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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Richard Womack 1655-1684 -Background- Founding of Jamestown and the Virginia Colony

We all have an image in our minds from our childhood history books of the founding of the Jamestown Colony, although the more I read the more I realize how difficult it is to transport ourselves back in history and truly understand the events of the times. Nevertheless, here is a simplistic representation of the events which preceded the birth of Richard Womack, born in 1655, in the Colony of Virginia.

1607- The London Company is given a royal charter to found a colony and sends 3 small ships with 105 "adventurers" (most of whom were "gentlemen" and a few who were "laborers") to settle Jamestown. They build a fort, but rely mostly on the food from their journey and that given them by the Powhattan Indian tribe that lives in the area. Soon relations with the Powhattans  deteriorates.

1609- Ships returning from England find 75% of the colony has died from starvation, disease, and indian attacks. The first Anglo-Powhattan war will continue from 1609-1614.

1611- Sir Thomas Dale heads further inland on the James River and founds a city on the bluffs which he calls "Henricus." He attacks the local Appomattox Indian towns and founds a settlement on their land called the "Bermuda Hundred."

1613- Dale builds a fort at Bermuda Hundred at the confluence of the James and the Appomattox Rivers and calls the settlement there  "City Point."

1614- Powhattan marries his youngest daughter, Pocahontas, to John Rolfe. This  secures peace with the tribe during his lifetime. In the Bermuda Hundred, John Rolfe has cultivated Orinoco tobacco, an improvement over the Indian tobacco, which will become the main crop of the colony.

1616- The population of Bermuda Hundred consists of 119 people. 17 are farmers, the rest laborers sent from the Virginia Company of London. Pocahontas and John Rolfe visit London; she dies there.

1619- The first elected House of Burgesses is established in Jamestown, allowing colonists a share in the government, along with the governor, still appointed by the Virginia Company. A ship with 90 women arrives in the colony (local planters had to pay the passage of the lady (120 pounds tobacco) and have her permission to marry.) This helps begin more families in the heavily male population.

1622- After the death of Powhattan, his brother Opechancanough coordinates a series of attacks on the colony. 347 colonists are brutally massacred. Bermuda Hundred has only 41 survivors. In retaliation the surviving colonists raid the Powhattan's corn fields, then stealthily invite leaders, including Opechancanough, to a treaty meeting. There they poison their toasting drinks, and then shoot them. Opechancanough escapes the slaughter. The colonists continue the pattern of yearly raiding of Indian fields just as they mature in order to starve out the Indian population, many of whom retreat further into the wilderness.

1624- King James revokes the charter of the Virginia Company, making Virginia a royal colony.

 After his death in 1625 his son, King Charles I, takes little interest in the colony, leaving the popular government in place.

1635- Capt. Francis Eppes patents 1700 acres at City Point and names part of the property "Hopewell Farm" after the ship which brought him to Virginia.

1642- Sir William Berkeley, educated at Oxford, and a gentleman at the court of King Charles I, is knighted by the King and at his request, named royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia. Berkeley became a successful planter and trader. He cultivates the support of the leading planters, and in turn supports the general assembly.

1642-1648- The Civil War in England- In 1642 the British Parliament under Cromwell rises up against what they consider tyrannical rule by Charles I, resulting in civil war.

1643- In the Colony of Virginia, Bristol Parish is created from Henrico Parish. This covers the Bermuda Hundred area (now Chesterfield County Virginia.

1644- Indians attack the Flowerdew Hundred, killing 300 colonists. (Family stories tell of Sarah, wife of Dr. Woodson, holding off the Indians at her cabin with Col. Thomas Ligon, a cousin of Sir William Berkeley.

1646- Fort Henry is built (at what is today Petersburg Va.) to act as a legal frontier between the  colonists and the Indians. Both had to be authorized to cross into the other's territory from here. (1646-1691) The Occaneechi Trail/Trading Path led southward from Fort Henry toward Occaneechi Town (near present day Clarksville Va.) and southward toward the lands of the Catawba and Cherokee.

1649-  In England, Charles I is accused of treason and beheaded. Governor Berkeley, a staunch Cavalier, refuses to acknowledge the downfall of the monarcy, claiming that Virginia remains loyal to the throne. In retaliation, the British Commonwealth (Cromwell's government) enacts a navigation act against the colony and when the colony resists, places a blockade on the colony. In 1651 English soldiers are sent to Jamestown. Berkeley surrenders and steps down as governor.

1649- In the midst of the Puritan rule of England, a pamphlet is annonymously distributed in London which paints a very rosy picture of life in the Virginia Colonies. It advertises a land with 15,000 colonists living on fine plantations in a land of natural abundance. This pamplet is credited with attracting many English Cavaliers, who find themselves displaced without the royal court and disgruntled with Puritan rule, to migrate to the Virginia Colony.

1658- Cromwell dies, and without his guidance, the Commonwealth crumbles.

1660-Charles II is restored to the throne, and Sir William Berkeley to Governor of Virginia. Charles II uses land in the colonies to reward his supporters, and insists that colonial trade be limited to England. This causes a decrease in the price of tobacco, and a hardship on the colony. Within the colony, Sir William Berkeley instigates laws which officially recognize slavery, and remove any legal rights from slaves. Captured Indians and their offspring are also now relegated to a lifetime of slavery. (In effect until 1752)

Information from:
Illustrations courtesy of wikimedia

Other sources of information on this time period:

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