Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday Novel Excerpt (Don't Light Gunpowder)

A third excerpt
After Wynne died, Thomas quickly joined the group that worked with Francis West. West had arrived in Jamestown on the same ship as Captain Wynne and Thomas, so they knew each other and had even worked together when they went to the Monacans.

In the summer of 1609, Smith discovered that half the supplies in the storehouse had rotted, and the other half had been eaten by rats. The despair that ran through the fort was intense. But Smith in his calm and confident way always had a plan. He dispersed the colony to find Sturgeon, oysters, and whatever else they might find.

Thomas went with West to the falls, where the city of Richmond is today. West was convinced that the well water in James Towne was one of the things that was making so many people sick. He thought the falls would be a much better site for a settlement. So a little later on, when he heard that the Virginia Company wanted them to find a suitable place for a capitol, he took it on himself to go begin to build a new settlement there.

Thomas went with him and about 120 other settlers, many of them from a series of ships that arrived that summer, having survived a hurricane at sea. West found a spot down from the falls and set his group to building. By now Thomas knew a thing or two about how to fell trees and put them together into huts. It was actually pleasant work, away from the petty tensions of James Towne.

But it wasn't to last. As usual, Smith had to have his say and his way with regard to the venture. When West went back to James Towne, Smith arrived on a boat and told them West had picked a bad spot for a capitol. It needed to be on higher ground, where it could be more easily defended and wouldn't flood.

He was probably right, but none of them wanted to get between him and West. Thomas himself had seen enough of Smith's enemies conveniently disappear in the short year he had been there. "Take it up with West," one of the others said. Thomas remained silent and blended in.

Smith as usual didn't take no for an answer. He found a native fort nearby they called Powhatan's Tower, which was already built and he thought would serve much better as a site. He negotiated with Chief Powatan's son, Parahunt, for the site and indeed for provisions and protection. To pay, Smith sold Parahunt a boy named Henry Spelman, who was about Thomas' age.

In typical Smith fashion, Spelman had no idea about the deal. He just suddenly found himself alone with the natives, uncertain where Smith's group had gone. He would sneak away within a week.

But West's group continued their work building the site. "Take it up with West," they said again to Smith. For about a week they ignored Smith and his insistence that they continue work on his site. Finally he acted like he was going back to James Towne, furious.

Instead, he went about a mile down river and got stuck on a sand bar, Thomas thought intentionally. West's settlement was then attacked by natives who had got the impression from somewhere that the fort was low on gunpowder. Rumors later flew that Smith himself had told them.

Since Thomas knew the land as well as anyone, he set off to try to catch Smith's ship as soon as the attack started. Happily, there was the ship only a mile away, grounded on a bar. Smith did not seem surprised to see him. He was more than happy to swoop in to the rescue and vanquish the attackers.

Thomas and the others could see defeat. They took two days and moved their materials to "Nonesuch," what Smith had chosen to call his site. He had proudly named it after one of Queen Elizabeth's palaces.

Then of course West arrived back from James Towne, having heard of the attack. He ordered all his men back to the first site. Foiled again for the moment, Smith finally headed back for James Towne.

Before he left, Smith ordered Thomas to refill his gunpowder bag and get him a new "slow match." A slow match was a fuse cord that could be lit without quickly burning. You kept it near you when you thought you might need to have your gun handy on a moment's notice.

Thomas may have put a little too much potash on the match. He had to make it new you see. In any case, the rightly paranoid Smith laid down in a small boat to sleep, his gunpowder and match on his belly. But the match burned more quickly than normal, and Smith suddenly found his manhood on fire. He rolled in the water and was fished out by his men.

And so it was that an insignificant Welsh boy accidentally did what so many others had wanted to do for two years. He sent the famed Captain John Smith back to England.

Some forty years later, his nine year old son would ask him with dreamy eyes if he had known the famous Captain John Smith, the one who was saved by Pocahontas. "Aye," he said to his son's delight. "He was a right foul git."

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