Silk-making Efforts in Colonial Virginia
Original Author: Edward Williams
Created: 1650
Medium: Book illustration
Publisher: Library of Virginia

Silk-making Efforts in Colonial Virginia

A 1650 illustrated book titled Virginia's Discovery of Silke-Wormes, With Their Benefit. And the Implanting of Mulberry Trees serves as a how-to guide for the production of silk in the English colony. Eager to develop a new export product, Virginia governor Sir William Berkeley had mulberry trees planted in Jamestown along the James River; in addition he established a nursery of the trees at his estate, Green Spring. Foreign experts were brought to Virginia to help establish the sericulture, or silk-farming, industry.

The cycle of the silkworm is shown in the illustration at right. A smiling adult moth (referred to in the book as a butterfly) emerges from its cocoon on the bottom right and then rises and lays its eggs on a piece of cloth. Caterpillars would emerge from the eggs and feed on mulberry tree leaves (shown stacked on the shelves at left), before spinning silk cocoons around themselves. The threads of the cocoon were harvested and woven into silk cloth. Though by 1668 Berkeley was able to send some Virginia silk to King Charles II, the industry never achieved much success in the colony.