1619 Jamestown Polish craftsmen strike

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The Jamestown Polish craftsmen's strike of 1619 took place in the settlement of Jamestown in the Virginia colony.[1] It was the first documented strike in North America.[2] Skilled Polish craftsmen were sent by the Virginia Company to Jamestown to produce pitch, tar, and turpentine used for shipbuilding.[3] When the colony held its first election in 1619, the Polish workers were not allowed to vote, on the grounds that they were not of English origin, and they went on strike.[2] Due to the importance of the skilled workers in producing valuable naval stores for the colony, company leaders bowed to labor pressure and gave full voting rights to the Polish workers.[1]


John Smith first encountered and was impressed with the talents of Polish craftsmen when he traveled through Poland in 1602,[4] fleeing the Turks who had imprisoned him. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was then the largest kingdom of Europe,[5] covering the present territory of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia and parts of Russia.[6]

Early in Jamestown's history, Smith and the Virginia Company began recruiting workers from the Polish and Baltic region to come to their new colony.[4] The first of these foreign workers came with the second group of settlers who arrived in the colony in 1608; two of these Polish workers would later save Smith's life in an attack by Native Americans[2][4] as noted in Smith's writings.[1] Contemporary historical accounts refer to this first group of foreign craftsmen as Poles and Dutchmen.[2][7][8]

The foreign craftsmen 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.[2] Later more Polish skilled workers arrived and continued to produce tar, resin, and turpentine,[2] and clapboard and frankincense as well.[7]

Despite the Polish workers economic value, when the first elections in the colony were held in 1619, the colony did not allow the Poles to vote. They were denied the right to vote on the grounds that they were not of English origin. The craftsmen in response, refused to work unless they were given the right to vote.[1] Under this labor pressure, the Virginia Company's Council reversed the decision to disenfranchise the craftsmen, and simultaneously struck an agreement with the craftsmen to apprentice young men from the colony.[1][2] The company 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.[7]

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  1. ^ a b c d e Pula, James S. (2008). "Fact vs. Fiction: What Do We Really Know About The Polish Presence In Early Jamestown?". The Polish Review. 53 (4): 477–493, 491. JSTOR 25779776.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Grizzard, Jr., Frank E.; Smith, Boyd D. (2007). Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. ABC-CLIO. p. 171. ISBN 1-85109-637-X.
  3. ^ Warder, Bill. ""From Forraine Parts": Non-English Europeans at Jamestown, 1607-1625" (PDF). Historic Jamestowne. National Park Service. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Barbour, Philip L. (January 1964). "The Identity of the First Poles in America". The William and Mary Quarterly. 21 (1): 77–92, 78. JSTOR 1923357.
  5. ^ Piotr Wandycz (2001). The price of Freedom. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-415-25491-5. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  6. ^ Stone, Daniel Z. (2014-07-01). The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. ISBN 9780295803623.
  7. ^ a b c 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.
  8. ^ Smith, John (1624). "VII". The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles-The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations. 1. American Memory. pp. 150–184. Retrieved November 30, 2014.

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