From The Future Back . . .


Destination: England’s 16th Century Rolfe Family

sea-venture-and-consorts

“Historic Voyage, Sea Venture and Consorts at Sea 1609,” a 1984 oil painting by Deryck Foster, was exhibited courtesy of the Bank of Bermuda Foundation in the Jamestown Settlement special exhibition, “Jamestown and Bermuda: Virginia Company Colonies.”

Absent any DeLorean or maverick scientist like Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown, we’re headed from the future back to a time before there was this great country known as the United States of America.  But, “Holy Scott!,” we’re crossing the Atlantic Ocean, departing from 21st Century Jamestown, Virginia, aboard a 300-ton merchant sailing vessel, known as the Sea Venture, (England’s first dedicated emigration ship), that we resurrected from her maiden voyage back in 1609. We are embarking on 16th Century Plymouth, a city on the south coast of Devon, England, about 37 miles (60 km) south-west of Exeter and 190 miles (310 km) west-south-west of London between the mouths of the rivers Plym and Tamar.  We are en route to Heacham, England–the home of John Eustacius Rolfe and his wife Lady Dorothea Mason, parents of John Thomas Rolfe.

The Day: June 2 

Our plans have us traveling about 3,800 nautical miles over a period of about two months.  While the average temperatures on land and at sea will be in the mid-50’s to 60’s over the next two months, we also know that the Atlantic Ocean and England will receive about 2-1/3″ of rain over the course of 12 days just during the month of June.  And, based upon weather history we know that we must be ever cautious and vigilant traveling by sea during these particular two months.  The period June 1 to November 30 is the time when others who traveled this route before us have nearly died or succumb to their deaths in the Northern Atlantic Ocean’s waters due to violent tropical winds and rain historically known as tempests!  In fact, a huge storm on July 24, 1609, that lasted four days, tossed the original Sea Venture ship about on the open ocean and she became separated from the rest of her fleet of nine vessels. The force of the hurricane battered this massive ship, causing multiple leaks to start flooding her hold. Most of her passengers and crew believed they were doomed. Still, all the men aboard worked hard to save her and themselves, by pumping out water and throwing traveler’s possessions and ship’s cargo overboard.  On the fourth day, it was Admiral Sir George Somers (founder of Bermuda) who spotted this island. Captain Christopher Newport (an English privateer {AKA sanctioned pirate}, ship captain, and adventurer), sailed the battered ship next to the island’s fringe and wedged her between two large rocks. Everyone (about 150 on board), survived the wreck and escaped to Bermuda’s land known back then to the English as “The Devil’s Islands.”

Also among those aboard the Virginia Company’s Sea Venture had been Sir Thomas Gates, my 11th maternal great uncle, who would serve as Governor of Virginia in 1610 and then as Lieutenant Governor from 1611 until 1614; William Strachey, future secretary of the Virginia Company in Jamestown; my then 24 year old and 11th paternal great grandfather, John Rolfe, with his wife Sarah Hacker, also 24, who was about two months pregnant at the time of their departure from England. Sarah gave birth in February 1610, while a castaway on the Bermuda Isle.  Hence, they named their little girl, Bermuda.  History says that Sarah passed away in the Spring of 1610, and sadly, that Bermuda also passed away on June 2, 1610–just 23 days after the 150 survivors set sail again for Jamestown aboard their two new ships, the Patience and Deliverance, constructed by them over the course of 10 months from the wood and materials they salvaged from the Sea Venture. I can only wonder if Sarah might have passed as a result of unsanitary living conditions or child-birthing practices which were common causes of infections that led to the deaths of so many women and infants in those days.  And little Bermuda, without her mother’s breast milk, would not have received antibodies that infants require to thrive.

If you are questioning signing on to this adventure across time and 3,800 nautical miles across the Atlantic from Virginia to England, I am leaving you with excerpts from TimeMaps™ History Atlas that I hope will help us all better acclimate ourselves to the two hundred year period 1453-1648 AD:

north-america-map-1453-1648-ad

europe-map-1453-1648-ad

—To Be Continued—