False Accusations of the Germans
by Gary C. Grassl, President The German Heritage Society of Greater Washington, D.C.
Smith was unsuccessful in his attempt to
kill the chief. "Of course Smith claimed his failure to kill Powhatan was not his fault," writes Sams. " We all love to blame some one else for our failures; and so Smith blames the Dutchmen for his
failure. They had told Powhatan his plans; and the trap which he was laying in the house they were to build for Powhatan, did not work." Nevertheless, Smith left the Germans behind to finish the chief's house.
Powhatan must have realized that Adam, Franz, and Samuel were bound by a special bond; perhaps he concluded from their distinctive language that they belonged to a different tribe from the English. Powhatan
took advantage of this knowledge.
After Smith's departure, the chief forced two of the German carpenters, Adam and Franz, "two stout Dutchmen," to walk the 13 miles overland to James Fort before
Smith could get back there with his ships. This was easily accomplished, because the ships had to travel the roundabout way down the York and back up the James. Powhatan ordered the two Germans to ask for another set of
arms and tools under the pretext that theirs were needed by Smith. Powhatan forced them to bring back these weapons by holding their compatriot Samuel as hostage. In the words of Smith, "Samuel their other consort
Powhatan kept for their pledge."
American historians have condemned Adam and Franz for betraying the English by delivering two muskets and two swords to the Indians. But they had little choice: Smith
had placed them between a rock and a hard place. Besides, many English settlers also conveyed weapons to the Indians. Smith said that a total of 300 hatchets, 50 swords, 8 guns and 8 pikes were delivered to the natives
at this time.
Smith blamed all this also on the Germans. According to Smith, the German carpenters persuaded many Englishmen to arm Powhatan in order to destroy the English Colony. He would have us believe
that these carpenters, who knew little English, were so eloquent and crafty that they could persuade a sizable number of English settlers to make common cause with the people they considered "savages" in order
to destroy their own kind.
A more likely explanation is that the starving English were trading their tools and weapons for food. But Smith couldn't admit that conditions were so bad under his governor ship
that his men were forced to barter away their weapons to stay alive. So he invented a grand conspiracy organized by three German carpenters.
Meanwhile, the Germans lived in Powhatan's household, which
included his daughter Pocahontas. The carpenters finished Powhatan's house, "in which he took such pleasure, especially in the lock and key, which he so admired, as locking and unlocking his door a hundred times a
day, he thought no device in the world comparable to it."
Smith tried to kill Powhatan a second time, but when the captain arrived in Werowocomoco, he discovered that the chief had fled from the house
the Germans had built for him. Smith again blamed the Germans for the chief's escape. He complained, "those damned Dutchmen had caused Powhatan to abandon his new house and Werowocomoco and to carry away all his
corn and provision." But in fact Powhatan didn't need to be prompted by anyone to get away the moment his scouts told him Smith was coming. Wherever Smith went, he terrorized the countryside and forced the natives
to hand over their corn.
George Percy, who would succeed Smith as chief executive of the Colony, characterized him as "an ambitious, unworthy and vainglorious fellow." Percy wrote that Smith
"stuffed" his reports about what occurred at Jamestown with "many falsities" and malicious distractions ...." The American historian Alexander Brown thinks that Smith and the historians who
relied on him did "great injustice" to "the men who gave their time, their talents, and their lives to establishing the first Protestant colony in our country."
Some time after Smith had returned
to Jamestown from his second attempt to kill Powhatan, the German carpenter Franz, "a stout young fellow," appeared at the Glasshouse. Smith charged him with being up to no good because he was "disguised
like a savage." The truth is that Franz simply looked like a native after having lived among them; certain Englishmen who had also lived among the Indians were later described as also having taken on an Indian
Smith sent 20 musketeers after Franz, who in the face of such a force retreated back into the woods. But he was captured, according to Smith. Franz himself said that he came voluntarily to
Jamestown. He "extremely complained" that Powhatan had "detained them per force." Franz declared that he had "made this escape with the hazard of his life." He explained that "to save
their lives they were constrained" by Powhatan to supply him with arms. Nevertheless Smith put Franz in shackles, and he sent message to Powhatan to return the remaining two Germans. Powhatan replied, however, the
"the Dutchmen would not return, neither did Powhatan stay them; and to bring them fifty miles on his men's backs they were not able." Powhatan was having his little joke with Smith; the chief had his reasons
for detaining the Germans.
Meanwhile, from about February to May 1609, a good deal of work was being done in and about James Fort, including the construction of "some twenty houses, and "a
blockhouse in the neck of our isle" as protection. Since Franz was in Jamestown during part of this period, he would have participated in this building work.
In the summer of 1609 Smith got it into
his head that Adam, Samuel "and one Bentley another fugitive" planned "to destroy the colony" in the service of Spain. This was a notion worthy of a science fiction writer. He sent "William
Volday, a Zwitzar by birth," after them. But instead of bringing them back, the Swiss German, " this double villain"..."this wicked hypocrite" joined "his cursed countrymen ... to effect
their projects ...." Smith then engaged two Englishmen "to go and stab them or shoot them." But when they reached the Germans, they decided against carrying out Smith's orders.
released Adam, but Samuel stayed behind. Adam and Volday then rejoined the Jamestown settlers without being punished, which shows that Smith's notion about their "villainy" was not shared by the rest of the
colonists. As a matter of fact, when the colonists later arrested Smith and sent him back to England to face charges, one of these was that he had tried to kill the Germans who were with Powhatan.
read this curious sentence in Smith's chronicle:"but Samuel still stayed with Powhatan to hear further of their estates by this supply." In other words, Smith kept Samuel with Powhatan to report to the captain
about what the Indians were doing. This is curious indeed! First Smith wanted to have Samuel killed, because he allegedly sought to destroy the Colony. But a short while later, Smith decided to continue to keep Samuel
as his personal agent with Powhatan so that he could ferret out the chief's plans. What a strange metamorphosis! One moment Samuel is so evil that he must be killed; a short while later, he is so trustworthy that he can
be employed as Smith's personal operative.
In October 1609, Smith was shipped back to England a prisoner to face a number of charges, including having plotted to kill the German carpenters.
Late in 1609, while Samuel remained with Powhatan, the Indian Chief ambushed an English party of about 30 under Captain Ratcliffe whom he had invited to trade copper for corn. First Powhatan welcomed Ratcliffe to his
village of Pamunkey and brought along Samuel and two Englishmen, Spelman and Savage, who were also staying with the Indians. This village was located near modern West Point at the tip of the peninsula formed by the
confluence of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers. Powhatan let Samuel and the Englishmen stay with Ratcliffe that night. The next day, when the trading was going on, a dispute arose between the English and the Indians.
Powhatan left the scene and took Samuel with him A war party hiding in the woods then killed almost all of Ratcliffe's men.
Henry Spelman, one of the two Englishmen with Powhatan, tells us what happened
next: "Now, while this business was in action, the Powhatan sends me and one Samuel, a Dutchman, to a town about sixteen miles off, called Yawtanoone, willing us there to stay for him .... "The King
[Powhatan], in show, made still much of us; yet his mind was much declined from us, which made us fear the worst. And, having now been with him about twenty-four or twenty-five weeks, it happened that the King of
Potomac came to visit the great Powhatan, where, being a while with him, he showed such kindness to Savage, Samuel and myself, as we determined to go away with him.
"When the day of his departure was
come, we did as we agreed, and having gone a mile or two on the way, Savage feigned some excuse of stay; and, unknown to us went back to the Powhatan, and acquainted him with our departing with the Potomac.
"The Powhatan presently sends after us, commanding our return, which we refusing, went still on our way; and those that were sent went still on with us, till one of them, finding opportunity, on a sudden, struck
Samuel with an ax, and killed him ..." thus died the German house builder Samuel while trying to escape from chief Powhatan.
"The winter of 1609-10 has been described through the years as the
'starving time,' seemingly, an accurate description," writes the American historian Charles E. Hatch, Jr. It saw the population shrink to about 12 percent "as a result of disease, sickness, Indian arrows, and
"So lamentable was our scarcity that we were constrained to eat dogs, cats, rats, snakes, toadstools, horsehides and what not," wrote a contemporary. "One man, out of the
misery he endured, killing his wife powdered [salted] her up to eat her, for which he was burned. Many besides fed on the corpses of dead men...."
During the "starving time," Adam and Franz
returned to Powhatan, the alternative being death by starvation or disease. They may not have known that Samuel had been killed.
After the starving time, the English decided to abandon the settlement.
"On June 7, 1610, the settlers, except some of the Poles and Dutchmen who were with Powhatan, boarded their ship and started down the James," writes Hatch.
"The next morning, while still in
the river, advance word reached [them] that Lord Delaware had arrived at Point Comfort on the way to Jamestown and was bringing 150 settlers and a generous supply ... "On June 10, Delaware reached 'James
Citty" and made his landing ... With the arrival of Delaware, the settlement was given new life and new hope."
The Swiss German Volday [or Waldi), who had gone back to England with Captain Samuel
Argall in 1609 to report to the Company, returned with Lord Delaware to resume prospecting for minerals. Volday, however, died of a disease, as did the majority of the early settlers. Delaware himself took sick.
When the German carpenters Adam and Franz heard that the English were re-establishing their settlement, they tried to rejoin them, but Powhatan " caused his men to beat out their brains," states a
contemporary report. The fact that the two German carpenters were killed trying to get away from Powhatan is surely proof that they were not collaborators.