We Call Her Jane

Her identity is unknown. She died in 1610 in Jamestown Colony when she was about 14 years old. After her death, she was butchered and eaten by the starving colonists during the Starving Time, the winter of 1610.

Today it is hard for us to imagine the brutal conditions faced by those Jamestown colonists. And hard to imagine why English men and women kept coming to a colony in which more than half the settlers died for each of the first ten years or so. But come they did and conditions gradually improved until by the mid-1620s the colony was thriving.

Why was Jamestown life so hard and yet irresistible? It was hard for at least two basic reasons. First, the colonists were totally unprepared for frontier living. They were sent by a commercial group in England to reap quick harvests of gold. About a third of them were people of wealth hoping to get established and make huge profits in the New World. They certainly didn’t come to work. Nor did their many servants. There were few who knew anything about farming in England and none who knew how to raise crops in Virginia. They thought their greatest enemies were Spanish pirates and assumed they could just buy food from the natives. They chose to live on a swampy island with poor soil and disease ridden water. And they quickly alienated the Indians, as they called the local residents. In short, nearly every single decision made in their first year was a serious mistake.

They were living — and dying — proof that a focus on mere profit blinds one to everything of importance and lasting value. Wall Street in these last few years has shown that we have tended not to learn from the colonists bad example but to follow them.

To the north in what became Massachusetts, a different sort of colonist came in 1620. The good ship Mayflower brought about a hundred people to the harsh land near Cape Cod. Half of them were religious pilgrims seeking a chance to be free of English religious tyranny. They wanted freedom for themselves but hardly considered the possibility that religious freedom might be granted to any that differed with them.

Because the Pilgrims’ motives were so different than those of the Jamestown colonists, they handled community life very differently. They quickly established order and, for that purpose had even composed and signed the Mayflower Compact even before disembarking in America. They were nearly as unprepared and nearly as abusive of the local population as had been their counterparts in Virginia but they were at least prepared for hard work.

A well ordered community life and hard work: these made all the difference. Each of those qualities became woven into the American character alongside the greed of Jamestown.

Today our crisis is that those fundamental values no longer provide a sure foundation for our culture. Greed has almost consumed us, hard physical work is of less value than the more abstract tasks of the Information Age, and we are badly conflicted over how the community of the United States is to be ordered. We are on a new kind of frontier, one we are struggling to comprehend.

May God keep us from doing too much damage as we flounder and flail in search of new foundations. And may the churches awaken to the nature of the crisis, understand what it means, and speak forth clearly about basic biblical values.

Yes, I know many are saying “religion” should have no say in the shaping of America but, really, what is so religious about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
This entry was posted in History of Western Civilization, Modern Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to We Call Her Jane

  1. fred prudek says:

    Mike, it seems that investors don’t change much over the years. They generally want a quick return on their investments. Thank God that at least the Mayflower folk played some role in defining the American character, even tho they weren’t faultless either, as in Scarlet Letter.

    • mthayes42 says:

      It has been fashionable in some recent circles to blame all the world’s troubles on religion. Like you, I’m glad for Plymouth more than for Jamestown. With no sense of accountability to God, ethics has no foundation at all. Certainly capitalism is not and never will be an ethical guide for us.

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