The most expansive plantation building phase along the James River exploded into life after the 1618 tobacco crop sold for an eye catching £5,000. At that moment the English knew that there was indeed something worthwhile to the Virginia venture.
Tobacco was certainly the increasingly powerful king in early Virginia, but the Virginia Company wanted to diversify. To that end, what would have been the first college in America, The East India School, was planned, the first ironworks at Falling Creek, was established, salt-farming on the Eastern Shore was set up, dozens of plantations dotted the James and Appomattox Rivers, settlers poured in to take advantage of new opportunities, and the first representative governmental assembly was formed.
There was a lot going on to be sure. But some settlers attempted to keep focused upon a more serious reason why they were undertaking such toilsome ventures, which is why another first took place amidst the continuing great migration. 35 settlers at newly formed Berkeley Hundred celebrated the First Thanksgiving on December 4, 1619.
This episode covers all of this and more. Have a listen!
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is of colonial re-enactors at the annual First Thanksgiving Festival, which takes place at Berkeley Plantation.
Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “Haunted” by Charlie Simpson, also available on iTunes.
Shirley Plantation is the oldest James River Plantation, as well as North America’s longest continually running business. Having been founded in 1613, Shirley Plantation has been a part of Virginia’s history from Thomas Dale’s administration to the present, as the Hill-Carter Family treasure on the James River can attest. It is fitting, therefore, that one of the most famous Virginia ghost stories comes from her historic location.
Martha Hill, known better as Aunt Pratt, “Pratt” being a family pet name, was the daughter of Edward Hill III. She didn’t spend much time at Shirley, but she was part of the Hill family, which entitled her to have a portrait painted and added to the family collection.
Aunt Pratt moved to England after she finished her schooling, married one Hugh Griffin (Griffith and Gifford in some sources), before she passed away, never having returned to Shirley in her lifetime. But many believe that she returned after her death, as can be evidenced by the utterly bizarre happening centered upon that now famous family portrait.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of Aunt Pratt’s famous portrait. All subsequent images are from my visits to Shirley Plantation.
Though Thomas Dale did not return to Virginia after his 1616 departure, he, along with John Rolfe, worked hard to encourage growth along the newly establishing James River Plantations.
Their work was greatly aided by Edwin Sandys, a rival to Thomas Smythe, the Virginia Company treasurer. Sandys’ ideas were not accepted by Smythe and his inner circle, but after years of rapidly accumulating debt, many in the Company thought a change was necessary.
Those changes began when the initial seven-year dividend promise from 1609 came due. The Company could not repay anyone’s investment, and in fact wanted to request more money. That’s when men like Edwin Sandys seized an opportunity.
Sandys and his followers wanted to offer property, private property, and that offering got the attention of hundreds throughout England.
Soon, investors, as well as adventurers seeking for a new life, began lining up to sail across the Atlantic.
Between 1616 and 1622 more than 8,000 settlers would risk their lives for a shot at prosperity deemed unimaginable in the Old World.
Dale received his often requested settlers at last, but Dale would not be there to see new plantations founded along the James River. Instead, other company men – Samuel Argall and George Yeardley, governors between 1616 and 1621, as well as many new investors, oversaw the massive transformation that forever changed Virginia and her history.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is the commemorative Flowerdew Hundred Windmill, which has since been dismantled and sent to Lubbock, Texas.
Thomas Dale and his fellow Virginia Company leaders spent much time in Ireland before they trekked to Virginia. While they were subjugating the Irish, Dale and others learned a few things about how to set up a system of plantations.
It was reasoned that the best way to dominate a region was to first subdue it, and then build self-sustaining units on the newly conquered lands. Dale certainly subscribed to this school of thought, and began establishing a plantation system along the James River.
This system would not, however, be centered upon Jamestown. It was too unhealthy. Instead, Dale had Henricus built, but he planned an even larger power center on the bluffs overlooking the James and Appomattox Rivers that he called Bermuda Cittie.
Bermuda Cittie would then be the governing location overseeing a series of 5 separate plantations that were all established in 1613 –
Nether Hundred (Later called Bermuda Hundred)
West and Shirley
Diggs His Hundred
These 5 plantations, however, were not the only plots of land that had activity on them. Many claim that in 1614 Captain John Martin began working the lands of what is today Upper and Lower Brandon Plantation.
It’s hard to validate the claim, as it is hard to say much about any work done on these plantations, but the 351 settlers still alive by 1616 were busily, if not miserably, working lands along the James River. It was their work on increasingly independent lands that began making Virginia a desirable destination. A destination that attracted a greater migration after 1616.
Thomas Dale’s Virginia still suffered under his heavy-handed rule in the early 1610s, but the Rolfe/Pocahontas marriage as well as semi-relaxed private property laws began to have a noticeable affect upon the colony.
Rolfe took advantage of those newly relaxed laws by introducing a new tobacco strain, the Spanish, sweet-scented Orinoco along the James River. Soon after Rolfe’s successfully growing the weed, and sending a 1,200 lb crop to England, other Virginia colonists began growing the crop on the many plantations that sprung into life after 1613.
The Virginia Company began granting land to new settlers both old and new after Samuel Argall ascended to the Lieutenant Governorship. More than 30 plantations were founded upon which Tobacco became the chiefly grown crop. Virginia was now showing signs of profitability, and many believed it to be due in part to the Rolfe/Pocahontas marriage as well as Rolfe’s experimental work. They were now Virginia’s most famous people, and England wanted to see this early modern power couple.
The Rolfe’s journeyed to England in 1616, were a hit, helped bolster the Virginia Company’s books. But the successful junket came at a price. The Powhatan natives were affected by the dirty English civilization. Pocahontas fell ill and died at the outset of their return journey to Virginia. Further, one of Pocahontas’ attendants, Tomocomo, spread his negative reviews to powerful Powhatan leaders upon his return.
Those words had an affect, as Opechancanough, Powhatan’s successor, let the words fester, and began plotting an attack against the English.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is the only known picture of Pocahontasfrom her lifetime. It was done by Simon Van de Passe upon Pocahontas visit to England. The next image is The Death of Pocahontasby Junius Brutus Stearns.