Bermuda Hundred during the Colonial Period


Bermuda Hundred was established by Sir Thomas Dale in 1613 at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers. Virginia Indians had occupied the site for at least 10,000 years before Dale planted a settlement there. The term “hundred” comes from the English practice of locating ten towns, or tithings (groups of ten families), at a settlement. One of Bermuda Hundred’s most famous residents was John Rolfe, who may have grown his first marketable tobacco there—Nicotiana tabacum, a West Indian plant with which he had been experimenting since 1612. Rolfe may have lived there with his wife Pocahontas, the daughter of the Powhatan Indians’ paramount chief, Powhatan. The population of Bermuda Hundred, like that of other early English settlements in Virginia, was nearly wiped out by a massive assault orchestrated by one of Powhatan’s successors, Opechancanough. The settlement survived, however, becoming one of Virginia’s first ports in 1691, the site of a tobacco inspection in 1731, and the site of a new ferry to City Point in 1732. In 1738, the General Assembly considered Bermuda Hundred for the colony’s new capital. After 1780, when Richmond became the new capital of Virginia, Bermuda Hundred began to decline.

Early History and Establishment of Bermuda Hundred

For at least 10,000 years, Virginia Indians had occupied the site at or near the confluence of what under the English became the James and Appomattox rivers. The Appamattuck Indians maintained their principal town at the site, which was located within the earliest borders of Tsenacomoco, a political alliance ruled and greatly expanded by Powhatan. Approximately 380 people lived there in 1607, when the English met Indian defenders at the site while exploring the newly named James River. The name of the Appamattuck town at what became Bermuda Hundred is unknown.

Quo Fata Ferunt

Not long after arriving in Virginia to serve as deputy governor, Sir Thomas Dale established Henricus in September 1611 at Farrar’s Island on the James in what is now Chesterfield County. A few months later, Dale drove off the Appamattuck Indians from their town at the tip of the peninsula at the confluence of the James and what is now the Appomattox. He did this to avenge the Indians’ attack on the English when the latter came to take possession of the land for Henricus, and to acquire the Indians’ rich corn land. He named the site Bermuda, in honor of the islands of Bermuda off Virginia’s east coast, where a shipload of English men and women had been wrecked in the Sea Venture in 1609.

Dale selected the site “to commaund the head of the River, and the many fruitefull Islands in the same.” His intent was to take over the various seats of paramount chief Powhatan and thus take possession of Powhatan’s “Countrie.” Dale also wanted the “many miles of Champion [meadow], and woodland,” in the several hundreds created there—the Upper and Nether (Bermuda) Hundreds, along with “Rochdale hundred, Wests Sherly hundred, and Digges his hundred.” Dale believed that the various sites would provide “many excellent Seates for many a thowsand Householder.” Colonist Ralph Hamor noted that Bermuda Hundred had “the most convenient quantity of Corne ground, and with a Pale cut over from the River about two miles long.”

Bermuda Hundred was founded late in December 1613 and located approximately five miles by land and fourteen miles by water from Henrico (Henricus). By this time, Dale had enclosed the Bermuda peninsula in fences (palisades) and had positioned several dozen Englishmen on the eight square miles of land. A year later, as recorded by Hamor, there were some “very faire houses, already builded, besides divers other particular mens houses, not so few as fifty, according to the conditions of the pattent granted them.”

Status of Bermuda Hundred in 1616

Baptism of Pocahontas

By 1616, 119 people lived at Bermuda Hundred. They lived in houses surrounded by the river palisades that also ran across the land side to create an island. According to the terms of a labor agreement Sir Thomas Dale had negotiated with the settlers, each person who wanted to farm had to acquire four male colonists as servants for whom the settler paid rent in corn. Dale also allowed the farmers small plots of land for their private use and freed them from serving the Virginia Company of London except for a month per year and in times of dire need. By 1616 approximately seventeen farmers had taken advantage of these terms. Those settlers who were part of the Bermuda Incorporation, on the other hand, received a special contract with Dale whereby they worked for the incorporation for three years and then were freed. Thus the remaining 102 inhabitants labored for their term of service, making such items as pitch, tar, potash, and charcoal, among other commodities. (Berkeley Hundred offered similar terms.)

The deputy governor, Sir George Yeardley, lived there (presumably just during his term of office from April 1616 to May 15, 1617), along with his lieutenant governor, Sir Thomas Gates. The residents’ religious needs were met by the Reverend Alexander Whitaker, the minister of Henricus Church who built a frame house known as Rock Hall on one hundred acres of church land. Whitaker may have baptized Pocahontas and perhaps even performed her wedding to John Rolfe, his friend. (Other accounts suggest the ceremony was performed by Richard Bucke.)

A Dutch West Indies Company mapmaker, Johannes Vingboons, using an unknown source, created a navigation chart of the James River as it appeared at about 1617. Among the sites listed on his map at the far western end was Bermuda Hundred. In November 1617, the residents wrote to the governor, Samuel Argall, complaining that West and Shirley Hundred was their property and that they would not allow a Captain Madison to clear the land there. The governor replied that because he lived at Bermuda Hundred, too, he would not require the residents to submit to Captain Madison, but asked for permission to allow the colony’s servants there to remain another year. The people of Bermuda Hundred were the only ones in the colony who received the privilege of ending service to the Virginia Company of London after they had lived there for three years.

By 1619 Bermuda Hundred’s palisades had been allowed to fall into a state of near ruin, and the population continued to grow. Residents of Captain Christopher Lawne’s plantation in what is now Isle of Wight County suffered through a sickly summer in 1619, and by November many of the survivors had moved to Bermuda Hundred. In March 1620, the population there had thus grown to 184, consisting of 123 men, 30 women, and 31 children and teenagers.

Virginia Indian Attack of 1622

Powhatan died in 1618 and leadership of Tsenacomoco passed to his close relatives Opitchapam and Opechancanough. On March 22, 1622, Opechancanough sent raiders to the various outlying English settlements with the intent of reclaiming lost land and destroying the white population, which was growing at an alarming rate and threatening his chiefdom. Incursions against the settlements from Henricus to Bermuda Hundred, the most densely populated area of the colony, to the mouth of the James River left more than 300 colonists dead and resulted in the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632). Devastated by the March 1622 attacks, Bermuda Hundred’s population numbered only forty-one in February 1624 and forty-four a year later.

Bermuda Hundred and the General Assembly

First Legislative Assembly in the New World

No area that can be identified as Bermuda Hundred is listed for the first General Assembly in 1619. Henricus sent two members, as did Charles City, but not Bermuda Hundred. In 1624, in the next surviving list of burgesses, Bermuda Hundred—called “The Neck of Land” for its location on a neck of land at the confluence of the James and Appomattox—is listed as sending two men who had survived the Indian attacks of March 1622. John Camden Hotten, in The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, 1600–1700, includes a list of persons living and dead in February 1623 at the various inhabited areas of Virginia. He gives the names of the two men who served as burgesses in 1624, Luke Boyse and Thomas Harris, as living at the Neck of Land. At the 1625 session, Luke Boyse again represented the Neck of Land along with John Price (also on Hotten’s list), who had replaced Thomas Harris.

In the 1628 list of burgesses, no names appear for the Neck of Land, but at the 1629 session, two Necks of Land make an appearance: one “near the College” (that is, near the area designated by royal charter for the University of Henrico), the other at James City. A resident of the College Land, Thomas Osborne, represented Neck of Land near the College through the session of 1633. Thereafter, few or no names are given for the sessions until 1640, when the area including Bermuda Hundred had become part of Henrico County.

Bermuda Hundred’s population began to grow in the 1630s, when new settlers arrived there. The earliest extant land patent for Bermuda Hundred is dated August 30, 1650, when Nicholas Perkins received 170 acres there on Coles Swamp. Earlier grants at the Neck of Land, however, date from 1624 and 1637. In May 1625 there were 2,900 acres of land there held in ten grants, as well as land held in common and that owned by the Bermuda Corporation.

Port and Ferry Town

Cartouche on Fry-Jefferson Map

Bermuda Hundred became a local site of mercantile activity as stores, warehouses, and taverns were built there, especially the store of Francis Eppes, who with William Randolph laid out the town of Bermuda Hundred in 1688. Three years later, in 1691, the General Assembly officially made Bermuda Hundred one of Virginia’s ports. Its importance grew over the next eighty-nine years as it became a tobacco inspection site in 1731, home to a ferry across the James River to City Point (now the city of Hopewell) in 1732, and a south-side court for Henrico County until Chesterfield County was formed in 1749. In 1738, Bermuda Hundred was briefly considered as a site for the new capital of the colony, but was not chosen. After 1780, when Richmond became the new capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Bermuda Hundred saw its port’s importance decline.

Sir Thomas Dale recommends establishing a fortified site on the James River near Henricus.
September 1611
Sir Thomas Dale marches against Indigenous people farther up the James River from Jamestown and establishes a settlement on a bluff that he calls the City of Henrico, or Henricus, in honor of his patron Prince Henry.
December 1611
Sir Thomas Dale and his forces attack the Appamattuck towns near the City of Henrico on the James River and later found on the Indians' land the settlement known as Bermuda Hundred.
July 1612
By this date, John Rolfe is growing the Spanish tobacco Nicotiana tabacum, either at a farm at Jamestown or at Bermuda Hundred.
After enclosing the peninsula at Bermuda Hundred in palisades, Sir Thomas Dale begins construction of a fort there.
The population of Bermuda Hundred stands at 119 people, 17 of whom are farmers. The rest are laborers for the Virginia Company of London.
ca. 1617
Johannes Vingboons, a mapmaker for the Dutch West Indies Company, creates a navigation chart of the James River. Among the sites listed on the map is Bermuda Hundred.
Bermuda Hundred's palisades have fallen into ruin.
March 1620
The population at Bermuda Hundred increases to 184 when survivors of the summer illness at Captain Christopher Lawne's plantation relocate to the site.
March 22, 1622
Indians under Opechancanough unleash a series of attacks that start the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. The assault was originally planned for the fall of 1621, to coincide with the redisposition of Powhatan's bones, suggesting that the attack was to be part of the final mortuary celebration for the former chief.
The population of Bermuda Hundred stands at 41 people—a result of the March 1622 attacks organized by Opechancanough. Bermuda Hundred sends two men to the General Assembly to serve as burgesses.
The area including Bermuda Hundred becomes part of Henrico County.
Francis Eppes and William Randolph lay out the town of Bermuda Hundred.
The General Assembly designates Bermuda Hundred one of Virginia's first ports.
Bermuda Hundred becomes a tobacco inspection site.
Bermuda Hundred is chosen as the site of a ferry that runs across the James River to City Point (originally Bermuda City and now known as Hopewell).
The General Assembly considers moving the capital of Virginia to Bermuda Hundred, but the capital remains in Williamsburg.
Richmond becomes Virginia's new capital and Bermuda Hundred's role as a port begins a decline.
  • Billings, Warren M., ed. “No. 10, Sir Thomas Dale’s Plan for Revitalizing the Colony.” In The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606–1700, 41–44. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2007.
  • Haile, Edward Wright, ed. “No. 38, Thomas Dale, Letter to Salisbury, 17 August 1711.” In Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony, the First Decade, 1607–1617, 552–558. Champlain, Virginia: RoundHouse, 1998.
  • Hatch, Charles E., Jr. The First Seventeen Years: Virginia, 1607–1624. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1957.
  • O’Dell, Jeffrey M. Chesterfield County: Early Architecture and Historic Sites. Chesterfield, Virginia: [Chesterfield County Planning Dept.], 1983.
  • Rolfe, John. A True Relation of the state of Virginia Lefte by Sir Thomas Dale Knight in May Last 1616. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 1971.
APA Citation:
Salmon, Emily. Bermuda Hundred during the Colonial Period. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/bermuda-hundred-during-the-colonial-period.
MLA Citation:
Salmon, Emily. "Bermuda Hundred during the Colonial Period" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 20 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2021, February 17
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.