When the first settlers arrived at Jamestown, it seemed like paradise. Settlers ventured through lush forests and met native peoples.
Unfortunately, they’d gotten a late start, meaning they were running low on food. In addition, it was clear that some settlers weren’t exactly who they said they were.
Faction fighting had also begun, and it wasn’t too long before the colony experienced its first attack.
A cast of characters:
Bartholomew Gosnold: The man whose idea Jamestown was, and the man who had recruited the first settlers. He named Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod on a previous expedition to Maine, and was highly respected among the settlers. His name was removed from company paperwork after someone reported his critical remarks about King James to Lord Cecil.
Edward Maria Wingfield: Gosnold’s cousin, and a former Flemish POW. He was known for his bravery, and was a godson of Queen Mary.
John Ratcliffe: He was mysteriously put on the expedition by Cecil, and put in a position of authority on both the sea voyage and in the colony itself. No one knew him, no one trusted him.
George Kendall: Another Cecil plant with a very similar backstory.
John Smith: A former mercenary and POW who had escaped from his Turkish captors and trekked across Russia, Poland and Germany to get home. He joined the voyage through a mutual acquaintance with Gosnold and Wingfield, and by the end of the sea journey, he was in the stocks for alleged attempted mutiny.
George Percy: The son of one of the noblest, most Catholic and most rebellious families in England.
Gabriel Archer: A Cambridge-educated lawyer who had accompanied Gosnold to New England.
John Martin: One of the oldest settlers, he was the son of the Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Mint. He had privateered in the Caribbean, even as a member of Sir Francis Drake’s supply mission to Roanoke. He arrived with his son, but soon became known as a person who used his ill-health as an excuse to do anything dangerous.
Christopher Newport: A one-armed sea captain who had gone to Roanoke, been a privateer, and was now a successful Caribbean trader.
Wahunsenaca: Leader (Mamanatoic) of the Powhatan Empire, ruler of Tsenocomoco (the Algonquian word for Virginia).
Opiechancanough: Leader (Werowance) of the Pamunkey tribe, part of the Powhatan Empire, and brother of Wahunsenaca. He may also have been Don Luis, a man who spent 11 years with the Spanish before returning to Virginia and slaughtering the mercenaries who accompanied him there.
Navaranze: The first Powhatan Indian to befriend the English, and their guide in early exploration.
My favorite book on Jamestown:
- This book is also available as an audiobook. I particularly like Woolley’s writing style, and the way he integrates all the primary source material. This was the best-researched book on Jamestown at the time it was printed, and I’d say that’s still true today.
- I strongly prefer A Savage Kingdom, but Horn’s book is worth mentioning because it does better address the colony’s later history. Early on, it lacks some of the detail and scope of Woolley’s work (it’s too John-Smith-centric), but it does do a better job of discussing the colony’s history from 1619-1630.
Primary Source Documents and Articles:
Who’d want to be a Percy? No end of people, actually. There is a prominent American branch of the family – the Percys of Mississippi – supposedly founded by Charles Percy, the disinherited, bigamist son of an early earl. According to one historian, the plantation-owning Percys “virtually built the Deep South”. And then there’s Kevin Percy, a 76-year-old former Olympic hockey player from New Zealand, who claims to be the rightful heir to the Percy millions. Kevin believes he is a direct descendant of Hotspur, and has written to the Queen asking for the knight’s remains to be exhumed and checked against his DNA.
In the early 17th century the 10th Earl of Northumberland Algernon Percy played a prominate part in the restoration of the Monarchy. He married twice; first to a daughter of the Cecil family, in spite of his father’s deep disapproval, who said that ‘the blood of a Percy would not mix with the blood of a Cecil if you poured it on a dish’. That may have well been the case, but the trouble was it appeared that there was very little Percy blood left, and something had to be done.
“Algernon,” the 10th Earl, was George’s nephew, son of the brother who had financed his voyage to Virginia. When George became president of Virginia, he named a settlement after this nephew, Fort Algernon. During the English Civil War (the American side of which I’ll be discussing in the podcast), Algernon was an early Parliamentary leader, but grew uncomfortable with the movement’s excesses (like many people did) and became an outspoken Royalist. His brother, however, remained one of Henrietta Maria’s closest allies, even following her into exile.
A couple years ago, archaeologists found the bodies of Robert Hunt, Gabriel Archer, Fernandino Wainman and William West (spoiler alert, they die). This is when they discovered Archer’s Catholicism. Perhaps less notably, this was also the event which inspired this podcast.