most wonderful. I may fitly compare it to the growth of an infant, which hath been afflicted from his birth with some grievous sickness that many times no hope of life hath remained and yet it liveth still. Again, if there were nothing else to encourage us, yet this one thing may stir us up to go on cheerfully with it: that the devil is a capital enemy against it, and continually seeketh which way to hinder the prosperity and good proceedings of it. Yea, hath heretofore so far prevailed by his instruments, the covetous hearts of many backsliding adventurers at home, and also by his servants here—some striving for superiority, others by murmurings, mutinies, and plain treasons, and others by fornication, profaneness, idleness, and such monstrous sins—that he had almost thrust out of this kingdom, and had indeed quitted this land of us, if God had not then (as one awaked out of sleep) stood up and sent us means of great help when we needed most, and expected least relief.

The saving of those two honorable Knights, Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers, with Captain Newport and the rest of the adventurers in the “Sea Venture,” as also their happy deliverance out of those unhabited and unfrequented (because feared) Islands of the Bermudas, could proceed from none other but the singular providence of God. If this worthy Governor, Sir Thomas Gates, had been hindered but one week longer it might be feared that the famine, which had by that time devoured the most of our countrymen here, would have consumed the rest. And when he, considering that his weak means was not able to restore or sustain the burden of such woful distresses, had shipped the few remaining for England and had forsaken with Hannibal’s sighs the first builded Jamestown: upon the sudden news met him, of the coming in of that Honorable Lord La War, with a fresh supply. Whereupon he presently returned to the town he had so lately forsaken. Since when this English colony hath taken better root; and as a spreading herb whose top hath been often cropped off renews her growth and spreads herself more gloriously than before, so this plantation, which the devil hath so often trodden down, is by the miraculous blessing of God revived and daily groweth to more happy and more hopeful success. I have shut up many things in few words and have alleged this only to prove unto us that the finger of God hath been the only true worker here; that God first showed us the place, God first called us hither, and here God by his special providence hath maintained us. Wherefore by Him let us be encouraged to lay our helping hands to this good work (yea, God’s work) with all the strength of our ability.

Secondly, let the miserable condition of these naked slaves of the devil move you to compassion toward them. They acknowledge that there is a great good God, but know Him not, having the eyes of their understanding as yet blinded; wherefore they serve the devil for fear after a most base manner, sacrificing sometimes (as I have here heard) their own children to him. I have sent one image of their god to the council in England which is painted upon one side of a toadstool, much like unto a deformed monster. Their priests (whom they call Quiokosoughs) are no other but such as our English witches are. They live naked in body, as if their shame of their sin deserved no covering. Their names are as naked as their body. They esteem it a virtue to lie, deceive, and steal, as their master, the devil, teacheth them. Much more might be said of their miserable condition, but I refer the particular narration of these things to some other season. If this be their life, what, think you, shall become of them after death but to be partakers with the devil and his angels in hell for evermore? Wherefore, my brethren, put on the bowels of compassion and let the lamentable estate of these miserable people enter into your consideration. One God created us; they have reasonable souls and intellectual faculties as well as we; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one, the servants of sin and slaves of the devil. Oh, remember (I beseech you) what was the state of England before the Gospel was preached in our country. How much better were we then and concerning our souls’ health than these now are? Let the word of the Lord sound out, that it may be heard in these parts; and let your faith which is toward God spread itself abroad, and show forth the charitable fruits of it in these barren parts of the world. “And let him know that he which hath converted a sinner from going astray out of his way shall save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins.”

But if any of us should misdoubt that this barbarous people is uncapable of such heavenly mysteries, let such men know that they are far mistaken in the nature of these men; for beside the promise of God, which is without respect of persons, made as well to unwise men after the flesh as to the wise, etc., let us not think that these men are so simple as some have supposed them. For they are of body lusty, strong, and very nimble: they are a very understanding generation, quick of apprehension, sudden in their dispatches, subtle in their dealings, exquisite in their inventions, and industrious in their labor. I suppose the world hath no better marksmen with their bow and arrows than they be; they will kill birds flying, fishes swimming, and beasts running: they shoot also with marvellous strength. They shot one of our men (being unarmed) quite through the body and nailed both his arms to his body with one arrow. One of their children also, about the age of twelve or thirteen years, killed a bird with his arrow in my sight. The service of their God is answerable to their life being performed with great fear and attention and many strange dumb shows used in the same, stretching forth their limbs and straining their body much like to the counterfeit women in England who feign themselves bewitched or possessed of some evil spirit.

They stand in great awe of their Quickosoughs or priests, which are a generation of vipers even of Satan’s own brood. The manner of their life is much like to the popish hermits of our age; for they live alone in the woods, in houses sequestered from the common course of men; neither may any man be suffered to come into their house or to speak with them but when this priest doth call him. He taketh no care for his victuals, for all such kind of things, both bread and water, etc., are brought unto a place near unto his cottage and there are left, which he fetcheth for his proper need. If they would have rain, or have lost any thing, they have their recourse to him who conjureth for them and many times prevaileth. If they be sick, he is their physician; if they be wounded, he sucketh them. At his command they make war and peace, neither do they any thing of moment without him. I will not be tedious in these strange narrations; when I have more perfectly entered into their secrets you shall know all. Finally, there is a civil government amongst them which they strictly observe and show thereby that the law of nature dwelleth in them, for they have a rude kind of commonwealth, and rough government, wherein they both honor and obey their kings, parents, and governors, both greater and less. They observe the limits of their own possessions and encroach not upon their neighbors’ dwellings. Murder is a capital crime scarce heard of among them; adultery is most severely punished, and so are their other offences. These unnurtured grounds of reason in them may serve to encourage us to instruct them in the knowledge of the true God, the rewarder of all righteousness, not doubting but that He that was powerful to save us by His word when we were nothing, will be merciful also to these sons of Adam in His appointed time, in whom there be remaining so many footsteps of God’s image….

Let then your liberal minds (you honorable and charitable adventurers of Virginia) be stirred up to cast your alms on the waters of Virginia without hope of present profit. The base affections of the usurer will not look for the overplus of increase until the covenanted time of his loan be expired. The husbandman casting his seed into the earth waiteth upon God until harvest for a fruitful crop. Verily he that believeth doth not make haste. Be not overhasty with God; God will not yet reward you, that he may make you more famous in the world, that the world may see your zeal, and bear witness to the patience of your faith, not to greedy haste of covetous desires. The work is honorable and now more than ever sustained by most honorable men.


Remember, I beseech you, how many lives were lost, how many years were spent, what discouragements, what great losses the adventurers of Spain and Portugal suffered and underwent, before they could be settled in the West Indies, or receive any profitable return from thence. And now behold what rich loads, what profitable returns are yearly shipped from thence! Shall our nation, hitherto famous for noble attempts and the honorable finishing of what they have undertaken, be now taxed for inconstancy and blamed by the enemies of our protestation, for uncharitableness? Yea, shall we be a scorn among princes and a laughing-stock among our neighbor nations for basely leaving what we honorably began; yea, for beginning a discovery, whose riches other men shall gather so soon as we have forsaken it? Awake, you true-hearted Englishmen, you servants of Jesus Christ, remember that the plantation is God’s and the reward your country’s. Wherefore, aim not at your present private gain, but let the glory of God, whose kingdom you now plant, and good of your country whose wealth you seek, so far prevail with you that you respect not a present return of gain for this year or two; but that you would more liberally supply for a little space this your Christian work which you so charitably began. As for those spirits of slander whom the devil hath stirred up to speak evil of this good land and to weaken the hands of our brethren lest they should go forward and pull Satan out of his dominions, let them take heed lest the punishment of Shammua and his nine companions, the faithless searchers of the Land of Canaan, do befall them: and that they never live to taste of the commodities of this good land.

But lest I may seem to exhort you to an unprofitable liberality or to argue God of forgetfulness to those that serve him faithfully, hear now what a comfortable promise of reward God hath made unto us in these words: which is, “That after many days we shall find.” If God should have commanded us to cast away without finding, some discouragement there might have been to our weak nature; but since God hath assuredly promised us that we shall find in the end, who will not obey the command? Who will not be liberal? God hath been always found true in his word, most faithful in his promises….

Wherefore you (right wise and noble adventurers of Virginia) whose hearts God hath stirred up to build Him a temple, to make Him an house, to conquer a kingdom for Him here, be not discouraged with those many lamentable assaults that the devil hath made against us; he now rageth most because he knoweth his kingdom is to have a short end. Go forward boldly and remember that you fight under the banner of Jesus Christ, that you plant His kingdom who hath already broken the serpent’s head. God may defer His temporal reward for a season, but be assured that in the end you shall find riches and honor in this world and blessed immortality in the world to come.