Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Founding Brides of Virginia



The first English settlement in America that came to anything was made in the most absurd way possible. A great company of London merchants set about the work of planting an English colony in Virginia, and they were very much in earnest about it too; but if they had been as anxious to have the scheme fail as they were to make it succeed, they could hardly have done worse for it than they did in some respects.

They knew that the colonists must have something to eat and must defend themselves against the Indians, and so it ought to have been plain to them that the first men sent out must be stout farmers, who could cut down trees, plough the ground, raise food enough for the people to eat, and handle guns well, if need be. The work to be done was that of farmers, wood-choppers, and men who could make a living for themselves in a new country, and common-sense ought to have led the London Company to send out nobody but men of that kind to make the first settlement. Then, after those men had cleared some land, built some houses, and raised their first crop, men of other kinds might have been sent as fast as there was need for their services.

But that was not the way in which the London Company went to work. They chose for their first settlers about the most unfit men they could have found for such a purpose. There were one hundred and five of them in all, and forty-eight of them—or nearly half of the whole company—were what people in those days called "gentlemen"—that is to say, they were the sons of rich men. They had never learned how to do any kind of work, and had been brought up to think that a gentleman could not work without degrading himself and losing his right to be called a gentleman. There were a good many "servants" also in the party, and probably most of them were brought to wait upon the gentlemen. There were very few farmers and not many mechanics in the party, although farmers and mechanics were the men most needed. There were some goldsmiths, who expected to work the gold as soon as the colonists should find it, and there was a perfume-maker. It is hard to say in what way this perfume-man was expected to make himself useful in the work of planting a settlement in the swamps of Virginia; but, as there were so many fine "gentlemen" in the party, the perfumer probably thought his wares would be in demand.

None of the men brought families with them. They were single men, who came out to this country, not to make comfortable homes for wives and children, by hard and patient work, but to find gold and pearls, or to grow rich in some other quick and easy way, and then to go back and live in ease in England.

It is a wonder that such men ever succeeded in planting a settlement at all. From the first it does not seem to have been clear to them that they ought to raise plenty of food for themselves and learn how to live by their own work. They expected the company in London to send them most of their food and everything else that they needed. They had plenty of rich land and a good climate, but they expected to be fed by people three thousand miles away, across a great ocean.

Luckily, there was one man of sense and spirit among them—the celebrated Captain John Smith—who got them to work a little, and, after many hardships and two or three narrow escapes from failure, the colony was firmly planted.

The London Company sent out ships every year with supplies and fresh colonists; but, strange as it seems, most of the men sent were unmarried, and even those who had wives and children left them in England.
When we think of it, this was a very bad way to begin the work of settling a new country. The bachelors, of course, did not intend to stay all their lives in a country where there were no women and children. They meant to make some money as quickly as they could and then go back to England to live. The married men who had left their families behind them were in still greater haste to make what they could and go home. In short, for a dozen years after the colony was planted, nobody thought of it as his real home, where he meant to live out his life. If the colonists had been married men, with wives and children in Virginia, they would have done all they could to make the new settlement a pleasant one to live in: they would have built good houses, set up schools, and worked hard to improve their own fortunes and to keep order in the colony.

But year after year the ships brought cargoes of single men to Virginia, and the settlement was scarcely more than a camp in the woods. After the company had been trying for a good many years to people a new country by landing shiploads of bachelors on its shores, it began to dawn upon their minds that if the Virginia settlement was ever to grow into a thriving and lasting colony, there must be women and children there to make happy homes, as well as men to raise wheat, corn, and tobacco.

Sir Edwin Sandys was the wise man who saw all this most clearly. He urged the company to send out hard-working married men, who would take their wives and children with them to Virginia and settle there for good. But this was not all. There were already a great many bachelors in the colony, and there were no young women there for them to marry. Sir Edwin knew that if these bachelors were to stay in Virginia and become prosperous colonists they must have a chance to marry and set up homes of their own. So he went to work in England to get together a cargo of sweethearts for the colonists. He persuaded ninety young women of good character to go out in one of the company's ships, to marry young men in Virginia.

The plan was an odd one, but it was managed with good sense and did well for everybody concerned. It was agreed that the company should provide the young women with such clothing and other things as they would need for the voyage, and should give them free passage on board the ship. When they landed in Virginia they were to be perfectly free to marry or not, as they pleased. If any of them did not at once find husbands to their liking they were to be provided for in good homes until they chose to marry.

But no man could marry one of these young women without paying for her in tobacco, which was used instead of money in Virginia. The girls were not to be sold, exactly, but it was expected that each colonist who married one of them should pay the company as much as it had spent in bringing her across the ocean.

And the men of the colony were glad enough to do this. When the shipload of sweethearts landed at Jamestown a large number of men who were tired of bachelor life hurried to the wharf to get wives for themselves if they could. They went among the young maids, introduced themselves, got acquainted, and did all the courting that was necessary in a very little time. The young women were honest, good, well-brought-up girls, and among the many men there were plenty of good, industrious, and brave fellows who wanted good wives, and so all the girls were "engaged" at once. The men paid down one hundred and twenty pounds of tobacco apiece—for that was the price fixed upon—and, as there was nothing to wait for, the clergymen were sent for and the weddings took place immediately.

It was an odd thing to do, of course, but the circumstances were very unusual, and the plan of importing sweethearts by the cargo really seems to have been a very good one. It must have been a strange sight when the girls landed and met the men who had come to the town to woo and marry them. And many of the girls must have felt that they took great risks in coming three thousand miles from home and marrying men whom they had known for so short a time; but it seems that the marriages were happy ones, in spite of the haste in which they were made. The newly-married pairs went to work in earnest to create good homes for themselves, and when their English friends learned from their letters how happy and prosperous they were, another company of sixty sweethearts set sail for the colony and became the wives of good men.

It was in this way that the English camp at Jamestown was changed into a real colony of people who meant to live in America and to build up a thriving community here. Now that the men had wives and children to provide for, they no longer lived "from hand to mouth," hoping to make a fortune by some lucky stroke, and then to leave the colony forever. They went to work, instead, to cultivate the land, to build good houses, to make and save money, to educate their children, and to become prosperous and happy in their homes. Virginia, which had been a mere stopping-place to them, was now their own country, where their families lived and their nearest friends were around them. There they expected to pass their lives in efforts to better their own fortunes, and to make the country a pleasant one for their children and grandchildren after them to live in. They were anxious to have schools and churches, and to keep up right standards of morals and proper manners in the colony, so that their children might grow to be good and happy men and women.

That is the way in which the first English colony in America became prosperous, and many of the men who afterwards became famous in the history of the nation were the great-great-grandsons of the women whom Sir Edwin Sandys sent out as sweethearts for the colonists.

The Pilgrims, who settled at Plymouth about the time that all this happened, brought their families with them, and quickly made themselves at home in America. The planting of these two colonies—the first in Virginia and the second in Massachusetts—was the beginning from which our great, free, and happy country, with its fifty millions of people, has grown.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Little Peasant Girl Who Became Catherine The Great


From Peasant Girl To Ruler of Russia

Peter the Great, the emperor who, in a few years, changed Russia from a country of half-savage tribes into a great European nation, was one day visiting one of his officers, and saw in his house a young girl, who attracted his attention by her beauty and her graceful manners. This girl was a prisoner named Martha, and she was living as a sort of servant and housekeeper in the family of the Russian officer. She had been taken prisoner when the town she lived in was captured. Nobody knows, even to this day, exactly who she was, except that she was a poor orphan girl who had been brought up by a village clergyman; but it is generally believed that her father was a Livonian peasant.

Martha's beauty and the brightness of her mind pleased the emperor so much that, after a while, he made up his mind to marry her, in spite of her humble origin. Peter was in the habit of doing pretty much as he pleased, whether his nobles liked it or not; but even he dared not make a captive peasant girl the Empress of Russia. He therefore married her privately, in the presence of a few of his nearest friends, who were charged to keep the secret. Before the marriage took place he had Martha baptized in the Russian Church, and changed her name to Catherine.

Now Peter had a bad habit of losing his temper, and getting so angry that he fell into fits. As he was an absolute monarch and could do whatever he liked, it was very dangerous for anybody to go near him when he was angry. He could have a head chopped off as easily as he could order his breakfast. But he was very fond of Catherine, and she was the only person who was not in the least afraid of him. She soon learned how to manage him, and even in his worst fits she could soothe and quiet the old bear.

Peter was nearly always at war, and in spite of the hardships and dangers of the camp and battle-field Catherine always marched with him at the head of the army. The soldiers wondered at her bravery, and learned to like her more than anybody else. If food was scarce, the roads rough, and the marches long, they remembered, that Catherine was with them, and were ashamed to grumble. If she could stand the hardships and face the dangers, they thought rough soldiers ought not to complain.

Catherine was a wise woman as well as a brave one. She soon learned as much of the art of war as Peter knew, and in every time of doubt or difficulty her advice was asked, and her opinion counted for as much as if she had been one of the generals. After she had thus shown how able a woman she was, and had won the friendship of everybody about her by her good temper and her pleasant ways, Peter publicly announced his marriage, and declared Catherine to be his wife and czarina. But still he did not crown her.

This was in the year 1711, and immediately afterwards Peter marched into the Turkish country at the head of forty thousand men. This army was not nearly large enough to meet the Turks, but Peter had other armies in different places, and had ordered all of them to meet him on the march. For various reasons all these armies failed to join him, and he found himself in a Turkish province with a very small number of troops. The danger was so great that he ordered Catherine and all the other women to go back to a place of safety. But Catherine would not go. She had made up her mind to stay with Peter at the head of the army, and was so obstinate about it that at last Peter gave her leave to remain. Then the wives of the generals, and, finally, of the lower officers, wanted to stay also. She persuaded Peter to let them do so, and the end of it was that the women all stayed with the army.

Everything went against Peter on this march. The weather was very dry. Swarms of locusts were in the country, eating every green thing. There was no food for the horses, and many of them starved to death. It was hard for the Russians to go forward or to go backward, and harder still to stay where they were.

At last the soldiers in front reported that the Turks were coming, and Peter soon saw a great army of two hundred thousand fierce Moslims in front of his little force, which counted up only thirty-eight thousand men. Seeing the odds against him he gave the order to retreat, and the army began its backward march. As it neared the river Pruth a new danger showed itself. The advance-guard brought word that a great force of savage Crim Tartars held the other bank of the river, completely cutting off Peter's retreat.

The state of things seemed hopeless. With two hundred thousand Turks on one side, and a strong force of Crim Tartars holding a river on the other, Peter's little army was completely hemmed in. There was no water in the camp, and when the soldiers went to the river for it, the Tartars on the other shore kept up a fierce fight with them. A great horde of Turkish cavalry tried hard to cut off the supply entirely by pushing themselves between Peter's camp and the river, but the Russians managed to keep them back by hard fighting, and to keep a road open to the river.

Peter knew now that unless help should come to him in some shape, and that very quickly, he must lose not only his army, but his empire also, for if the Turks should take him prisoner, it was certain that his many enemies would soon conquer Russia, and divide the country among themselves. He saw no chance of help coming, but he made up his mind to fight as long as he could. He formed his men in a hollow square, with the women in the middle, and faced his enemies.

The Turks flung themselves in great masses upon his lines, trying to crush the little force of Russians by mere numbers. But Peter's brave men remembered that Catherine was inside their hollow square, and they stood firmly at their posts, driving back the Turks with frightful slaughter. Again and again and again they fell upon his lines in heavy masses, and again and again and again they were driven back, leaving the field black with their dead.
This could not go on forever, of course, and both sides saw what the end must be. As the Turks had many times more men than Peter, it was plain that they would, at last, win by destroying all the Russians.

For three days and nights the terrible slaughter went on. Peter's men beat back the Turks at every charge, but every hour their line grew thinner. At the end of the third day sixteen thousand of their brave comrades lay dead upon the field, and only twenty-two thousand remained to face the enemy.

Towards night on the third day a terrible rumor spread through their camp. A whisper ran along the line that the ammunition was giving out. A few more shots from each soldier's gun, and there would be nothing left to fight with.

Then Peter fell into the sulks. As long as he could fight he had kept up his spirits, but now that all was lost, and his great career seemed near its end, he grew angry, and went to his tent to have one of his savage fits. He gave orders that nobody should come near him, and there was no officer or soldier in all the army who would have dared enter the tent where he lay, in his dangerous mood.

But if Peter had given up in despair, Catherine had not. In spite of Peter's order and his anger, she boldly went into his tent, and asked him to give her leave to put an end to the war by making a treaty of peace with the Turks, if she could. It seemed absurd to talk of such a thing, or to expect the Turks to make peace on any terms when they had so good a chance to conquer Peter, once for all, and to make him their prisoner. Nobody but Catherine, perhaps, would have thought of such a thing; but Catherine was a woman born for great affairs, and she had no thought of giving up any chance there might be to save Peter and the empire.

Her first difficulty was with Peter himself. She could not offer terms of peace to the Turks until Peter gave her leave, and promised to fulfill whatever bargain she might make with them. She managed this part of the matter, and then set to work at the greater task of dealing with the Turks.

She knew that the Turkish army was under the command of the Grand Vizier, and she knew something of the ways of Grand Viziers. It was not worth while to send any kind of messenger to a Turkish commander without sending him also a bribe in the shape of a present, and Catherine was sure that the bribe must be a very large one to buy the peace she wanted. But where was she to get the present? There was no money in Peter's army-chest, and no way of getting any from Russia. Catherine was not discouraged by that fact. She first got together all her own jewels, and then went to all the officers' wives and asked each of them for whatever she had that was valuable—money, jewels, and plate. She gave each of them a receipt for what she took, and promised to pay them the value of their goods when she should get back to Moscow. She went in this way throughout the camp, and got together all the money, all the jewelry, and all the silver plate that were to be found in the army. No one person had much, of course; but when the things were collected together, they made a very rich present, or bribe, for the Grand Vizier.

With this for a beginning, Catherine soon convinced the Turkish commander that it was better to make peace with Russia than to run the risk of having to fight the great armies that were already marching towards Turkey. After some bargaining she secured a treaty which allowed Peter to go back to Russia in safety, and thus she saved the czar and the empire. A few years later Peter crowned her as Empress of Russia, and when he died he named her as the fittest person to be his successor on the throne.

Thus the peasant girl of Livonia, who was made a captive in war and a servant, rose by her genius and courage to be the sole ruler of a great empire—the first woman who ever reigned over Russia. It is a strange but true story.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Most Dangerous and Daring Escape of Blanche Gamond

The Dangerous and Daring Escape of...



Blanche Gamond belonged to a Protestant family of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, when the Protestants were subjected to the most rigorous persecution, Mademoiselle Gamond, whose piety was of the most fervent and exalted kind, resolved to fly the kingdom. The city of Saint-Paul was closely invested, and the dragoons overran all the neighboring country in search of the Protestants. Blanche left the city and wandered about for some time alone, and afterwards with her parents, who had joined her. At times they were exposed to all the hardships of forest life, and it was only at intervals that they could venture to show themselves in towns. In this manner they traveled through the greater part of Dauphiné; but they were obliged to separate at last, to escape the more easily from the dragoons; and our poor heroine was about to pass the frontier with her brother and her mother and sister, when she was taken near Goncelin. Her brother escaped from the soldiers, but her mother and her sister were brutally ill-treated by these wretches, and were taken to Grenoble and thrown into a horrible dungeon. Blanche Gamond was then twenty-one years of age. She was subjected for a long time to the most terrible tortures; but insulted, mercilessly beaten, dying of hunger, and sinking under a lingering illness, as she was, she bore all with the courage and the resignation of a martyr.

The following is her account of her attempt at escape, the consequences of which were most disastrous to her:—
“We were told to get ourselves ready in three days for a voyage to America; ‘and when,’ it was added, ‘you are once on shipboard you will be made to walk the plank, and will be thrust into the sea, so that the detested race of the Huguenots may perish with you.’

“ ‘It concerns me little,’ I replied, ‘whether my body be eaten by the fish in the sea or by the worms in the earth.’

“When they had left us alone, Susan de Montélimart said, ‘We might make our escape by this window if we could only break the bars.’

“ ‘We are at such a height from the ground,’ I replied, ‘that we should either kill or lame ourselves; and then we should only be recaptured and treated worse than before. If that should happen, I could never survive my sufferings. I prefer death, therefore, and will rather set out for America. God will deliver us, as he delivered the victims of La Rapine.’ ”

La Rapine, or D’Herapine, who had been formerly condemned for robbery, under his real name of Guichard, had become director of the hospital of Valence, where he was told to employ all the means in his power for the conversion of the Protestants—a commission which he executed with all the cynicism and the ferocity of one of the worst of scoundrels.

“Susan replied, ‘If they had done to me what they have done to you I should have died ere this; but they are killing us of hunger; and, besides, they are going to take us to America, and we shall be half dead when they throw us in the sea. We might get out of this window. We seem to be despising the means which God has placed within our reach; but, for my part, I mean to attempt to use them.’

“At length, by her persuasion, I joined her in cutting a piece of cloth into shreds, and sewing it together; and when we had made a long band in this manner we tied a piece of stone to the end of it and lowered it, to ascertain the height of the window from the ground. We were on the fourth storey, and we found that our band was too short; but we lengthened it, and finally the end touched the ground. I then put my head out of the window and said to my dear sisters, ‘Alas! we shall kill ourselves, for it almost frightens me to death to look down.’

“That same evening, when our guards were asleep, we crept to the window with bare feet, for we were afraid that the priest, whose chamber was beneath ours, would hear our footsteps. Susan was the first to get out, and she was followed by Mademoiselle Terrasson de Die, then by me and by Mademoiselle Anne Dumas, of La Salle, in Languedoc. When I got outside and began to lay hold of the band, my strength failed me, and I heard the bones of my arm crack. My dress caught in a hook outside the window, and I was obliged to support myself with one arm while I disengaged myself with the other. I no longer felt either strength or courage, and I cried, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ But I seized the band with my teeth, and joining my two hands over it, I fell, rather than lowered myself, to the ground, striking against the stones with such violence that I cried, ‘Mercy! My God, I am either killed or maimed for life!’

I was obliged to support myself with one arm.
 “The dear sisters who were waiting for me ran up to me and asked me where I was hurt.

“ ‘Everywhere,’ I replied; ‘I am sure that I have broken my thigh,’ and I begged of them to tie it up for me with my apron. I then limped away, my two sisters supporting me on either side. I made sixty or seventy steps in great pain, and reached the gate of the Faubourg de Valence: but it was closed. They helped me to get upon the wall, but when I stood upon the top of it, and saw how high it was, I said to my three dear sisters, ‘This is a second precipice, and I am not brave enough to attempt to descend. Leave me and go alone.’

“They let me down from the wall and left me there, and then they tried to get down themselves, and succeeded after great trouble. When they had reached the other side, Mademoiselle Dumas cried out to me, ‘We are going. We are very sorry to leave you behind. God preserve you from our enemies. I wish you prosperity, and give you my blessing, and I beg of you to give me yours in return.’

“ ‘Who am I,’ I replied, ‘to give you my blessing? but I pray that God will give you his. I pray fervently that he will lead you in all his ways; and I conjure you to leave this place as quickly as you can, or all of us may be recaptured.’

“I was thus left quite alone, still suffering the cruel and violent pains which had never left me from the moment of my fall. It was not yet daybreak, and I lifted up my heart to God. But I fainted in the midst of my prayer, and did not come to myself for, at least, a quarter of an hour. I had no one to console me, or even to offer me a single drop of water; but as soon as I came to myself I cried out, ‘Lord, do not abandon me.’ I lay for a time without being able to make any movement, and then I thought that at daybreak they would be sure to find me, and then I should be recaptured and taken to the hospice. ‘O God,’ I prayed, ‘grant me this mercy that this day may see the last of my troubles, for death is better than life. I have lived enough. Take my soul to thee, O God. Oh grant, if it please thee, that I may be taken to the tomb, and not to the hospice this day.’

“Day then began to break. I had not enough strength to raise myself, so that those who passed by did not know that I was lamed. I was only just able to hide my face from them by covering it with my tappeta. I was interrupted during my prayers by the agony which I suffered from my broken thigh and dislocated ankle. After a time a gentleman came by, and said, ‘It would be better, mademoiselle, for you to be at your own house than to remain here, and it would certainly be more becoming.’

“ ‘If you knew who I was, sir,’ I replied, ‘you would not address me in such language.’

“In another moment they opened the gate of the Faubourg and the passers-by said very hard and cruel things about me, seeing me lying at full length in the road so early in the morning.”

She begged one of them to fetch Mademoiselle Marsilière, a Protestant converted to Catholicism, whom she knew, and she prayed God that this early friend might turn out a good Samaritan, but this prayer was not heard.
“Are you asking for me?” said Mademoiselle Marsilière, when she approached the poor wounded creature. “Yes, mademoiselle; save me—for mercy’s sake help me. Take me to some place where I may die, so that no one may witness my sufferings.”

“But Mademoiselle Marsilière replied that I should endanger her safety as well as my own. ‘I must go,’ she said, ‘before any one sees me, or I shall be put in prison myself.’

“I was wounded to the heart at this treatment from a co-religionist, and I asked her if she had the courage to leave me in this condition. ‘Help me, at least,’ I said, ‘to crawl behind this wall, so that I may not be seen by the passers-by.’ ”

But neither the prayers nor the sufferings of the unfortunate Blanche had the least effect on the prudent and charitable person whom she had called to her aid. Mademoiselle Marsilière went away, but returned shortly afterwards with the almoner of the religious house of which she was a member, who, without paying the least regard to the distressed condition of the wounded girl, began to address to her a series of questions about her escape and her accomplices. At length two men, seizing her by the shoulders and the feet, carried her to the hospice and laid her down upon the stones in the courtyard.

It is impossible to enter fully here into all the details of the rigorous punishment endured by the poor girl for some months after this. She bore all with her ordinary courage and patience, but the mere recital of such atrocities would give too much pain to the most unfeeling heart.

She was at last allowed to return to her parents, and she recovered her health after her long sufferings, and retired to Switzerland with her family.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915