Author: Martha McCartney

a historian and independent researcher in Williamsburg

A Declaration of the State of the Colony and Affaires in Virginia (1622)

A Declaration of the state of the Colonie and Affaires in Virginia. With a Relation of the barbarous Massacre in the time of peace and League, treacherously executed upon the English Infidels, 22 March last … (1622), written by Edward Waterhouse, was the Virginia Company of London‘s official publication about an assault by Virginia Indians on the English plantations along the James River that took place on March 22, 1622. The company’s secretary, Waterhouse collected information from eyewitnesses and Virginia’s governing officials and concluded that the surprise attack, which killed more than a quarter of the colony‘s population, was executed with the purpose of their “utter extirpation.” Waterhouse describes a time, just prior to the attack, of “firme peace and amitie,” when Indians and colonists freely mingled. He notes that the Indians used this to their advantage, insinuating themselves into the homes of colonists, using the colonists’ own tools to “basely and barbarously” kill them, and then disappearing into the woods. Outraged that most Indians, and in particular their leader Opechancanough, had not accepted Christianity, Waterhouse declares that the attack justified a policy whereby the English “destroy them who sought to destroy us.” The attack, and the company’s response to it, marks a point at which colonists, no longer dependent on the Indians economically, began in earnest to kill them and seize their land.


Starving Time, The

The Starving Time refers to the winter of 1609–1610 when about three-quarters of the English colonists in Virginia died of starvation or starvation-related diseases. In his unpublished account A Trewe Relacyon, George Percy, who served as president during these grim months, wrote that Englishmen felt “the sharpe pricke of hunger which noe man trewly descrybe butt he which hathe tasted the bitternesse thereof.” Already for two years, the Jamestown colonists had died at alarming rates, mostly of summertime diseases. In 1609, the beginning of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614) prompted the Indians to lay siege to the English fort, helping to provoke the famine. Settlers were forced to eat snakes, vipers, rats, mice, musk turtles, cats, dogs, horses, and perhaps even raptors. In addition, multiple gruesome stories suggest, and archaeological evidence has partially corroborated, that settlers devoured each other. The siege lifted in May 1610, and when the survivors of the Sea Venture wreck arrived in Virginia, they found just 60 gaunt remnants of the 240 people who had crowded the fort the previous November. Many observers argued that the colonists’ idleness—their persistent refusal to work for their food—contributed to the famine. It is likely, though, that malnutrition and despair worked together to create symptoms that imitated laziness. In the end, Virginia survived, but just barely.


Smith, John (bap. 1580–1631)

Captain John Smith was a soldier and writer who is best known for his role in establishing the Virginia colony at Jamestown, England’s first permanent colony in North America. A farmer’s son, Smith was a soldier of fortune in Europe before he joined the Virginia Company of London expedition of 1606–1607. At Jamestown, Smith served on the local council; explored and mapped the Chesapeake Bay; established a sometimes-contentious relationship with Powhatan, the paramount chief of Tsenacomoco; and was president of the colony from September 1609 to September 1610. He was unpopular among his fellow colonists, however, who forced his return to England in October 1610. Smith never returned to Virginia, but he did travel to and map a portion of the northeast coast of North America, which he named New England. Much of what is known about Smith’s life comes from his own detailed and informative accounts of his experiences. Although many of his contemporaries considered him a braggart and he almost certainly embellished his own accomplishments, his narratives provide invaluable insights into English and native life during the Virginia colony’s formative years.


Savage, Thomas (ca. 1595–before September 1633)

Thomas Savage (sometimes spelled Salvage or Savadge) was an English interpreter of Indian languages. At age thirteen, he arrived at Jamestown in 1608 to work as a laborer, but was instead given by Captain Christopher Newport to Powhatan, the paramount chief of Tsenacomoco, a political alliance of twenty-eight to thirty-two Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indian groups. Savage remained with the Indians for almost three years, during which time he learned their language and became familiar with their customs. According to contemporary accounts, Savage was well treated and well liked by Powhatan, who often sent the boy to Jamestown to deliver messages to the English. After the outbreak of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614), however, Savage feared for his safety among the Indians, and in 1610 he escaped to Jamestown. He remained in Virginia, where he established a successful career as an interpreter and settled on the Eastern Shore. He died in or before September 1633.


Gates, Sir Thomas (d. 1622)

Sir Thomas Gates served as governor of Virginia in 1610 and then as lieutenant governor from 1611 until 1614. Born in the southwest of England, he served in the West Indies with Sir Francis Drake and fought with Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, in Normandy and Cádiz, where Gates was knighted in 1596. Gates was an original investor in the Virginia Company of London and led an infantry company in the Netherlands until taking command of a massive resupply fleet to Virginia in 1609. Aboard the flagship Sea Venture, Gates and his crew were shipwrecked on Bermuda for nearly a year before finally making it to Virginia. There, Governor Gates encountered a colony on the brink of extinction, saved only by the timely arrival of a new governor, Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr. Advocating a strict, military-style regime, Gates instituted a set of rules that were expanded and, in 1612, published as For the Colony in Virginea Britannia. Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall, &c. He participated in sometimes brutal attacks on the Indians during the First Anglo-Powhatan War(1609–1614), and, in England, worked as a tireless advocate for the Virginia Company. Returning to Virginia in 1611, Gates stiffened Jamestown‘s defenses and, with Sir Thomas Dale, cleared much of the James River of Powhatan Indians. Gates died in the Netherlands in 1622.


Africans, Virginia’s First

Virginia’s first Africans arrived at Point Comfort, on the southern tip of the Virginia peninsula, late in August 1619. There, “20. and odd Negroes” or more from the English ship White Lion were sold in exchange for food and some were transported to Jamestown, where they were sold again. Three or four days later another English ship, the Treasurer, arrived in Virginia, where its captain sold two or three additional Africans. Historians have long believed these Africans to have come to Virginia from the Caribbean, but Spanish records suggest they had been captured in a Spanish-controlled area of West Central Africa. They probably were Kimbundu-speaking people, and many of them may have had at least some knowledge of Catholicism. While aboard the São João Bautista bound for Mexico, they were stolen by the White Lion and the Treasurer. Once in Virginia, they were dispersed throughout the colony. The number of Africans in Virginia increased to thirty-two by 1620, but then dropped sharply by 1624, likely because of the effects of disease and perhaps because of the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632). Evidence suggests that many were baptized and took Christian names, and some, like Anthony and Mary Johnson, won their freedom and bought land. In 1628, after a shipload of about 100 Angolans was sold in Virginia, the number of Africans in the colony rose dramatically.


Cockacoeske (d. by July 1, 1686)

Cockacoeske, also known as Cockacoeweske, was a Pamunkey chief, and a descendant of Opechancanough, brother of the paramount chief Powhatan. After the death of her husband, Totopotomoy, chief of the Pamunkey from about 1649 until 1656, Cockacoeske became queen of the Pamunkey. In 1676, a few months before the outbreak of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677), the insurrection’s leader, Nathaniel Bacon, and his followers attacked the Pamunkey, took captives, and killed some of Cockacoeske’s people. That summer she appeared before a committee of burgesses and governor’s Council members in Jamestown to discuss the number of warriors she could provide to defend the colony against frontier tribes. She gave a speech reminding the colonists of Pamunkey warriors killed while fighting alongside the colonists. In February 1677 she asked the General Assembly for the release of Pamunkey who had been taken captive and for the restoration of Pamunkey property. An astute politician, Cockacoeske signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation on May 29, 1677, reuniting under her authority several tribes that had not been under Powhatan domination since 1646. Cockacoeske ruled the Pamunkey until her death in 1686.

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