For those who have not heard about the first English Speaking Thanksgiving in the New World, it started when a group of closely related English investors came together to plan a new life in Virginia.
They saw an opportunity to escape economic and religious hardships plaguing 17th Century England, enlisted a veteran Virginia settler, and shipped 35 settlers to an 8,000 acre land-grant on the James River in 1619.
Upon their arrival, the settlers offered their thanks to Almighty God as their first action at their new home, Berkeley Hundred. All of this was accomplished before their more famous counterparts, the Pilgrims, set sail in 1620.
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 First Thanksgiving Festival, which takes place annually at Berkeley Plantation.
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.
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.
The Virginia Company rapidly changed between Lord Delaware’s 1611 departure and Thomas Gates’ 1612 return. It almost ceased to exist, but somehow endured.
Virginia also endured, but that was in spite of Thomas Dale’s arrival and institution of a stricter disciplinary system. His actions, however, meshed with the events taking place in England. He pushed further inland, founded a new city, Henricus, and asked for more settlers to inhabit newly conquered land near Virginia’s second city.
Yet the Virginia Company was in no position to supply those settlers. That is, they weren’t able to supply those settlers until a number of schemes rode new waves of excitement, Bermuda’s colonization was leveraged, and a lottery was staged.
Even at that, Prince Henry’s stunning death threatened to destroy Virginia altogether. But the times were changing, and Virginia was about to feel the effects of new policies.
The cannon blast that welcomed the Sea Venture survivors was a fitting salutation for the arriving settlers. It only took them a few days to realize that Virginia was not a place in which they wanted to remain. So, they began leaving by June 1610. But just as they were sailing away, a Divine intervention changed the course of the colony’s history.
Thomas West, Lord Delaware, the new governor, arrived. He ordered the retreating colonists back to Jamestown, from where Delaware would dictate control.
He established new laws, work groups, and fought back against the belligerent Powhatan Tribes.
But before too long, Delaware succumbed to one of his chronic illnesses, and he returned back to England. Where did that leave the colony? According to Delaware it was in good shape. It was in good enough shape to send more supplies and people under Thomas Dale in 1611.
The Starving Time was the lowest depth of Jamestown’s despair, but while the deaths mounted in Virginia, the Sea Venture castaways were enduring their own struggles on Bermuda.
The island had everything that Virginia did not, but though food was in abundance, and the climate was mostly desirable, it was not where the Sea Venture was supposed to land. That being the case, Thomas Gates used his authority to organize an escape.
But not everyone wanted to leave, so a series of mutinies began hampering the castaways. They persevered through it all, and by May 1610 the castaways were unwittingly trading paradise for hell.
The Jamestown colonists had endured much before winter 1609, but nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to endure.
John Smith’s departure, Powhatan’s declaration of war, George Percy’s incompetence, as well as the foolish communistic structure that the Virginia Company employed doomed those who made the journey across the Atlantic.
It was just a matter of time before catastrophe struck, and when it finally did come, it came all at once.
Approximately 300 colonists began enduring the most severe hardships imaginable, then they began doing the unthinkable. Then they died.
In the end more than 240 did not make it to the end, which came in May 1610, when the Sea Venture survivors finally started sailing up the James River.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is the the famous discovery of Jane, the teenage girl who succumbed to cannibalism during the Starving time. The second picture is of the many graves found within James Fort that date back to 1607.
While the Sea Venture survivors were making their way on Bermuda, the rest of the bedraggled Sea Venture fleet made its way to Jamestown. They were saved! Or were they?
Excitement quickly turned into chaos, and John Smith suffered physically and politically for it. His enemies finally got the upper hand as a result, and Virginia would very soon be dragged through its most severe time yet.