• Exploring American History

Birth of a nation - April 29th, 1607

Ask anyone with the slightest inkling of knowledge about the early history of the United States to name the year when the country began and you can almost bet the rent and win the answer spoken will be “1776”. Though a huge year in US history, 1776 was more akin to the United States moving into her teen years rather than her conception. To find the actual “birth” you need to go back further – to April 29, 1607. However, before there can be a birth, a conception must take place. For that, go back even further.

In the year 1552, a future Anglican priest by the name of Richard Hakluyt was born in England. As an adult, he would become one of the world’s leading experts on exploration. While a youth, Richard was orphaned and went to live with an elder cousin, also named Richard Hakluyt. Shortly after becoming the ward of his cousin, “Richard the Younger” was enrolled in Westminster School as a Queen’s Scholar. Perhaps during a school break, “Younger” was visiting “Richard the Elder”, who had a strong passion for cosmology (the scientific study of the origin and structure of the universe) and navigation. Witnessing this same interest in “Younger”, “Elder” made available to him a vast array of maps and books he could use for research and study. As an adult, “Younger” made these statements about his cousin:

He began to instruct my ignorance and pointed with his wand to all the known seas, gulfs, bays, straits, capes, rivers, empires, kingdoms, dukedoms and territories. From the map, he brought me to the Bible and turned to the 107th Psalm, directed me to the 23rd and 24th verses, where I read, ‘they which go down to the sea in ships, and occupy great waters, these see the works for the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.’ I constantly resolved . . . I would by God’s assistance prosecute that knowledge.”

In time, he fulfilled this vow and enrolled in Christ Church in Oxford. By the time young Richard had acquired his master’s degree from Oxford, he was now not only an Anglican priest, but had also become one of England’s foremost geography experts; publishing a number of books on the subject which became immensely popular.

Richard now began to sense the need for a permanent English settlement in the New World. John Cabot had already claimed North America for England in 1497, so there was no time like the present to start. Add to that, the King of Spain already had his roots in the continent and had plundered it of a great deal of wealth with which to carry out his threat to invade England. If Protestant England was to survive, Hakluyt felt it even more important for the nation to expand beyond the tiny British Isles.

Focused on the land he now called “Virginia”, Hakluyt wrote an extensive number of letters to Queen Elizabeth I. At that time, the queen’s intense focus was on Spain’s threat and she gave little though to Hakluyt’s letters. That changed in 1578 when she granted a private patent to Sir Humphrey Gilbert. As Gilbert sailed for the New World in 1583, he died when his ship sank off the coast of Newfoundland.

Queen Elizabeth now granted a new patent – this one to Sir Gilbert’s brother – Sir Walter Raleigh, who arrived safely in modern-day North Carolina. Unfortunately, each of Raleigh’s five expeditions ended in failure. When King James I followed Queen Elizabeth I to the throne, Raleigh lost favor in his eyes; so much so King James had Raleigh imprisoned and later executed.

Richard now made his case before the royal court after forming the Virginia Company. King James granted them an audience and looked favorably on the requests of the group and appointed Richard the charter’s chief scribe.

During the time the British Isles had been conquered by Rome, the natives who lived there were much like the indigenous tribes later discovered in North America. Rome’s civilizing effects and the Christian religion combined to make of the British people a mighty nation. It was now time to carry that same concept to North America.

On December 20, 1605, three ships set out – the Susan Constant, Godspeed and the Discovery. Richard did not make the trip due to his age and the valuable services he offered to King James I at court. Instead, Robert Hunt traveled with 105 settlers and 40 seamen down the Thames River and “across the pond” to the New World. Following a turbulent thunderstorm, the travelers saw Virginia for the first time on April 26, 1607. Sailing into Chesapeake Bay, they dropped anchor and named the land Cape Henry, in honor of Henry, Prince of Wales, the son of James I.

Prior to leaving the ships, Reverend Hunt required everyone aboard to spend three days in personal examination and repentance. During the journey, a good bit of in-fighting had taken place among the passengers and Hunt wanted all to be contrite in heart because the land was to be consecrated to God for His purposes.

At the end of these three days, on April 29, 1607, Reverend Hunt led the colonists as they finally set foot on land. As they did, they carried the one item they had brought from England to give glory to God – a rough-hewn cross made of oak and standing seven feet tall. Rev. Hunt reminded those gathered of the admonition of the British Royal Council which they read from the Holy Scripture:

Every plantation, which my Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” Matthew 15:13

Then, Hunt conducted the first official act by the English in the New World when he raised his hands to Heaven and consecrated the continent to the glory of God. Jamestown now became England’s first successful and permanent colony.

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