The first part of Merchantable Commodities
Grass silk. There is a kind of grass in the country which has a thin, glistening, skin. When this is stripped off, it makes very good silk. The grass grows two feet and a half high or even more, while the blades are about two feet long and half an inch broad. A similar kind can be found in Persia, which has the same climate as Virginia. If one cultivated the grass as the Persians do, it could quickly become a profitable business, because silk is widely used and sold both in our country and elsewhere. And when the grass is planted in good ground, it will grow larger, better, and more plentiful, although there is even now a great abundance of it growing wild in many parts of the country. We tested this grass on our return to England, by making a piece of grosgrain silk, and found it of excellent quality.
Worm silk. In many of our journeys we came across fine, large silkworms, as big as walnuts. Although we did not find them in such abundance as we heard that they existed in other parts of the country, yet since they grow so naturally there, a successful industry could be established. If mulberry and other trees which feed and nourish the silkworms were planted in spacious places, and if they were carefully gathered and husbanded with expert skill, the industry would in time yield as great a profit to the Virginians as it does now to the Persians, Turks, Italians, and Spaniards.
Flax and hemp. The truth is that there is not a great supplv of flax and hemp growing in any one place, because it is not planted, but grows wild. Although the leaf and stem, or stalk, differ from ours, those men who know assert that the product is of about the same quality. And if future trials should confirm this, we now have enough experience with the soil to believe that our variety will grow there excellently and, if planted, will yield a plentiful crop, There is so much land that some of it may well be applied to such purposes. The benefits from cordage and linens anyone can easily understand.
Alum. There is a vein of earth running along the seacoast for forty or fifty milesy and in the judgment of those who have tested it here in England good alum could be made from it, of the kind known as rock alum. The same earth also yields white copperas, niter, and feather alum, but not so plentifully as the common alum, which is more profitable.
Wapeik. This is the name given by the natives to a kind of earth very like terra sigillata. Having been refined, it has been found by some of our physicians and surgeons to be of the same virtue and even more effective than Lemnian earth. The inhabitants use it a good deal to cure sores and wounds. It is found in great abundance in many places and is sometimes blue in color.
Pitch, tar, resin, and turpentine. The kinds of trees which yield these products grow abundantly. The island where we lived — fifteen miles long and five or six miles wide — was full of them. There were scarcely any other trees.
Sassafras. The inhabitants call it winauk, a wood of the most pleasant and sweet smell and of rare virtues in medicine for the cure of many diseases. It is far better and has more uses than the wood which is called Guaiacum, or lignum vitae. For the description, manner of using, and manifold virtues of it, I refer you to the book of Monardus, translated and entitled in English, The Joyful News from the West Indies.
Cedar. A very sweet wood which makes fine timber. Chests of drawers, fair and fine bedsteads, tables, desks, lutes, virginals, and many other things (which we have already made) could be fashioned from it and shipped to make up freight with other principal commodities that would yield profit.
Wine. There are two kinds of grapes that grow wild there. One is sour and the size of the ordinary English grape; the other is lusciously sweet and much larger. When they are planted and husbanded as they should be, an important commodity in wines can be established.
Oil. There are two kinds of walnuts, both of which yield oil, though one far more plentifully than the other. If there were mills and other devices of the sort, large amounts of oil could be obtained. Three different kinds of oak acorns also grow there, and we were told by the inhabitants that these acorns yield very good, sweet oil. We could also get oil from the fat bears of the country, since there are great numbers of them, and their fat is so liquid that it could be used as oil for many special purposes.
Furs. All along the seacoast there are many otters, and if they could be caught by weirs and other traps, they would make us good profits. We hope also to get marten furs, for the people say that in some places they are plentiful, although during our stay in Virginia only two skins came into our hands. We also heard of lynxes, but we did not see any.
Deer skins, dressed in the manner of chamois or raw, are to be had yearly by the thousand from the natives through trade for trifles. And even so, there would be no more waste or spoil of deer than there has been in the past.
Civet cats. In our travels we found a civet cat, which was killed by one of the natives. In another place we came upon the smell of them. From this evidence, as well as from what the people told us, we know that these animals are found in the country, and much profit could be made from them.
Iron. In two places especially, one about fourscore, the other sixscore miles from our fort, the ground near the water's edge was rocky. When our mineral man tested it, he discovered that it held iron in rich amounts. Not only there but also in many other parts of the country iron is found. I believe this will become a good marketable commodity, considering the infinite stores of wood for smelting and the small cost there of labor and food, especially if one compares it with the scarcity and high cost of wood in England. Another manner of profiting from it would be to use it as ballast for ships.
Copper. A hundred and fifty miles inland we found that the inhabitants of two towns had several small plates of copper. They told us these had been made by the natives farther up in the interior, where, they say, are mountains and rivers that vield copper and also white grains of metal, which we deemed to be silver. In confirmation of this I may say that when we first arrived in Virginia we saw two small pieces of roughly beaten silver about the weight of a testone 1 I hanging in the ears of a Weroans, or chief, who lived about fourscore miles from us. Upon inquiring from him how many days'journey and in what direction the place was, I learned that it was near where the copper and white grains of metal had been found. We tested this copper and discovered that it contained silver.
Pearls. There were often pearls in the mussels we ate. But they are always pied in color. We have not yet discovered where the better pearls in greater abundance are. One of our company, a man skilled in such matters, had gathered about five thousand from the savages. Out of these he chose enough to make a rare chain of pearls, uniform in roundness, luster, and size, and of a variety of excellent colors. The chain would have been presented to Her Majesty had we not lost it, along with many other things, in a terrible storm as we were leaving the country.
Sweet gums of different kinds and many other apothecary drugs can be found there. I have learned more about them from men who have knowledge in these matters and have had time to examine them more carefully. For want of the samples lost in the storm, I cannot now describe them.
Dyes of different kinds. There is shoemake [sumac], well known in England and used for black; the seed of a herb called wasewowr; a small root called chappacor; and the bark of the tree called by the inhabitants tangomockonomindge. These dyes are for different shades of red, and their suitability for our English clothes remains yet to be proved. The inhabitants use them for dyeing hair and for coloring their faces, also for deer skins and for dyeing rushes to make patterns in their mats and baskets. If they should not prove marketable, there is no doubt the planters will find uses for them and also for the other colors which we know to be there.
Woad. This dyestuff is largely sold and used among English dyers. There is never enough of it in our own country, as we lack space for growing it. But in Virginia, where there is land enough, it could be planted easily. It will grow there without any doubt, since the climate is the same as that of the Azores, where woad and madder grow plentifully.
Sugar canes we took with us to plant, but since they were not as well preserved as they should have been and the time of year for setting them was past when we arrived, we could not make the experiment we wished. Nevertheless, seeing that they grow in a similar climate in the southern part of Spain and in Barbary, we can reasonably hope they will grow in Virginia. The same holds true for oranges, lemons, and quinces. From these, in reasonable time and if the undertaking is diligently prosecuted, no small commodities in sugars, sweetmeats, and marmalades may develop.
Many other goods, which I leave to your discreet and gentle consideration, may be raised there. And there are also many already growing which we have not vet discovered. I might have specified two more commodities of great value, which do not have to be planted, but can be raised there and prepared in a short time. Also, I could have revealed more of these I have enumerated, told the particular places where they are found and could best be planted and prepared. And I could have said how soon they would bring profits and how great these profits would be, but I have not done so, because I fear that persons other than well-wishers might learn too much from my description and that would not be to the advantage of the enterprise. I have omitted these facts, knowing that I have revealed enough in this part for those who are well disposed toward the Virginia undertaking.
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Did You Know?
The land west of the Atlantic coastline from Newfoundland to Florida was given the name Virginia by the English. The land was named for the newly discovered unspoiled land and Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen”.