Author: Natalie Zacek

a lecturer in history and American studies at the University of Manchester

Edward Maria Wingfield (1550–1631)

Edward Maria Wingfield was a founding member of the Virginia Company of London and the first president of the Council of Virginia, a group of Jamestown settlers appointed by the company to make local decisions for the colony. Born into a political and military family, Wingfield followed his uncle Jaques Wingfield to Ireland and spent many years fighting there during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He studied law briefly, fought the Spanish in the Low Countries, returned to Ireland, and served in Parliament before retiring from military service in 1600. From then on he focused on colonization, helping his cousin Bartholomew Gosnold recruit members for the proposed colony in Virginia. Unlike most of the original investors named in the First Charter, Wingfield actually traveled to Virginia and served as the colony’s first president. Wingfield was unable to keep the peace among the settlement’s leaders—he and Captain John Smith clashed repeatedly—and he was deposed as president and sent back to England. There he wrote his Discourse on Virginia, defending himself against attacks and providing a valuable description of the colony’s origins. He died in 1631, having remained active in the Virginia Company’s efforts.


William Strachey (1572–1621)

William Strachey was a member of the Virginia Council, served as secretary and recorder for the colony from 1610 until 1611, and was one of the first historians of the Jamestown settlement. Educated at Cambridge and Gray’s Inn, he wrote verse and befriended poets Ben Jonson and John Donne before serving a brief stint as secretary to the English ambassador at Constantinople (1606–1607). Strachey then returned to England, purchased two shares in the Virginia Company of London, and in 1609 sailed on the Sea Venture, the flagship of a resupply fleet bound for the colony. When a storm ran the ship aground on the Bermudas, he and his shipmates were stranded for nearly a year, but eventually managed to construct two small vessels, Patience and Deliverance, and arrived at Jamestown in May 1610. Strachey’s account of the adventure, published in 1625 as A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight, probably had served, years earlier, as source material for William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. In Virginia, Strachey was appointed to the Council and made its secretary and recorder, in which capacity the company requested that he produce an extensive account of the colony and its future prospects. When he completed The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia in 1612, the company declined to publish it. In the years since, however, it has become one of the most important sources of information on early Virginia Indian society, politics, and religion. Strachey died in poverty in London in 1621.


John Nickson (fl. 1687)

John Nickson was a white indentured servant on the plantation owned by Ralph Wormeley II, in Middlesex County. Nothing is known of Nickson’s birth, his early life, or the circumstances that encouraged him to enter into indentured servitude to Wormeley. He first enters the historical record in 1687, as the defendant in a Middlesex County Court case in which he is accused of being the prime mover in a conspiracy of servants and slaves who attempted to free themselves from Wormeley’s servitude by force of arms. The Middlesex conspiracy is one of the last recorded instances of interracial revolt in colonial Virginia.


Francis Nicholson (1655–1728)

Francis Nicholson served as lieutenant governor of the Dominion of New England (1688–1689), lieutenant governor of Virginia (1690–1692), governor of Maryland (1694–1698), governor of Virginia (1698–1705), governor of Nova Scotia (1712–1715), and governor of South Carolina (1721–1725). Born in Yorkshire, England, Nicholson began his military service around 1680, when he was stationed in Tangier, on the North African coast. A brief term of office in New England prepared him for appointment as lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1690, during which time he cultivated amicable relations with the local elites, including the Reverend James Blair. After serving for four years as governor of Maryland, Nicholson returned to Virginia as governor, although by this time his relations with Blair and others had soured. The Virginians recoiled at Nicholson’s military gruffness and his uncouth public courtship of Lucy Burwell, daughter of Major Lewis Burwell of Gloucester County. In the meantime, the governor’s attempts at reform threatened the power of such men as William Byrd I, so that several members of the governor’s Council—including Nicholson’s former ally, Blair—convinced the Crown to remove him. Still, Nicholson made important contributions to Virginia’s military and economic stability, and played a leading role in the creation of the capital at Williamsburg. After serving as governor of Nova Scotia and then South Carolina, he died in London in 1728.


Bartholomew Gosnold (1571–1607)

Bartholomew Gosnold was one of the leading figures of the English settlement at Jamestown, helping to organize the Virginia Company of London and landing in Virginia with the first group of adventurers in 1607. Born in Suffolk, on the eastern coast of England, in 1571, he joined Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, on his expedition to the Azores in 1597. Upon his return to England, Gosnold became interested in colonizing North America, planting about twenty colonists in New England in 1602. Although the colony failed, Gosnold is credited for making the first documented European visit to Cape Elizabeth and for naming Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. He used family connections to recruit members for the Virginia Company of London, with Captain John Smith describing Gosnold as “one of the first movers” of the Virginia colony. For political reasons, perhaps, Gosnold did not command the voyage west, but he served on the colony’s Council once he arrived and helped bring bickering factions together. He died of disease on August 22, 1607. A grave that archaeologists uncovered at Jamestown in 2003 was initially thought to have belonged to Gosnold, but scholars are no longer certain.


A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1588)

A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, by Thomas Hariot, was the first book about North America to be produced by an Englishman who had actually visited the continent. First published in 1588 and reprinted first by Richard Hakluyt (the younger) and then by Theodor de Bry, Hariot’s report documented his trip to Roanoke Island off the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina from 1585 to 1586. With its descriptions of the region’s flora and fauna, along with the Native Americans who lived there, A briefe and true report came to be one of the most important texts produced in relation to the beginnings of English settlement in the Americas. The de Bry editions included engravings of images by John White, who had accompanied Hariot and the 600 other colonists. Together, Hariot’s text and White’s images played a crucial role in encouraging English investors to continue their colonial endeavors in the New World, and thus led directly to the beginnings of English settlement in Virginia.