After that matters improved, and chiefly because of a single development: James Towne learned to grow tobacco; Europe learned to use it. From that time the place took on new life and made great strides toward becoming self-supporting. More and better settlers arrived, and the colony even put out offshoots, so that soon there were several settlements up and down the river and upon other rivers. And of all, James Towne was the seat of government, the proud little capital of the Colony of Virginia.
But trouble was still in store for this pioneer village, and this time final disaster. The very cause of prosperity became the chief cause of downfall. Tobacco and towns could not long flourish together. The famous weed rapidly exhausted the soil, and there was constant need for new lands to clear and cultivate. The leading Virginians turned their backs upon James Towne and upon the other struggling settlements too, and established vast individual estates along the river to which they drew the body of the people.
To be sure there still had to be some place as the seat of government; and in that capacity the village hung on a good while longer, though with few inhabitants aside from colonial officials and some tavern-keepers. It was not to be allowed to keep even these. Despite every effort to force the growth of the town, it dwindled; and in 1699 it received its deathblow upon the removal of the seat of government to Williamsburg.
The rest is a matter of a few words. The pioneer village was gradually abandoned and fell to ruins. As though natural decay could not tear down and bury fast enough, the greedy river came to its aid. Besides eating away the ancient isthmus, the James attacked the upper end of the island, devouring part of the site of the old-time settlement. Between decay and the river, James Towne, the birthplace of our country, vanished from the face of the earth.
A RUN AROUND JAMESTOWN ISLAND
Now Gadabout, her engines slowed down, drifted almost unguided among the shallows beside Jamestown Island; for our eyes were only for that close-lying shore and our thoughts for what it had to tell us.
The end of the island toward us was well wooded though fringed with marsh. All of it that could be seen was just as we would have it—without a mark of civilization; wild, lonely, and still. In keeping with the whole sad story seemed the gloom of the forest, the loneness of the marsh, and the surge of the waves upon the desolate shore.
When we took Gadabout in hand again, we did not keep along the front of the island to where the colonists “tied their ships to the trees” and made their landing; but, instead, we turned from the James and ran up Back River in behind the island. Our plan was to sail up this stream to a point where the chart showed a roadway and a bridge, and to tie up the houseboat there. That would be convenient for us and for Gadabout too. The roadway we should use in crossing the island to visit the chief points of interest, which were on the James River side; and Gadabout would have a more protected harbour than could be found for her in front.