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Document Number: AJ-078
Author: Biard, Pierre, 1565-1622
Title: Letter of Father Pierre Biard, 1614
Source: Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor). Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907). Pages 227-234.
Pages/Illustrations: 10 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-078/

Author Note

Pierre Biard, born in Grenoble, France, in 1576. In May 1611, he and other Jesuit missionaries arrived in Port Royal, New France, (in Nova Scotia) to take charge of the Jesuit missions there. In 1613, he and a few other of the Catholic missionaries set up a new French colony, St. Sauveur, near what is now Bar Harbor, Maine, only to be raided by the English Captain, Samuel Argall, from Jamestown, Virginia. Biard and some fellow Jesuits were captured and taken back to Virginia, where he had to fight for his life.

Jamestown Settlement, 1607-1625

In 1606, the London Company received a royal charter from King James I to organize an expedition and establish colonies in North America. The Plymouth Company would establish the short-lived colony in Maine (see AJ-042). The Virginia Company set up England’s first permanent colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Their primary goal was profit; investors hoped settlers would find valuable natural resources, such as lumber, herbs, pitch, and even gold, to send back to England. However, the English government also wanted to resist the Spanish colonization of North America (see AJ-077 for the report of a Spaniard on the Jamestown colony). One hundred and four men and boys came ashore in May 1607-no women arrived until the following year. Over the next three years almost eight hundred settlers would arrive to colonize the Virginia coasts-six hundred of them arriving in 1609. Unfortunately, Jamestown was not an ideal spot for a colony. The low marshy land was not healthy, and clean water could be difficult to find. Attacks by the Powhatan Indians began shortly after the English colonists built their first fort at the Jamestown site. Fighting between the English and Indians continued, despite the settlers’ reliance on the Indians for corn during the difficult winters. In addition, many of the settlers were hardly qualified to farm and survive in this difficult setting. During the first years, mortality was very high through disease, starvation, and accident.

Captain John Smith was elected president in September 1608 (see AJ-074 and AJ-075). By enforcing strict discipline and requiring all settlers to farm, he increased the food supply. However, a serious injury in 1609 forced his return to England. One of the original settlers, George Percy (see AJ-073), was president of the Virginia’s council during the winter of 1609 and 1610, called the “starving time” when only sixty settlers survived. In June 1610, they decided to abandon the town, but the arrival of the new governor, Lord De La Ware (see AJ-076), and his supply ships brought the colonists back to the fort. In 1612, the settlers began to grow tobacco on their plantations-over time, this successful crop transformed the colony into a successful venture. John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas (see AJ-079), is credited with first planting a marketable tobacco in Virginia. In 1619, the same year Africans were brought into the colony as slaves, the first representative assembly in North America was set up-the Virginia Assembly. In 1624, the Virginia Company dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony under the governance of the English Crown.

Document Note:

Father Pierre Baird’s letter, written in May 1614, recounts his abduction from the French colony and his trip down to Virginia. He accompanied more English ships back up to the Maine area where the English raided and destroyed the French settlement of Port Royal. On their return to Virginia, however, the ship came off course. It was compelled to land in the Azores and then later return to England. Biard protected the English captain who was accused of piracy. Later Biard was allowed to return to France where he was accused of complicity in the sack of Port Royal. The document shown here is from Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor), Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The Jamestown Rediscovery archaeology project website at http://www.apva.org/jr.html contains historical summaries, a timeline, biographies, and description of the archaeological findings made at Jamestown.

At the Virtual Jamestown website, you can find other first-hand accounts of the Jamestown settlement (see http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/fhaccounts_date.html.

The Public Broadcasting Station website on the history of Africans in America presents a narrative of the early years of Virginia’s history and explores the settlers’ difficult relationship with the Native Americans and the introduction of black slavery at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/title.html.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia has a biography of Beard at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02541d.htm.

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