Abraham Wood

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Abraham Wood (1610–1682), sometimes referred to as "General" or "Colonel" Wood, was an English fur trader (specifically the beaver and deerskin trades) and explorer of 17th century colonial Virginia. Wood's base of operations was Fort Henry at the falls of the Appomattox in present-day Petersburg. Wood also was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, a member of the Virginia Governor's Council and a high-ranking militia officer.

Abraham Wood came to Virginia as a 10-year-old boy in 1620.[1] As a passenger on the English ship "Margaret and John", Abraham Wood was one of the few survivors when the ship was attacked by two Spanish vessels in the West Indies, and turned to the Virginia colonies.[2] By 1625, he was employed by Captain Samuel Mathews (Governor) and was living at Jamestown.[1]

Abraham Wood represented Henrico County in the House of Burgesses from 1644 to 1646 and Charles City County from 1652 and 1656.< He was a justice of Charles City County in 1655.[1] Also in 1655, he was appointed to a committee to review Virginia's laws.[1] He was elected to the Virginia Governor's Council on March 13, 1657–68 and actively served until at least 1671, and according to correspondence, keeping his seat as late as 1676. Fort Henry was built in 1646 to mark the legal frontier between the white settlers and the Native Americans, and was near the Appomattoc Indian tribe with whom Abraham Wood traded. It was the only point in Virginia at which Indians could be authorized to cross eastward into white territory, or whites westward into Indian territory, from 1646 until around 1691. This circumstance gave Wood, who commanded the fort and privately owned the adjoining lands, a considerable advantage over his competitors in the "Indian trade".

Several exploration parties were dispatched from Fort Henry by Wood during these years, including one undertaken by Wood himself in 1650, which explored the upper reaches of the James River and Roanoke River. In August 1650, Abraham Wood and Edward Bland used the Great Indian Warpath, penetrating the Carolina region southwest of the Roanoke River and discovering westward flowing rivers.[3][4] Daniel Coxe mentions that "Parts of this Country were discovered by the English long before the French had the least knowledge... Colonel Wood of Virginia... from the years 1654 to 1664 discovered at several times several branches of the great rivers Ohio and Mesechaceba."[5]

The first English expeditions to reach the southern Appalachian Mountains were also sent out by Wood. In 1671, explorers Thomas Wood, Thomas Batts (Batte) and Robert Fallam reached the New River Valley and the New River.[6] "Batts was a grandson of Robert Batts, vicar master of University College, Oxford, and possible relation to Nathaniel Batts, first permanent settler in North Carolina and Governor of Roanoke Island. Nathaniel by 1655 had a busy Indian trade from his home on Albemarle Sound. Thomas Wood may have been Abraham's son. Robert Fallam is a question mark. The journal[7] he kept of their experience shows him to be a literate, educated man."[8] The New River was named Wood's River after Abraham Wood, although in time it became better known as the New River. Batts and Fallam are generally credited with being the first Europeans to enter within the present-day borders of West Virginia.

In 1673 Wood sent his friend James Needham and his indentured servant Gabriel Arthur on an expedition to find an outlet to the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after their departure Needham and Arthur encountered a group of Tomahitan Indians, who offered to conduct the men to their town across the mountains (Wood 1990, p. 33).[9] After reaching the Tomahitan town Needham returned to Fort Henry to report to Wood. While en route back to the Tomahitan town Needham was killed by a member of the trading party with whom he was traveling (Wood 1990, pp. 36–38). Shortly thereafter, Arthur was almost killed by a mob in the Tomahitan settlement, but was saved and then adopted by the town's headman (Wood 1990, p. 38). Arthur lived with the Tomahitans for almost a year, accompanying them on war and trading expeditions as far south as Spanish Florida (Wood 1990, p. 39) and as far north as the Ohio River (Wood 1990, pp. 40–41).

Wood was appointed colonel of a militia regiment in Henrico and Charles City counties in 1655.[1] Later, he was appointed major general but lost this position in 1676 after Bacon's Rebellion either because of infirmity or political differences with Governor William Berkeley.[1]

By 1676 Wood had given his place as commander and chief trader to his son-in-law, Peter Jones, for whom Petersburg, Virginia was eventually named. In 1676, Governor Berkeley wrote that Maj. Gen. Wood of the council kept to his house through infirmity.[1] By March 1678–79, he was strong enough to negotiate with the Native Americans and to arrange for the chief men of hostile tribes to meet in Jamestown.[1]

Wood retired to patent more plantation land in 1680 west of the fort, in what had been Appomattoc territory, notwithstanding it being disallowed by the House of Burgesses.

Abraham Wood died some time between 1681 and 1686,[1] possibly in 1682.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Tyler, Lyon Gardiner, ed. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. Volume 1. New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915. OCLC 229136302. Retrieved February 16, 2013. p. 122.
  2. ^ Johnson, Patricia Givens. The New River Early Settlement. [Place of publication not identified]: P.G. Johnson, 1983. Pages 42-43.
  3. ^ Johnson, Patricia Givens. The New River Early Settlement. [Place of publication not identified]: P.G. Johnson, 1983. Page 43.
  4. ^ Briceland, Alan Vance. "Edward Bland (bap. 1614–1652)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  5. ^ Coxe, Daniel, and Edward Symon. A Description of the English Province of Carolana, by the Spaniards Call'd Florida, and by the French La Louisiane: As Also of the Great and Famous River Meschacebe or Mississippi, the Five Vast Navigable Lakes of Fresh Water, and the Parts Adjacent, London: Printed for Edward Symon, 1727. Reprinted University Presses of Florida. 1976. Page 120.
  6. ^ Briceland, Alan Vance. "Thomas Batte (fl. 1630s–1690s)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  7. ^ Fallam, Robert. Journal ... from "Discoveries Beyond the Appalachian Mountains in September, 1671". n.d. OCLC: 78709259.
  8. ^ Johnson, Patricia Givens. The New River Early Settlement. [Place of publication not identified]: P.G. Johnson, 1983. Page 45.
  9. ^ Tomahitan was the main town of the Nottoway Tribe at this time. Some authors have mistaken the Tomahitans for the Cherokee, but in 1727 a delegation of Cherokee visiting Charleston referred to the Tomahitans as old enemies of their allies the Yamasee (Green 1992, p. 26n).


  • Briceland, Alan Vance (1999), "Wood, Abraham", in John A. Garraty (ed.), American National Biography, 23, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 748–749, OCLC 39182280
  • Drake, Richard B. (2001), A History of Appalachia, Lexington, Ky.: The University of Kentucky Press, ISBN 0-8131-2169-8, OCLC 43953981
  • Green, William (1992), The Search for Altamaha: The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of an Early 18th Century Yamasee Indian Town, Volumes in Historical Archaeology #21, Columbia, S.C.: The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, OCLC 27735429
  • Monaghan, Frank (1943), "Wood, Abraham", in Dumas Malone (ed.), Dictionary of American Biography (Vol. 20, Werden-Zunser), New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 454, OCLC 70543382
  • Tyler, Lyon Gardiner, ed. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. Volume 1. New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915. OCLC 229136302. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  • Wood, Abraham (1990), "Letter of Abraham Wood to John Richards, 22 August 1674", Southern Indian Studies, 39, pp. 33–44, retrieved 2007-10-10