A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. — Alexander Tytler

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Nothing but Smoke

The greatest of all the English seamen of this time was Sir Walter Raleigh. A poet, philosopher, historian, courtier, and colonizer, Raleigh was also a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. We are told that he won this lady's approval by once spreading his new cloak on the ground so that she might pass dry-shod over a muddy spot.

Raleigh's great ambition was to "plant an English nation in America." He and his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, therefore obtained Elizabeth's permission to start a colony in any part of the New World not yet occupied by any other Christian power. Then Gilbert started across the Atlantic with several ships and took possession of Newfoundland. While cruising near there, one of his vessels was wrecked.

On his return voyage his little fleet was overtaken by a storm. Gilbert was on a leaky vessel, but as the other ships were not large enough to contain all his men, he refused to leave it for a safer one. When they told him that he was in great danger, he quietly answered, "Heaven is as near by water as by land," and calmly went on reading his Bible. The storm increased. All at once the other boats missed the light of Gilbert's ship! They peered anxiously out into the darkness, but all in vain, for the vessel had sunk with its brave captain and all its crew.

Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth

Undaunted by this first failure, Raleigh soon sent out a new expedition. It brought back such favorable reports of the coast farther south that Raleigh named the country Virginia, in honor of Elizabeth, the virgin (or unmarried) queen, who gave him a grant of land there.

Among other strange things, Raleigh's explorers brought back potatoes, which had never yet been seen in England. Raleigh planted these on his estate in Ireland, where people were at first afraid to eat them, lest they should be poisonous. Before long, however, potatoes became so common that they have been the chief food of the Irish peasants for many a year.

The first colony established by Raleigh, on Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina, suffered many hardships. The people were so discouraged by the time Drake came to visit them, that they persuaded him to carry them back to England. Then a second colony was started on the same spot, which thus became the home of the first little English baby born in our country. She was called Virginia, in honor of her birthplace.

A war with Spain prevented Raleigh's sending supplies to this colony for several years, and when the grandfather of the first English-American child finally visited Roanoke, little Virginia had vanished, as well as all the rest of the colonists. No one has ever known what became of them, but it is supposed that they were all killed by the Indians. The only trace ever found was one word carved on a big tree, the name of the neighboring village of Croatan.

These ventures, and his many journeys, made Raleigh so poor that he finally had to give up all his rights to the land.

As we have seen, Raleigh was a great favorite of the queen, therefore many stories are told about him. For instance, it is related that he was the first Englishman to use tobacco, which the Indians said "cured being tired." One day, when Raleigh was smoking in his room, a new servant came in with a pitcher of water. Seeing smoke come out of his master's mouth and nose, the man fancied that Raleigh was on fire, and hastily upset the water on his head to put out the flames!

We are also told that Raleigh taught Queen Elizabeth how to smoke, and that they two enjoyed many a pipe together. On one occasion Raleigh made a bet with the queen that he could tell the exact weight of the smoke from her pipe. First he carefully weighed the tobacco she put in her pipe; then, when she was through smoking, he weighed the ashes, and won his wager by telling her that the difference in weight between tobacco and ashes was that of the smoke! Elizabeth paid the money cheerfully, but remarked that, while she had often heard of turning gold into smoke, he was the first who had turned smoke into gold.

About twenty years after Raleigh founded his first colony, another English seaman, named Gosnold, decided that it was very foolish to take the roundabout way by Iceland or the Azores Islands to reach America. He therefore boldly steered straight across the Atlantic, thus shortening the trip by about one thousand miles.

The first land he saw he named Cape Cod, because he found so many codfish there. Soon after he stopped on Cutty-hunk Island, near the coast, where he built a house. Then, after securing a cargo of sassafras, which was at that time used as a medicine for almost every disease, Gosnold sailed home, leaving his house tenantless.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell