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Strachey Ring

An Excerpt From Jamestown Rediscovery III by William M. Kelso:

In the late fall of 1996, excavations in the southeastern bulwark of the James Fort site recovered a brass finger ring finely engraved with the figure of a large bird and with what appears to be a cross on its breast. It is a signet ring commonly used for impressing wax seals on documents. Some of these rings bear the official heraldic crest of their owner's family, an official symbol registered at the College of Arms in London. A "displayed" eagle embossed with a cross-crosslet on its breast is the official crest of the Strachey family. William Strachey played a significant role in the Jamestown settlement. Heading for Virginia in 1609, Strachey got as far as Bermuda where the supply ship, the Sea Venture, wrecked in a hurricane. The survivors stayed for the next several months building replacement vessels in which they sailed to Jamestown by May 1610. Strachey remained at Jamestown for less than a year, but during that time he became the Secretary of the Colony. He wrote an eloquent letter to an unnamed "dear lady" about his experience in the Sea Venture disaster and his time at Jamestown. The letter probably reached England with him in late 1610.1 There is little doubt that among the English readers of this manuscript was none other than William Shakespeare, for some of the theme, details, and setting for his famous play, The Tempest, almost certainly draws directly on Strachey's Bermuda experience. But more than an interesting, indirect Shakespearean cameo appearance for Jamestown history, Strachey's ring comments on the caliber of the men who ventured to Jamestown, and it serves to set the settlement in time. Jamestown was settled at the same time William Shakespeare was at the height of his career. And Shakespeare was dead and gone before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth.

Strachey returned to an apparently unhappy life in England. There, in 1621, he died in poverty leaving this rather depressing verse:

Hark! Twas the trump of death that blew
My hour has come. False world adieu
Thy pleasures have betrayed me so
That I to death untimely go.
2

Strachey may not have been so bitter had he lived to see his Bermuda and Jamestown manuscript published in 1625 or the priceless value his descriptions of Jamestown came to hold today. His "True Reportory" includes one of the few and the most informative descriptions of early Jamestown, particularly James Fort as he saw it in June 1609:

"the fort growing since to more perfection, is now at this present in this manner: ...about half an acre...is cast almost into the form of a triangle and so palisaded. The south side next the river (howbeit extended in a line or curtain sixscore foot more in length than the other two, by reason the advantage of the ground doth require) contains 140 yards, the west and east sides a hundred only. At every angle or corner, where the lines meet, a bulwark or watchtower is raised and in each bulwark a piece or two well mounted. ...And thus enclosed, as I said, round with a palisade of planks and strong posts, four feet deep in the ground, of young oaks, walnuts, etc…the fort is called, in honor of His Majesty's name, Jamestown. The principal gate from the town, through the palisade, opens to the river, as at each bulwark there is a gate likewise to go forth and at every gate a demiculverin and so in the market-place." 3

Archaeological discoveries at Jamestown in 1996 proved to be the remnants of what Strachey saw, and there is every reason to believe they are also traces of George Percy’s "triangular-wise" 1607 James Fort with three "half moon" bulwarks at the corners4 and John Smith's 1608 "five-side" Jamestown with "three bulwarks." 5

1 William Strachey, "A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight," in A Voyage to Virginia in 1609, ed. Louis B. Wright (Charlottesville, VA: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1965), Chapter I.
2 S.G. Culliford, William Strachey, 1572-1621, (Charlottesville, VA: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1965), 140.
3 Strachey, "True Reportory," 79.
4 George Percy, [1608?] Observations gathered out of "A Discourse of the Southern Colony in Virginia by the English, 1606," ed. by David B. Quinn (Charlottesville, VA: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1967), 22.
5 Philip L. Barbour, ed., The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631) (Chapel Hill: The Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1986), 2:325.

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