Carved Oak And Walnut Of The XVII-TH Century
BEFORE describing the household furniture used by the early English settlers in this country, it will be well for us to form a clear idea of the houses in which they lived.
The First Plantation of one hundred gentlemen-adventurers and labourers brought with them nothing but the bare necessaries of life, food, clothing, and tools. They wasted valuable time in hunting for mythical gold ore ; and when the First Supply (equally poorly provided), consisting of two ships with one hundred and twenty persons, arrived (1607), nine months later, it found only forty survivors, and of these " ten only able men, all utterly destitute of houses, not one as yet built, so that they lodged in cabins and holes within the ground."
Captain Newport, who was in command of the First Supply, had a church and a storehouse built by those under him, and the cabins of Jamestown were enclosed within a palisade. However, fire broke out in the storehouse and reduced the whole place to ashes, including the stockade. Fortunately, the entire cargo had not been landed, but aid was badly needed. Rebuilding was soon begun ; church, storehouse, and forty houses of rafts, sedge and earth were completed in 1608, and twenty more houses were built in 1609. All of these, however, were hopelessly decayed in 1610, as might be expected from their construction.
Sir Thomas Smith, who was now in charge, seems still to have directed his efforts towards the immediate profit of the Virginia Company, rather than the safety of the plantation, should supplies fail. We learn that the colonists were " wholly employed in cutting down of masts, cedar, black walnut, clapboard, etc., and in digging gold ore (as some thought), which, being sent to England, proved dirt." The Third Supply, carrying food and clothing, was sent in 16o8, but, as most of the provisions were lost in the wreck of the principal ship in the Bermudas, the colonists were worse off than ever, and the dreadful Starving Time, with its cannibal horrors, followed.
In 1610, Lord Delaware arrived with some relief, and was followed by Sir Thomas Dale and Sir Thomas Gates, each with three or four ships.
On taking charge, Lord Delaware undertook constructions of a less flimsy character than before, covering the roofs with boards and the sides with Indian mats. On his departure, on account of ill-health, Dale succeeded him and still further improved the buildings. He erected a wooden church, storehouses, and many dwellings, with the lower story of brick. Dale made a law by which every arriving father with a family was to have, rent free, a house of at least four rooms, with twelve acres of fenced land, upon which he must grow grain. Dale's efforts bore little fruit ; the houses constantly fell to ruin, and Sir Thomas Gates was no more successful when he tried to rejuvenate the town ; for when Argoll took command, in 1617, only five or six habitations were standing. The other settlements had fared no better.
In 1619, " arrived Sir George Yardley to be Governor. For forts,. towns and plantations, he found these : James City, Henrico, Charles City and Hundred, Shirley Hundred, Arrahattock, Martin Brandon and Kicoughton, all which were but poorly housed and as ill-fortified ; for in James City were only those houses that Sir Thomas Gates built in the time of his government, with one wherein the Governor always dwelt, an addition being made thereto in the time of Captain Samuel Argoll, and a church, built of timber, being fifty foot in length and twenty foot in breadth ; at Paspahayes also were some few slight houses built ; at Henrico, two or three old houses, a poor, ruinated Church, with some few poor buildings in the island ; Coxen Dale and the Maine, and at Arrahattock one house ; at Charles City, six houses, much decayed, and that we may not be too tedious, as these, so were the rest of the places furnished."
Amid the struggles and miseries of all these years, we may conclude that there was no temptation to import good furniture ; and that made by the resident carpenters and joiners would be of the barest description.
We find evidence in the records that measures were taken to substitute substantial structures for the "poor ruinated" churches referred. to in the Briefe Declaration. At the first vestry meeting of the church in Northampton County, Va., September 29, 1635, it was resolved to build a "parsonage house upon the Glybe land by Christyde next, and that the syd house shall be forty foot long and eighteen foot wide, nyne foot to the wall plates ; and that ther shall be a chimney at each end of the house, and upon each syde of the chimneys a room, the one for a study, the other for a buttery ; alsoe a partition neere the midst of the house, with an empty and tow doors, the one to go into Kitchinge, the other into Chamber."
In 1622, the Indian massacre practically wiped out the outlying settlements, and the next year Jamestown contained only one hundred and eighty-two individuals. However, the successful planting of tobacco in Virginia in 1612 had insured the permanent settlement of the colony through almost any calamity. In 1623, George Sandys wrote home to the authorities that the massacre had produced one good result in making the people live closer together, for mutual protection, and would induce them to build frame houses. However, they soon scattered again, and, a year or two later, Governor Butler testified, from personal observation, that the meanest English cottages were more sightly and comfortable than the best dwellings in Virginia, which were the worst in the world. This, how-ever, was denied by the Governor and Council of the Colony. The buildings undoubtedly gradually improved thenceforward, and the log cabin gave way to the framed house. The latter usually had no cellar, but rested on sills ; and had a brick chimney at one and sometimes both ends. After the arrival of Governor Berkeley, in 1642, brick entered more largely into the construction of the houses. In Jamestown, town lots were granted on condition of building a brick dwelling with a cellar, measuring sixteen feet by twenty-four, but for long afterwards the dwelling of the ordinary planter had only the first story and chimney of brick.