History of the Jamestown Settlement (1607–99)
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Jamestown was the first settlement of the Virginia Colony, founded in 1607, and served as capital of Virginia until 1699, when the seat of government was moved to Williamsburg. This article covers the history of the fort and town at Jamestown proper, as well as colony-wide trends resulting from and affecting the town during the time period in which it was capital.
- 1 Arrival and First Landing
- 2 Exploration, seeking a site
- 3 First and Second Supply missions
- 4 Jamestown under John Smith's leadership
- 5 Pocahontas
- 6 The Starving Time
- 7 Third supply
- 8 Expansion beyond Jamestown
- 9 Changing social and political order
- 10 Virginia Indian relations
- 11 Royal Colony
- 12 The capital moves from Jamestown to high ground
- 13 Later History
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Arrival and First Landing
The Virginia Company of London sent an expedition to establish a settlement in the Virginia Colony in December 1606. The expedition consisted of three ships, the Susan Constant (sometimes known as the Sarah Constant), the Godspeed, and the Discovery. The Discovery was the smallest ship; the largest ship, the Susan Constant, was captained by Christopher Newport. The ships left Blackwall, now part of London, with 105 men and boys and 39 crew-members. By April 6, 1607, the Godspeed, Susan Constant and the Discovery arrived at the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico, where they stopped for provisions before continuing their journey. In late April 1607, the expedition reached the southern edge of the mouth of what is now known as the Chesapeake Bay. After an unusually long journey of more than four months, the 104 men and boys (one passenger died during the journey) arrived at their chosen settlement spot in Virginia. There were no women on the first ships.
Arriving at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay in late April, they named the Virginia capes after the sons of their king, the southern Cape Henry, for Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the northern Cape Charles, for his younger brother, Charles, Duke of York. On April 26, 1607, upon landing at Cape Henry, Chaplain Robert Hunt offered a prayer and they set up a cross near the site of the current Cape Henry Memorial. This site came to be known as the "first landing." A party of the men explored the area and had a minor conflict with some Virginia Indians.
Exploration, seeking a site
After the expedition arrived in what is now Virginia, sealed orders from the Virginia Company were opened. These orders named Captain John Smith as a member of the governing Council. Smith had been arrested for mutiny during the voyage and was incarcerated aboard one of the ships. He had been scheduled to be hanged upon arrival, but was freed by Captain Newport after the opening of the orders. The same orders also directed the expedition to seek an inland site for their settlement, which would afford protection from enemy ships.
Obedient to their orders, the settlers and crewmembers re-boarded their three ships and proceeded into the Chesapeake Bay. They landed again at what is now called Old Point Comfort in the City of Hampton. In the following days, seeking a suitable location for their settlement, the ships ventured upstream along the James River. Both the James River and the settlement they sought to establish, Jamestown (originally called "James His Towne") were named in honor of King James I.
The selection of Jamestown
On May 14, 1607, the colonists chose Jamestown Island for their settlement largely because the Virginia Company advised them to select a location that could be easily defended from attacks by other European states that were also establishing New World colonies and were periodically at war with England, notably the Dutch Republic, France, and Spain. The island fit the criteria as it had excellent visibility up and down the James River and it was far enough inland to minimize the potential of contact and conflict with enemy ships. The water immediately adjacent to the land was deep enough to permit the colonists to anchor their ships yet have an easy and quick departure if necessary. An additional benefit of the site was that the land was not occupied by the Virginia Indians, most of whom were affiliated with the Powhatan Confederacy.
The settlers came ashore and quickly set about constructing their initial fort. Within a month, the James Fort covered an acre on Jamestown Island. The wooden palisaded walls formed a triangle around a storehouse, church, and a number of houses. The fort burned down the following year.
Island vs Peninsula
Jamestown is often referred to as an island. In the past 400 years, it sometimes has been joined by a narrow land bridge (isthmus) to the mainland, at other times, the fluctuations of the James River severed the isthmus and turned the peninsula into an island.
Although it is technically a peninsula when connected to the mainland, in many ways Jamestown has been an island for many of the past 400 years. Largely cut off from the mainland, the shallow harbor afforded the earliest settlers docking of their ships. This was its greatest attraction, but it also created a number of challenging problems for the settlers.
Challenges of the location
It soon became apparent why the Virginia Indians did not occupy the site: Jamestown Island is a swampy area, and its isolation from the mainland meant that there was limited hunting available as most game animals required larger foraging areas. The settlers quickly hunted and killed off all the large and smaller game animals that were found on the tiny peninsula. In addition, the low, marshy area was infested with airborne pests, including mosquitoes which carried malaria, and the brackish water of the tidal James River was not a good source of water. Over 135 settlers died from malaria, and drinking the salinated and contaminated water caused many to suffer from saltwater poisoning, fevers and dysentery.
Many of the settlers who came over on the initial three ships were not well-equipped for the life they found in Jamestown. A number of the original settlers were upper-class gentlemen who were not accustomed to manual labor; the group included very few farmers or skilled laborers. The climate, location, and makeup of the settlement resulted in many settlers dying of disease and starvation.
Despite the immediate area of Jamestown being uninhabited, the settlers were attacked less than a fortnight after their arrival on May 14, by Paspahegh Indians who succeeded in killing one of the settlers and wounding eleven more.
Original Council, notables of Jamestown in 1607
King James I had outlined the members of the Council to govern the settlement in the sealed orders which left London with the colonists in 1606.
Those named for the initial Council were:
- Bartholomew Gosnold, Captain of the Godspeed
- Christopher Newport, Captain of the Susan Constant, later of the Sea Venture
- George Kendall
- John Martin (later founder of Martin's Brandon Plantation)
- George Percy, later twice president of the council
- John Ratcliffe, Captain of the Discovery, second President of the Council
- John Smith, third President of the Council, and author of many books from the period.
- Edward Maria Wingfield, first President of the Council at Jamestown
The Council received additional members from the First and Second Supply missions brought by Captain Newport. These were:
Also notable among the first settlers was:
Chaplain Hunt gave the first prayer at Cape Henry on April 26, 1607, and held open-air services at Jamestown until shelter and a more appropriate church were built there.
First and Second Supply missions
By June 15, the settlers finished building the triangular James Fort. A week later, Newport sailed back for London on the Susan Constant with a load of pyrite ("fools' gold") and other supposedly precious minerals, leaving behind 104 colonists and the Discovery. Newport returned twice from England with additional supplies in the following 18 months, leading what were termed the First and Second Supply missions.
The "First Supply" arrived on January 2, 1608. It contained insufficient provisions and more than 70 new colonists. Newport's "Second Supply" brought about 70 more settlers, including some craftsmen and "Eight Dutchmen and Poles" hired in Royal Prussia, but added little to the welfare of the colony.
Despite original intentions to grow food and trade with the Virginia Indians, the barely surviving colonists became dependent upon the supply missions.
First women settlers
On October 1, 1608, a company of settlers arrived aboard the English Mary and Margaret with the Second Supply, the Mary and Margaret's journey took approximately three months. Included in the Second Supply were Thomas Forrest, Esq and "Mistress Forrest and Anne Burras her maide." Mistress Forrest and Anne Burras were the first two women known to have come to the Jamestown Colony.
Remains unearthed at Jamestown in 1997 may be those of Mistress Forrest.
"During in-situ removal of the burial JR102 in 1996, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists discovered the outline of a second grave. Just a few feet away, the second grave was oriented on a similar northeast to southwest angle, and was probably dug within a few years of JR102.' '
The burial, called JR156, was excavated in 1997. A number of small artifacts and flecks of brick and charcoal in the grave fill indicated that the grave was probably later than JR102, which had relatively "clean" fill. The very earliest features on a site like Jamestown generally contain the fewest artifacts, while features even a few years later can contain more evidence of the increased activities going on within the fort.
Like JR102, JR156 was a coffin burial, although the coffin was quite different. The coffin in JR102 was six-sided and appeared to be flat-lidded, and it was evidenced only by soil stains and nails. In JR156, some coffin wood survived and the locations of the nails indicated a gabled lid. Although a coffin burial indicates that the individual may have had some status, gabled coffins were fairly common during the early 17th century. Analysis of the coffin wood revealed that it was built of yellow pine, a harder member of the pine family.
Oddly, although the coffin wood was fairly well preserved, the skeletal remains were not. The bones that survived were in very deteriorated condition. Fortunately, the skull was slightly elevated and could be removed intact. The skeleton was carefully drawn and photographed in place, then removed, although many of the bones were fragmentary. The position of the body indicated that, in addition to the coffin, the body had been tightly wrapped in a shroud.
Dr. Doug Owsley and Karin Bruwelheide of the Smithsonian Institute examined the skeleton in the field. Their preliminary conclusions were that JR156C was a caucasian woman, about 35 years old. She was very small, possibly only about 4'9" or so in height. She had only 5 teeth at the time of her death, the rest having been lost many years before. The cause of her death was not evident. Stable isotope analysis done on the bones indicated that she had a diet primarily of wheat, rather than corn. This usually indicates a recently landed European.
Documents indicate that the first women at Jamestown were Mistress Forest and her maid Anne Burras, who landed with the Second Supply in 1608. Anne Burras is known to have married John Laydon, and both were listed in the 1625 muster. Mistress Forrest, probably the wife of gentleman Thomas Forrest, is not mentioned again in the historical record, and may have died soon after her arrival at Jamestown. Scholars speculate that JR156 could be the grave of Mistress Forrest.
The JR156 skull was too fragile to do a make a mold for a "facial reconstruction" like the one made of JR102C. Instead, scientists made a replica of the skull using a CT scan to form a laser-cured, 3-dimensional resin model. From this model, sculptor Sharon Long created an image using the same methods she used for the facial reconstruction of JR102C. The resulting sculpture is one of only two likenesses of women from early Jamestown, the other being the engraved portrait of Pocahontas."
First Non-English settlers
Also included on the Second Supply were the first non-English settlers. The company recruited these as skilled craftsmen and industry specialists: soap-ash, glass, lumber milling (wainscot, clapboard, and ‘deal’ — planks, especially soft wood planks) and naval stores (pitch, turpentine, and tar). Among these additional settlers were eight "Dutch-men" (consisting of unnamed craftsmen and three who were probably the wood-mill-men — Adam, Franz and Samuel) "Dutch-men" (probably meaning German or German-speakers) and Polish craftsmen, who had been hired by the Virginia Company of London's leaders to help develop manufacture profitable export products. There has been debate about the nationality of the specific craftsmen, and both the Germans and Poles claim the glassmaker for one of their own, but the evidence is insufficient. Ethnicity is further complicated by the fact that the German minority in Royal Prussia lived under Polish control during this period. These workers staged the first recorded strike in Colonial America for the right to vote in the colony's 1619 election.
William Volday/Wilhelm Waldi, a Swiss German mineral prospector, was also among those who arrived in 1608. His mission was seeking a silver reservoir that was believed to be within the proximity of Jamestown. Some of the settlers were artisans who built a glass furnace which became the first factory in America. Additional craftsmen produced soap, pitch, and wood building supplies. Among all of these were the first made-in-America products to be exported to Europe. However, despite all these efforts, profits from exports were not sufficient to meet the expenses and expectations of the investors back in England, and no silver or gold had been discovered, as earlier hoped.
Jamestown under John Smith's leadership
Virginia Company of London's unrealistic expectations
The investors of the Virginia Company of London expected to reap rewards from their speculative investments. With the Second Supply, they expressed their frustrations and made demands upon the leaders of Jamestown in written form.
It fell to the third president of the Council to deliver a reply. By this time, Wingfield and Ratcliffe had been replaced by John Smith. Ever bold, Smith delivered what must have been a wake-up call to the investors in London. In what has been termed "Smith's Rude Answer", he composed a letter, writing (in part):
- "When you send again I entreat you rather send but thirty Carpenters, husbandmen, gardiners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers up of trees, roots, well provided; than a thousand of such awe have: for except wee be able both to lodge them and feed them, the most will consume with want of necessaries before they can be made good for anything."
Smith did begin his letter with something of an apology, saying "I humbly intreat your Pardons if I offend you with my rude Answer...", although at the time, the word 'rude' was acknowledged to mean 'unfinished' or 'rural', in the same way modern English uses 'rustic'.
There are strong indications that those in London comprehended and embraced Smith's message. Their Third Supply mission was by far the largest and best equipped. They even had a new purpose-built flagship constructed, the Sea Venture, placed in the most experienced of hands, Christopher Newport. With a fleet of no fewer than eight ships, the Third Supply, led by the Sea Venture, left Plymouth in June, 1609.
On the subject of the Virginia Company, it is notable that, throughout its existence, Sir Edwin Sandys, was a leading force. He, of course, also hoped for profits, but also his goals included a permanent colony which would enlarge English territory, relieve the nation's overpopulation, and expand the market for English goods. He is closely identified with a faction of the company led by Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Although profits proved elusive for their investors, the visions for the Colony of Sir Edwin Sandys and the Earl of Southampton were eventually accomplished.
In the months before becoming president of the colony for a year in September 1608, Captain John Smith did considerable exploration up the Chesapeake Bay and along the various rivers. He is credited by legend with naming Stingray Point (near present-day Deltaville in Middlesex County for an incident there).
Smith was always seeking a supply of food for the colonists, and he successfully traded for food with the Nansemonds, who were located along the Nansemond River in the modern-day City of Suffolk, and several other groups. However, while leading one food-gathering expedition in December 1607 (before his term as colony president), this time up the Chickahominy River west of Jamestown, his men were set upon by Powhatan Indians. As his party was being slaughtered around him, Smith strapped his Indian guide in front of him as a shield and escaped with his life but was captured by Opechancanough, the Powhatan chief's half-brother. Smith gave him a compass which pleased the warrior and made him decide to let Smith live.
Smith was taken before Wahunsunacock, who was commonly referred to as Chief Powhatan, at the Powhatan Confederacy's seat of government at Werowocomoco on the York River. However, 17 years later, in 1624, Smith first related that when the chief decided to execute him, this course of action was stopped by the pleas of Chief Powhatan's young daughter, Pocahontas, who was originally named Matoaka but whose nickname meant "Playful Mischief". Many historians today find this account dubious, especially as it was omitted in all his previous versions. Smith returned to Jamestown just in time for the First Supply, in January 1608.
In September 1609, Smith was wounded in an accident. He was walking with his gun in the river, and the powder was in a pouch on his belt. His powder bag exploded. In October, he was sent back to England for medical treatment.
While back in England, Smith wrote A True Relation and The Proceedings of the English Colony of Virginia about his experiences in Jamestown. These books, whose accuracy has been questioned by some historians due to some extent by Smith's boastful prose, were to generate public interest and new investment for the colony.
Although the life of Chief Powhatan's young daughter, Pocahontas, would be largely tied to the English after legend credits her with saving John Smith's life after his capture by Opechancanough, her contacts with Smith himself were minimal. However, records indicate that she became something of an emissary to the colonists at Jamestown Island. During their first winter, following an almost complete destruction of their fort by a fire in January 1608, Pocahontas brought food and clothing to the colonists. She later negotiated with Smith for the release of Virginia Indians who had been captured by the colonists during a raid to gain English weaponry.
During the next several years, the relationship between the Virginia Indians and the colonists became more strained, never more so than during the period of poor crops for both the natives and colonists which became known as the Starving Time in late 1609 and early 1610. Chief Powhatan relocated his principal capital from Werowocomoco, which was relatively close to Jamestown along the north shore of the York River, to a point more inland and secure along the upper reaches of the Chickahominy River.
In April 1613, Pocahontas and her husband, Kocoum were residing at Passapatanzy, a village of the Patawomecks, a Powhatan Confederacy tribe which did some trading with Powhatans. They lived in present-day Stafford County on the Potomac River near Fredericksburg, about 65 miles (105 km) from Werowocomoco. She was kidnapped by Samuel Argall, and transported about 90 miles (140 km) south to the English settlement at Henricus on the James River. There, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and took the name "Rebecca" under the tutelage of Reverend Alexander Whitaker who had arrived in Jamestown in 1611. She married prominent planter John Rolfe, who had lost his first wife and child in the journey from England several years earlier, which served to greatly improve relations between the Virginia Indians and the colonists for several years. However, when she and John Rolfe took their young son Thomas Rolfe on a public relations trip to England to help raise more investment money for the Virginia Company, she became ill and died just as they were leaving to return to Virginia. Her interment was at St George's Church, Gravesend.
The Starving Time
The colonists, the first group of whom had originally arrived at Jamestown on May 14, 1607, had never planned to grow all of their own food. Instead, their plans also depended upon trade with the local Virginia Indians to supply them with enough food between the arrival of periodic supply ships from England, upon which they also relied.
This period of extreme hardship for the colonists began in 1609 with a drought which caused their already limited farming activities to produce even fewer crops than usual. Then, there were problems with both of their other sources for food.
An unexpected delay occurred during the Virginia Company of London's Third Supply mission from England due to a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. A large portion of the food and supplies had been aboard the new flagship of the Virginia Company, the Sea Venture which became shipwrecked at Bermuda and separated from the other ships, seven of which arrived at the colony with even more new colonists to feed, and few supplies, most of which had been aboard the larger flagship.
The impending hardship was further compounded by the loss of their most skillful leader in dealing with the Powhatan Confederacy in trading for food: Captain John Smith. He became injured in August 1609 in a gunpowder accident, and was forced to return to England for medical attention in October 1609. After Smith left, Chief Powhatan severely curtailed trading with the colonists for food. Neither the missing Sea Venture nor any other supply ship arrived as winter set upon the inhabitants of the young colony in late 1609.
When the survivors of the shipwreck of the Third Supply mission's flagship Sea Venture finally arrived at Jamestown the following May 23 in two makeshift ships they had constructed while stranded on Bermuda for nine months, they found fewer than 100 colonists still alive, many of whom were sick. Worse yet, the Bermuda survivors had brought few supplies and only a small amount of food with them, expecting to find a thriving colony at Jamestown.
Thus, even with the arrival of the two small ships from Bermuda under Captain Christopher Newport, they were faced with abandoning Jamestown and returning to England. On June 7, 1610, both groups of survivors (from Jamestown and Bermuda) boarded ships, and they all set sail down the James River toward the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Shortly after they had abandoned Jamestown, they came upon a fleet of three supply ships arriving from England, commanded by a new governor, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. The two groups met on the James River on June 9, 1610 near Mulberry Island (adjacent to present-day Fort Eustis in Newport News).
With the new supply mission, Governor West, known in modern times as "Lord Delaware", brought additional colonists, a doctor, food, and much-needed supplies. He also was of a strong determination that Jamestown and the colony were not to be abandoned. He turned the departing ships around and brought the entire group back to Jamestown. This was certainly not a popular decision at the time with at least some of the group, but Lord Delaware was to prove a new kind of leader for Virginia.
Included in those returning to Jamestown was a colonist whose wife and child had died during the shipwreck of the Sea Venture and the time at Bermuda. A businessman, he had with him some seeds for a new strain of tobacco and also some untried marketing ideas. That colonist was John Rolfe. Despite his misfortune to that point, history records that he would change the future of the colony as much as Lord Delaware's timely arrival had.
The Sea Venture
The Sea Venture was the new flagship of the Virginia Company. Leaving England in 1609, and leading this Third Supply to Jamestown as "Vice Admiral" and commanding the Sea Venture, Christopher Newport was in charge of a nine-vessel fleet. Aboard the flagship Sea Venture was the Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers, Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates, William Strachey and other notable personages in the early history of English colonization in North America.
While at sea, the fleet encountered a strong storm , perhaps a hurricane, which lasted for three days. The Sea Venture and one other ship were separated from the seven other vessels of the fleet. The Sea Venture was deliberately driven onto the reefs of Bermuda to prevent her sinking. The 150 passengers and crew members were all landed safely but the ship was now permanently damaged.
The Sea Venture's longboat was fitted with a mast and sent to find Virginia but it and its crew were never seen again. The remaining survivors spent nine months on Bermuda building two smaller ships, the Deliverance and Patience from Bermuda cedar and materials salvaged from the Sea Venture.
Leaving two men at Bermuda to maintain England's claim to the archipelago, the remainder sailed to Jamestown, finally arriving on May 23, 1610. They found the Virginia Colony in ruins and practically abandoned. Of 500 settlers who had preceded them to Jamestown, they found fewer than 100 survivors, many of whom were sick or dying. It was decided to abandon the colony and on June 7, everyone was placed aboard the ships to return to England.
Renewed interest, Lord De La Warr and more supplies
During the same period that the Sea Venture suffered its misfortune and its survivors were struggling in Bermuda to continue on to Virginia, back in England, the publication of Captain John Smith's books of his adventures in Virginia sparked a resurgence in interest in the colony. This helped lead to the dispatch in early 1610 of additional colonists, a supplies, and a new governor, Thomas West, Baron De La Warr.
On June 9, 1610, Lord De La Warr and his party arrived on the James River shortly after the Deliverance and Patience had abandoned Jamestown. Intercepting them about 10 miles (16 km) downstream from Jamestown near Mulberry Island, the new governor forced the remaining 90 settlers to return, thwarting their plans to abandon the colony. Deliverance and Patience turned back, and all the settlers were landed again at Jamestown.
Then, Sir George Somers returned to Bermuda with the Patience to obtain more food supplies, but he died on the island that summer. His nephew, Matthew Somers, Captain of the Patience, took the ship back to Lyme Regis, England instead of Virginia (leaving a third man behind). The Third Charter of the Virginia Company was then extended far enough across the Atlantic to include Bermuda in 1612. (Although a separate company, the Somers Isles Company, would be spun-off to administer Bermuda from 1615, the first two successful English colonies would retain close ties for many more generations, as was demonstrated when Virginian general George Washington called upon the people of Bermuda for aid during the American War of Independence). In 1613, Sir Thomas Dale founded the settlement of Bermuda Hundred on the James River, which, a year later, became the first incorporated town in Virginia.
Expansion beyond Jamestown
By 1611, a majority of the colonists who had arrived at the Jamestown settlement had died and its economic value was negligible with no active exports to England and very little internal economic activity. Only financial incentives including a promise of more land to the west from King James I to investors financing the new colony kept the project afloat.
In 1610, John Rolfe, whose wife and a child had died in Bermuda during passage to Virginia, was just one of the settlers who had arrived in Jamestown following the shipwreck of the Sea Venture. However, his major contribution is that he was the first man to successfully raise export tobacco in the Colony (although the colonists had begun to make glass artifacts to export immediately after their arrival). The native tobacco raised in Virginia prior to that time, Nicotiana rustica, was not to the liking of the Europeans but Rolfe had brought some seed for Nicotiana tabacum with him from Bermuda.
Although most people "wouldn't touch" the crop, Rolfe was able to make his fortune farming it, successfully exporting beginning in 1612. Soon almost all other colonists followed suit, as windfall profits in tobacco briefly lent Jamestown something like a gold rush atmosphere. Among others, Rolfe quickly became both a wealthy and prominent man. He married the young Virginia Indian woman Pocahontas on April 24, 1614. They lived first across the river from Jamestown, and later at his Varina Farms plantation near Henricus. Their son, Thomas Rolfe, was born in 1615.
Governor Dale, Dale's Code
In 1611, the Virginia Company of London sent Sir Thomas Dale to act as deputy-governor or as high marshall for the Virginia Colony under the authority of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (Lord Delaware). He arrived at Jamestown on May 19 with three ships, additional men, cattle, and provisions. Finding the conditions unhealthy and greatly in need of improvement, he immediately called for a meeting of the Jamestown Council, and established crews to rebuild Jamestown.
He served as Governor for 3 months in 1611, and again for a two-year period between 1614 and 1616. It was during his administration that the first code of laws of Virginia, nominally in force from 1611 to 1619, was effectively tested. This code, entitled "Articles, Lawes, and Orders Divine, Politique, and Martiall" (popularly known as Dale's Code), was notable for its pitiless severity, and seems to have been prepared in large part by Dale himself.
Seeking a better site than Jamestown with the thought of possibly relocating the capital, Thomas Dale sailed up the James River (also named after King James) to the area now known as Chesterfield County. He was apparently impressed with the possibilities of the general area where the Appomattox River joins the James River, until then occupied by the Appomattoc Indians, and there are published references to the name "New Bermudas" although it apparently was never formalized. (Far from the mainland of North America, the archipelago of Bermuda had been established as part of the Virginia Colony in 1612 following the shipwreck of the Sea Venture in 1609).
A short distance further up the James, in 1611, he began the construction of a progressive development at Henricus on and about what was later known as Farrars Island. Henricus was envisioned as possible replacement capital for Jamestown, and was to have the first college in Virginia. (The ill-fated Henricus was destroyed during the Indian Massacre of 1622, during which a third of the colonists were killed). In addition to creating the new settlement at Henricus, Dale also established the port town of Bermuda Hundred and "Bermuda Cittie" (sic). He began the excavation work at Dutch Gap, using methods he had learned while serving in Holland.
An investor relations trip to England
In 1616, Governor Dale joined John Rolfe and Pocahontas and their young son Thomas as they left their Varina Farms plantation for a public relations mission to England, where Pocahontas was received and treated as a form of visiting royalty by Queen Anne. This stimulated more interest in investments in the Virginia Company, the desired effect. However, as the couple prepared to return to Virginia, Pocahontas died of an illness at Gravesend on March 17, 1617, where she was buried. John Rolfe returned to Virginia alone once again, leaving their son Thomas Rolfe, then a small child, in England to obtain an education.
Once back in Virginia, Rolfe married Jane Pierce and continued to improve the quality of his tobacco with the result that by the time of his death in 1622, the Colony was thriving as a producer of tobacco.
Orphaned by the age of 8, young Thomas later returned to Virginia, and settled across the James River not far from his parents' farm at Varina, where he married Jane Poythress and they had one daughter, Jane Rolfe, who was born in 1650. Many of the First Families of Virginia trace their lineage through Thomas Rolfe to both Pocahontas and John Rolfe, joining English and Virginia Indian heritage.
Once tobacco had been established as an export cash crop, investors became more interested and groups of them united to create largely self-sufficient "hundreds." The term "hundred" is a traditional English name for an administrative division of a shire (or county) to define an area which would support one hundred heads of household. In the colonial era in Virginia, the "hundreds" were large developments of many acres, necessary to support land hungry tobacco crops. The "hundreds" were required to be at least several miles from any existing community. Soon, these patented tracts of land sprung up along the rivers. The investors sent shiploads of settlers and supplies to Virginia to establish the new developments. The administrative centers of Virginia's hundreds were essentially small towns or villages, and were often palisaded for defense.
An example was Martin's Hundred, located downstream from Jamestown on the north bank of the James River. It was sponsored by the Martin's Hundred Society, a group of investors in London. It was settled in 1618, and Wolstenholme Towne was its administrative center, named for Sir John Wolstenholme, one of the investors. In 1976, the long-lost site of Wolstenholme Towne at Martin's Hundred was discovered on the grounds of Carter's Grove Plantation near the Grove Community in southeastern James City County and has been the location of important archaeological work.
Bermuda Hundred (now in Chesterfield County) and Flowerdew Hundred (now in Prince George County) are other names which have survived over centuries. Others included Berkeley Hundred, Bermuda Nether Hundred, Bermuda Upper Hundred, Digges Hundred, West Hundred and Shirley Hundred (and, in Bermuda, Harrington Hundreds).
Including the creation of the "hundreds", the various incentives to investors in the Virginia Colony finally paid off by 1617. By this time, the colonists were exporting 50,000 pounds of tobacco to England a year and were beginning to generate enough profit to ensure the economic survival of the colony.
1619: First Africans
Virginia's population grew rapidly from 1618 until 1622, rising from a few hundred to nearly 1,400 people. Wheat was also grown in Virginia starting in 1618. The labor intensive tobacco plantations led to the importation of the colony's first black "indentured servants". In August 1619, 20 black men were purchased from a passing [Dutch] Privateer ship bound from Luanda, Angola, to Vera Cruz, Mexico. However, these may not have been the first; 32 Africans were noted five months earlier in a Virginia census of 1619.
1619: First democratic assembly
On July 30, 1619, the House of Burgesses, the first legislature of elected representatives in America, met in the Jamestown Church. Their first law was to set a minimum price for the sale of tobacco and set forth plans for the creation of the first ironworks of the colony. This legislative group was the predecessor of the modern Virginia General Assembly.
Originally, the colony's Polish craftsmen were barred from participating in the elections, but after the craftsmen refused to work, colonial leadership agreed to enfranchise them. This may be the first strike in recorded North American history.
1620: More craftsmen from Germany and Italy arrive
By 1620, more German settlers from Hamburg, Germany, who were recruited by the Virginia Company set up and operated one of the first sawmills in the region. Among the Germans were several other skilled craftsmen carpenters, and pitch/tar/soap-ash makers, who produced some of the colony's first exports of these products. The Italians included a team of glass makers.
1621: Arrival of marriageable women
During 1621 fifty-seven unmarried women sailed to Virginia under the auspices of the Virginia Company, who paid for their transport and provided them with a small bundle of clothing and other goods to take with them. A colonist who married one of the women would be responsible for repaying the Virginia Company for his wife's transport and provisions. The women traveled on three ships, The Marmaduke, The Warwick, and The Tyger.
Many of the women were not "maids" but widows. Some others were children, for example Priscilla, the eight-year-old daughter of Joanne Palmer, who travelled with her mother and her new stepfather, Thomas Palmer, on the Tyger. Some were women who were traveling with family or relatives: Ursula Clawson, "kinswoman" of ancient planter Richard Pace, traveled with Pace and his wife on the Marmaduke. Ann Jackson also came on the Marmaduke, in the company of her brother John Jackson, both of them bound for Martin's Hundred. Ann Jackson was one of the women taken captive by the Powhatans during the Indian Massacre of 1622. She was not returned until 1630. The Council ordered that she should be sent back to England on the first available ship, perhaps because she was suffering from the consequences of her long captivity.
Some of the women sent to Virginia did marry. But most disappeared from the records—perhaps killed in the massacre, perhaps dead from other causes, perhaps returned to England. In other words, they shared the fate of most of their fellow colonists.
Virginia Indian relations
As the English expanded out from Jamestown, encroachment of the new arrivals and their ever-growing numbers on what had been Indian lands resulted in conflicts with the Virginia Indians which became almost continuous for the next 37 years.
Chief Wahunsunacock of the Powhatan Confederacy had been forced to move west from his original capital at Werowocomoco (only about 20 miles (32 km) from Jamestown) to Orapakes in 1609 for security reasons. However, Orapakes was just a temporary capital. It was in a swamp at the head of the Chickahominy River, near the modern-day interchange of Interstate 64 and Interstate 295. It was also too close to other hostile native groups, such as the Monacans. Sometime between 1611 and 1614, he moved the capital of the Confederacy again, this time further north. Ultimately, Wahunsonacock settled at the headwaters of the Pamunkey River, on the north bank at Matchut. When Wahunsonacock moved to Matchut, his younger brother Opechancanough lived across the Pamunkey River at Youghtanund.
The relations with the Natives took a turn for the worse after the death of Pocahontas in England and the return of John Rolfe and other colonial leaders in May 1617. Disease, poor harvests and the growing demand for tobacco lands caused hostilities to escalate.
After Wahunsunacock's death in 1618, his younger brother, Opitchapam, briefly became chief. However, he was soon succeeded by his own younger brother, Opechancanough. There is speculation, but no confirmation, that Opechancanough may be the same individual known as Don Luis, a supposed native-convert to Christianity who had been involved with the ill-fated Ajacán Mission briefly established by Spanish Jesuits in 1570. Whether or not there was a connection between the native-convert Don Luis and Opechancanough, there is no doubt that the new Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy was violently opposed to the European settlements. He had been long known as a fierce warrior, and most recently, had been a local weroance in the area now occupied by the Town of West Point, where the Pamunkey River joins the Mattaponi River to form the York River. Opechancanough was not interested in attempting peaceful coexistence with the English settlers. Instead, he was determined to eradicate the colonists from what he considered to be Indian lands.
The Anglo-Powhatan Wars were three wars fought between English settlers of the Virginia Colony, and Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy in the early seventeenth century. The First War started in 1610, and ended in a peace settlement in 1614. Another war between the two powers lasted from 1622 to 1632. The third War lasted from 1644 until 1646, and ended when Opechancanough was captured and killed. That war resulted in a boundary being defined between the Indians and English lands that could only be crossed for official business with a special pass. This situation would last until 1677 and the Treaty of Middle Plantation, which established Indian reservations following Bacon's Rebellion.
The Massacre of 1610
The First Anglo–Powhatan War, between the Powhatan and the English colonists, lasted from 1610 to 1614.
On August 9, 1610, tired of waiting for a response from Powhatan on his ultimatum to return all English subject and property, De la Warr sent George Percy with 70 men to attack the Paspahegh capital, burning the houses and cutting down their cornfields. They killed 65 to 75, and captured one of Wowinchopunk's wives and her children. Returning downstream, the English threw the children overboard, and shot out "their Braynes in the water". The queen was put to the sword in Jamestown. The Paspahegh never recovered from this attack, and abandoned their town. Another small force sent with Samuel Argall against the Warraskoyaks found that they had already fled, but he destroyed their abandoned village and cornfields as well. This event trigerred the first of the so-called Anglo-Powhatan Wars.
Indian Massacre of 1622
Chief Opechancanough organized and led a well-coordinated series of surprise attacks on multiple English settlements along both sides of a 50-mile (80 km) long stretch of the James River which took place early on the morning of March 22, 1622. This event came to be known as the Indian Massacre of 1622, and resulted in the deaths of 347 colonists (including men, women, and children) and the abduction of many others. Some say that this massacre was revenge
However, Jamestown was spared from destruction due to a Virginia Indian boy named Chanco who, after learning of the planned attacks from his brother, gave warning to colonist Richard Pace with whom he lived. Pace, after securing himself and his neighbors on the south side of the James River, took a canoe across river to warn Jamestown which narrowly escaped destruction, although there was no time to warn the other settlements. Apparently, Opechancanough subsequently was unaware of Chanco's actions, as the young man continued to serve as his courier for some time after.
The reaction to the Powhatan uprising was retaliation, and the English set to with a vengeance. A year later, Captain William Tucker and Dr. John Rolfes worked out a supposed-truce with the Powhatans and proposed a toast using liquor laced with poison. 200 Virginia Indians were killed by the poison and 50 more were slaughtered by the colonists. For over a decade, the English settlers killed Powhatan men and women, captured children and systematically razed villages, seizing or destroying crops.
The original Jamestown fort seems to have existed into the middle of the 1620s, but as Jamestown grew into a "New Town" to the east, written references to the original fort disappear. By 1634, a palisade (stockade) was completed across the Virginia Peninsula, which was about 6 miles (9.7 km) wide at that point between Queen's Creek which fed into the York River and Archer's Hope Creek, (since renamed College Creek) which fed into the James River. The new palisade provided some security from attacks by the Virginia Indians for colonists farming and fishing lower on the Peninsula from that point.
Anchored at its center by Middle Plantation on land patented by Dr. Potts, the palisade is partially described in the following extract from a letter written in 1634, from Jamestown, by Captain Thomas Yonge:
- "a strong palisade ... upon a straight between both rivers and ... a sufficient force of men to defence of the same, whereby all the lower part of Virginia have a range for their cattle, near forty miles in length and in most places twelve miles (19 km) broad. The pallisades is very near six miles (10 km) long, bounded in by two large Creeks. ... in this manner to take also in all the ground between those two Rivers, and so utterly excluded the Indians from thence; which work is conceived to be of extraordinary benefit to the country ..."
1644: Second Indian Massacre
On April 18, 1644, Opechancanough again tried to force the colonists to abandon the region with another series of coordinated attacks, killing almost 500 colonists. However, this was a much less devastating portion of the growing population than had been the case in the 1622 attacks.
Furthermore, the forces of Royal Governor of Virginia William Berkeley captured the old warrior in 1646, variously thought to be between 90 and 100 years old. In October, while a prisoner, Opechancanough was killed by a soldier (shot in the back) assigned to guard him.
1646: Peace established with the Natives
In 1646, the first treaties were signed between the Virginia Indians and the English. The treaties set up reservations, some of the oldest in America, for the surviving Powhatan. It also set up tribute payments for the Virginia Indians to be made yearly to the English.
Only two tribes, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi, still maintain the reservations from the 1646 treaty and still make yearly tribute payments as stipulated by the 1646 and 1677 treaties. The other reservations had been lost by the end of the 1800s, though one tribe still had families on theirs until the 1900s.
Some historians have noted that, as the settlers of the Virginia Colony were allowed some representative government, and as they prospered, King James I was reluctant to lose either power or future financial potential. In any case, in 1624, the Virginia Company lost its charter and Virginia became a crown colony.
In 1634, the English Crown created eight shires (i.e. counties) in the colony of Virginia which had a total population of approximately 5,000 inhabitants. James City Shire was established and included Jamestown. Around 1642-43, the name of the James City Shire was changed to James City County.
By the 1640s, legal documents started to define the changing nature of indentured servants and their status as servants. In 1640, John Punch was sentenced to lifetime servitude as punishment for trying to escape from his master Hugh Gwyn. This is the earliest legal sanctioning of slavery in Virginia. After this trial, the relationship between indentured servants and their masters changed, as planters saw permanent servitude a more appealing and profitable prospect than seven year indentures. Planters started to ignore the expiration of servants' indentured contracts and started to keep them as life long slaves. One example of this is with Anthony Johnson who argued in his civil suit that his servant John Casor was his for life and that he wasn't an indentured servant. The court ruled in favor of Johnson and ordered that Casor be returned to him, where he served the rest of his life as a slave. These legally documented cases marked the transformation of Negroes from indentured servants into slaves.
Governor Berkeley, Bacon's Rebellion
In the 1670s, the governor of Virginia was Sir William Berkeley, a scholar and playwright, serving his second term in that office. Berkeley, now in his seventies, had previously been governor in the 1640s and had experimented with new export crops at his Green Spring Plantation near Jamestown. In the mid-1670s, a young cousin through marriage, Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., arrived in Virginia sent by his father in the hope that he would "mature" under the tutelage of the governor. Although lazy, Bacon was intelligent and Berkeley provided him with a land grant and a seat on the Virginia Colony council. However, the two became at odds over relationships with the Virginia Indians, which were most strained at the outer frontier points of the colony.
In July 1675, Doeg Indians crossed from Maryland and raided the plantation of Thomas Mathews in the northern portion of the colony along what became the Potomac River, stealing some hogs in order to gain payment for several items Mathews had obtained from the tribe. Mathews pursued them and killed several Doegs, who retaliated by killing Mathews' son and two of his servants, including Robert Hen. A Virginian militia then went to Maryland and besieged the Susquehanaugs (a different tribe) in "retaliation" which led to even more large-scale Indian raids, and a protest from the governor of Maryland colony. Governor Berkeley tried to calm the situation but many of the colonists, particularly the frontiersmen, refused to listen to him and Bacon disregarded a direct order and captured some Appomattoc Indians, who were located many miles south of the site of the initial incident, and almost certainly not involved.
Following the establishment of the Long Assembly in 1676, war was declared on "all hostile Indians" and trade with Indian tribes became regulated, often seen by the colonists to favor those friends of Berkeley. Bacon opposed Berkeley and led a group in opposition to the governor. Bacon and his troops set themselves up at Henrico until Berkeley arrived which sent Bacon and his men fleeing upon which Berkeley declared them in rebellion and offered a pardon to any who returned to Jamestown peaceably.
Bacon led numerous raids on Indians friendly to the colonists in an attempt to bring down Berkeley. The governor offered him amnesty but the House of Burgesses refused; insisting that Bacon must acknowledge his mistakes. At about the same time, Bacon was actually elected to the House of Burgesses and attended the June 1676 assembly where he was captured, forced to apologize and was then pardoned by Berkeley.
Bacon then demanded a military commission but Berkeley refused. Bacon and his supporters surrounded the statehouse and threatened to start shooting the Burgesses if Berkeley did not acknowledge Bacon as "General of all forces against the Indians". Berkeley eventually acceded, and then left Jamestown. He attempted a coup a month later but was unsuccessful. In September, however, Berkeley was successful and Bacon dug in for a siege which resulted in his burning Jamestown to the ground on September 19, 1676. Bacon died of the flux and lice on October 26, 1676 and his body is believed to have been burned.
Berkeley returned, and hanged William Drummond and the other major leaders of the rebellion (23 in total) at Middle Plantation. With Jamestown unusable due to the burning by Bacon, the Governor convened a session of the General Assembly at his Green Spring Plantation in February, 1677, and another was later held at Middle Plantation. However, upon learning of his actions, King Charles II was reportedly displeased at the degree of retaliation and number of executions, and recalled Berkeley to England. He returned to London where he died in July 1677.
The capital moves from Jamestown to high ground
On October 20, 1698, the statehouse (capitol building) in Jamestown burned for the fourth time. Once again removing itself to a familiar alternate location, the legislature met at Middle Plantation, this time in the new College Building at the College of William and Mary, which had begun meeting there in temporary quarters in 1694.
While meeting there, a group of five students from the College submitted a well-presented and logical proposal to the legislators outlining a plan and good reasons to move the capital permanently to Middle Plantation.
Despite the periodic need to relocate the legislature from Jamestown due to contingencies such as fires, (usually to Middle Plantation), throughout the seventeenth century, Virginians had been reluctant to permanently move the capital from its "ancient and accustomed place." After all, Jamestown had always been Virginia's capital. It had a state house (except when it periodically burned) and a church, and it offered easy access to ships that came up the James River bringing goods from England and taking on tobacco bound for market. However, Jamestown's status had been in some decline. In 1662, Jamestown's status as mandatory port of entry for Virginia had been ended.
The students argued that the change to the high ground at Middle Plantation would escape the dreaded malaria and mosquitoes that had always plagued the swampy, low-lying Jamestown site. The students pointed out that, while not located immediately upon a river, Middle Plantation offered nearby access to not one, but two rivers, via two deep water (6-7' depth) creeks, Queen's Creek leading to the York River, and College Creek (formerly known as Archer's Hope) which led to the James River. Other advocates of the move included the Reverend Dr. James Blair and the Governor, Sir Francis Nicholson.
Several prominent individuals like John Page, Thomas Ludwell, Philip Ludwell, and Otho Thorpe had built fine brick homes and created a substantial town at Middle Plantation. And, there was of course, the new College of William and Mary with its fine new brick building.
The proposal to move the capital of Virginia to higher ground (about 12 miles (20 km) away) at Middle Plantation was received favorably by the House of Burgesses. In 1699, the capital of the Virginia Colony was officially relocated there. Soon, the town was renamed Williamsburg, in honor of King William III. Thus, the first phase of Jamestown's history ended.
By the 1750s the land was owned and heavily cultivated, primarily by the Travis and Ambler families. A military post was located on the island during the American Revolution, and American and British prisoners were exchanged there. In 1861 the island was occupied by Confederate soldiers who built an earth fort near the church as part of the defense system to block the Union advance up the James River. Little further attention was paid to Jamestown until preservation was undertaken in the twentieth century.
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- Because Jamestown was abandoned for two days in June 1610, while Fort Algernon, built in October 1609, was never abandoned, the modern city of Hampton, Virginia puts in a competing claim as "the oldest continuous English-speaking settlement in North America". Rountree 1990 p.53, 54n.
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