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Taking Root in the New World: Robert Johnson's Nova Britannia and the Rhetoric of Planting

by Elizabeth Vogtsberger

with comments by Edward J. Gallagher, Christina M. Hoffmann, Kate Lehnes, Karen Manahan, and Elizabeth Wiggins

(1) L.C. Green and Olive P. Dickason's The Law of Nations and the New World asks, "How did the Europeans 'justify' making war on and taking land from the Native Americans? How did Christian nations justify their actions in regard to Native America? What were the philosophical and legal justifications of imperial and colonial expansion?" (vii) A partial answer to these questions can be found in the examination of a series of publicity sermons commissioned by the Virginia Company in the years 1609-10. The purpose of these sermons was to generate interest and support—financial, spiritual, and corporeal—for the colonization of Virginia.

(2) More specifically, the subject of this essay, Robert Johnson's Nova Britannia: Offering Most Excellent fruites by Planting in Virginia (1609), emphasizes the conflict that arose between mercantile and spiritual interests. Ostensibly, the Virginia Company's second charter meant to revitalize the colonial project with spiritual authenticity and motivation. In reality, though, Johnson's sermon depicts the colony as the site of a discourse deeply invested in England's economic prosperity and expansion of empire. While the Company may have been interested in saving souls, it certainly had its eye on the financial prize as well.

(3) In order to understand the significance of the Virginia Company's 1609-10 sermons, it is important to underscore the place religion held in seventeenth-century England and why the sermon becomes 1) necessary to the colonial project and 2) the best vehicle to garner support. Fred Kimmey writes that "The predominant role of religion in the life of Jacobean England, and all of Europe for that matter, leaves no mystery surrounding the almost reflexive use of Christianity to establish theoretical justification for seizure of land from a primitive people" (57). According to Kimmey, religious doctrine and discourse could be used to support almost any assumption, and the colonization of the New World was not exempt from this tactic. It is no surprise, then, that the sermon was not only the most effective and influential vehicle to legitimize colonization but that the leaders of the Virginia Company were well aware of this and made every attempt to maximize the benefits of justification literature couched in religious discourse.

A Layman's Sermon: Robert Johnson and Nova Britannia

(4) It is ironic, then, that of the period's major sermons, Robert Johnson's Nova Britannia: Offering Most Excellent fruites by Planting in Virginia—the only tract written by a layman—was the first piece published for the Virginia Company. Nonetheless, Johnson boasted an impressive résumé. According to H.C. Porter, Johnson was "a City Alderman, a director of the East India Company, and son-in-law of Sir Thomas Smythe [Treasurer of the Virginia Company]. He was a future Deputy Treasurer of the Virginia Company, under Smythe; and in 1618 was to be listed as one of the six shareholders to have invested more than ₤200" (339). Ostensibly, Johnson's commercial interests were subordinated to his Christianizing desires. Although Hugh Lefler claims his sermon is "strong on moral sanction and virtu and replete with Biblical allusions," in the context of the other sermons, Nova Britannia relies more heavily on the material rather than the spiritual.

(5) Johnson's Nova Britannia was published February 18, 1609, by Samuel Macham in Paul's Church-yard, London. The sermon is dedicated to "the Right Worshipfull Sir Thomas Smith," Johnson's father-in-law, patron, and fellow businessman (Johnson 4). "The work was intended to stimulate investments in the London Company and encourage emigration to Virginia," claims Kimmey (48). Porter calls Johnson's sermon "fresh, stylish, practical and optimistic" (339), while John Parker identifies Johnson's goal as that of "linking good government with religion" and emphasizing that the "primary purpose of both government and planting was to establish and maintain a colony which would carry religion to the American Indian" (199). Here Johnson states his purpose:

So I wish and intreat all well affected subjects, some in their persons, others in their purses, cheerfully to adventure, and joyntly, take in hand this high and acceptable work, tending to advance and spread the kingdom of God, and the knowledge of the truth among so many millions of men and women, Savage and blind, that never yet saw the true light shine before their eyes, to enlighten their minds and comfort their soules, as also for the honor of our King, and enlarging of his kingdome, and for preservation and defence of that small number our friends and countrimen already planted (6).

Johnson's sermon is a call to action, inviting his fellow Englishmen to participate in colonization. According to Johnson, the purpose of the colony is threefold: to spread Christianity, advance the glory of England, and support the Englishmen who are already there. However, it appears from Johnson's sermon that he is neglecting to mention a fourth motivation: an increase in the commercial prosperity of England [1]. Perhaps because Johnson was not a member of the clergy as were the other authors of the 1609-10 sermons, he could not suppress completely his business and mercantile interests. While he worked hard to concentrate on the more charitable justifications—Christianity and the glorification of King James—he still could not forget the untapped resources of the New World and the opportunity they presented for financial gain.

"Our plant, we trust, is firmely rooted": Justifying Colonial Expansion with a Rhetoric of Planting

(6) Johnson introduces the dominant metaphor of his sermon in the subtitle of Nova Britannia, "Offering Most Excellent fruites by Planting in Virginia." Throughout the sermon, Johnson envisions the English colonists as "Planters," who will put down roots in the New World in order to glorify God, King James and England, and Christianize the native population. While specific passages reveal the relationship Johnson has constructed between planting and colonizing, it is worth noting here that this perspective naturalizes English colonization by making it part of the landscape of the New World. Johnson's strategy is to encourage the colonists to see themselves as growing out from England, transplanting themselves to the New World, and settling there to introduce civility and Christianity.

(7) More specifically, Johnson is able to articulate what he sees as each of the colony's major goals—spreading Christianity, glorifying England, and creating wealth—in terms of his planting metaphor. Furthermore, within these major categories, Johnson uses specific tactics to appeal to his readers. Although he encourages his readers to never lose sight of the missionary goal, Johnson spends a great deal of time describing the New World's resources and outlining the Virginia Company's plan for economic development. Through an analysis of Johnson's justifications and his strategies, Nova Britannia reveals itself to be quite concerned with the ways in which Virginia can best serve God without ever quite forgetting how James and England will benefit as well.

(8) To begin, while Johnson identifies the three primary reasons for the English presence in Virginia, he also addresses England's prior claim to the land through his plant metaphor. He states there are many documents testifying to the English presence in Virginia before 1607, arguing that "the same footing and possession is there kept and possessed by the same English, or by seede and of-spring, without any interruption or invasion, either of the Savages, or of any other Prince or people" (5) [2]. Johnson argues that England's claim to the New World has been established by the "footing" (perhaps this is similar to rooting) of a previous group of English settlers, and that even if it's not the same group, their "seede and of-spring" have retained the land, thereby solidifying the claim. Johnson's use of the word seed reveals his planting rhetoric to be embedded in nearly every detail of his sermon. English roots have been planted there long before without interruption, so why should the claim now be contested [comment1]?

Cry God for Johnson, England, and King James!

(9) After he establishes what he sees as a foundational claim to the New World, Johnson's first use of the planting metaphor is actually in reference to his second goal: the glorification of England. Although he mentions the importance of spreading the "knowledge of truth" to the "Savages" early on, he chooses to address England's position first. He writes:

why should any frowne or envie at it, or if they doe, why should wee faint or feare to enlarge our selves. Where is our force and auncient vigour? Doth our late reputation sleep in the dust? No, no, let not the world deceive it selfe, we remaine the same, and upon just occasion given, we shall quickly shew it too: having now by Gods blessing, more meanes then ever heretofore, beeing strongly fenced where wee wonted to lie open: Our plant, we trust, is firmely rooted, our armes and limmes are strong, our branches faire, and much desire to spread ourselves abroad (8).

Johnson's focus is on England's status in the world rather than the state of the Indians' souls. He appeals to his audience by first invoking the idea that England's days of greatness have past. He quickly moves beyond that, though, to explain that colonization is a way to ensure England will not fade away. Like a tree, England can root itself on both sides of the ocean, spreading out to advance her status.

(10) Johnson continues this appeal on behalf of England as he discusses how colonization will glorify King James. He claims that "the honour of a king consisteth in the multitude of subjects" (14). Clearly, the expansion of England into the New World will provide James with more subjects as the colonists civilize the native population. Johnson's plan for this serves to contrast the English with the Spanish and thereby elevate England. He states that

when our Dominions shall be enlarged, and the subjects multiplied of a people so bought and ransomed, not by stormes of raging cruelties (as West India was coverted) with rapiers point and Musket shot, murdering so many millions of naked Indians [...] but by faire and loving meanes, suiting to our English natures, like [a] soft and gentle voice... (14).

Johnson highlights the atrocities of the Spanish, claiming it is not in the English nature to suppress the Indians with terror and murder. Instead, the morally superior English colonists will love and nurture the people of the New World as a gardener would a seedling just beginning to grow.

(11) Johnson has particular ideas about which types of people can be those gardeners. He sees some of these people coming from an overpopulated, idle England [comment2].

so that if we seeke not some waies for their forreine employment, wee must provide shortly more prisons and corrections for their bad conditions, for it fares with populous common weales, as with plants and trees that bee too frolicke, which not able to sustaine and feede their multitude of branches, doe admit an engrafting of their buds and sciences into some other soile, accounting it a benefite for preservation of their kind, and a disburdening their stocke of those superfluous twigs that suck away their nourishment (19).

Johnson sees an ever-increasing population of idle and misbehaving Englishmen as a threat to the integrity of England. He warns England that if she does not deal with this problem soon, the masses, like an overgrown weed, will strangle the rest of the healthy country. Johnson proposes a transplant to the soil of the New World, stating that sometimes it is best for a plant to be pruned in order to preserve its life [comment3].

(12) Johnson's wish to use the idle populations of England to help establish the colony and Christianity runs contradictory to his desire for the best "gardeners," but he reconciles this in two ways. First, he claims he wants a balance of all types of people: "for we intend to have of every trade and profession, both honest, wise and painfull men [...] which will goe, and plant themselves so happily, and their children after them, to holde and keepe conformitie, with the lawes, language and religion of England for ever" (19) [comment4]. Johnson sees the forthcoming colonists as an extension—a branch—of the main English plant that will take root in the New World to ensure the security of the English claim and preserve and disseminate English custom.

(13) The second way Johnson recovers from his contradictions is by creating a meritocracy of gardeners. At the top are the best people from England, followed by the idle, with three types of undesirables at the bottom: people who will work against the common good, "papists," and "evill affected Magistrates." Johnson sees these people as weeds in contrast to the healthy seeds of the people mentioned above. These three groups, Johnson claims, will insidiously work their way into society, crippling it from the inside. In fact, the papists need to be "weeded out" and sent home to avoid the possibility of them "rooting out" the good colonists (20).

(14) Furthermore, his anti-Catholicism is so virulent that he says, "If they grow so bold and desperate in a mighty settled State, howe much more dangerous in the birth and infancie of yours? Therefore if you will live and prosper, harbor not this viperous broode in your bosme, which will eat out and consume the wombe of their mother" (20). If undesirable populations are allowed to participate in the colonial project, they will devour those who are trying to do God's work by destroying the colony from within. Johnson claims it is difficult for the English to keep them under control, let alone a fledgling colony. The image of a child eating its mother's womb suggests that not only will these people harm the colony, they have the potential to attack the mother of the colony, England, as well. Johnson departs from the plant metaphor to use a carnivorous image to describe those he vilifies. Interestingly, he cannot use the plant metaphor, which is reserved for the "good" English colonists here, because papists are not the "right" kind of Planters. Moreover, not only is Johnson's image of the papists carnivorous, it is also cannibalistic, which suggests he considers the papists to be the vilest sinners. His choice deliberately contrasts with the good English Protestant as well as references the ways in which the English viewed the Spanish Catholics as barbarous and, therefore, dangerous.

"An infinite number of those lost and scattered sheep"

(15) It appears as though Johnson is much more concerned with the type of Planters rather than those they will actually be helping, the Indians. Although Johnson lists the spread of Christianity at the top of his priorities, he actually spends the smallest amount of time on this topic in his sermon [3]. While the Indians are present in his contrasts of England and Spain and his desires to expand James's empire, he only directly addresses their status once. In so doing, he articulates the moral quandary of the period: can the English take the land from the native people of the New World [4]? Johnson avoids this problem by stating, "As for supplanting the savages, we have no such intent: Our intrusion into their possessions shall tend to their great good, and no way to their hurt, unlesse as unbridled beastes, they procure it to themselves" (13). Johnson claims the English will not use force unless the Indians make them do so, nor will the colonists supplant the Indians. Instead, the introduction of the English into the native populations will be to their benefit.

(16) Furthermore, Johnson says that "Wee purpose to proclaime and make it knowne to them all, by some publike interpretation that our comming thither is to plant our selves in their countrie: yet not to supplant and roote them out, but to bring them from their base condition to a farre better" (13). Continuing his planting rhetoric, Johnson claims the Indians should not view the colonists as uprooting them but rather as a welcome and ameliorative addition to their gardens.

(17) This discussion is supplanted by Johnson's position on the mutual exchange aspect of Anglo-Indian relations. He constantly emphasizes that the native populations will be receiving Christianity and other invaluable riches if they choose to become Christians:

Wee make adventures, to impart our divine riches, to their inestimable gaine, and to cover their naked miserie with civill use of foode, and clothing, and to traine them by gentle meanes to those manuall artes and skill, which they so much affect, and doe admire to see in us: so in lewe of this, wee require nothing at their hands, but a quite residence to us and ours, that by our owne labour and toyle, we may worke this goode unto them and recompence our own adventures, costs and travels in the ende (13-14).

The English will bestow upon the Indians religion, civility, dignity, clothing, and all the privileges which accompany living as an English person. Moreover, the English require nothing in return but peaceful cohabitation and the freedom to use the land as they please.

(18) In addition, Johnson claims the Indians are willing to be subjugated under the spread of the Protestant English empire: "they are easily brought to good, and would fayne embrace a better condition" (11) [5] [comment5]. Johnson claims the New World peoples are ready to be enlightened. The phrase "better condition" seems to have two meanings for Johnson; the first seems to be that they wish to be delivered from their own depravity, but the second—and the more important of the two in terms of justification rhetoric—is that they fear being cruelly subdued by the Spanish.

(19) As stated earlier, Johnson identifies the atrocious treatment the West Indians received from Spain during settlement. This rhetoric of anti-Spanish, anti-Catholicism characterizes English justification literature. Johnson does not hesitate to exploit his audience's hatred of the Spanish nor does he shy from attempting to construct the English and their colonizing methods in contradistinction to the Spanish. Johnson also introduces this opposition early in his essay; he opens with a dismissal of the Pope's authority, denying the legitimacy of Alexander VI's papal bulls by saying, "we beleeve not in him" (6).

(20) Finally, Johnson ends his defense of Christianizing the native populations by citing early English history as the precedent for successful civilizing missions. He wants to compare "our present happinesse with our former ancient miseries, wherein wee had continued brutish, poore, and naked Britanes to this day, if Julius Caesar with his Romane Legions (or some other) had not laid the ground to make us tame and civill" (14). Johnson's point that "we were civil once, too" addresses the question of the morality involved in the colonial project, forcing the colonists to weigh the benefits of advancing Christianity and, thus, civilization with the disadvantages of isolationist foreign policy [6].

(21) At this point in his sermon, Johnson's planting metaphor has begun to break down. Although he tries to convince his audience to see themselves as the Indians' caretakers—perhaps, gardeners—by the time he ends this portion of his argument, he is so concerned with England's foreign policy he forgets his metaphor. Indeed, the following part of the sermon deals with Johnson's "unspoken" motivation, economic growth, and it is in this portion of the sermon that his metaphor is almost entirely absent.

The Seven Year Plan

Like the other sermon authors, Johnson works hard to discourage his audience from associating profit and wealth with the Virginia colony. Despite his best intentions, Johnson's sermon, however, is filled with allusions to the potential wealth to be found in the New World and the ways in which it can be made for England.

(22) Early in his sermon, he invokes an image of the days of Queen Elizabeth, which "brought forth the highest degree of wealth, happinesse, and honour, that ever England had before hier time" (7). Citing Queen Elizabeth, known to be extremely generous toward the growing and developing merchant class, reveals Johnson's dedication to mercantilism and business. This discussion is, of course, grounded in his plant metaphor as he describes the aim of Queen Elizabeth's voyages to "Plant and settle English colonies" (7). Here colonialism for profit's sake is also associated with planting for religious and civic duties.

(23) It is not long, however, before there is a breakdown in Johnson's plant metaphor. When he begins to talk about the money to be made from the actual natural resources, he does not use the figurative planting metaphor. It is almost as if when his actual motivations are revealed, his strategy fails him. Again, this may be evidence of the anxiety he feels about his position as a layman writing a sermon. While he tries his best, he can never abandon his financial interests. For example, when he begins to catalog all that can be found in the New World, he has to rely on the physical evidence—minerals, fish, and especially timber and plants—instead of manipulating his Planter position. Additionally, perhaps this is because he cannot reconcile the image of a Planter removing natural life from the landscape in which he wishes to settle. This idea also corresponds with his image of the carnivorous, cannibalistic papists who are incompatible with the altruistic and Christian goals of the Virginia Company's colonial project. Johnson's planting metaphor seems to be most applicable when he employs it in the spirit of religion and charity.

(24) In the middle of his description of the "land of plenty," Johnson inserts a hypothetical objection, which asks, How can colonization be enacted in the name of God when private gain is possible and probable? (12). Johnson's answer is, "as many actions both good in themselves, and in their successe, have beene performed with badde intents: so in this case, howsoever our naughtines of minde may sway very much, yet God may have the honor, and his kingdome advanced in the action done" (12). He claims that even if something unfavorable comes of the Christianizing effort (i.e., extra wealth), it is ultimately beneficial because God was glorified and Christianity spread in the process.

(25) After he answers this question, it seems Johnson is a bit anxious about the conflict between private gain and public good, reminding his audience that "gaine" should "be not chiefe in your thoughts" (13) and uttering a warning to his audience not to let the "bitter root of greedy gaine settle in our harts" (12). Here the plant image comes back, rendered as it is in the image of the weed of the papists. Perhaps this subtly makes the connection between greed and papacy, but, more likely, it seems as though Johnson wants to render "enemies" of the project as destructive, weed-like agents.

(26) Johnson seems not to heed his own advice when he soon begins to discuss the potential for trade he sees in the New World resources. He claims the Commonwealth must "consider what strength of shipping may be raysed and maintained thence, in furnishing our owne wants of sundrie kindes, and the wants of other Nations too, in such needfull things arising thence which can hardly now be obtained from any other part of the world" (16). He identifies the colony's purpose as serving the immediate needs of England and eventually emerging into the world market. He engages in a rudimentary supply-and-demand analysis, figuring that the resources of the New World will fulfill a lack in the current global economy. Furthermore, he realizes the profit potential for the English if they maintain control of the rare resources. This is echoed by his later assertion that the English should not let any other nation gain access to these resources so that "no people of lesser meanes should cast us so behinde, and each well minded man should lend his helpe to heale and cure such staines and scares in the face of our state" (18). He calls upon the English people to protect what he feels England has the right to control.

(27) Finally, in order to secure the material success of the colony, Johnson lays out the Virginia Company's investment plan for his Planters to ensure that each participant is valued accordingly and receives, at the end of seven years, his equal share in the prosperity of Virginia. He makes sure to point out that each person will be registered according to their "value" and that if someone registers late, they will not take from those who did so earlier:

for every man is Registered according to the time, his money or his person beganne to adventure, or made supply, so that they which come late, get not the start of those that bore the first brunt of the business, and this will neither advantage him that withholds, nor hinder him that is forward, for whatsoever falles from him that is slack, will be found of him that supplies in due time (25).

Although Johnson claims that everyone who gives time, body, or money will be considered a Planter in the colony, it is apparent that this "Seven Year Plan" hierarchizes the society, valuing certain people above others. In what appears to be a solution to this development, Johnson is careful to let everyone know he will get his fair share. However, that fair share is ultimately determined by the Planter's place in the hierarchy.

(28) Johnson does try to reincorporate the plant metaphor into his discourse, making the investors and colonists "Planters," but his best attempt at refocusing his strategy comes with his conclusion of the Seven Year Plan. Here he describes how he envisions the colonial project coming together:

And howsoever those grounds in Virginia are now but little worth indeede, yet time and meanes will make them better, considering how they passe our grounds in England, both in regard of the soile and clymate, fitte for many precious uses: And also in how many severall places we purpose to plant our Colony, and not to bestow our costs upon James-towne onely, and upon the grounds lying thereabout, and to let all the rest lie barren: for seeing his Majestie hath graunted to our Colony as much circuite of ground as all England almost, we purpose (God willing) if we may be supplied by sufficient meanes, to settle out of hand, sixe or seven plantations more, all upon, or neare our mainriver, as capitall townes [...] [which] shall be ready to unite and joyne themselves together (25-26).

He discusses the careful placement of more colonies, according to the best conditions—"soile and clymate"—for growing. His language of cultivation of barren land and expansion of the project also dominates this passage so his audience can remember his introductory image of the colonial project as a firmly rooted, always expanding tree. Although he is not able to adhere to the planting metaphor in this section of his sermon, he can remind his audience of it at the end in order to bring his sermon back to its intended purpose.

Closing Arguments

(29) Johnson follows his financial plans with a summary of his strongest points: the further glorification of England, the importance of conversion, and potential wealth. He tries one more time to express to his audience the importance of colonization as a way to redeem England from its rejection of Christopher Columbus. He warns his audience that England cannot stand by and watch another nation colonize the New World:

Our forefathers not looking out in time, lost the prime and fairest proffer of the greatest wealth in the world, and wee taxe their omission for it, yet now it falles out, that wee their children are tried in the like, there being yet an excellent portion left, and by Divine providence offered to our choice, which (seeing we have armes to embrace it,) let it not be accounted hereafter, As a prize in the hands of fooles, that had no hearts to use it (26).

Johnson appeals to England's pride and its vanity by pointing out the folly of his forefathers. He makes it clear that while England has the opportunity to remedy its past mistakes, this opportunity may not be extended solely to England much longer. He adds that "wee [as subjects of the king] cannot enlarge and uphold [the opportunity] by gazing on, and talking what hath beene done" (26). He urges his audience to share in his vision and calls its members' status as faithful subjects into question. Johnson ends this part of his discussion with a frightening image of England fading into oblivion.

(30) He follows this warning with a brief statement about Christianity and the natives of the New World: "And consider well that great worke of freeing the poore Indians, from the devourer, a compassion that every good man would shew unto a beast; their children when they come to be saved, will blesse the day when first their fathers saw your faces" (26). Instead of attending to the actual situation of the Indians, Johnson entices his audience with the thought of what could be: just as a Planter could have a part in England's eternal glory, he can also be memorialized in the conversion of Indians and play a vital role in sustaining Protestant Christianity.

(31) Finally, Johnson reminds his readers of the Spanish threat and what confronting that threat might offer England financially:

How strange a thing is this that all the States of Europe have been a sleepe so long? That for an hundred yeares and more, the wealth and riches of the East and West should runne no other current but into one coffer, so long till running over, spread it self abundantly among a factious crew of new created Friars, and that no more speciall end, then with instigating bloody plots to pierce the heart of a Christian State and true Religion (27).

He asks his audience to consider the ridiculousness of the fact that only the Spanish have had access to the wealth of the world until now. He claims that England should have a share in that wealth because the Spanish, among other things, do not deserve it. He ends with an image of the English Protestant Christian empire under siege. Neither in this final image, nor in the influential ones preceding it, does Johnson return to his planting metaphor. It appears as though as he gets further and further away from charitable missionary goals, this device falls apart, and when he finally ends his sermon his underlying motivations are revealed.

(32) While Johnson's was the first in a series of sermons commissioned and publicized by the Virginia Company, he returned with a follow-up to Nova Britannia in 1612, entitled The New Life of Virginea. Lefler emphasizes its difference from the 1609 sermon in that it has more factual evidence and tries to cover "virtually every" colonization motivation and justification. Most importantly, though, it is "more anti-Spanish than any previous Virginia tract, [and] the pamphlet maintained that the only way to rival Spain was to cease thinking of colonies as mere trading posts and begin thinking of them in terms of empire" (Lefler 10). Although Johnson tries to disguise his economic interests in Nova Britannia, he is unable to do so, and the later publication of a tract such as The New Life of Virginea suggests that while Johnson's may have been the first sermon, its motivation is rooted in England's economic interests rather than the spiritual growth of the New World [comment6].

Works Consulted

Green, L.C., and Olive P. Dickason. The Law of Nations and The New World. Edmonton: U of Albert P, 1989.

Horn, James. A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Johnson, Robert. The New Life Of Virginea: Declaring the former successe and present estate of that plantation. London, 1612. Virtual Jamestown. 2000. Virtual Jamestown Archive. 3 Mar. 2006. <>.

---. Nova Britannia: Offering Most Excellent fruites by Planting in Virginia. London, 1609. Virtual Jamestown. 2000. Virtual Jamestown Archive. 25 Jan. 2006 <>.

Kimmey, Fred M. "Christianity and Indian Lands." Ethnohistory 7.1 (1960): 44-60.

Lefler, Hugh T. "Promotional Literature of the Southern Colonies." Journal of Southern History 33 (1967): 3-25.

Parker, John. Books to Build an Empire: A Bibliographical History of English Overseas Interests to 1620. Amsterdam: Nico Israel, 1965.

---. "Religion and the Virginia Colony 1609-10." The Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland, the Atlantic, and America, 1480-1650. Eds., K.R. Andrews, N.P. Canny, and P.E.H. Hair. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1978. 245-270.

Porter, H.C. The Inconstant Savage: England and the North American Indian 1500-1660. London: Duckworth, 1979.

Seed, Patricia. Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492- 1640. New York: Cambridge UP, 1995.

---. "Taking Possession and Reading Texts: Establish the Authority of Overseas Empires." The William and Mary Quarterly 49.2 (1992): 183-209.

Sheehan, Bernard W. Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980.

Washburn, Wilcomb E. "The Moral and Legal Justifications for Dispossessing the Indians." Seventeenth-Century America: Essays in Colonial History. Ed. James Morton Smith. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972. 15-32.

Williams, Robert A., Jr.  The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest.  New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Wright, Louis B. Religion and Empire: The Alliance between Piety and Commerce in English Expansion 1558- 1625. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1943.

[1] Although Johnson claims one purpose of his sermon is to support the colonists already in the New World, a discussion of this claim is lacking in his essay. The following is his rationale for why this is: "And as for the third part, the releeving our men already planted, to preserve both them and our former adventures, I shall not neede say much, the necessitie is so apparent, that I hope no Adventurer will be wanting therein" (15). Apparently, Johnson thinks enough people are aware of the colonists' plight that discussing it further in his essay would be redundant. This is obviously contrary to what he claims to be his goals for the sermon.

[2] Johnson seems to be referring to Roanoke; however, the last known date of contact with these colonists is in the 1580s, so Johnson's prior claim argument seems tenuous at best.

[3] Johnson's first mention of the Indians describes them as "savage people, which have no Christian, nor civill use of any wild thing" (7).

[4] Wilcomb Washburn writes, "Many studies tell us what the first explorers were trying to do. Many others tell us why they were trying to do it. But very few have attempted to describe the justice or injustice of the quest. Yet significant moral and legal problems were brought to the fore by the expansion of Europe into the various parts of the world" (15).

[5] Johnson conveys the Indians' "natural" submissiveness by likening them to "heards of Deare in a Forrest" (11).

[6] Bernard Sheehan argues that civility and Christianity were often linked in the mindset of the Jacobean Englishman (124). Likewise, he identifies the manifestation of this logic in the colonial mindset: "History testified that the process had occurred before. Ancient Muscovites, Lacedaemonians, Germans, Gauls, Picts, Scotsmen, and an assortment of nearly forgotten people had once resembled the natives of the New World in their manner of life. Most had long since abandoned their savagism and accepted Christianity and civil manners" (120). This strategy of "we were savage once, too" is quite common in the promotional sermons of 1609-10, and Sheehan rightly acknowledges the importance of understanding this fact. To the Jacobean colonist, history had proven that "civilization" through religion was extremely successful.

[comment1] Johnson's assertion of, as Liz says, a "prior claim," a prior planting, intrigues me. The specific reference here is to the Roanoke groups from the 1580s. How could Johnson assert possession "without any interruption" when nothing for sure was known about the Roanokers for a good two decades? Horn tells us that finding the Roanokers or determining their fate was part of Jamestown orders, but no evidence of their existence was ever found. Could Johnson simply expect to make these claims about "seede and of-spring" and be believed? To me that's unbelievable and just another example of the flimsiness of this whole justification operation. Justification is the wild west of legal territory, isn't it? In 1623, in "Virginia's Verger," Samuel Purchas even said it didn't matter to claims of possession if the Roanokers were dead: "their carkasses, the dispersed bones of their and their Countrey mens since murthered carkasses [referring to the massacre], have taken a mortall immortall possession, and, being dead, speake, proclaime and cry. This our earth is truly English, and therefore this Land is justly yours O English." A mortal immortal possession -- how sweet and deep the creativity of the justifier! (Edward J. Gallagher)

[comment2] Like Johnson, William Symonds exploits England's overpopulation as a recruitment tool, also using nature imagery to illustrate his point.  As Johnson uses his plant metaphor to suggest that England needs a good weeding, Symonds compares England to a swarming beehive:  "The people...doe swarme in the land, as yong bees in a hive in June; insomuch that there is very hardly roome for one man to live by another" (19).  However, the two men differ on who is the main cause of the crowding problem.  While Johnson worries about England being overrun by the "idle masses," Symonds suspects the "mightier" ruling classes who, "like old strong bees thrust the weaker, as younger, out of their hives" (20).  Therefore, Symonds appeals to the working classes to join the Virginia settlement, the "true labouring husbandman, that sustaineth the prince by plow," urging them to see the necessity in leaving their "sweete" homeland in order to find success in the new colony (20). (Kate Lehnes)

[comment3] Gray also focuses on those who should be sent to Virginia, but rather than get specific, Gray addresses the concerns as he has seen them develop in the new colony. Specifically, he discusses the poor leadership and mis-management which has lead to criticism of the colony. Whereas Johnson utilizes the gardening metaphor, Gray suggests that a good magistrate or the work of a well-functioning political government becomes the greatest of "humane artes." For Gray, a good leader will make or break the colony and his good works will have a sort of trickle-down effect. If Johnson focuses on the specific weeds that should be rooted out or left behind then Gray extends this argument by describing the perfect gardener. Within Gray's description of the gardener it becomes clear that news about the mis-management of the colony has filtered back to England. His focus on perception and posterity leads him to refer to this gardener or magistrate as "Alexander the Great" and reminds him to "give no occasion to Chroniclers to publish their lewd and wicked actions." Further extending Johnson's Seven-Year-Plan, Gray emphasizes the move from instant gratification to posterity, patience and hard work. (Karen B. Manahan)

[comment4] The idea of a balanced cross-section of English colonists remains a theme in the Virginia Company sermons through Crashaw's A Sermon Preached in London in February 1610. Like Johnson, Crashaw is careful to state that the colony in Virginia is not simply for the lower members of society -- in fact, he would prompt more nobles or those with good intentions to go abroad. Crashaw even seems to allude at times to the idea that a person's history, status, or social reputation in England does not matter once one emigrates to Virginia: "This course take, and you fhall see those who were to blame at home, will prooue praise-worthy in Virginea" (L1). Life in Virginia can be a clean-slate for those who were going astray in England as long as they approach the colonial venture with pure hearts and minds that do not seek profit but civilization, Christianity, and English greatness in the New World. (Elizabeth Wiggins)

[comment5] Daniel Price sees the Native people as benefiting from the "Apostleship" of the English.  Price notes that "the Angel of Virginia cryeth out to this land as the Angel of Macedonia did to Paul, O come help us (F3)" The Angel of Macedonia called to Paul after his conversion to move to other, further lands, and continue his conversion of others. By likening Virginia to Macedonia, the people of England have been "called by God (F3)" to spread their word and their ways.  The native peoples need to be saved through the guidance of Christianity.  This suggestion serves to morally bolster the justification for settlement, which has been presented primarily in terms of economic and political growth. (Christina M. Hoffmann)

[comment6] Liz doesn't comment on the form of Johnson's piece, but I wonder about it. Follow me on this. Johnson addresses his work to Smith, who is the Big Boss of the Virginia Company in London. Many times a preface is a perfunctory nod to a patron who may have no active involvement -- just somebody famous and influential. But that does not seem the case here. The work seems addressed directly to Smith, and in the first few lines to give him encouragement. Then Johnson -- am I right? -- sets up a dramatic situation of reporting on someone else's "conversion experience." Is there anything going on of interest to us in his choice of this "literary device"? Why not just come out and make his arguments directly? Relatedly, does he lose control of this device? Is he always addressing Smith? He seems to be when he says I "admonish YOU" to shun those three kinds of people. But elsewhere is he not really talking directly to the "unconverted"? Anyway, I guess I'm wondering if Johnson has or has tried to create a fictional rhetorical situation -- a conversion narrative -- here as part of his strategy of justification? I mean, it might not be a bad idea. In several essays (mine, Chris's, etc.) we've noted an us v. them approach. Might not have been a bad idea to show someone swing from one camp to the other and why. (Edward J. Gallagher)