Jane Darlow is the author of “Christopher Newport: The Privateer & Explorer, and the Founding of Jamestown.” Born and educated in London, she has lived, traveled, and worked all over the world. She came across Christopher Newport when she first came to live in America and was researching the origins of the country.
She now lives in Washington, D.C., only a few hours’ drive from Jamestown, the first permanent English foothold in the United States. It is also the site of the events that inspired her book, which is her first full-length historical biography.
“Thank you for checking my website and allowing me to ‘meet’ you.
My résumé tells you that I am a writer, lawyer, teacher, and keen historian, and all that is true as I have worked in all those professions. But most importantly, I have always loved history. As a young girl, I used to take out biographies from the town library and make notes about the characters I found most interesting in a notebook I kept handy. We were taught well at school by history teachers who enjoyed their subject, and that helped, of course. But my interest in history was confirmed when I was given a copy of a book called ‘1066 and All That’ for my birthday – I think I was about 14 years old.
The authors were W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman, who met at Oxford University when they were both studying history. They soon discovered that they not only shared a discipline but also had the same sense of humor and settled down to write a tongue-in-cheek account of British history.
Their account contained only the facts they considered ‘memorable, including 2 Genuine Dates, reduced from four because the discarded two were later found to be ‘not memorable.’ The book was first published in 1935 and has been entertaining us ever since. I found it so amusing that I would laugh out loud.
I had an eclectic taste when choosing books, but my favourite period was the 16th century, and my favourite royal house was the Tudors and especially Elizabeth I, and she remains so now. That may not be a popular choice for today, and no one is pretending that she was without terrible faults—the Tudors were ruthless and cruel—but she was also clever, witty, and courageous. It must have been very lonely in the royal palace at times as she struggled to hold her own. It was during her reign that many national customs and institutions were established that lasted until the 20th century.
When I came to America, I started to study the founding of the country and came upon the name of Captain Christopher Newport early on. I was immediately interested because he shares the name of my family (I sometimes use that name too), and I started to research him in particular. It took me a long time: my acquaintance with him was built up over many years whilst I brought up my children and continued my career as a lawyer. After I left the law, I was able to spend more time with the Captain and eventually finished writing my book at the end of last year.
I hope you will enjoy reading about him, his life, and achievements—his failings, faults, and disappointments, too—as much as I have enjoyed writing about him and the events surrounding his time.”
Christopher Newport is the elder of two famous sea captains both named Christopher, and both natives of Harwich, a port on the east coast of Essex. Christopher Newport was born in December 1561, and Christopher Jones in about 1570 - his exact date is unknown because no baptism record has been found. They both played pivotal roles in the founding of the United States.
In December 1607, Captain Newport set off for the coast of Virginia with three ships: the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. The crew and passengers entered the Chesapeake Bay in April 1608, and they helped establish the settlement of Jamestown. In September 1620, Captain Jones sailed his ship, Mayflower, from Plymouth in Devon to the coast of Cape Cod. He and his passengers arrived in November at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod.
Over time, the Pilgrim Fathers have gained more recognition than the Jamestown Settlers, which is why Christopher Jones is the better known of the two captains. In recent years, however, Christopher Newport has gained a new appreciation, and the city of Harwich must be equally proud of him.
Jane Darlow and her family first visited Harwich in the summer of 2008, when on holiday in England after the wedding of her niece. It was a Sunday in August, there were plenty of crowds and lots of activities to amuse the tourists at the exhibtiion centre on Ha’penny Pier on the seafront, and she remembers the following:
“The rain held off long enough for us to walk along the cobbled streets of the old town including King’s Head Street where Christopher Jones had lived in the house at number 21 (it’s still there) and to look at the medieval buildings and visit the church of St Nicholas. Not the building where Christopher Newport was christened and Christopher Jones was married twice, because that one fell into ruin and was replaced with a new church built in 1821 in the same spot. It has the original font, dating from Norman times and made of Purbeck marble which was found in a discarded pile of stones when workmen were erecting the new church, fortunately mostly unharmed. Newport’s parents Christopher and Jane had stood at that font for the baptism of their son on December 30, 1561. When we visited the church, a long table had been set up in the entrance by the wooden front doors, with a display of inspirational books and magazines at one end, a collection of beautiful handmade children’s clothes in the middle and cups of tea with a slice of cake at the other end, all for sale. I bought a knitted blue baby’s jacket for my neighbour’s newborn son it was so unique. It was one of the most appreciated gifts I have ever given anyone and I wished that I had bought up the complete stock of those beautiful hand-knitted clothes that afternoon.
Harwich used to be famous as a fishing port and naval base. It had two lighthouses, the Low lighthouse and the High lighthouse built in 1818. Neither is in use today but they re still there for visitors to inspect. John Constable painted a picture of the Low lighthouse in 1820 and it now hangs in the gallery at Tate Britain. Harwich was also a terminal for ferries to the continent. The ships in today’s harbour would dwarf the sailing ships that crossed the Atlantic in the 17th century and it’s hard to believe that men entrusted their lives, and those of their families, to wooden vessels that may have had rotten boards, or ill-fitting seals and joints and could spring a leak so easily. And the journeys weren’t just short sailing trips to the continent, but were arduous and dangerous trans-Atlantic voyages. Like Christopher Newport and his fellow sailors in Harwich, the ferry boats used to make regular trips across the North Sea to the Hook of Holland, but now they carry tourists to the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk and there are cruise ships for voyages around the coast of Britain.”
The following photo of Harwich docks shows a red and gold ship called Radio Sunshine. It is one of several ships that once docked offshore to transmit pop music programs, the most famous of which was Radio Caroline. This would conjure up all sorts of memories for those who grew up in 1960s England.
Pop music was restricted on the air in those days: the BBC seemed to have a monopoly and the genre wasn’t what the corporation played too often. So, an enterprising group set up a ship at sea in international waters off the Essex coast clear of British jurisdiction. They then played pop tunes to their hearts’ content, and we loved it. It was called pirate radio and we listened whenever possible out of earshot of our parents.
The photo of Newport is of the statue that stands outside Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He is shown with both arms, each holding the hilt of a sword. This means that this is not a true likeness of Newport at that time because he lost his right arm in battle at sea against the Spanish when it was “stooken off” at the elbow.
However, the sculptor, Jon Hair, was reluctant to show him “maimed” and thought he would be diminished by the loss. In contrast, the naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson stands triumphant on the top of his column in Trafalgar Square, London, with only one arm and his empty sleeve pinned to his jacket.
Meanwhile, the following plaque was erected on the seafront by the Harwich Society to commemorate Newport, one of the town’s most famous native sons.
A similar plaque was erected to commemorate Jones and the voyage of the Mayflower.
Later this year, the town of Harwich is hoping to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower to Cape Cod. We will have to see what sort of celebration will be permitted, as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused restrictions to tourism and travel.
For any inquiries, reach out to Jane Darlow today via email. She would be glad to assist you!