1619 Jamestown Polish craftsmen strike
The Jamestown Polish craftsmen's strike of 1619, which occurred in the settlement of Jamestown in the Virginia colony, was the first strike in the recorded history of North America. Polish craftsmen had been brought to the colony by colonial leader John Smith to make glassware, pitch, and tar. When the colony held its first election in 1619, the Polish craftsmen were not allowed to vote, and they went on strike on July 30, 1619. Due to the economic importance of these craftsmen in the young colony, colonial leaders bowed to the pressure and gave full voting rights to the Poles.
John Smith first encountered and was impressed with the talents of Polish craftsmen when he traveled through Poland in 1602, fleeing the Turks who had imprisoned him. Poland was then the largest kingdom of Europe, covering the present territory of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia and parts of Russia. Early in Jamestown's history, he and the Virginia Company began recruiting workers from that region to come to their new colony. The first of these workers arrived among the second group of colonists to arrive in the colony in 1608, and two of the workers would later save Smith's life in an attack by Native Americans. Although most historical accounts refer to the group of craftsmen as Polish, some accounts refer to other nationalities that may have been part of the group of non-English craftsmen in Jamestown, including Germans, Slovaks, and Armenians.
The Polish workers began producing glassware, pitch, and potash soon after their arrival in 1608. These goods were used in the colony, but were also important as they were the first goods exported from the colony to Europe. Later arrivals produced tar, resin, turpentine, clapboard, and frankincense as well. Despite their economic value, when the first elections in the colony were held in 1619, the colony's Governor forbade the Polish workers from voting. His justification in doing so was purely ethnic. The craftsmen, in response, refused to work unless they were given the right to vote. Under this pressure, the General Assembly of Virginia reversed the decision to disenfranchise the craftsmen, and simultaneously struck an agreement with the craftsmen to apprentice young men from the colony. The colonial leaders feared not only the loss of income and labor, but that the colony might gain a reputation for not being welcoming to further non-English settlers, especially skilled craftsmen.
- Grizzard, Frank E., Jr., and Smith, Boyd D. (2007). Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. ABC-CLIO. p. 171. ISBN 1-85109-637-X.
- Perlmutter, Philip (1999). Legacy of Hate: A Short History of Ethnic, Religious, and Racial Prejudice in America. M.E. Sharpe. p. 16. ISBN 0-7656-0406-X.