Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sicklemore, John

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SICKLEMORE or Ratcliffe, JOHN (d. 1610), governor of Virginia, was possibly connected with the Suffolk family of Sicklemore, which was originally settled at Bramford, near Ipswich. In early life he changed his name to Ratcliffe. In 1605 a Captain Ratcliffe, who may have been identical with John Sicklemore, served in the English auxiliary force employed in the Netherlands under Sir Horace Vere [q. v.], and was taken prisoner in October at the battle of Mulheim with Sir Henry Cary [q. v.] and Captain Pigott (Markham, Fighting Veres, p. 285).

On 20 Dec. 1606 he sailed from London in command of the Discovery, a pinnace of 20 tons, in company with Captain Christopher Newport [q. v.] in the Susan Constant, 100 tons, and Captain Gosnold in the God-Speed, 40 tons, to found the colony of Virginia. They sailed by the Canaries and the West Indies, the usual route; but after leaving the Virgin Islands they sighted no land for three days, which so disheartened Ratcliffe that he advised returning home again. Soon after they came upon land near the Chesapeake, and founded a settlement at Jamestown (Virginia and Virginiola, pp. 10, 11). A council was formed with Sicklemore as a member, and chose Sir Edward Maria Wingfield [q. v.] as governor on 23 May 1607. But the early fortunes of the colony were disastrous, and, this being imputed to the governor's shortcomings, a party in the council, headed by Sicklemore and the famous John Smith (1580?–1631) [q. v.], deposed him on 10 Sept. 1607, and chose Sicklemore in his stead. The distresses of the new settlers were scarcely lessened by the change, and Sicklemore, who had hardly recovered from a severe illness brought on by the change of climate, proposed that he should go to England to procure fresh supplies. The project, however, was not carried out. To difficulties with the natives were added internal disputes. Smith and Sicklemore had acted in concert against Wingfield; but when their common purpose was attained they immediately quarrelled with each other. Matters were going badly for Smith, who was sentenced to be hanged, when the arrival of Newport (2 Jan. 1608), who had sailed to England for fresh supplies, smoothed matters over. Although Smith asserts that Sicklemore was deposed from the presidency, he seems to have held office for his full term until 10 Sept. 1608. The misfortunes of his year of rule, in spite of Smith's invectives, do not appear to have been due to any misgovernment on his part, but rather to the colonists' incapacity for organisation. In December 1608 Sicklemore returned to England with Newport, being sent home, according to Smith, ‘lest the company should cut his throat.’ This statement is improbable; for in 1609 he sailed again for Jamestown in the Diamond, in company with Sir Thomas Gates and Newport in the Sea Adventure, and with Captain Martin in the Falcon. The Sea Adventure was driven out of her course and wrecked on the Bermudas, and Sicklemore, on his arrival at Jamestown, being senior officer on the remaining vessels, took upon himself to arrest Smith, who had concentrated all the authority of governor and council in his own person, and to send him home to answer for his conduct (Ratcliffe to Salisbury, Cal. State Papers, Colonial Ser. 1574–1660, p. 8). Early in 1610 Sicklemore was murdered, with twenty-five of his men, in the most treacherous manner while trading with Powhatan, the Indian chief. It is possible he was married, as Dorothy, widow of John Ratcliffe, who had been dead two years, is stated to have married George Warburton in February 1612 (Chester, Marriage Licenses, p. 1410).

[Smith's Works, ed. Arber; Brown's Genesis of the United States, p. 977; Wingfield's Discourse of Virginia; Spelman's Relation of Virginia.]

E. I. C.