A True Relation of the state of Virginia Lefte by Sir Thomas Dale Knight in May Last 1616 (1617)

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John Rolfe wrote A True Relation of the state of Virginia Lefte by Sir Thomas Dale Knight in May Last 1616 while in England with his wife, Pocahontas, and their infant son, Thomas. They were there to promote the interests of the Virginia Company of London, whose investors were discouraged by the colony’s prospects; this manuscript, first published in 1617, appears to have had the same purpose. The current transcription comes from the June 1839 edition of the Southern Literary Messenger, the editors of which claimed to have “carefully transcribed” a version archived in the British Museum. The two are not identical, however.


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May it please your Highnes:

There have been of late divulged many impressions, judicially and truly penned; partlie to take away the ignominie, scandalls and maledictions wherewith this action hath ben branded, and partlie to satisfie all, (especially the best) with the manner of the late proceedings and the prosperitie likely to ensue. How happily and plenteously the good blessings of God have fallen upon the people and colony since the last impression, faithfully written by a gent. of good merit, Mr. Ralph Hamor, (some tyme an actuall member in the Plantation, even then departing when the foundacoun and ground worke was new laid of their now thrift and happines,) of the earthie and worldly man is scarcely believed, but of heavenlier minds they are most easilie discerned, for they daily attend and marke how those blessings, (though sometimes restrayned for a tyme,) in the end, are poured upon the servants of the Lord. Shall your Ma’tie, with pietie and pittie—with pietie, being zealous for God’s glory, and with pittie, (mourning the defects,) vouchsafe to reade thus much of the estate of this colony, as it remained in May last, when Sir Thomas Dale left the same, I shall deeme my selfe most happie in

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your gracious acceptance, and most readily offer to your approved judgment, whether this cause, so much despised and disgraced, doe not wrongfully suffer many imputacions.

First, to meete with an objection commonly used amongst many men, who search truthes no farther then by common reports, namely, how is it possible Virginia can now be so good, so fertile a countrey, so plentifullie stored with food and other commodities? Is it not the same still it was when men pined with famine? Can the earth now bring forth such a plentifull increase? Were there not governors, men and meanes to have wrought this heretofore? And can it now, on the suddaine, be so fruitfull? Surely, say they, these are rather bates to catch and intrapp more men into woe and miserie, then otherwise can be imagined. These, with many as frivolous, I have heard instigated, and even reproachfullie spoken against Virginia. To answeare whom, (the most parte of them incredulous worldlings—such as believe not, unless they feele the goodnes of the Lord sensiblie to touch them,) though it be not much material, yet let them know, ’tis true, Virginia is the same it was, I meane for the goodnes of the seate, and fertileness of the land, and will no doubt so contynue to the world’s end,—a countrey as worthy good report, as can be declared by the pen of the best writer. A countrey spacious and wide, capable of many hundred thousands of inhabitants. For the soil most fertile to plant in, for ayre fresh and temperate, somewhat hotter in summer, and not altogether so cold in winter as in England, yet so agreeable it is to our constitutions, that now ’tis more rare to heare of a man’s death then in England amongst so many people as are there resident. For water, most wholesome and verie plentifull, and for fayre navigable rivers and good harbours, no countrey in christendom, in so small a circuite, is so well stored. For matter fit for buildings and fortifications, and for building of shipping, with everie thing thereto apperteyning, I may boldly avouch scarce anie or no countrey knowne to man is of itself more abundantly furnished. Theis things (some may say,) are of great consequence toward the settling of a plantation, but where are the beasts and cattle to feede and cloth the people? I confesse this is a mayne want; yet some there are already, as neate cattle, horses, mares and goates, which are carefullie preserved for increase. The nomber whereof, hereafter shalbe sett downe in a particular note by themselves. There are also great store of hoggs, both wild and tame, and poultrie great plentie, which every man, if they will, themselves may keepe. But the greatest want of all is least thought on, and that is good and sufficient men, as well of birth and qualitie, to command soldiers, to march, discover and defend the countrey from invasions, as also artificers, laborers, and husbandmen, with whom, were the colony well provided, then might tryall be made what lyeth hidden in the wombe of the ground. The land might yearlie abound with corne and other provisions for man’s sustentation—buildings, fortifications and shipping might be reared, wrought and framed—commodities of divers kinds might be yearly reaped and sought after, and many things (God’s blessinge contynuing,) might come with ease to establish a firme and perfect common weale. But to come again to the matter, from which I have a little straied, and to give a more full answeare to the objectors, may you please to take notice, that the beginning of this plantation was governed by a president and councell, aristocratically. The president yearlie chosen out of the councell, which consisted of twelve persons. This government lasted about two years, in which tyme such envie, dissentions and jarres were daily sowne amongst them, that they choaked the seed and blasted the fruits of all men’s labors. If one were well disposed and gave good advisement to proceed in the business—others, out of the malice of their hearts, would contradict, interdict, withstand and dash all. Some rung out and sent home too loud praises of the riches and fertilness of the country, before they assayed to plant, to reape or search the same; others said nothing, nor did any thing thereunto; all would be keisars, none inferior to other. Some drew forward, more backward—the vulgar sort looked for supplie out of England—neglected husbandry—some wrote—some said there was want of food, yet sought for none—others that would have sought could not be suffered; in which confusion much confusion yearlie befell them, and in this government happened all the miserie. Afterward a more absolute government was graunted, monarchially, wherein it still contynueth, and although for some few years it stood at a stay, especially in the manuring and tilling ground, yet men spent not their tyme idely nor improfitably, for they were daily employed in palazadoing and building of townes, impaling grounds and other needful businesses, which is now both beneficiall to keepe the cattle from ranging, and preserveth the corne safe from their spoile. Being thus fitted and prepared to sow corne, and to plant other seeds and fruits in all the places of our habitations,—one thing, notwithstanding, much troubled our governor, namely enmitie with the Indians; for, however well we could defend ourselves, townes and seates from any assaulte of the natives, yet our cattle and corne lay too open to their courtesies, and too subject to their mercies: whereupon a peace was concluded, which still continueth so firme, that our people yearely plant and reape quietly, and travell in the woods a flowling and a hunting as freely and securely from feare of danger or treacherie as in England. The great blessings of God have followed this peace, and it, next under him, hath

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bredd our plentie—everie man sitting under his fig tree in safety, gathering and reaping the fruits of their labors with much joy and comfort. But a question may be demanded what these fruits are—for such as the countrey affordeth naturally (for varietie and goodnes) are comparable to the best in christendom, (growing wild as they doe,)—I pass them over, other discourses having largely manifested them to the view of the world. But for the people’s present labors they have Indian wheate, called mays in the West Indies, pease and beanes, English wheate, peas, barley, turnips, cabbages, pumpions, West Indian and others, carretts, parsnips, and such like, besides hearbs and flowers, all of our English seede, both for pleasure and for the kitchen, so good, so fruitful, so pleasant and profitable, as the best made ground in England can yield. And that your Ma’tie may know what two men’s labor, with spade and shalve only, can manure in one year, fiftie pounds in money was offered for their cropp, which they refused to take; for hempe and flax, none better in England or Holland—silkewormes, some of ther labors, and tasts of other good and vendible commodities were now brought home. Likewise tobacco, (though an esteemed weed,) very commodious, which there thriveth so well, that no doubt but after a little more triall and expense in the curing thereof, it will compare with the best in the West Indies. For fish and fowle, deere and other beasts, reports and writings have been too sparing then prodigall. About two years since, Sir Thomas Dale, (whose worth and name, in concluding this peace, and managing the affairs of this colony, will out last the standing of this plantation,) found out two seasons in the year to catch fish, namely, the spring and the fall. He himself tooke no small paines in the tryall, and at one hall with a scryne caught five thousand three hundred of them, as bigg as codd. The least of the residue or kind of salmon trout, two foote long; yet durst he not adventure on the mayne skull for breaking his nett. Likewise, two men with axes and such like weapons, have taken and kild neere the shoare and brought home fortie as great as codd in two or three howers space, so that now there is not so great plentie of victualls in anie one of the forenamed kind yearlie with small paines to be gotten in any part of England amongst so few people as are there resident. And, whereas, heretofore we were constrayned yearely to go to the Indians and intreate them to sell us corne, which made them esteeme verie basely of us—now the case is altered; they seeke to us—come to our townes, sell their skins from their shoulders, which is their best garments, to buy corne—yea, some of their pettie kings have this last yeare borrowed four or five hundred bushells of wheate, for payment whereof, this harvest they have mortgaged their whole countries, some of them not much less in quantitie then a shire in England. By this meanes plentie and prosperitie dwelleth amongst them, and the feare and danger of famine is clean taken away, wherewith the action hath a long time suffered injurious defamations.

Now that your highnes may with the more ease understand in what condition the colony standeth, I have briefly sett downe the manner of all men’s several imployments, the number of them, and the several places of their aboad, which places or seates are all our owne ground, not so much by conquest, which the Indians hold a just and lawfull title, but purchased of them freely, and they verie willingly selling it.

The places which are now possessed and inhabited are sixe.

1. Henrico and the lymitts

2. Bermuda Nether [Hundred]

3. West and Sherley [Hundred]

4. James Towne

5. Kequoughtan

6. Dales-Gift

[Referring to all six settlements:] Members belonging to ye Bermuda Towne, a place so called there, by reason of the strength of the situation, were it indifferently fortified.

The generall mayne body of the planters are divided into

1. Officers.

2. Laborers.

3. Farmers.

The officers have the charge and care as well over the farmors as laborers generallie—that they watch and ward for their preservacions; and that both the one and the other’s busines may be daily followed to the performance of those imployments, which from the one are required, and the other by covenant are bound unto. These officers are bound to maintayne themselves and families with food and rayment by their owne and their servants’ industrie.

The laborers are of two sorts. Some employed onely in the generall works, who are fedd and clothed out of the store—others, specially artificers, as smiths, carpenters, shoemakers, taylors, tanners, &c., doe worke in their professions for the colony, and maintayne themselves with food and apparrell, having time lymitted them to till and manure their ground.

The farmors live at most ease—yet by their good endeavours bring yearlie much plentie to the plantation. They are bound by convenant, both for themselves and servants, to maintaine your Ma’tie’s right and title in that kingdom, against all foreigne and domestique enemies. To watch and ward in the townes where they are resident. To do thirty-one dayes service for the colony, when they shalbe called thereunto—yet not at all tymes, but when their owne business can best spare them. To maintayne themselves and families with food and rayment—and every farmor to pay yearlie into the magazine, for himself and every man servant, two barrells and a half piece of their best Indian wheate, which amounteth to twelve bushells and a halfe of English measure.

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Thus briefly have I sett downe every man’s particular imployment and manner of living; albeit, lest the people—who generallie are bent to covet after gaine, especially having tasted of the sweete of their labors—should spend too much of their tyme and labor in planting tobacco, knowne to them to be verie vendible in England, and so neglect their tillage of corne, and fall into want thereof, it is provided for—by the providence and care of Sir Thomas Dale—that no farmor or other—who must maintayne themselves—shall plant any tobacco, unles he shall yearely manure, set and maintayne for himself and every man servant two acres of ground with corne, which doing they may plant as much tobacco as they will, els all their tobacco shalbe forfeite to the colony—by which meanes the magazin shall yearely be sure to receave their rent of corne; to maintayne those who are fedd thereout, being but a few, and manie others, if need be; they themselves will be well stored to keepe their families with overplus, and reape tobacco enough to buy clothes and such other necessaries as are needeful for themselves and houshold. For an easie laborer will keepe and tend two acres of corne, and cure a good store of tobacco—being yet the principall commoditie the colony for the present yieldeth. For which, as for other commodities, the councell and company for Virginia have already sent a ship thither, furnished with all manner of clothing, houshold stuff and such necessaries, to establish a magazin there, which the people shall buy at easie rates for their commodities—they selling them at such prices that the adventurers may be no loosers. This magazin shalbe yearelie supplied to furnish them, if they will endeavor, by their labor, to maintayne it—which wilbe much beneficiall to the planters and adventurers, by interchanging their commodities, and will add much encouragement to them and others to persevere and follow the action with a constant resolution to uphold the same.

The people which inhabite the said six severall places are disposed as followeth:

At Henrico, and in the precincte, (which is seated on the north side of the river, ninety odd myles from the mouth thereof, and within fifteen or sixteen myles of the falls or head of that river, being our furthest habitation within the land,) are thirty-eight men and boyes, whereof twenty-two are farmors, the rest officers and others, all whom maintayne themselves with food and apparrell. Of this towne one capten Smaley hath the command in the absence of capten James Davis. Mr. Wm. Wickham minister there, who, in his life and doctrine, give good examples and godly instructions to the people.

At Bermuda Nether Hundred, (seated on the south side of the river, crossing it and going by land, five myles lower then Henrico by water,) are one hundred and nineteen—which seate conteyneth a good circuite of ground—the river running round, so that a pale running cross a neck of land from one parte of the river to the other, maketh it a peninsula. The houses and dwellings of the people are sett round about by the river, and all along the pale, so farr distant one from the other, that upon anie alarme, they can succor and second one the other. These people are injoyned by a charter, (being incorporated to the Bermuda towne, which is made a corporacoun,) to effect and performe such duties and services whereunto they are bound for a certain tyme, and then to have their freedome. This corporacoun admitt no farmors, unles they procure of the governor some of the colony men to be their servants, for whom (being no members of the corporacoun,) they are to pay rent corne as other farmors of this kind—these are about seventeen. Others also comprehended in the said number of one hundred and nineteen there, are resident, who labor generallie for the colonie; amongst whom some make pitch and tarr, potashes, charcole and other works, and are maintayned by the magazin—but are not of the corporacoun. At this place (for the most part) liveth capten Peacdley, deputy marshal and deputy governor. Mr. Alexander Whitaker (sonne to the reverend and famous divine, Dr. Whitaker,) a good divine, hath the ministerial charge here.

At West and Sherley Hundred (seated on the north side of the river, lower then the Bermudas three or four myles,) are twenty-five, commanded by capten Maddeson—who are imployed onely in planting and curing tobacco,—with the profitt thereof to clothe themselves and all those who labor about the generall business.

At James Towne (seated on the north side of the river, from West and Sherley Hundred lower down about thirty-seven myles,) are fifty, under the command of lieutenant Sharpe, in the absence of capten Francis West, Esq., brother to the right ho’ble the Le Lawarre,—whereof thirty-one are farmors; all theis maintayne themselves with food and rayment. Mr. Richard Burd minister there—a verie good preacher.

At Kequoughtan (being not farr from the mouth of the river, thirty-seven miles below James Towne on the same side,) are twenty—whereof eleven are farmors; all those also maintayne themselves as the former. Capten George Webb commander. Mr. Wm. Mays minister there.

At Dales-Gift (being upon the sea, neere unto Cape Charles, about thirty myles from Kequoughtan,) are seventeen, under the command of one lieutenant Cradock; all these are fedd and maintayned by the colony. Their labor is to make salt and catch fish at the two season aforementioned.

So the nomber of officers and laborers are two hundred and five. The farmors 81; besides woe-

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men and children, in everie place some—which in all amounteth to three hundred and fifty-one persons—a small nomber to advance so great a worke.

Theis severall places are not thus weakly man’d, as capable of no greater nomber, (for they will maintayne many hundreds more,)—but because no one can be forsaken without losse and detriment to all. If then so few people, thus united, ordered and governed, doe live so happily, every one partaking of the others labor, can keepe in possession so much ground as will feed a far greater nomber in the same or better condition; and seeing too, too many poore farmors in England worke all the yeare, rising early and going to bed late, live penuriously, and much adoe to pay their landlord’s rent, besides a daily karking and caring to feed themselves and families, what happiness might they enjoy in Virginia, where men sensible of theis things, where they may have ground for nothing, more than they can manure; reape more fruits and profitts with half the labor, void of many cares and vexacions, and for their rent a matter of small or no moment, I leave to your singular judgment and consideracoun, nothing doubting, but He (who, by his infinite goodnes, with no small means, hath settled these poore and weake beginnings so happily,) will animate, stirr up and encourage manie others cheerefully to undertake this worke, and will assuredly add a daily strength to uphold and maintayne what he hath already begun.

Seeing then this languishing action is now brought to this forwardness and strength, no person but is provided for, either by their owne or others labors, to subsist themselves for food, and to be able to rayse commodities for clothing and other necessaries, envy it selfe, poysoned with the venom of aspes, cannot wound it.

Now, to drawe to a conclusion this my poore oblacon, I would crave your Highnes’ patience a little longer—and that you would turne your heart to a more heavenly meditacoun, wherein much joy and comfort is to be reaped and found, of all such as shall truly, sincerely and unfeynedly seeke to advance the honor of God, and to propagate his gospell. There is no small hope by pietie, clemencie, curtesie and civill demeanor, (by which meanes some are wonne to us alreadie,) to convert and bring to the knowledge and true worship of Jesus Christ thousands of poore, wretched and misbelieving people, on whose faces a good christian cannot looke without sorrow, pittie and compassion, seing they beare the image of our Heavenlie Creator, and we and they come from one and the same mould, especiallie we knowing that they, merely through ignorance of God and Christ, doe run headlong, yea, with joy, into destruction and perpetuall damnation,—for which knowledge we are the more bound and indebted to Almightie God, (for what were we before the gospell of Christ shined amongst us?) and cannot better express our duties and thankfulness for so great mercies, then by using such meanes to them, as it pleased him to lend unto others to bring our forefathers and us into the waies of trueth,—it is much to be mourned and lamented how lightlie the workes of God are now a days generallie regarded, and less sought after; but the worke of the world, as though they were eternall, hungered for, and thirsted after with insatiable greediness. But should we well consider, examine and search into ourselves, what we were, and now are, there can be no heart, (if not hardened as the nether mill stone,) but would even break itself to pieces, and distribute to manie poore soules some parte thereof, to purge them from their lees of synne, and to sette them in the right pathes of holines and righteousnes, to serve the King of Heaven; by which meanes and God’s holy assistance, no doubt they will soone be brought to abandon their old superstitious and idolatries, wherein they have been nursed and trained from their infancies, and our greatest adversaries shall not taunt us with this reproach, “Whom of you have you wonne to christianitie?” What a crowne of glorie shalbe sett upon their heads who shall faithfullie labor herein, I leave to the enjoying of them, who shall endeavour unfeynedly to meritt the same. Finallie, as Caleb and Joshua in the verie heate of grudgings, murmurings, and assemblies of the children of Israell, stood stoutlie for the Lord’s cause, commending the goodnes of the land they discovered, to the faces of their oppressors, and the easines to obtain it even to the perill of their lives, so many right ho’ble and worthie personages, both here and in Virginia, (whom generallie the most parte withdrew themselves, that the action was almost sunck downe in forgetfulnes,) have mightilie upheld this christian cause—for God, even our owne God, did helpe them. For neither evill reports, nor slanders, nor mumurings, nor backbitings of others, nor any disaster, did once dismay or hinder them from upholding thereof with their good reports, incouragements, and meanes yearelie sent to the planters, to nourish life and being in this zealous worke. I beseech God to raise up many more such, so zealous for God’s glory, to forward the same—we have tasted of some fruits thereof. There are no great nor strong castles, nor men like the sons of Anack, to hinder our quiet possession of that land. God’s hand hath been mightie in the preservacoun thereof hitherto; what need we then to feare, but to goe up at once as a peculiar people, marked and chosen by the finger of God, to possess it, for undoubtedly he is with us. And as for murmurers, slanderers and backsliders, a due porcoun shalbe given them for their reward. So the blessings of Caleb and Joshua shall fall upon all those that constantly

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persevere to the end. Thus, craving your gracious pardon for my rude boldness, beseaching God to send you the fulnes of his blessings in this world and in the world to come, I rest,

Your highnes’ most faithful and loyall subject,


The nomber of of neate cattle, horses and goates, which were alive in Virginia at Sir Thomas Dale’s departure thence:

Cowes, Heifers, Cow calves,[:] 83

Steeres, 41

Bulles, 20

in all[:] 144.

Memorand: 20 of the cowes were great with calfe at his departure.

Horses, 3

Mares, 3

in all[:] 6.

Goates and Kidds, male and female, in all[:] 216.

Hoggs, wild and tame, not to be nombred.

Poultry, great plenty.

APA Citation:
Rolfe, John. A True Relation of the state of Virginia Lefte by Sir Thomas Dale Knight in May Last 1616 (1617). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Rolfe, John. "A True Relation of the state of Virginia Lefte by Sir Thomas Dale Knight in May Last 1616 (1617)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 27 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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