Primary Resource

Instructions from the Virginia Company of London to the First Settlers (1606)

In these instructions, dated November 1606, the Virginia Company of London informs the men who would settle what became Jamestown of its priorities once they land. In particular, the company suggests how to look for a Northwest Passage, how to search for gold, and how to treat the Virginia Indians, whom it calls "naturals." Captain Christopher Newport and Bartholomew Gosnold are mentioned by name. Some spelling has been modernized and contractions expanded.

Transcription from Original

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Instructions given by way of advice by whom it hath pleased the King's Majesty to appoint of the Counsel for the intended Voyage to Virginia to be observed by those Captains and Company which are Sent at His power to plant there.

As We Doubt not but you will have especial Care to Observe the Ordinances set Down by the Kings Majesty and Delivered unto you under the privy Seal So for your better Directions upon your first Landing we have thought Good to recommend unto your Care these Instructions and articles following.

When it Shall please God to Send you on the Coast of Virginia, you shall Do your best Endeavour to find out a Safe port in the Entrance of Some navigable River making Choise of Such a one as runneth furthest into the Land. and if you happen to Discover Divers portable Rivers and amongst them any one that hath two main branches if the Difference be not Great make Choise of that which bendeth most towards the northwest for that way shall You soonest find the other Sea

When You have made Choise of the River on which you mean to Settle, be not hasty in Landing Your Victual and munitions but first Let Captain Newport Discover how far that River may be found navigable that you make Election of the Strongest most fertile and wholesome place for if You make many Removes besides the Loss of time You Shall Greatly Spoil your Victuals and Your Cask, and with Great pain transport it in Small boats.

But if you Choose your place so far up as A Bark of fifty tuns will float then you may Lay all Your provisions a Shore with Ease and the better Receive the trade of all the Countries about you in the Land and Such A place you may perchance find a hundred miles from the Rivers mouth and the farther up the better for if you sit Down near the Entrance Except it be in Some Island that is Strong by nature

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An Enemy that may approach you on Even Ground may Easily pull You Out and if he be Driven to Seek you a hundred miles within the Land in boats you shall from both sides of your River where it is Narrowest So beat them with Your muskets as they shall never be Able to prevail Against You.

And to the end That You be not Surprised as the french were in florida by Melindus and the Spaniard in the same place by the french you shall Do Well to make this Double provision first Erect a Little Sconce at the Mouth of the River that may Lodge Some ten men With Whom you Shall Leave a Light boat that when any fleet shall be in Sight they may Come with Speed to Give You Warning. Secondly you must in no Case Suffer any of the natural people of the Country to inhabit between You and the Sea Coast for you Cannot Carry Your Selves so towards them but they will Grow Discontented with Your habitation and be ready to Guide and assist any Nation that Shall Come to invade You and if You neglect this You neglect Your Safety.

When You have Discovered as far up the River as you mean to plant Your Selves and Landed your victuals and munitions to the End that Every man may know his Charge you Shall Do well to Divide your Six Score men into three parts whereof one forty of them you may appoint to fortifie and build of which your first work must be your Storehouse for Victual 30 Others you may imploy in preparing your Ground and Sowing your Corn and Roots the Other ten of these forty you must Leave as Centinel at the havens mouth The Other forty you may imploy for two Months in Discovery of the River above you and on the Contrary [country?] about you which Charge Captain Newport and Captain Gosnold may undertake[.] of these forty Discoverers when they Do Espie any high Lands or hills Captain Gosnold may take 20 of the Company to Cross Over the Lands and Carrying half a Dozen pickaxes to try if they Can find any mineral. The Other twenty may go on by River and pitch up boughs upon the Banks Side by which the Other boats Shall follow them by the Same turnings You may also take with them a Wherry Such as is used here in the Thames by Which you may Send back to the President for Supply of munition or any Other want that you may [be?] not Driven to Return for Every Small Defect.

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You must Observe if you Can Whether the River on which You Plant Doth Spring out of Mountains or out of Lakes if it be out of any Lake the passage to the Other Sea will be the more Easy and it is Like Enough that Out of the same Lake you shall find Some Spring which run the Contrary way toward the East India Sea for the Great and famous River of Volga Tan[a]is and Dwina have three heads near joynd and Yet the One falleth into the Caspian Sea the Other into the Euxine Sea and the third into the Polonian Sea.

In all Your Passages you must have Great Care not to Offend the naturals if You Can Eschew it and imploy Some few of your Company to trade with them for Corn and all Other lasting Victuals if you [they?] have any and this you must Do before that they perceive you mean to plant among them for not being Sure how your own Seed Corn will prosper the first Year, to avoid the Danger of famine use and Endeavour to Store yourselves of the Country Corn.

Your Discoverers that passes Over Land with hired Guides, must Look well to them that they Slip not from them and for more Assurance let them take a Compass with them and Write Down how far they Go upon Every point of the Compass for that Country having no way nor path if that Your Guides Run from You in the Great Woods or Deserts you Shall hardly Ever find a Passage back.

And how Weary Soever your Soldiers be Let them never trust the Country people with the Carriage of their Weapons for if they Run from You with Your Shott which they only fear they will Easily kill them all with their arrows

And whensoever any of Yours Shoots before them be sure that they be Chosen out of your best Markesmen for if they See Your Learners miss what they aim at they will think the Weapon not So terrible, and therby will be [boldd?] to Assaillt You.

Above all things Do not advertize the killing of any of your men that the Country people may know it if they Perceive that they are but Common men and that with the Loss of many of theirs they Deminish any part of Yours they will make many Adventures upon You if the country be populous[.] you Shall Do well also not to Let them See or know of Your Sick men, if you have any which may also Encourage them to many Enterprizes.

You must take Especial Care that you Choose a Seat for habitation that Shall not be over burthened with Woods near your town for all the men You have Shall not be able to Cleanse twenty acres in a Year

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besides that it may Serve for a Covert for Your Enimies round about You neither must You plant in a low and moist place, because it will prove unhealthfull[.] You shall Judge of the Good Air by the People for Some part of that Coast where the Lands are Low have their people clear Eyed and with Swollen bellies and Legs but if the naturals be Strong and Clean made it is a true sign of a wholesome Soil.

You must take Order to Draw up the Pinnace that is Left with You, under the fort and take her Sails and Anchors A shore all but a Small Kedge [i.e., a small anchor] to ride by Least Some ill Disposed Persons Slip away with her.

You must take Care that your Marriners that Go for wages Do not marr your trade for those that mind not to inhabite for a Little Gain will Debase the Estimation of Exchange and hinder the trade for Ever after and there fore you Shall not admit or Suffer any person whatsoever other then Such as Shall be appointed by the president and Councel there to buy any Merchandizes or Other things Whatsoever.

It Were Necessary that all Your Carpenters and Other such like Workmen about building Do first build Your Storehouse and those Other Rooms of Publick and necessary Use before any house be Set up for any private person and though the workman may belong to any private persons yet Let them all Work together first for the Company and then for private men

And Seeing order is at the same price with Confusion it shall be adviceably done to Set your houses. Even and by a line that You[r] Streets may have a Good breadth and be carried Square about your market place and Every Streets End Opening into it that from thence with a few feild peices you may Command Every street throughout which market place you may also fortify if you shall think it needful.

You Shall do well to Send a perfect relation by Captain Newport of all that is Done what height you are Seated how far into the Land what Comodities you find, what Soil Woods and their Several Kinds and so of all Other things Else to advertise particularly and to Suffer no man to return but by pasport from the president and Councel nor to write any Letter of any thing that may Discourage others.

Lastly and Cheifly the way to prosper and to Obtain Good Success is to make your Selves all of one mind for the Good of Your Country and your Own and to Serve and fear God the Giver of all Goodness for Every plantation which our heavenly father hath not planted shall be rooted Out.