Arriving in Virginia; an excerpt from “Short Report of the American Journey, Which Was Made from the 2nd of October of Last Year to the First of December of this Current Year 1702” by Frantz Ludwig Michel (1702)


In this excerpt from his “Short Report of the American Journey,” written in 1702 and translated from the German by William J. Hinke in 1916, Frantz Ludwig Michel (also Francis Louis Michel) of Berne, Switzerland, describes traveling to Virginia. He was interested in establishing a Swiss colony, but failed. His letters and reports, however, helped to motivate the creation of a joint-stock company, George Ritter and Company, that founded New Bern, North Carolina, in 1710.


Then follows Virginia. As I have lived there, it is my purpose to describe its characteristics more at length.

Carolina borders on it in the south. It was discovered and settled under a king Charles. An extensive wilderness lies between Virginia and this country [Carolina], so that thus far people have not been in the habit of traveling by land [from one to the other].

Finally follows Florida, of which I do not know much to report, except that it borders on the Spanish and French possessions. Although unknown to me, this country comprises an incredibly large area, whose inhabitants are very numerous and increase every year. All these are part of the American continent. In the east they are bounded by the ocean, in the north by Canada, which is inhabited by the French, but because of the great coldness very inconvenient, in the west by the unknown wilderness and in the south by the Spanish country.

The many streams and large rivers, together with the innumerable smaller ones, which branch out into the country from the larger on all sides, and their abundance of fish are indescribable.

Regarding the islands, which like the above mentioned countries are in English possession, it may be said that there is first of all Barbados, very rich in sugar, of which mostly rum is distilled, which is a kind of whiskey, the gallon or four quarter barrel is sold at the place for three shillings. Many ships stop there every year and a considerable commerce is carried on with that island. It lies about 100 miles from the main land.

Jamaica is another island, situated not far from the first, also rich in sugar. Many negroes are brought from this island and sold in Virginia. Besides all kinds of fruits are raised there and also much cattle.

St. Christopher was only half inhabited by the English. But when they heard of the war this year, they took up arms and drove out the French, who occupied the best part. They were compelled to go to St. Dominique. It is very warm in that island, but it is rich in money, which the privateers took from the Spaniards. A terrible wind is said to come there every year, called hurricane, which causes great damage on land and sea when its period arrives, which is November. Then the water appears of a whitish color and rises higher than usual. Indeed it often passes beyond its barriers and does damage. When the ships see such signs, they seek the best possible safety.

As stated above we arrived here on April 8th [read May 8th]. I shall now state briefly what has become known to me.

Virginia lies on the 37th degree of latitude, westward or towards the setting sun. The difference in time between London and here is six hours, namely when it is noon in England, it is six o’clock in the morning in this country.

The extent of the country is as follows: The width from Maryland to Carolina, together with the wilderness between the two countries, amounts to 500 miles, the length extends into the wilderness, which is not known to any one and the end is impossible to find.

Among the navigable and principal waters the bay, which runs between Accomac and Quiquedam [Kekoughtan] for more than 400 miles, must be mentioned first. It ends or rather begins in Pennsylvania. The entrance or mouth is 25 miles wide, full of dangerous sandbanks, as shown by the fact that recently a royal ship suffered shipwreck on one of the banks, where a part of the ship can still be seen. Ebb and tide control this water like the ocean. Into this bay empty many large and small rivers. I shall mention only the four principal rivers, which pass through Virginia and are navigable for large ships for 80 to 100 miles up stream. They have 3, 4 to 6 fathoms of water. From these four main rivers branch off an innumerable number of tributaries or small rivers, which are very convenient for the people, who seek to live near them, because of their convenience. The first is called James or Jacob’s river, whose mouth not far from the ocean or Quiquedam, is a very broad and widespread river. According to the testimony of the Indians its end or rather its beginning has never been found. This river abounds in fish till Falensgrig [Falling Creek], 80 miles up inland. That far reaches the ebb and tide of the ocean. It cannot get farther, because the river falls there over high rocks, which causes much noise that can be heard far away. The salt water also reaches as far as the falls, above them it is a smoothly flowing, sweet water river, about half a mile wide. Twenty five miles farther up this river is a French colony, of which more will be reported later on.

The second is called York river. It empties sixteen miles from the first into the bay. They are equally wide. It has its full width till fifty miles farther up, where it branches at West Point. The large ships, as well as ebb and tide, come up to this point. Farther up the water is sweet. As stated, half of the river branches off northwestward, for about thirty miles, called Mattabaney [Mattaponi] river. The other branch runs southwest a great way into the wilderness. It is called Pomonquay [Pamunkey] river. It runs quietly, like the other, with sweet water. It is two to three fathoms deep and half a mile wide.

The third is the Rabahanock [Rappahannock] river. It runs into the bay thirty miles from the last. It has the same width, as well as ebb and tide, like the other two. It extends into the wilderness through Stratfort [Stafford] County. It is also plied by ships for sixty miles up into the country. With sloops or other boats one can go up still farther.

The fourth and last is the Pattomac [Potomac] River, the broadest of all, about eighteen miles wide at some places. It runs far up into the country, with ebb and tide like the others. It is much visited by merchantmen and divides Virginia and Maryland. These four rivers come partly from the bay, but partly and even mostly from the interior or the wilderness. When they meet, that part which comes from the interior is sweet and runs constantly, but the part that comes from the bay flows up and down, like the ocean, and is salty.

Regarding religious services it may be said that they are held according to the principles of the reformation, as in our [Swiss] churches, although with some customs in the English language not current among us, except at Manigkintown [Monacan Town], where the French Huguenots dwell. There services are held in their own language. I shall shortly report more about Manigkintown, which is located on the James River.

Going to church means at some places a trip of more than thirty miles, but, as can be seen from what follows, it is not a great hardship, because people are well mounted there. Horses, which are hardly used for anything else but riding, are half deers. They run always in a fast gallop. When services are held on Sundays or on other days none goes to church except on horseback. The churches are not all built alike. Most of them are of timber, without towers or bells. In every county there are one, two or three churches, according to the population, whether it is thickly settled or scattered. There are also stone churches, of which I have seen three, built of bricks, especially at Jamestown, where the church has a tower and a bell. The other [brick church] is at Williamsburg and the third in Claster [Gloucester] County.

The clerical profession in that country is worth visiting, especially those who are well educated. They are well respected and well paid. There are congregations in which every sermon costs one guinea. Ordinarily members, whether they are few or many, must make up for the services yearly 16,000 pounds of tobacco. In addition certain fees are fixed in money for marriages, baptisms and funerals. They have also their residence and their glebe.

Mr. Blair is Bishop in this country, and also president in the Council or Parliament. He is a learned, sensible and well-to-do man. Together with others I had some business with him. He showed us much courtesy and kindness. Nor can I pass by in silence the many kind acts I experienced from a certain Mr. Foes [Reverend Stephen Fouace], a Frenchman by birth. He has two churches to take care of. He has lived for thirteen years in this country as an English clergyman. Through a marriage with a widow, who died soon afterwards, he has amassed large means. There are also some Catholics, who can hold their religious services in Maryland. But there are only a few of them.

Regarding the government. The governor, sent by the English King for six years or even longer, is appointed as his viceroy. He rules absolutely in the name of the king. A Parliament has been associated with him, which serves him with help and counsel. The members are selected from the most respected men in the country. They are usually those who fill the highest offices.

After this supreme authority follows the semi-annual Court or Assembly. These are two chosen, honorable and able men, from every county who remain usually from two to three weeks with the governor. They decide those things that are not of the highest importance. Each one receives one hundred pounds of tobacco daily as long as he stays. The county must pay the costs, just as in the case of the religious establishment.

Then follows lastly the monthly Court. Each county namely has a court or house of assembly, where every householder is obliged to appear at the specified time, in order to assist in settling difficulties which one may have with the other. But if no settlement can be made in this assembly, it is submitted to the semi-annual assembly, and if it cannot be settled there, an appeal is taken to the parliament as the last court, from which no further appeal is possible. But if it is an insignificant dispute or accident there is in every county a justice of the peace. But if the dispute cannot be settled by him, it is reported to the above-named courts.

This country, as far as it is settled, is divided into twelve parts, called counties. The first is called Claster [Gloucester] County, the second York, the third New Kent, the fourth King and Queen, the fifth Stratfort, the sixth Charles, the seventh City County, the other five have escaped my memory. These counties appear to be very large and populous, but although the number of people is unknown to me, it can be estimated from three facts. In the first place, there are said to be about 20,000 negroes or black people, of whom I shall report more at another place. Secondly, I have traveled through most of this country and have seen the large number of people. And lastly at the time the Queen was proclaimed six counties were called to muster, when about 2000 men responded. I shall soon relate how this proclamation was made. The governor made his residence at Jamestown, situated on the James River. It is one of the largest and most beautiful places in the country, although it does not have more than thirty-five houses. Four years ago the late King William ordered at Middle Plantation, which is now called Williamsburg in his honor, a large building, a so-called College, together with a State House to be erected. He contributed 4000 guineas to it. The governor now resides there. It is, moreover, because of the convenient place or situation, and also because of the many springs which are there, a large place, where a city is intended and staked out to be built. There are at present, besides the Church, College and State House, together with the residence of the Bishop, some stores and houses of gentlemen, and also eight ordinaries or inns, together with the magazine. More dwellings will be built year after year. This place lies between the James and the York rivers, six miles from Jamestown and ten miles from Yorktown. The youth is instructed in the higher branches in the College there. But, because most of the people live far away, only the more well-to-do parents, who have the means, can secure boarding for their sons there, which costs yearly twenty guineas. There are about forty students there now. Before this it was customary for wealthy parents, because of the lack of preceptors or teachers, to send their sons to England to study there. But experience showed that not many of them came back. Most of them died of small-pox, to which sickness the children in the West are subject.

Regarding the military organization it may be said that the governor is the general. The present one is a distinguished man and a good soldier. This he showed in person, as stated, in the sea-battle four years ago with the pirates, not far from Quiquedam in the Bay, when he rescued the ship “Indian King” after fierce resistance.

Then follow the colonels, of whom there are twelve in the country. They are conspicuous, rich men, who allow themselves to be used for police as well as military duty. When they are in service, they have a salary. At other times it is an honorary title, like that of major and captain, as it is in our country [Switzerland]. Thus the people are summoned when necessary. No fort or soldiers are kept in the country, because the inhabitants protect themselves. They are on horseback most of the time, armed with carbines, pistols and swords. They are divided into cavalry or dragoon squadrons, and also some infantry. But they are very inexperienced in military training or manoeuvers, which are unheard of in this country, much less attended. There are indeed every year two and even three musters, when the guns are examined and the most necessary things are reviewed. At first there were fierce and numerous battles with the aborigines, namely the wild Indians. In particular can I not pass by with silence how the country was first settled by Christians in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.


Now I return again to York Town, where, as mentioned before, we arrived on April 8th. On one side lies York, opposite Closter [Gloucester]. On the following day the captain departed for Willemsburg, where the Governor resides, a distance of about 18 miles, to announce his arrival. At night he returned again. On the 10th we went to him to learn whether we could land. He replied, the Governor had been informed of our arrival, (because of the four French families, with whom I traveled). He congratulated us on our arrival. We were also allowed to go where we pleased. We asked him [the captain] for permission to leave our clothes and the rest of our goods in the vessel until we had explored the land and had found a suitable place for us to settle in. He consented to this. Together with two Frenchmen (the name of the one was Peir, the other [Pierre] Sabattier, honest and good people) I had myself at once brought to shore, on the Closter [Gloucester] side. It gave us great pleasure when we could again step on land for the first time. It was in the most beautiful season of the year, the flowers, trees, birds, their song and everything we saw bore no comparison to European things. The lovely fragrance of the many trees that blossomed, their strange species and leaves delighted us not a little.

After we had passed through the forest for several miles, we saw at our right and left plantations or farms (for as already indicated people do not live closely together, but each one selects a suitable place, where he finds good soil, pasture and water.) Finally we became curious to know how the houses looked inside and what food people were eating. We entered one which stood near the road, but no one was at home, except the maid servant, whom we asked for some water. She gave us also some food, a species of small white beans, cooked with bacon, which had been prepared for the overseers of the slaves. It was good. The food prepared for the negroes that work was pounded Turkish maize, cooked in water, called hominy, a healthy food. The bread was made of the above-mentioned corn, baked on the fire. We did not like it very much and could hardly eat it. The bread, baked in an oven, is better. Bread is also made of wheat, but not for the slaves or servants.

Before I continue my journey I find it necessary to report a good habit or custom which prevails there with regard to strangers and travelers. Namely, it is possible to travel through the whole country without money, except when ferrying across a river, which costs not less than 1 bitt or 4 Batzen. In the first place, there is little money in the country, the little that is found there consists mostly of Spanish coins, namely dollars. Tobacco is the money with which payments are made. There are also few ordinaries or inns. Moreover, it is not a country in which much traveling is done, though the inhabitants visit one another. Even if one is willing to pay, they do not accept anything, but they are rather angry, asking, whether one did not know the custom of the country. At first we were too modest to go into the houses to ask for food and lodging, which the people often recognized, and they admonished us not to be bashful, as this was the custom of rich and poor. We soon became accustomed to it. Thus we continued our journey.

It was our purpose to travel to Mattabany, where Swiss people were living, especially a man named Willion, known to me from military service, another of the Pays de Vaux de Bex, back of the bailiwick of Aehlen, who was lieutenant captain under Sacconay. After we had proceeded some distance, we saw the Closter [Gloucester] Church, standing solitary in the forest, which I have already mentioned as being one of the most beautiful, built of bricks. From there we continued through the forest. We met a man on horseback (it is a strange sight to see anyone traveling on foot) whom we asked about the way. For the guidance of those not knowing the way it is only necessary to watch the signs that are found on trees along the great high road. Every year white places are cut into the trees with hatchets, by the removal of the bark. There are so many ways that otherwise one could easily go astray. There are many paths that lead to plantations, others have been made by the cattle or the game. The man on horseback just mentioned, asked us where we came from and where we intended to go to. He told us that not far from that place Swiss people were living. I was anxious to see them. We reached the house in a short time. I expected to find [French] Swiss, but met there the four sisters Lerber from Berne. I do not want to stop to describe their condition. It would be very desirable if they had someone, who could manage their place and secure servants for them. Their mother died shortly after their arrival. From there we continued our journey. In the evening we came to a kind-hearted man, of whom we inquired about the way, but, as it was late, he did not want us to proceed, but gave us good lodging. He showed us an unoccupied farm, which he was willing to let us have for a year without rent, but we did not like it. There are many people who have plantations for rent. Two to five pounds secures a good dwelling, and as much land as one can work. Most of the wealth consists in slaves or negroes, for if one has many workmen, much food-stuff and tobacco can be produced. These negroes are brought annually in large numbers from Guiné and Jamaica, (the latter of which belongs to England) on English ships. They can be selected according to pleasure, young and old, men and women. They are entirely naked when they arrive, having only corals of different colors around their neck and arms. They usually cost from 18–30 pounds. They are life-long slaves and good workmen after they have become acclimated. Many die on the journey or in the beginning of their stay here, because they receive meagre food and are kept very strictly. Both sexes are usually bought, which increase afterwards. The children like the parents must live in slavery. Even if they desire to become Christians, it is only rarely permitted, because the English law prescribes that after seven years’ service they are [in that case] to be freed, in accordance with the Mosaic law. When a slave is bought from the captain of a ship, he is not paid at once, but the slave so bought usually plants tobacco, in order that the captain may be paid with it. Lately, before my departure, I was over night on a ship, which several days before had come from Guiné with 230 slaves. They get them there for a small sum, as also gold and ivory, but a hundred of them died on the journey to Virginia. It is said to be a very unhealthy country. Half of the sailors died also, including the brother of the captain, who had sailed along as clerk. The others were sickly and yellow in their faces. It often happens that the ships must be left in Guiné, because everybody dies of sickness. The captain, to whom I refer, was named Schmid. He almost shared the same fate. I was surprized at the animal-like people, The savages [Indians] are a far better breed. Among such people food tastes so badly, that one can hardly stand it. The negro fever is due to this, because it is their common sickness. It clings to people for a long time and emaciates them very much.

APA Citation:
Ludwig Michel, Frantz. Arriving in Virginia; an excerpt from “Short Report of the American Journey, Which Was Made from the 2nd of October of Last Year to the First of December of this Current Year 1702” by Frantz Ludwig Michel (1702). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Ludwig Michel, Frantz. "Arriving in Virginia; an excerpt from “Short Report of the American Journey, Which Was Made from the 2nd of October of Last Year to the First of December of this Current Year 1702” by Frantz Ludwig Michel (1702)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 24 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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