Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History

Author: Bruce, Philip A.
Title: Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based on Original and Contemporaneous Records.
Citation: New York: MacMillan and Co., 1896
Subdivision: Chapter II
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added June 20, 2002
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History in the Old World casts no real light upon the period when the European landscapes which art has now done so much to adorn, enrich, and diversify, expanded in unbroken forests inhabited by a few tribes of savages, who spent their lives in the endeavor to earn a meagre and precarious subsistence by the pursuits of the chase. There the agricultural labors of men began in ages immemorial, and the face of the earth was substantially altered long before the first written record was made. Our knowledge of the original character of the greater part of Europe is doubtful and limited, because the mind and hand alike of man had been deeply impressed upon it when the faintest tradition transmitted to us arose. Not even Gaul, Germany, and Britain1 were entirely barbarous regions when they were first visited by the representatives of Roman power and civilization. In the age of Tacitus, a century later, Germany was still covered with forests, but a fixed system of tillage had been generally adopted by its people and steadily pursued. We must turn to the plateaus of Central Africa in modern times for a counterpart of the scenes observed by the first adventurers who penetrated

1 Some account of the agricultural productiveness of England previous to the Roman occupation will be found in Traill’s Social England, vol. I, p. 85. For the condition of Germany, see Stubbs’ Constitutional History, and Green’s History of the English People.


the country along the eastern shores of North America, but even this counterpart is not altogether exact. Wherever the African explorer has gone, he has generally found wide divisions of country that teem with population, and which have been changed in a measure by the rude implements of a primitive agriculture. Groups of huts and fields of grain have rapidly succeeded each other in a large part of his journey.1 Strangely interesting as are the streams and forests, and the animals of the lands which he has discovered, still more worthy of attention have been the countless tribes of savage men who dominate every scene and overshadow all other objects in importance. That portion of the Atlantic coast where the first English Colony was established was also inhabited, but the population was scant and dispersed as compared with the countries visited by Stanley, Livingstone, and Speke. The valley of the Congo is a chain of towns and villages; the valley of the Powhatan was but thinly inhabited, the difference being due to the fact that the one people subsist almost entirely by agriculture, and the other subsisted principally by the chase. It is true that the Indians had cleared away the heavy growth of woods here and there for the cultivation of maize and vegetables, but the open spaces, which were contracted in area as compared with the great body of the country, were confined to the banks of the streams; the surface at large remained in the condition that had distinguished it from the time of the subsidence of the ocean. There could not have been a more fitting designation than that which Elizabeth gave to it, for it was essentially a virgin land, a land as a whole untouched and unused.

1 Stanley estimated the size of the population living in the region of the Congo and its tributaries at 43,000,000. 4,483,000 inhabited 12,000 miles of the shores of that stream. Congo and the Founding of its Free [footnote continues on p. 73] State, vol. II, pp. 350, 366, 367. See Chapter XXXVII, for a description of the agricultural wealth of this region. See also In Darkest Africa, vol. I, pp. 305-310.


It requires no extraordinary imagination to appreciate the emotions which stirred the breasts of the voyagers as they entered the Chesapeake, and sailed up the wide stretches of the Powhatan in the spring of 1607. Those were hours that offered the amplest compensation for all the hardships which they had endured. They had just finished a tedious and dangerous passage on the bosom of unknown seas. In the bleakest period of winter, under leaden skies and with sombre landscapes, the country which they had reached would have been delightful to them, but clothed in the verdure of the Virginian May, when the greenness of the foliage and the tints of the wild flowers have their deepest and softest coloring, it was quite natural that visions of an earthly Paradise should have arisen before their eyes, accustomed for so long a time to the heaving plains of the Atlantic. The lofty trees on the banks, representing many familiar and many new varieties, the noble breadth of the river, the balmy air laden with the odors of expanding leaf and blossom, the clearness of the atmosphere which produced such striking vividness of coloring, the bright sunshine, the strange birds, adorned with so many brilliant hues, flying hither and thither over the surface of the stream, or moving about in the branches of the trees that grew near its brink, the schools of fish that were constantly breaking the surface of the river into patches of flashing silver, the painted savages staring at the little fleet as it passed slowly along, all united to create a novel scene touching the sensibilities of the dullest and most prosaic of the adventurers.1 Nor was it the less inspiring when they

1 Percy’s Discourse, pp. lxvi., lxviii.


recalled that they were the first persons of their race to look upon that beautiful expanse of river and forest, which, for a length of time almost incalculable, had existed just as they saw it then.1

The charming impressions as to the physical aspect of the country were confirmed by subsequent observations. Sir Thomas Dale, writing in 1613, only a few years after the first colony was established on Jamestown Island, declared that his admiration of Virginia increased as his opportunities for informing himself about its resources enlarged, and that he believed that it would be equivalent to all the best parts of Europe taken together, if it were only brought under cultivation and divided among industrious people.2 Percy was equally emphatic in asserting that if the promoters of the Virginian enterprise would only extend the adventurers a hearty support, the new country would be as profitable to England in time as the Indies had long been to the King of Spain.3 Whitaker describes it as a place beautified by God with all the ornaments of nature, and enriched with his earthly treasures.4 “Heaven and Earth,”5 exclaimed Captain Smith, “never

1 The explorations of Ralph Lane probably did not extend many miles beyond the modern Hampton Roads. It should be remembered that the first voyagers sailed as far up the Powhatan as the seat of the Appomattox tribe, perhaps to a point even beyond the mouth of the Appomattox River.

2 New Life of Virginia, p. 12, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I. An extract from Dale’s letter will be found in Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 494. In a letter to Sir Thomas Smyth, Dale was still more emphatic. “I protest unto you by the faith of an honest man,” he exclaims, “the more I range the country, the more I admire it. I have seen the best countries of Europe; I protest unto you before the living God, put them altogether, this country will be equivalent unto them, if it be inhabited with good people.” Brown’s Genesis of the United States, pp. 639, 640.

3 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxxi.

4 Good Newes from Virginia, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 583.

5 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 48.


agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” Williams apostrophized it as Virginia the fortunate, the incomparable, the garden of the world! which, although covered with a natural grove, yet was of an aspect so delightful and attractive, that the most melancholy eye could not look upon it “without contentment, nor be contented without admiration.” “For exactness of temperature, goodness of soil, variety of staples, and capability of receiving whatever else is produced in any part of the world, Virginia,” he remarks, “gives the right hand of preëminence to no province under heaven.”1 “Where nature is so amiable in its naked kind,” asks the author of Nova Britannia, “what may we not expect from it in Virginia when it is assisted by human industry, and when both art and nature shall join to give the best content to men and all other creatures?”2 “I have travailed,” said a leading member of the London Company, “by land over eighteen several kingdoms and yet all of them, in my minde, come farr short to Virginia.”3

Such in part was the testimony as to the general beauty and fertility of Virginia in its original condition. Whatever exaggeration may have entered into the descriptions of the first adventurers, or the persons who immediately followed them, is to be attributed either to a desire to gratify the love of the wonderful, which prevailed to an unusual degree in that enterprising age, or to promote the interests of the Colony by encouraging a larger immigration of Englishmen. The extent of this exaggeration has been a subject of critical discussion with a number of modern writers, who have been predisposed to entertain

1 Virginia Richly Valued, pp. 11, 21, 50, 57, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Nova Britannia, p. 12, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I.

3 Neill’s English Colonization of America, p. 155.


the most favorable views as to all things touching Virginia,1 and they have founded their adverse opinion on the geological character of the country that was the scene of the earliest settlement. It is well known that Tidewater Virginia, with the exception of the strip of land extending along the edge of the waters of the ocean and Bay, which is of Quaternary origin, belongs to the Tertiary period, and is, therefore, composed of sands and clays only comparatively recently deposited by the retiring sea. It is a vast body of alluvial sediment, the beds of minerals still uncompressed into rock, and the remains of oysters, mussels, and other marine animals lying here and there in separate masses, or confused with the other materials of the soil. The entire division of country is in the form of a succession of terraces after the line of shore is left behind. The first terrace is composed of light-colored sands and clays of a fine texture underlaid by marl; this is the character of the Eastern Shore and the Norfolk Peninsula, now so justly celebrated for their market gardens, both soil and climate being adapted to the production of vegetables of the most excellent quality, in incalculable abundance. The second terrace is superimposed upon the plane of the first, and is principally composed of beds of coarse gravel and sand, situated not far from the surface, and with horizontal beds of yellow and blue marl, shells and conglomerate fragments. The third terrace consists of a narrow area of country, which has the same constituents as the first and second terraces. The soil of the greater part of Tidewater Virginia to-day has the lightness and thinness that have always been found to be characteristic of the geological formation to which it belongs, and the same lightness and thinness have distinguished it from the hour which first saw it rise

1 Defence of Virginia, by Rev. C. W. Dabney, D.D., p. 334.


above the waves of the ocean. Under the influence of a mild climate and the moisture of the sea, this soil is prolific in many forms of vegetable life, but soon loses its fertility. In the present age, there are to be observed in every part of Tidewater Virginia what are known as first and second alluvial bottoms. The first are composed of a diversity of materials deposited by the rivers; the second, which are considered to be more valuable, consist of several varieties of loam, with a substratum of dark red or yellow clay, this soil being stiffer and drier than that of the first alluvial bottoms, and occasionally sandy. The land rises from these second alluvial bottoms in the character of extensive slopes, which, when exhausted by careless cultivation, are inclined to wash, the washing exposing a sterile earth at the depth of three or four inches. The ridges succeeding the slopes are composed of a stiff and sandy soil, that is always poor in quality.1

It is interesting to compare this condition of the soils of Tidewater Virginia in the nineteenth century with the earliest account of a general nature which we have of its soils in the seventeenth. When Beverley wrote his well-known history of the Colony, the English had been in possession of the land for nearly one hundred years, and much of its early fertility had been destroyed by the indifferent system of tillage prevailing in that age; substantially, however, the face of the country must have remained in the same state as that in which it was originally found. According to Beverley, the soils of Virginia were capable of being divided under three heads from the different characteristics which they presented.2 First, there was the soil in the vicinity of the mouths of the principal streams, which was composed of a moist and

1 Rogers’ Geology of Virginia.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, pp. 96, 97.


fertile mould peculiarly fitted for the culture of rice, hemp, tobacco, and maize, but merging here and there into a soil, mixed with sand and subject to overflow, that was only adapted to the whortleberry, cranberry, and chinquapin. These low grounds were in general embowered by magnificent forests of pine, poplar, cypress, and sweet gum, and were also very productive of such evergreens as the holly, cedar, and liveoak. Then there was the soil found on the banks of the upper sections of the rivers and throughout the adjacent country, this country being a succession of very shallow valleys, with small hills here and there; in these valleys, as well as upon the hills, the soil was quite frequently a rich black mould, but as a rule it was loose, light, and thin, with a substratum in some localities of clay and marl, and in others, of gravel and stone. The elevations separating the valleys were very poor, the surface of the ground being covered with a light sand, or a red and white clay, barely concealed by a thin mould formed by the decaying leaves. These elevations were generally overgrown with chinquapin bushes, stunted oaks and chestnuts, but in summer patches of reedy grass were found on them here and there. Wherever the earth was composed of a deep and fertile mould, this being confined to the banks of the streams, there were seen walnut, ash, beech, and oak trees of a remarkable size. Finally, there was the soil that was observed in the country in which the fountains of the principal rivers were situated. Here it differed somewhat in the degree of fertility. In some localities, there were wide areas of rich and very heavily timbered land; there were in others, meadows and savannahs covered to the extent of many hundred acres with very tall reeds and grasses; in others still, there were bogs and swamps, in which the trees grew to a phenomenal height, and so thickly together that their branches interlocked.


In the narratives that have come down to us from the men who took part in the early exploration of Virginia, there are found here and there details as to the special character of its soil at the time of the original settlement. A writer, who was one of the voyagers of 1607, informs us, that the present Cape Henry, at which point the first landing was made, was a low tract of sand, but as the Powhatan was followed the banks rose in height, and the soil became indescribably fertile. He reported that this soil was so aromatic that it imparted a spicy flavor to the roots of the herbs, plants, and trees springing from it. In appearance it was a dark sandy mould, that was sweet to the taste and very slimy to the touch. When penetrated to the depth of several feet, a substratum of red clay was exposed to view in many localities, while in others a substratum of marl, gravel, or stone. According to the same writer, fuller’s earth and a terra sigillata, similar to the variety found in Turkey, cropped out in abundance.1

Smith, who enjoyed still larger opportunities of examining the physical character of the new country, observed the same peculiarities in the soil.2 The narrow point of land at Cape Henry, which the writer quoted described as a low sandy tract, reminded Smith in its drifted sands of the downs3 of England. Describing the valley of the Powhatan, he declares that its great fertility was obvious

1 Description of the New Discovered Country, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. I, 15, I; Winder Papers, vol. I, p. i, Va. State Library.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 48, 49. “The higher ground,” remarks Alexander Whitaker in his Good Newes from Virginia, “is much like unto the molde of France, clay and sand being proportionately mixed together at the top, but if we digge any depth (as we have done for our bricks), we finde it to bee redde clay full of glistening spangles.” Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 584.

3 The word used is “down,” probably, in the sense of “dune.”


at a glance, on account of the enormous growth of trees covering the surface of the ground. The earth at different places bore a close resemblance to bole armoniac and lemnia, and on every hand there were deposits of terra sigillata, marl, or fuller’s earth. In general, he states that the soil was a sandy black loam, interspersed at intervals with a thick slimy clay, and beds of barren earth and stone. In his voyage of exploration in the autumn of 1608, he was very much impressed by the great area of fertile land seen in the vicinity of the Indian Moysonicke on the Chickahominy, which, upon examination, he found to be composed of a light black sandy mould, while the cliffs abutting upon the river were masses of red and white clay.1 At the point where the main stream of the Nansemond divided itself into several branches, he discovered, in a second voyage, a wide expanse of the most productive low grounds, constituting a pleasant, beautiful, and varied prospect. In the course of his journey as a captive from Pyankatank to the residence of King Powhatan at Werowocomoco, situated on the York, he passed through a country which he describes as a desert in the sense that it was uninhabited, but in soil, extremely fertile, with the most magnificent trees covering its surface, and a crystal stream winding its way through every valley.2 Along the banks of the Youghtomund, one of the confluents of the Indian Pamunkey, he came upon very sandy ground, while the valley of the other confluent was distinguished for a mixture of white sand and clay. Here were to be seen the finest specimens of terra sigillata which the country afforded.3 In his earliest voyage in the unknown waters of the Chesapeake, Smith visited the eastern shores of the bay, and observed, among other things, that the territory of

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 13.

2 Ibid., p. 18.

3 Ibid., p. 21.


Accomac was composed of a fertile clay. The western shores were hilly and barren in many places, but were everywhere interspersed with narrow valleys, the abundant growth of trees in which indicated a productive soil.1

The presence of mineral substances was detected wherever the red clay which underlay the mould, both on the high and the low lands, was brought to light by the spade.2 In the valleys of all the rivers there were outcroppings of mineral deposits. Sir Thomas Gates, in testifying before the Company in London as to the capabilities of Virginia, affirmed that in a circuit of ten miles of Jamestown the ground gave innumerable evidences of the existence of minerals, and that iron ore was universally abundant.3 Iron rocks were found wherever the hills broke abruptly into precipices.4 Shining crystals brought down by the waters were discovered on every side. Smith declared that the earth in some places presented the aspect of having been gilded, so thickly was it overlaid with the glistening tinctures worn from the rocks by the rains and streams.5

The investigations of more modern times have shown that both gold and silver really exist in the general area of country so eagerly explored by the first colonists in the hope of discovering the precious metals.6 In 1849

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 416.

2 Good Newes from Virginia, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 584.

3 A True Declaration of Virginia, p. 22, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. Subsequent examination has shown that most of the indications of iron ore in Eastern Virginia are merely superficial. There are some deposits of what is known as bog ore.

4 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 27, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. See also Hartwell, Chilton and Blair’s Present State of Virginia, 1697, § 1.

5 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 49.

6 Recollection of the failure of the Delaware expedition did not repress all further effort to discover gold and silver in the country west of the [footnote continues on p. 82] Falls. Harvey, in a letter to Secretary Dorchester (British State Papers, Colonial, McDonald Papers, vol. II, p. 32, Va. State Library), dated April 15, 1630, says: “I intend about September, when the heate is over, to travaile about 8 or 10 dayes journey above the falls to informe myself truly whether there be anie such silver mine as is or hath been commonly reported or not.” In the autumn, a levy of one hundred and seventy men was raised, and this number was sent, under the command of Captain Mathews, to make the search which the Governor had ordered. Randolph MSS., vol. III, p. 215, also Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, p. 80. The arrival of winter cut the expedition short, and the hunters of gold and silver returned empty-handed. Twenty years later, Colonel Hill was summoned before the Council of the Colony because, without obtaining the license required, he had collected fifty men to accompany him on an expedition to the lands west of the [footnote continues on p. 82] Falls, with the avowed purpose of finding gold and silver in those parts. Randolph MSS., vol. III, p. 445.


lead and silver ores, intermixed, were brought to light in Nelson County, and so abundant were the deposits of gold in Fluvanna, that in the same year, a mill for crushing the ore was erected in that county by Commodore Stockton.1 It is an interesting fact that even at the present day, a very considerable quantity of fragments of gold, which have been picked up in the streams by the inhabitants, is brought to the stores in this part of the State to be exchanged for articles of various kinds.2 In Buckingham County, lying immediately to the south, on the further side of James River, gold mines have been systematically worked for several generations, and at a sufficient rate of profit to compensate the owners for the expense which has been entailed.

Copper was one of the most common ornaments of the Indians when the first colonists arrived, but it seems to have been procured by trading with the tribes living in the northwest, and probably came from the vicinity of the

1 Va. Hist. Register, vol. V, No. II, p. 111. See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II, p. 322, for reference to a silver mine in Chesterfield County.

2 Richmond (Va.) Times, Oct. 14, 1893.


Great Lakes, where, in more modern times, many of the richest deposits of this metal in the world have been discovered.1 There is no evidence that copper was mined in aboriginal Virginia within the limits of the modern State. In 1608, when the Potomac was first explored, the voyagers were informed of the existence of a mine of antimony a few miles from the banks of the Quiyough,2 a tributary of that beautiful river, and when visited, it was found to have been opened by the Indians and extensively worked, the metal being washed free of all dross in a neighboring stream, and sold to the tribes throughout Virginia for personal ornament.3 A warrior who had recently used this article of adornment is said to have resembled a blackamoor sprinkled with silver, and instances of this effect fell under the observation of the adventurers only a few days after they disembarked at Cape Henry, apparently confirming their hope of obtaining the precious metals in the new country, so ignorant were they of the true nature of the powder which they saw glittering on the bodies of the Indians around them.4 An alum spring was also discovered in the vicinity of the Quiyough.5

1 Copper may also have been obtained from the southwest. Ralph Lane reported that there was a “province up the River Moratoc (the modern Roanoke and its tributary, the Dan) which hath a marvellous and strange minerall . . . Wassador, which is copper . . . which is very soft and pale. Of this metall, the Mangoaks have so great store that they beautifie their houses with great plates of the same.” Hakluyt’s Voyages, vol. III, p. 315.

2 The modern Acquia.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 418. The site of this mine has been rediscovered in recent times.

4 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxv.

5 “I likewise found a kind of water issuing out of the earth which hath a tart taste, much like unto Allum Water; it is good and wholesome, for my men did drinke much of it and never found it otherwise.” Letter [footnote continues on p. 84] of Argoll to Nicholas Hawes, June, 1613, Purchas’ Pilgrimage, vol. IV, pp. 1764-1765. In 1688 the Secretary of State of the Colony, Nicholas Spencer, informed Rev. John Clayton, who was then on a visit to Virginia, that “there was vitriolick or alluminous earth on the banks of Potomack.” Clayton’s Virginia, p. 27, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


The early colonists were very much puzzled by finding in Virginia large blocks resembling English millstones, but which in composition were neither metal nor ordinary masses of rock. These blocks were enormous conglomerates of marine shells, but as they were so far from the shore, their origin seemed to be veiled in obscurity.1 Here and there were observed extensive banks of scallops and oyster-shells, which lay unopened and as thickly grouped as if they had formed at one time a part of the flooring of the sea.2 Many years after the foundation of Jamestown, the remains of unknown animals of huge dimensions were brought to light in digging below the surface of the earth; these were the bones of the mastodon, or some huge sea monster, which had been deposited in the original sediment, and probably caused even greater wonder and speculation among the colonists than the accumulation of shells in the interior of the country.3

1 Clayton was doubtful as to whether these conglomerates were petrified shells or “natural rock shot in those figures.” He was disposed to believe they were the latter, Clayton’s Virginia, p. 18, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. This opinion he repeated: “I do not apprehend why it may not be as feasible to suppose them to have been rocks at first shot into those figures as to conceive the sea to have amassed such a vast number of oyster-shells one upon another and afterwards subsiding should leave them covered with such mountains of earth under which they should petrify.” Ibid., p. 15.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 32. Strachey recognized the true cause of these accumulations of shells. “All the lowland of South and North Virginia,” he remarked, “is conjectured to have been naturally gayned out of the sea.”

3 Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, p. 131. See also Clayton’s Virginia, p. 15, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


Almost the entire face of Virginia at the time of the first exploration was concealed by primæval forests. The earliest adventurers exclaimed in terms of admiration and astonishment at the size and height and variety of the trees. One witness expressed the opinion of all of his companions when he said, that the new country presented to view the finest timber that the world afforded, and that this timber was adapted to the greatest multiplicity of purposes, whether in the building of ships, or the erection and ornamentation of houses.1 Freedom from undergrowth was one of the most notable features of the original woods of Virginia, and the same characteristic is observed to-day in a modified form in every forest in the State, growing upon land which has never been cleared. In the beginning, the absence of undergrowth was partially attributable to the Indian custom of burning the leaves with a view to capturing whole herds of deer by surrounding them with a belt of fire, through which it was difficult for them to escape. It was by similar conflagrations that the prairies of the West were denuded, but so full of moisture was the atmosphere of Virginia on account of its proximity to the ocean, and so finely adapted to certain forms of vegetable life was its soil, that the annual firings of the Indians did not make any impression upon its vast forests beyond the destruction of many of the smaller trees. If the testimony of a warrior, who was captured on the Rappahannock by Smith, can be accepted as sound, these firings were confined to the country extending from the Blue Ridge to the sea; when he was asked as to who inhabited the land beyond the mountains, he replied, the sun, and further than this he

1 Description of the New Discovered Country, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. I, 15, I; Winder Papers, vol. I, p. 2, Va. State Library.


declared himself ignorant because the woods had not been burnt.1 So open were the primæval forests in Tidewater Virginia, that it was said, with obvious exaggeration, that a person was easily discoverable in them at a distance of a mile and a half. The trees stood so far apart, that a coach, it was also asserted, could have been driven through the thickest groups without danger of coming in contact with the trunks and boughs, and yet so deep was the shade, according to the same authority, that it furnished the amplest protection from the rays of the meridian sun in the hottest day of summer.2 At no point was it impossible for horse and foot to pass, however dense the growth of timber.3 So few were the thickets in the woods, indeed, that the early colonists found no obstruction in arranging a perfect order of battle among the trees in repelling the assaults of the savages.4 In the immediate vicinity of the Indian village, the forests had been so depleted that a horse could be ridden at full speed in the interval between the trunks without risk of touching them.5 It is interesting, however, to recall that it was said at a later date in the history of the Colony, that it was difficult to keep greyhounds in Virginia, because in their headlong speed they dashed their brains out against the trees, which, in their eager pursuit, they had failed to see, but these were

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 427.

2 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 3. Smith, writing in 1630, said that “in Virginia, all the woods for many an hundred mile for the most part grow sleight like unto the high grove or tuft of trees upon the high hill by the house of that worthy knight, Sir Humphrey Mildmay, so remarkable in Essex, in the parish of Danbery . . . but much taller and greater; neither grow they thicke together by the halfe, and much good grounde between them without shrubs.” See Works, p. 950.

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 128.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 34.

5 Ibid., p. 67.


probably dogs imported directly from England, where they had been accustomed to course in the open fields.1 It was only in one portion of the new country that much small wood seems to have been found; in his voyage up the Chesapeake, Smith observed in all the little valleys running back from the Bay on the western shore, dense copses, but in passing as a captive through the country situated at a considerable distance from the same line of shore, he was impressed with the fineness of the timber which he saw on every hand.2

The first tree seen in Virginia by the voyagers of 1607 was the pine. The coast at Cape Henry, which was the first to rise from the vast plain of the ocean as they approached the continent from the open sea, was overgrown with the same variety of pine observed there to-day, and the groups of these trees when sighted doubtless presented the same appearance of looming directly from the waves on the furthest bounds of the horizon. Such countless numbers of them grew along the whole coast, that in after times the sailors employed in the carrying trade of Virginia were in the habit of asserting that they could detect the presence of land long before it emerged to view, by the odor which the pines breathed, upon the winds blowing from the shore.3 The voyagers of 1607 have left no record to show that they were greeted as they sailed towards the Capes by this invisible precursor of the beautiful country which they were seeking, although in the noble ode which the poet Drayton had addressed to them on the departure of their ships from London, he had referred to the delicious smell, diffused over the “flowing seas by the clear

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 38, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 18, 416.

3 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 5, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


wind,” that would delight their senses as they drew near to the strand, an allusion probably suggested to him by the glowing descriptions brought back to England by the adventurers who took part in the expeditions to Roanoke many years before, or it may have come to him from the traditions of the earliest explorations in the Spanish Main. Clayton, an English traveller who visited Virginia about eighty years after the foundation of Jamestown, was disposed to attribute the statement of the sailors to that extreme love of the marvellous, which has always distinguished those following a seafaring life, but as he justified his incredulity by his failure to detect the odor himself in the single instance of his own voyage to the Colony, his conclusions cannot be properly set against the general experience of a host of mariners through so many generations.1

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 5, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. On the 2d of July, 1584, Captains Amadas and Barlow, as they approached the coast of the modern North Carolina, but before it had been sighted, detected “a smel so sweet and so strong as if we had bene in the midst of some delicate garden abounding with all kinds of odoriferous flowers, by which they were assured that the land could not be farre distant.” Hakluyt’s Voyages, p. 301. Strachey, writing many years later, has recorded “that before we come in sight of yt (i.e. Virginia) thirty leagues, we smell a sweet savour as is usually from off Cape Vincent, the South Cape of Spayne, if the wynd come from the Shoare.” Historie of Travails into Virginia, p. 43. The distance to which these odors were wafted off shore is possibly explained in the following from the voyages of Captain Devries (Voyages from Holland to America, p. 31). Writing in 1630, he says “The 2nd December, threw the lead in 14 fathoms sandy bottom and smelt the land (the Delaware or New Jersey shore), which gave a sweet perfume as the wind came from the northwest, which blew off land and caused these sweet odours. This comes from the Indians setting fires at this time of year to the woods and thickets, in order to hunt, and the land is full of sweet smelling herbs as sassafras, which has a sweet smell. When the wind blows out of the north west, and the smoke too is driven to sea, it happens that the land is smelt before it is seen.”


In the boundaries of the present State of North Carolina there were found, upon the first discovery, enormous forests of pine trees extending in some parts over a circuit of sixty miles,1 but in the territory coincident with that of modern Virginia, these trees were only very numerous on the coast and along the shores of the Bay, and at the mouths of the larger streams. The observations of subsequent times have shown that the pine is principally a tree of secondary growth in this division of the State. That as a rule it was dispersed at the period of the earliest settlement is disclosed by the fact, that in a communication from the authorities in Virginia to the Company in London, written in 1622, the statement is made that pitch and tar could never become staple commodities of the Colony because the pines were so scattered that it would be unprofitable to bring them together.2 The finest specimens of this tree discovered by the earliest settlers were found on the general line of shore lying on the southern side of the modern Hampton Roads.3 An accurate notion

1 Virginia Richly Valued, p. 25, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. The great resources of the present State of North Carolina in pitch and tar were anticipated as early as 1621 (O. S.) by George Sandys, the treasurer of Virginia. See his letter of March 3, printed in Neill’s English Colonization of America, p. 154.

2 Letter of the Governor and Council in Virginia to the Company, January, 1621 (O. S.), Neill’s Virginia Company of London, p. 283.

3 “So setting Sayle (that is, from Point Comfort) for the Southern Shore, we sayled up a narrow river up the country of Chesapeack. . . . By that we had sayled six or seaven myles, we saw . . . the shores over growne with the greatest pyne and firre trees wee ever saw in the Country.” Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 431. Some conception of the striking character of the pine forests that Smith saw on the shores of the modern Elizabeth River may be obtained from the noble grove of these trees which now flourishes in the rear of the National Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, forming the most interesting part of the reservation. It is probable that the ground covered by this grove has never been under [footnote continues on p. 89] cultivation, and that these lofty and stately pines are the scions of those upon which the Englishman gazed in passing in 1608.


is obtained as to the length and girth of these specimens, when it is recalled that the ship Starr, which was sent to Virginia in 1612 to transport masts to England, and which was specially arranged for that purpose in the way of its decks and scupper holes, was unable to store even forty of the four-score trunks which it was designed to carry, until they had been cut short with an axe.1

The walnut was as common in aboriginal Virginia as the elm in England; it was stated that at least one-fourth of its forests belonged to this species of tree.2 Three varieties were present, of which the black walnut was afterwards found to be the most valuable, because particularly adapted to the manufacture of furniture. It had a grain of remarkable delicacy that took a polish of extreme fineness, and in color it resembled ebony, and was not subject to the attacks of worms.3 Still more numerous were the oaks, which constituted the noblest form of vegetable life in the new country. So lofty and erect were many of these trees and so great their diameter, that their trunks afforded plank twenty yards in length, and two and a half feet square.4 There were several varieties, the red, black, white, chestnut, and Spanish, and also the liveoak, which dropped its acorns through the greater part of the year. There was one characteristic of this species of tree, often observed since, that made it at times an object of curious interest to the early colonists; in cutting down

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travails into Virginia, p. 130.

2 Virginia Richly Valued, p. 15, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cvi. At this time the hickory was also known as the walnut, which accounts for the abundance, according to the early writers, of walnut trees in aboriginal Virginia. It also explains the number of the varieties.

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 129.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 56.


an oak in 1607 on the ground selected as the site for the Jamestown fort, two barricoes of red liquor gushed from its heart; when tasted it was found to resemble vinegar, although smacking strongly of the wood; and a similar phenomenon was noticed a few days later in the further extension of the clearing.1 Cypresses were found three fathoms in girth about the roots and rising in a perfectly straight line, and without a branch to the height of sixty or eighty feet.2 In different parts of Virginia there were beautiful groves of mulberry. So numerous were they in Arrahattock, a country situated on the north side of the Powhatan and to the east of the Falls, that the name of Mulberry Shade was given to one spot in that region.3 The ash was also an ordinary tree in Virginia, and it was soon found to be unusually well adapted to the manufacture of soap ashes; if burnt very carefully, the ashes of the large specimens formed in hard lumps of the finest quality, while the ashes of the small resolved themselves into a foul black powder.4 The ash must have been growing in considerable numbers in the immediate vicinity of Jamestown, since a part of the time of the first colonists was spent in converting it into soap ashes for shipment to England, where this commodity commanded a profitable return. It was said of the original cedars of Virginia that they could stand a comparison with those of

1 A Relatyon of the Discovery of Our River, p. liv.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 56.

3 A Relatyon of the Discovery of Our River, p. xlviii. Hamor, in his True Discourse, p. 22, states that there was “greet store of mulberries about the Bermuda Cittie and Hundirds,” while at Kecoughtan, according to Strachey (see Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 60), there “were many prettie copsies or boskes as it weere” of the same trees. The Virginian mulberry was of the white variety, which was especially adapted to the nourishment of the silk-worm. See A True Declaration of Virginia, p. 22, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 56.


Lebanon, the most famous in the world, without disadvantage.1 Like the pine, the cedar found its most congenial soil in the sandy tracts of the coast. In modern times, it is conspicuous in every part of the lower Tidewater division of the State, overshadowing the public roads, and creating patches of green in the woods in the winter; originally, it was probably not so abundant, but sufficiently so to enter into the impression that was left upon the eye by every forest scene.

The sassafras was as frequently observed in Virginia three hundred years ago as it is to-day; so plentiful was it on Jamestown Island and in the country adjacent, that the attention of the earliest colonists was directed to securing it, to the neglect of their cornfields.2 At a later period, it was associated with tobacco as one of the two commodities from Virginia offered in large quantities for sale in London; this would not have been the case unless it had been abundant, for, unlike the tobacco plant, it was not renewed from year to year. A tree once destroyed was destroyed forever. At the very time that shipments of the roots were largest, the colonists were pent up by the Indians in a comparatively narrow space. The constant apprehension of an attack prevented them from wandering to great distances in search of sassafras, and the ease with which it was procured under circumstances so adverse, is a very strong indication that it grew quite thickly in the whole valley of the Powhatan, since that valley, in the neighborhood of Jamestown, differed but little from the remaining portion of it.3

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 129.

2 Council in Virginia to Council in England, June 22, 1607, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 107.

3 The meaning of the word “Wyanoke,” the name given by the Indians to an area of country on the north side of the Powhatan, was “land of sassafras,” from which it is to be inferred that this tree grew in great [footnote continues on p. 93] abundance there. The sassafras in the present age is generally of secondary growth in the valley of the James. It is quite probable that the tree, when Virginia was first explored, was found in the thickest array in the old Indian fields.


The elm was found in Virginia when the country was first explored, but was probably dispersed, as the references to it are few. A species of laurel tree delighted in the gravelly mould of the damp woodland dells, and blossomed several months without intermission, perfuming the surrounding forest with its delicate odor. The locust, bearing a flower resembling the jesamine, adorned every valley, and in close proximity to it the tulip poplar grew, showing the same proclivity then as now for the moistest and most fertile bottoms in the woods.1 There was a species of balsam from which there issued a pure and odoriferous gum.2 The sugar maple was not discovered in Virginia until the settlements had been greatly extended; a company of rangers scouring, in the latter part of the century, the region lying to the west of the Potomac River, whose Indian inhabitants had been threatening serious depredations, accidentally observed a tree from which was distilling a juice that reminded them of molasses, both in sweetness and thickness. This seems to have been the first report of this valuable natural product; but little use was made of it at the time.3

Chestnut trees were as numerous in the vicinity of the Falls of the Powhatan as the most ordinary species of oak, and in size and flavor the nuts were pronounced to be equal to the nuts of the same trees in Spain, France, Germany, and Italy, by those among the early colonists who had visited these countries.4 The chinquapin, which still

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 111.

2 Works of Capt John Smith, p. 58.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 108.

4 Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, p. 23. Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 56.


retains its original Indian name, was found in great numbers in the thin soil on the barren ridges, in which it grew to the height of an ordinary apple tree. The fruit of this bush represented a variety of nut unknown to the early English explorers. There was an extraordinary abundance of hazel nuts in the swamps and bogs; and on the highlands, especially in the direction of the heads of rivers, the small hazel trees covered acres of ground in single patches.1

The only variety of apple tree indigenous to Virginia was the crab; large numbers of this tree were found, displaying the same affluence of blossom as the English crab apple, but bearing a fruit that was much less sour.2 Three varieties of cherry were represented among the fruits of aboriginal Virginia, two of which grew upon a tree as great in size as the English white oak. The skins of both were black. The third was known among the later colonists as the Indian cherry, and was the product of a tree hardly exceeded by the English peach tree in girth and height, and showing an inclination for the soil of the valleys of the rivers, and of the narrow bottoms of the smaller streams. This variety was considered to be of extraordinary excellence in flavor; when ripe it was colored a dark purple, and there was only a single cherry to the stalk.3 There were two varieties of plums, resembling, both in size and taste, the English damson. Cultivating and pruning were subsequently to improve both varieties very materially. A fruit tree that aroused unusual interest in the first adventurers was the persimmon,

1 These last details are taken from Beverley’s History, written nearly a century after the first exploration of Virginia, but giving as faithful an account of certain products of the soil which were characteristic of its primæval condition as if it had been composed an hundred years earlier. See pp. 104, 105.

2 Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, p. 23.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 102.


a name received from the Indians which it has never lost; its fruit clung to the branches as thickly as ropes of onions, and so great was the weight of the clusters that the limbs frequently broke down under the burden.1 The persimmon reminded the original settlers of Virginia of the English medley; there are several references to its extreme sourness in its unripe condition, a fact probably discovered very early in the first summer after the foundation of Jamestown, for the persimmon presents a more inviting aspect at that season than when thoroughly ripened by the frosts of autumn. Smith described it as a fruit which puckered up the mouth if eaten unripe,2 but of an excellent flavor when fully matured. In later colonial times, it was used for brewing beer, and an attempt has been recently made to convert it into a commodity similar to the preserved date.

The raspberry was represented in primæval Virginia only by the black variety, that grows to-day in the lowland brakes in as much profusion as it did three hundred years ago; so palatable was its wild flavor, that many of the early colonists preferred it to the ordinary English red raspberry, but its superiority has not been generally admitted in later times.3 There were three varieties of the whortleberry, growing either upon sprigs that only rose a few inches above the ground, or upon bushes springing up to a height of eight or ten feet, according to the character of the soil. The whortleberry found its greatest nourishment in valleys and sunken lands. The cranberry flourished to the most advantage in the numerous bogs

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 103.

2 “If it be not ripe, it will drawe a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.” Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 57.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 104. Percy mentions that the raspberry was one of the berries which he observed in Virginia. See Discourse, p. lxix; see also Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 58.


discovered in the neighborhood of the larger streams. Smith remarks upon the presence of the gooseberry in Virginia, and this was, doubtless, the wild variety so common in the forests of the State to-day,1 but there is no reference in any of the early records to the blackberry or the dewberry, although the latter must have been frequently seen in the deserted Indian fields at the time of the first settlement, and the blackberry was, probably, equally as common. Nor is there any specific reference to the pawpaw apple, a fruit as rich in flavor as the most cloying fruits of the tropics, growing upon small trees that love the deep shade and the fertile mould of the darkest forest bottoms.2

In whatever direction the first adventurers made their explorations, they observed a remarkable abundance of wild grapes; the vines, at the point where they issued from the ground, were frequently as large as the thigh of a man,3 and they sprang up to the top of the largest trees, to which they clung for support. It was noticed at an early period that only the vines in the vicinity of the Indian habitations and along the edges of the creeks, rivers, and swamps bore any great quantity of fruit, and this was justly attributed to the fact that it was only in these open spaces that the rays of the sun could reach them. There were four varieties of grapes.4 First there

1 Beverley expresses the opinion that Smith, in referring to the Indian Rawcomene (see Works, p. 57) as a gooseberry, had the cranberry really in mind (Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 104). There is some reason to doubt the correctness of this surmise, as the wild gooseberry, which is found in great abundance in Virginia to-day, differs but little in appearance, although considerably in taste, from the domestic variety.

2 It seems, however, to have been found in the country north of the present limits of Virginia. See Evelyn’s New Albion, p. 27, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II.

3 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxvi.

4 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 106.


was the variety found most commonly in the valleys of the streams and in the swamps of the uplands; the fruit grew in small bunches and differed in color, being white, black, or purple, and was in size as large as the Dutch gooseberry. This was probably the modern sloe, for in addition to these characteristics, the vine clung in great masses to the ground or overran small bushes for a prop. The fox grape, a name derived from its musky odor, represented the second variety, and, like the first, it showed a proclivity for swamps and banks of streams. It was as large as the English bullace. The third and fourth varieties were small in size, diverse, in color, and grew on vines of enormous length and girth; they began to ripen in the latter part of August, but clung to the stem long after the first snows had fallen.

So numerous were the strawberries in season that one observer, who was undoubtedly speaking with exaggeration, declared that in wandering through the forests it was hardly possible to direct the foot without dyeing it in the blood of this fruit.1 Another relates that wherever the English on their first arrival penetrated the woods, they came upon plats of ground overgrown with these berries, which were four times larger and much more exquisitely flavored than those they had been accustomed to in England.2 Among the first plants to spring up in the clearings made around the fort at Jamestown by the first colonists, was the strawberry,3 and the fruit increased in abundance as the area of abandoned fields grew wider.4

1 Virginia Richly Valued, p. 11, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Percy’s Discourse, pp. lxiii, lxvii. Ralph Hamor declares that there were “great fields and woods abounding with strawberries, much fairer and more sweete than ours.” True Discourse, p. 22.

3 Letter of Francis Perkins, 1608, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 176.

4 “Strawberries are so plentiful that very few persons take care to [footnote continues on p. 98] transplant them, but can find enough to fill their baskets, when they have a mind, in the deserted old fields.” Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 104.


At the mouths of the rivers and along the shores of the Bay and the sea and in all the inland bogs and swamps, the myrtle bush was found in great abundance, and from it at a later period was manufactured a wax of a greenish tint, which upon refinement became entirely transparent. This wax did not lose its hardness in the hottest weather; it was converted into candles for the use of the poor and rich alike among the colonists, and so pleasant was the odor of the snuff, that the light of these candles was frequently extinguished for no other purpose than to obtain the delicious incense.1 In the fertile low grounds wild hops were found, and also many acres of onions in a single patch, the onions attaining to the size of the end of the average thumb.2 In addition, there were muskmelons, large enough to fill the space of several quarts, macocks or squashes, gourds, maracocks or mayapples, beans and pumpkins, the latter propagating in such abundance that a hundred were frequently observed to spring from one seed.3 The potato and the watermelon, to which the soil of the State has been shown to be so well adapted, the Hanover watermelon, produced in a county lying only a score of miles from Jamestown, being now one of the most famous varieties of this fruit, were not indigenous to Virginia,4 but were introduced with the peach and other fruits and

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 108.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 59.

3 Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, pp. 21, 22.

4 Captain John Davis of the Pennsylvania Line, who passed through Hanover County during the Yorktown Campaign, entered in his diary the following note, which is not the less appreciative because ungrammatical “The Country abounds in the Best Water Millons I ever see.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. I, p. 8.


vegetables from foreign countries, the potato from the West Indies and the watermelon from Europe.

Far more notable plants than those named were tobacco and maize, which were destined to exercise such a controlling influence upon the fortunes of the Colony and Commonwealth. In addition to maize, there was the grain known in the Indian tongue as mattoum; it bore a resemblance to rye and was probably the species of wild oats still so common in all the rivers of Tidewater Virginia.1 The water flag was remarkable for its long and fine skin, which could be stripped from it when the plant had been boiled, and was found to be excellent material for the manufacture of cordage and linen.2 The sumac leaf and the puccoon and snake roots were but a few of the natural productions of the new country that were useful for dyeing and medicinal purposes. A rarer and more interesting plant was the famous Jamestown weed, resembling, it was thought, the thorny apple of Peru and possessing some remarkable qualities. It is related that a number of the English soldiers sent over to put down the insurrection of 1676 partook of it in the form of a salad, and that it converted them into idiots, who amused themselves with blowing feathers into the air, or sat and made mouths at each other, remaining in this condition for nearly a fortnight, and when they finally recovered their reason they were unaware of the insane tricks which they had been playing.3 The woods were found to contain numerous varieties of parsley and sorrel, as harmless when eaten as the James

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 58.

2 Virginia Richly Valued, p. 25, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 110. This story, which is given as told by Beverley, sounds very improbable. Either tradition was at fault or the soldiers were dissembling.


town weed was dangerous.1 Extensive fields of wild flax were also discovered.2 Very naturally, there was only a small area of soil in grass in aboriginal Virginia as compared with the vast surface overgrown with forests. Smith asserted that the dropping of leaves turned the grass into weeds, and its scarcity was undoubtedly attributable to the narrowness of the open ground. In the marshes there were several varieties capable of being converted into hay, and at a subsequent period they furnished food for the cattle; these grasses appear to have been especially abundant on the Eastern Shore at the time Smith made his first voyage on the waters of the Chesapeake.3 Weeds sprang up very thickly along the margins of the streams, and on several occasions in the history of the first years of the Colony the Indians are stated to have used this cover as a place of ambush.

There are few references in the early narratives to the flowers discovered in Virginia. The forest, we are informed in general terms, was adorned with their colors, representing many shades. Percy declares that the ground in the vicinity of Jamestown overflowed to such a degree with flowers that it presented the aspect of an English garden in spring,4 and this was characteristic of the country wherever the adventurers extended their explorations. Indeed, there are few scenes possessing a rarer beauty than the Virginian forest at the season of the year witnessing the arrival of the English voyagers in the Powhatan, and it is easy to conceive the admiration which the blossoming trees and shrubs excited in the susceptible

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 58.

2 The most notable were observed at Kecoughtan.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 414.

4 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxvii.


minds of the more cultivated and refined members of the band. The dogwood was then in bloom and in itself was sufficient to decorate the long aisles of the primæval woods; there were a thousand other wild flowers to mingle their varied hues with the deep verdure of the trees, but of these flowers, the violet and the rose were among the few mentioned by name in the early narratives, although there must have been many species familiar to English eyes.1 The briar, honeysuckle, and alder were doubtless as numerous then as they are now, as well as other varieties equally well known in the present age.

One of the most striking features of the primæval forests of Virginia was the number of brooks flowing through them. Immediately upon the first landing at Cape Henry this characteristic was observed, the charm of the clear and copious streams in that vicinity, which found their way through the woods to the sea, being described as ravishing, the delight they excited in the adventurers being all the keener because a long voyage had just been brought to a close.2 In that age the drinking water of ships was a very frequent cause of pestilence among the passengers, owing to the inferior contrivances for keeping it wholesome. It is an interesting fact to recall that the spot where the excellence of Virginian water was first recognized by English-speaking people was near to the famous Drummond Lake in the Dismal Swamp, which for so long a period enjoyed a special reputation among mariners on account of the length of

1 The violet suggested to the minds of the practical colonists only thoughts of “brothes and sallets.” Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 58. Glover gives the names of a number of plants which he observed in Virginia in the course of his visit to the Colony towards the end of the seventeenth century. See Philo. Trans. Royl. Soc., 1676-1678, vols. XI-XII, p. 629. See also Clayton’s Flora Virginianica.

2 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxi.


time the purity of its water was preserved when carried to sea in casks. This was thought to be due to the influence of the slight tincture of juniper distinguishing it, but no part of the world furnishes a finer natural fluid for drinking purposes than the whole of this general division of country. In the seventeenth century, all vessels leaving the Powhatan on their outward voyage took in their supply of water at Newport News, where a very bold spring was situated.1

Wherever Virginia was explored by the early colonists, the same beautiful and copious streams were observed. It was said that there was a crystal brook in every valley and that the number of watercourses was so great that one was reminded of the veins in the human body.2 Spelman, who, as a captive among the Indians, spent a great many years of his life wandering throughout the whole area of country lying between the Powhatan and the Potomac, described it as being interspersed with a vast number of brooks, creeks, small and large rivers.3 The head of water in the Virginian springs was considered to have been more eager than in the English, and in some places a stream burst from the ground with so much force and in such volume that in after times it was able, without any addition, to turn the wheels of a grist mill erected only a short distance from the source.4 The

1 “The 10th of March (1633) we sailed up the river (James). When we came to Newport Snüw (News), we landed and took in Water. A fine spring lies inside the shore of the river convenient for taking water from. All the ships come here to take in water on their way Home.” Devries’ Voyages from Holland to America, p. 49. Again, “The 20th, we proceeded to Kicketan and anchored at evening before the point of Newport Snüw (News), where we took in Water,” p. 53.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 18, 49; Nova Britannia, p. 11, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I.

3 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cvi.

4 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 94. Clayton states, “There’s a [footnote continues on p. 103] spring in the Isle of Wight or Nanzamond County vents the greatest Source of water I ever saw except Holy Well in Wales.” Clayton’s Virginia, p. 12, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. Clayton also informs us that when he visited the Colony (about 1686) there was at Lady Berkeley’s (Green Spring) “a spring so very cold that ’twas dangerous drinking thereof in Summer time, it having proved of fatal Consequence to several,” p. 13.


water of these natural fountains was thought to require a larger amount of malt in the production of beer than the water of English springs, and in its use, soap did not lather so quickly or so freely.1 The branches from the springs ran down to the creeks, which were mere arms of the greater streams. So numerous were the creeks, and so enormous the volume of water which they delivered, that the rivers receiving them continued fresh fifty, sixty, and sometimes an hundred miles below the flux and reflux of the tide, and not infrequently within thirty and forty miles of the Bay itself, although so wide as they approached the Chesapeake that the great inundations in the upper streams made no apparent impression in increasing the mass of their waters.2

There are few countries in the world possessing in so limited a space such magnificent rivers as the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James. Indeed, in their lower sections they are estuaries rather than rivers. At some points the York and James are only five miles apart, while the distance between the Rappahannock and Potomac in several places does not exceed eight miles. Observing the vast floods of these broad streams, many persons among the early colonists were disposed to think that the day would arrive when Virginia would be the

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 12, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. “Few of the waters in Virginia,” Clayton records, “but participate of a petrifying quality. . . . I have found many sticks with crusty congelations round them in the Ruins of Springs,” p. 13.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 94.


Netherlands of America.1 This wealth of navigable rivers was to exercise an extraordinary influence upon the future of the country. At every half mile of their course, there were safe roads for great fleets, allowing masters of ships to sail wherever it was most agreeable to the convenience of the planters, who were thus furnished at their very doors with highways leading directly to England and other foreign countries. Not only were the main streams, the York, Powhatan, Potomac, and Rappahannock, full of safe and spacious harbors, but the streams of secondary importance, the Nansemond, Chickahominy, Pocoson, Pamunkey, Mattapony, Corotoman, Wicocomico, and Pyanketank were deep enough in their lower stretches to afford the amplest room for very large merchantmen.2 It was soon discovered that most of the rivers were distinguished at their mouths for the narrowness of their channels. When the first colonists attempted, in the spring of 1607, to make their way into the present Hampton Roads, the soundings disclosed such shallow water, the depth not exceeding a fathom and a half,3 that they despaired of a further advance until a small party embarking in a boat and rowing over to the northern side, found immediately by the shore an entrance measuring as much as six, eight, ten, and twelve fathoms in depth. So relieved were the whole company by this discovery that the adjacent land was given the name of Point Comfort, which it has borne to this day.4 The

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 11, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 93.

3 Report of the Voyage to Virginia in behalf of Don Diego de Molina, 1611, Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 519.

4 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxiii. The statement as to depth is confirmed in the Report of Molina, Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 519. The original depth of the harbor, advancing up the Roads, is said by Molina to have been from eight to five fathoms. He [footnote continues on p. 105] declared that it would furnish “a very good anchoring place for ships under shelter from all winds,” p. 519.


channel here was narrow enough to be defended by so small and short-ranged a piece of ordnance as the sacre. The strategic advantages of the general locality were early recognized. Fort Algernon has been replaced in modern times by Fortress Monroe, which is likely to be maintained indefinitely unless there is a greater revolution in the methods of marine warfare than has been foreshadowed by inventions in the past.1 The channel at the mouth of the Nansemond was only three fathoms in depth, and extensive shoals offered serious obstruction to entrance into the Rappahannock.2 The York, a magnificent body of water, which, if situated in the Old World, would have long ago been celebrated in song and romance, was, unlike the Powhatan and Rappahannock, the two greatest of its fellows with the exception of the Potomac, distinguished for a deep channel where it emptied into the Bay, but this was largely due to the contraction of its bed near its mouth;3 it offered a marked difference in this respect from the other great rivers of Virginia, which grew steadily broader as they approached the Chesapeake.

In the vicinity of Jamestown Island, there was a tide and half tide, that is to say, there was a flow for two hours along the line of shore before the ebb was observed in the centre of the stream.4 The flux and reflux under the influence of the sea extended to the foot of the Falls of the Powhatan, the rise in the water between the Falls

1 Fort Algernon, when Molina, the Spanish spy, saw it in 1611, consisted of stockades and posts without stone or brick, and contained seven pieces of artillery, all of iron. It was manned by forty persons capable of carrying arms. See Report, Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 519.

2 Works of Capt John Smith, pp. 32, 113.

3 At the modern Gloucester Point.

4 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 11, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


and the mouth being calculated to be four feet, which permitted vessels of as much as three hundred tons in burden to make their way, in spite of the accumulation of logs on the floor of the stream, to a point about five miles below the place where all further advance was suddenly interrupted.1 In this stretch of five miles before the Falls were reached, the river was navigable for barges of a draught not exceeding six feet. On the north side of the river below the Falls, soundings disclosed a depth here and there of five and six fathoms.2 Throughout the whole of the upper course of the Powhatan, large and small islands were discovered, and so numerous were they at the Falls that the forest seemed to extend in an unbroken line of verdure across the breadth of the river. Islet after islet arose among the tumbling waters, suggesting to the English voyagers their admirable suitability as sites for water-mills,3 a use, however, to which they have never been put, although a great city has arisen on the eastern shore of the main stream. The fact that most of these islets have been subject to overflow in the sudden inundations of the river has probably acted as a deterring influence; canals have also brought the propulsive force of the Falls to mills situated on the mainland many feet above the danger of floods in the stream below. The water of the Powhatan, in spite of the regular flow of the tide, was entirely devoid of brackishness in the vicinity of the

1 Good Newes from Virginia, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 586. Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, p. xliv. Glover, writing near the end of the century, remarked upon the fact that when the wind was blowing strongly from the northwest, the tides were hardly discernible. Under ordinary circumstances, they did not rise to the same height as in England, which he attributed to their diffusion in so many spacious rivers. Philo. Trans. Royl. Soc., 1676-1678, vols. XI-XII, p.624.

2 Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, pp. xlii, xlv.

3 Ibid., p. xliv.


Falls; at Jamestown, the presence of salt at high tide was very observable, but it was not so marked as to make the water unfit for drinking purposes. The same graduation was to be detected in all of the larger rivers until they reached the Bay, when they became a portion of the great body of sea water.

If the Powhatan, York, Rappahannock, and Potomac were noble streams, both in breadth and volume — and the grandeur of their lower stretches must have been more impressive when the primæval forests grew along their shores than they are to-day, although history has imparted to them a new charm and a new interest — the Chesapeake into which they flowed possessed characteristics equally as beautiful and striking when the sail of the first English explorer gleamed upon its unknown bosom. When John Smith made his first memorable voyage in the Chesapeake, he found it interspersed here and there with islands, some of which were wooded and well watered, while others were barren and deserted by every form of animal life except marine birds.1 At the mouth of the Bay there were eight fathoms of water; elsewhere the soundings marked a depth ranging from five to fifteen fathoms, and a channel of seven or eight fathoms could be discovered without difficulty. The bottom was generally level and uniform, and was devoid, even at distant points, of ledges of rocks or bars of sand.2 To the mariner there was but one drawback, and this was not of a very serious character;

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 414, 415.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 44. In the Report of the Voyage to Virginia, 1611, Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 519, it is stated that at the time of the first settlement of the Colony the depth of the entrance to the Bay from the ocean was from twelve to fourteen fathoms. According to Glover (1676), the Chesapeake had, throughout its extent, an average depth of about nine fathoms. Philo. Trans. Royl. Soc., 1676-1678, vols. XI-XII, p. 623.


it was vexed by sudden gusts of wind and heavy storms of lightning, thunder, and rain,1 but so easy and smooth was the navigation as a rule that it was asserted in after times that many masters of ships ventured to the head of the Bay upon the slender knowledge of an ordinary seaman, and that experience acquired in a single voyage was ample to justify a sea-captain in exploring every part of it without a pilot.2

The shores of the Bay had a counterpart in safety in the whole of the coast line of Virginia. It was bold but uniform, and so free from all obstructions throughout the year that a ship could approach it by night as well as by day without taking soundings. Knowledge of the latitude alone was required on the part of the mariner to shape his course. When the weather was clear, the largest vessel could sail directly in and obtain secure anchorage at the first point of land which was reached, or if a hurricane arose, a refuge could be found in the open sea or in the protected waters within the Capes.3 In the present age when violent storms are blowing on the ocean without, the surface of Hampton Roads is frequently dotted with the white canvas of several hundred ships of various sorts which have entered to escape the dangers of the outward voyage or to await the return of more favorable winds; and the same use was made of this magnificent

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 414.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 93.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 91. Nova Britannia, p. 11, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I. The Report of the Voyage to Virginia, 1611 (Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 518), declares, “that the depth of water at a distance of forty leagues from the coast was 60 fathoms; at thirty leagues, 50 fathoms; at twenty leagues, 36 fathoms; at ten leagues, 18 fathoms; and at five leagues, 15 fathoms; and within the five leagues from the land, the least water that there is, 5 fathoms to 4.”


harbor in the early history of the American colonies. The perilous character of the shoals of Hatteras only served to accentuate the natural advantages of the Virginian coast, a difference which the original settlers of the new country had practical occasion to recognize.

Both along the seaboard and on the shores of the Bay and in the lower valleys of the principal rivers, there was a vast extent of land which was converted into a permanent fen by its low situation; many of the marshes did not exceed twenty acres in area, but others covered the surface of many thousand, and in some instances could only be measured by a standard of miles. An attempt was made, by those who wished to darken the prospects of the infant colony, to disparage it by asserting that Virginia was largely composed of marshland. Butler declared that the country was interspersed with innumerable muddy lakes, bogs, swamps, and creeks,1 but this was indignantly denied, and by no one with more warmth than Smith, who stated that he knew of but few marshes in the tract of James River, and these on the whole were more profitable than hurtful; and he went so far as to say that there was far more ground of this character between Eriff and Chelsea in England than between Kecoughtan and the Falls of the Powhatan, a distance of one hundred and fifty-nine miles by the course of the river.2 Relatively speaking, this assertion of Smith was doubtless correct. The area in marsh was certainly small

1 “Unmasking of our Colony in Virginia as it was in the Winter of 1622,” by Nathaniel Butler, late Governor of Bermuda. This paper is printed in the Abstracts of Proceedings of Virginia Company of London, vol. II, p. 171.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 610. See also the reply to Governor Butler’s Unmasking of Virginia, Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, p. 175. Smith placed the distance at 180 miles.


in comparison with the extent of dry and solid land, but apart from this, the marshes must have constituted a notable feature of all the country below the furthest line reached by the tide in the rivers. In the country to the west of this line, for instance in the country west of the Falls of the Powhatan, no trace of boggy land was to be discovered; that part was elevated and heavily wooded, with rocky hills here and there and with little champaign. In the lower valley of the Powhatan, marshes undoubtedly existed to a considerable extent. In his account of the landing at Cape Henry, Percy refers to those which he saw there, and which seemed to him to be admirably adapted to become pastures for cattle, an evidence that the ground was firm and only subject to periodical inundations of the sea. Properly speaking, it was meadow land not submerged sufficiently long to be turned into a weedy ooze, affording a footing neither to man nor beast;1 and this was not improbably the character of the great majority of these original marshes. It may have been this fact which led Smith and others to deprecate the charge that a large proportion of Virginia was an unhealthy swamp. Among the many marshes described by Smith himself in his exploration of the Powhatan and Chickahominy, was the one at Manosquosick that spread over an area five miles in circuit. On the York, or, as it was called by the Indians, the Pamunkey, they were equally numerous. From the residence of Opechancanough above the present West Point, which occupied a commanding site, a very expansive view was to be obtained of the marshy plains adjacent to the river, produced by its tortuous channel. The ooze of the Pamunkey must have extended for some distance into the stream even where there was no indication of vegetable growth,

1 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxix.


for we are told that when Smith visited the Emperor at Werowocomoco in 1608, in attempting to embark, his boat stuck in the mud a stone’s throw from the land and he was compelled to wait for the turn of the tide.1 It was a curious fact, which excited comment in after times, that in spite of the great extent of marshland in Virginia, the ignis fatuus was rarely observed.2

As might have been expected of a country so interspersed with fresh water streams and with arms of the sea, aboriginal Virginia was found to teem with innumerable varieties of fish; it is reported that their abundance was so vast when the first colonists arrived, that the Indians were in the habit of killing them in the brooks and creeks with ordinary sticks. The colonists themselves asserted that in the spring when the migration from the ocean took place, the small streams were so full of fish as to render it hardly possible to ride a horse through the waters without treading on them, and the freshes of the river fairly stank in the breeding season with those that had died from exhaustion or starvation before they were able to return to the sea.3 The probability of this statement seems to be confirmed by the account given in the present century by members of the expeditions sent to explore the waters of the Columbia and its branches, the same phenomenon of the air tainted in the spring by the dead fish that had crowded into these streams to breed, being observed there. In their voyage of discovery in the Chesapeake, Smith and his companions found at different points schools of fish agitating the surface of the water, and so thickly did they swarm that the Englishmen were prompted to catch them simply by scooping them up in

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 12, 28, 29.

2 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 8, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

3 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 117.


frying pans.1 These were probably alewives, which were described by subsequent writers as being infinite in number.2 Smith also observed in the same voyage many fish swimming about among the reeds growing in the water at the mouth of the Rappahannock.3 The sheepshead, always so much esteemed for its delicacy, was almost as common as the alewife; it is interesting to note that one of the early authors who gave a description of Virginia, attributed the origin of the name not to the resemblance which this fish bore to the sheep in the shape of its mouth and head, but to the alleged fact that a broth could be made of its flesh exactly like the broth of mutton.4 There were countless numbers of shad, sturgeon, herring, and rock. The shads were frequently a yard in length. Far more remarkable in size as well as in number were the sturgeons. In one cast of the seine, Sir Thomas Dale secured over five thousand of these fish as large as a cod. Dale was reluctant to use his net because he was apprehensive lest it should be broken by the weight of sturgeon, but this fear does not seem to have influenced the men who were stationed at Smith’s Isles, since it is recorded that on one occasion they drew to the shore a struggling mass of sturgeon and other fish that would have afforded a full cargo for an ordinary frigate. It is also stated that in the course of a few hours two men had killed forty enormous sturgeon with axes in the river near Jamestown.5 From the end

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 418.

2 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 117.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 419.

4 New Description of Virginia, p. 17, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II. Glover attributes the name to a fancied resemblance between this fish’s eye and that of a sheep. Philo. Trans. Royl. Soc., 1676-1678, vols. XI-XII, p. 624.

5 Rolfe’s Relation, Va. Hist. Register, vol. I, No. III, p. 106. “I tooke once 52 Sturgeons at a draught, at another 68.” Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 347. Smith was here speaking of himself.


of May to the end of June the sturgeon caught were rarely more than three feet long; up to the middle of September, very few shorter than nine feet were taken,1 and some were observed to be twelve feet. Drum fish six feet in length were also found.2

In addition to the fish mentioned, there were in the waters of Virginia when first explored, grampus, porpoise, soles, butts, mullet, white salmon, seals, roach, plaice, eels, lampreys, cat, perch, tailor, sun, bass, chub, flounder, whiting, flatback, jack, carp, pike, and breme. In this list should also be included the stingray, one of which variety inflicted a severe wound on Smith in his voyage in the Chesapeake, and from that incident, it enjoys the permanent honor of having conferred its name upon a promontory of the Bay. There was a small fish resembling St. George’s Dragon, with legs and wings omitted, and also a fish that had the power to inflate itself until it appeared to be on the point of bursting its body to pieces.3 Strachey informs us that he had seen oysters in Virginia that were thirteen inches in length, but this estimate probably took the shell into account.4 Oyster banks rose above the surface at ebb tide in the mouth of the Elizabeth River like rocks in the bed of the stream,5 and equal quantities were discovered at points in the lower stretches of the Powhatan. In the fall of 1609, a large number of the famished colonists were sent to these banks as a means of preserving their lives, and there they remained for nine weeks sustaining existence on oysters, to which a pint of Indian corn for each man was added as a week’s

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 347.

2 New Description of Virginia, p. 17, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 61.

4 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 127.

5 Glover, Philo. Trans. Royl. Soc., 1676-1678, vols. XI-XII, p. 625.


allowance. The continued use of this diet is said to have caused the skins of the unfortunate men to peel from their bodies, but this physical ailment, which was doubtless very much exaggerated, could hardly have been due to such innocent food. General debility arising from long exposure to the sudden changes of the new climate and from alternations between abundance and starvation and starvation and abundance, not to speak of the mental agitation undergone in the efforts to repel the assaults of the savages and to establish the settlement on a permanent footing, had most probably induced the physical condition which the colonists attributed to the fare upon which they subsisted.1 Mussels were as numerous in the rivers wherever the water was fresh as oysters were where it was salt. They were especially abundant at Wyanoke.2 The bed of the Powhatan at that place was covered with shells. There were two varieties of crabs, the larger being a foot in length and half a foot in width, with a very long tail and with many legs. One alone furnished food for four men. Turtles were also found in the Bay and rivers. The tortoises discovered on land were eaten daily by the early colonists.3

If the waters of aboriginal Virginia teemed with fish, the wild fowl frequenting the same waters were hardly less remarkable in point of number and variety. As soon as September arrived they began to appear in vast

1 “Breife Declaration of the Plantation of Virginia during the first Twelve Years,” British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 21, I. This interesting document will also be found in Colonial Records of Virginia, State Senate Doct. Extra, 1874, p. 69. For special reference, see p. 70.

2 Relatyon of the Discovery of our River, p. xli, See also Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 7.

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 127. Description of the New Discovered Country, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. I, 15, I; Winder Papers, vol. I, p. 2, Va. State Library.


flocks, being drawn to the rivers and sounds by the heavy growth of wild celery and oats and other aquatic plants upon which they were in the habit of feeding. Some conception of their multitude may be obtained from the fact that Smith and two companions passing Kecoughtan on their way to Werowoconioco are said to have killed at three shots one hundred and forty-eight.1 Robert Evelyn, writing forty years after the foundation of Jamestown, has recorded that flocks of marine fowl a mile square and seven miles long, were seen in the upper waters of the Chesapeake in the immediate neighborhood of the marshes lying along the shores;2 this would seem well nigh incredible, but it should be remembered that in aboriginal Virginia there was no hostile influence whatever to diminish the number of wild fowl, the weapons of the Indians being too feeble to destroy them to any great extent. For countless ages they had been propagating without any hindrance. The Chesapeake and its tributaries furnished inexhaustible feeding grounds, and here they gathered in their annual migration from the North. There was the magnificent swan uttering its trumpet notes as it wheeled in the air; the wild goose coursing with its fellows in long lines or browsing upon the grasses of the shores and the duck in all those varieties so well known to modern sportsmen, the canvas-back, the red head, the mallard, the widgeon, the dottrell, the oxeye. Incalculable numbers of plover, snipe, woodcock, and curlew, some

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 449. This number seems incredible.

2 New Albion, p. 27, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II. “On the Bay and Rivers feed so many wild fowl as in winter time they do in some places cover the water two miles.” Glover, in Philo. Trans. Royl. Soc., 1676-1678, vols. XI-XII, p. 626. Whitaker, in his Good Newes from Virginia says, “the rivers and creekes bee overspread everywhere with water foule of the greatest and least sort.” Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 586.


smaller and some larger than the same species in England, haunted the marshes.1 No reference was made by the early adventurers to the presence of the reed-bird and the sora, but doubtless both were just as abundant in aboriginal Virginia in the autumn as they are in the State at the same season to-day.2 When the voyagers of 1607 arrived in the Chesapeake, the flocks of geese, swans, and ducks had retired to their breeding grounds in the North. The first birds apparently to make more than a passing impression upon the Englishmen, were the blackbird and the turkey, which they saw in great numbers as they sailed up the Powhatan. They observed that the blackbird had a brilliant tuft of red feathers on each shoulder;3 this species is still very common in the reedy marshes of the James, and among the willows that grow upon its banks. The turkey long ago retired to distant forests, but was so often seen in the course of the first explorations of the Powhatan that its name was given to an island in the river, a name which it still bears.4 On this island, a great store of turkey eggs were found, an indication of the wildness and loneliness of its surroundings, for the turkey has always sought the most secluded spots for the preparation of its nest. Flocks of forty were frequently observed by the settlers at Jamestown.5 Evelyn goes so far as to say, that in the country adjacent to the upper sections of the Chesapeake, flocks of four and five hundred were not unusual,6 and this does not seem to be wholly improbable when it is remembered that every

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 33, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 The first reference to the sora which I have observed is in a letter of John Clayton, 1739, printed in Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, Sept. 8, 1889.

3 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxvi.

4 Ibid., p. xlii.

5 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 125.

6 New Albion, p. 27, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II.


species of game was more numerous in the other parts of the territory of Virginia than in the peninsula between the York and the James, this peninsula having been more systematically ravaged by the Indians. That such was the case was due to the fact that these two broad rivers, running parallel to one another and separated only by a short distance, prevented the game from escaping. In some instances, the turkeys killed by the early colonists are said to have weighed fifty and even seventy pounds, while a weight of forty, it seems, was quite common.1 The flesh of this bird was pronounced by many to be the most delicately flavored they had eaten in Virginia.2

There were three varieties of eagles: the black, the gray, and the bald. The black built its nest in the top of some blasted tree standing near the shore, and commanding a prospect of a wide expanse of water. Here it sat, gazing up and down in the expectation of the rising of fish-hawks, which had darted upon their prey below the surface. The fish-hawk was frequently large enough to carry off a rock fish two feet in length.3 In addition to the varieties of hawks subsisting on fish, there were several varieties that confined their search for food to the land, such as the hare, the sparrow, and the ringtail. White, brown, and screech owls were common,4 and the crow too, a bird destined to do

1 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 5; Clayton’s Virginia, p. 30, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. The largest that Clayton saw weighed thirty-eight pounds (p. 30). Evelyn mentions one weighing forty-six.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 125.

3 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 28, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 122.

4 On one occasion it is probable that the cry of the horned owl, so well known for its ghostly sound to all familiar with the plantation life of Virginia, was mistaken by the colonists for the Indian call. Sir Thomas Dale, with a company of men, had gone to the Falls of the Powhatan. There one night, while they were “att praiers, in the cours of guard, a strange noise was heard coming out of the corne towards the trenches [footnote continues on p. 118] of the men, like an Indian hup, hup, with an Oho! Oho! . . . Suddenly as men awaked out a dream, they began to search for their supposed enemies, but findeing none remained ever after very quiett.” See letter of Whitaker to Crashaw, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 498. The Indians on this occasion may, while lying in ambush, have imitated the cry of the owl as a means of signalling to each other.


great damage to the maize of the colonial farmers when the country had been brought under cultivation. It was these destructive habits which doubtless caused it to be regarded with equal aversion by the Indian tillers of the ground. The crows were to increase in number as the area of open land enlarged. The same was to be the case with the turkey-buzzards, which could not have found, in the vast body of forest covering the surface of Virginia three hundred years ago, the same abundance of carrion as to-day. There were several varieties of heron, the plumage of one variety being as exquisite in its whiteness as the plumage of the swan, while the legs were of a roseate color.1 The bittern was also seen in Virginia but did not utter the peculiar booming cry of the bittern of the Old World. Clayton refers to the night raven or the Virginian bat, but leaves it in doubt whether he intended the bull bat or the whippoorwill, two birds resembling each other in appearance, but very different in their habits and notes.2 It is highly probable that one of the principal sounds at night greeting the ears of the colonists as they languished in the fort at Jamestown in the summer of 1607, was the call of the

1 When the expedition of Captains Amadas and Barlow landed, in 1584, on the coast of the present State of North Carolina, the company of men, in the course of their exploration, came to a hill, from whence they looked down upon valleys “replenished with goodly cedar trees.” Discharging their harquebusses, there arose “such a flocke of cranes, the most part white, with such a cry redoubled by many ecchoes, as if an armie of men had showted altogether.” The First Voyage to Virginia, Hakluyt’s Voyages, vol. III, p. 302.

2 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 29, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


whippoorwill, which has become associated in more recent times with everything that superstitious terror can suggest. It is essentially a forest bird and must have been as common in aboriginal Virginia as it is in the Virginia of to-day; there appears, however, to be no distinct allusion in the narratives of the early writers to its characteristics or even to its existence. No such bird was to be found in England, a fact well calculated to impress its individuality the more strongly on the first adventurers. The jay of Virginia was somewhat smaller than the English bird but dissimilar in color; the body of the English jay was brown while that of the Virginian bird was blue, but the wings of both were marbled in the same curious manner, both were remarkable for the same discordant cry, and both in flight had the same abrupt and jetting motion. There was a species of bird that rarely arrived before the fall of the first snow, which became so much associated in the minds of the English settlers with this element that it received the name of the snow-bird, and as such it is known to this day. The plumage of its back and wings was light black in color while its breast was white; and, like the ordinary sparrow, it showed a strong disposition to frequent the vicinity of dwelling-houses.1

Much more interesting was the cardinal or red bird, which was always described as the Virginian nightingale, on account of the clearness and strength rather than the variety of its notes. In a later age many of these birds were purchased for a few pence by the merchants and shipped to England, where they were kept in cages, not so much, it is to be suspected, for the charm of their voices as for the beauty of their plumage.2 There were two varieties of the lark, one of which resembled the common

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 33, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Ibid., p. 32.


variety of England; the other was as large in size as the English starling, with a half moon of yellow feathers on its breast. It rarely rose from the ground unless disturbed. This is the familiar lark of modern Virginia, associated in the popular mind with the abandoned broom-straw fields that lie scattered so thickly through the State. One of the finest of all the English singing birds is the skylark, but none of this variety comparable to its English fellow in charm of vocal power, was found by the early settlers. The yellow-breast uttered a low, soft, but unsustained note, while the voice of the smaller variety was still more indifferent in quality. In addition to the lark, there were the kingfisher, which haunted the banks of the streams, the dove, which frequented the forest, and the humming-bird, which sought its food wherever wild flowers were growing. Equally interesting was the martin, which from its aggressive character acquired very soon the name of the kingbird. Fifty years after the arrival of the English in Virginia we find that this bird was used by the planters to protect their poultry from the hawks; a conspicuous object attached to the upper portion of one side of the house of Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., was a large box full of holes, in which the martin might build its nest.1 One of the most beautiful birds observed by the early colonists was the bluebird, deriving its name from the curious azure coloring of its plumage. Several varieties of goldfinches were also found. The Virginian partridge was larger than the English quail, but the pheasants of the two countries did not differ so much in size.2

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 32, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 “Partridges there are much smaller than ours.” Clayton’s Virginia, p. 30, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. Strachey, on the other hand, perhaps referring to pheasants, declares that “partridges there are little bigger than our quails.” Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 125.


The flocks of wild pigeons were at times so vast that they darkened the sky as they pursued their way on the wing, or broke down the limbs of the trees upon which they lighted in passing. Hamor asserted that their number surpassed the power of imagination to conceive, and that it frequently required three or four hours for the mighty cloud of these birds to pass a single point, although the rate of speed maintained by them was enormous.1 The account of these phenomenal numbers was received in England with incredulity, but the testimony was confirmed by so many witnesses, that no doubt could remain as to its correctness. Similar flights of pigeons have been observed in more recent times, and in proportions leading to the belief that the witnesses of the seventeenth century undercalculated rather than overcalculated the number seen; in the period when Hamor recorded what he had followed with his own eyes, the wild pigeons had been propagating for countless ages without being diminished by those agencies which civilized man has in later times successfully brought to bear for their wholesale destruction.2

1 Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, p. 21.

2 Strachey speaks of the flights of pigeons as resembling “thickned clowdes.” See Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 126. Devries describes as follows what he observed in 1633: “In April, while we were lying in the South Bay (Delaware), there came in hundreds of thousands of wild pigeons, flying from the land over the bay. Indeed, the light could hardly be discerned where they were. Sometimes they flew upon the ship pressed down by numbers as they came over the bay.” Devries’ Voyages from Holland to America, p. 55. One of the three great natural phenomena, that foreshadowed in the popular superstition the uprising of Bacon and his followers, was flight after flight of pigeons, “in breadth nigh a quarter of the mid-hemisphere; of their length was no visible end.” The same prodigy had been seen in 1640, just before the massacre of the settlers by the Indians took place. T. M.’s Account of Bacon’s Rebellion, p. 1, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I.


It is a curious fact that several of the early writers assert that the parakeet was a common bird in Virginia when it was first settled. Hamor mentions that he had observed many parakeets in winter in the new country, a statement which Strachey confirms by declaring that flocks of them made their appearance in the early part of December. He had frequent opportunities of examining their plumage after killing them, which it was difficult to do, as they were very swift in their flight. He describes the wings of this bird as being of a greenish color, the head varied in tint, being either yellow, crimson, orange, or tawny, but in either instance extremely beautiful. The tail was forked. These are the physical features of the ordinary parakeet. If this bird was found in Virginia when it was first explored, of which from this description, it seems, there can be no doubt, it now has entirely disappeared, an assertion that cannot be made concerning the other species to which the earliest observers have left references. There is no modern bird with which the parakeet of Hamor and Strachey can be identified; there is none that even approaches it in the general character of its plumage.1

Of the numerous varieties of the woodpecker, one was as large in size as the English magpie, having a scarlet

1 “Some of our Colonie who have scene of the East Indian Parrotts affirme how they are like to that kynde, which hath given us somewhat the more hope of the nerenes of the South Sea, these parrotts by all probability like enough to come from some of the countrys upon that sea.” Strachey’s History of Travaile into Virginia, p. 126. For further reference to the Virginian parrot, see letter of Francis Perkins, dated 1608, Jamestown, in Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 175; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 60; New Description of Virginia, p. 15, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II. This parrot was doubtless the Psittacus Caroliniensis. It must have disappeared from Virginia before the close of the century, as neither Glover nor Clayton, both unusually observant men, make any reference to its presence.


crest on the head, and the body covered with feathers brownish-black in color; the other kinds were very much smaller, with the head tinted green, red, or yellow, and with the plumage of the body curiously varied with black, white, gray, and brown spots.1 By far the most remarkable of the birds discovered in Virginia, and recognized as such in the beginning, was the mocking-bird. It was an object of wonder and admiration to the early adventurers, and it continued to excite the same emotions in later generations as the jester and comedian among birds. The mocking-bird has always shown a strong disposition to build its nest near dwellings, haunting the surrounding trees and shrubbery, and it doubtless exhibited the same preference for the vicinity of the Indian wigwams before the arrival of the English colonists. There were two varieties, the larger being less attractive in its notes, less impulsive in its actions, but more striking in appearance, with its reddish-brown back and wings, and white breast spotted with brown.2

The fact was commented upon by Spelman, who had innumerable opportunities, as a captive among the Indians, of studying the different physical characteristics of Virginia when the first settlement was made, that in its territory every bird was found with which Englishmen were familiar at home, excepting the peacock and

1 “There is a tradition among the Virginians,” Clayton wrote in 1688, “that the tongue of the woodpecker dryed will make the teeth drop out if picked therewith, and cure the tooth ach (tho’ I believe little of it, but look on it ridiculous), yet I thought fit to hint as much that others may try, for sometimes such old stories refer to some peculiar virtues.” Clayton’s Virginia, p. 29, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 32, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. Clayton comments upon the fact, which had been observed even in that age, that the mocking-bird languished when removed from its native country. “With much difficulty are any of them brought to live in England.”


the chicken; but not to the same extent could this be asserted of the animals, since there were many species in the new country that are only seen in the primæval forests of thinly inhabited regions.1 The principal animal discovered in aboriginal Virginia by the first adventurers was the deer. In spite of its ruthless destruction in the peninsula between the James and the York by the Indians, that peninsula being especially adapted to the successful pursuit of their method of fire hunting, many were observed by the founders of Jamestown in the country adjacent to that place.2 On the Eastern Shore deer were less numerous, and for the same reason, but towards the heads of the peninsulas they became more numerous, until in the upland savannahs, where there was a luxuriant growth of reeds and grasses, they were found in vast herds, and so tame as to remain undisturbed by the approach of men.3 Two varieties were represented, the red and the fallow, the fallow differing but little from the fallow deer of England except in the smaller number of the branches of their antlers. The fallow deer of Virginia sometimes dropped as many as four fawns at a birth, and rarely less than two; Hamor,

1 Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, p. cvi. In the Report of Francis Maguel to the Spanish Council of State in 1610 as to what he had observed in Virginia, he included peacocks among the birds which he had seen there. See Report in Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 395. He probably had the pheasant in mind.

2 The author of the True Declaration of Virginia, p. 13, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III, states that “hard by the fort, two hundred in one herd have been usually observed.” This was written in 1610. “Our people,” said Strachey, “have seene two hundred, one hundred and fifty in a herd.” There were only a few on Jamestown Island. Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 122. The colonists who had visited Powhatan had seen at least four thousand deer skins in his possession. True Declaration of Virginia, p. 13, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 569; Discoveries of Loederer, p. 28.


with some simplicity, ascribed this fecundity to a peculiar variety of grass upon which they fed, and he states that the same fecundity was remarked in the goats imported from England, the increase in the generative power of the females being very notable, this being gravely attributed by him to the same influence. Many elks were also seen.1

There are allusions in the early descriptions of Virginia which would seem to show that the buffalo ranged at one time to the east of the mountains. Kine, one writer asserts, had been found in great herds on some of the tributaries of the Chesapeake.2 A hundred years later they were observed in the meadows of the modern Dan by Colonel William Byrd. Their paths were deeply worn in the soil of the Shenandoah valley when that beautiful country was first thrown open to English settlement, but they had probably entirely disappeared from the lower peninsulas of Virginia long before the arrival of the colonists, having been driven out by the Indian hunters. The wolves of aboriginal Virginia were not much larger than the English fox, but so ravenous that it was difficult for the traveller who had encamped in the woods for the night to prevent his horse from being devoured, although tethered close to his side, and in the light of the fire.3 Eight decades after the first settlement of the country, Clayton, who was in Virginia at

1 See, as authority for these statements, Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 122; Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse, p. 20; New Description of Virginia, p. 16, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II.

2 “Marching into the Countrie, I found great store of Cattle as big as Kine . . . which are very easie to be killed in regard they are heavy, slow and not so wild as other beasts of the Wilderness.” Samuel Argoll to Nicholas Hawes, June, 1613, Purchas’ Pilgrimes, pp. 1764-1765. Purchas speaks of the “shaggy” coats of these cattle.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 60; Discoveries of Loederer, p. 14.


that time, relates that he heard them hunting in the evening when they might easily have been mistaken for a pack of beagles.1 For a century they continued to be a pest to the planters in the oldest communities of the Colony, and valuable rewards were offered by the authorities for their destruction. The dogs found in Virginia resembled a cross between a male wolf and the ordinary bitch. Like the common jackal, they were much given to depredations upon the remains of the dead.2

The Virginian bear was very small. At the time of the first settlement it was found in considerable numbers towards the coast in the modern county of Princess Anne, from which it gradually retired into the recesses of the Dismal Swamp, where it still lingers. In the direction of the mountains, bears were more frequently seen; there they were discovered by later travellers, feeding like swine upon the mast of the forests. Their flesh was thought to be excellent, reminding the colonists of the finest veal.3 The woods were full of gray foxes, and it was remarked that the odor of their bodies was less rank than that of the English breed. The red fox was also found. There were beavers in all of the streams in which they were able to erect their dams, and to some extent it was not improbably owing to the presence of these animals that there were so many inland swamps in Virginia. The raccoons were as large as the English fox, and their flesh was pronounced by many of the early colonists to be equal to that of lamb. Their peculiar shape of head and their arboreal habits perhaps originated

1 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 37, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 124.

3 See for these details, Lane’s Relation, Hakluyt’s Voyages, 1610, vol. III, p. 312; Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, pp. 123, 124, Discoveries of Loederer, p. 14.


the story prevailing at one time, that monkeys had been seen in Virginia.1 There were otters, minks, wild-cats, polecats, and martens. No reference is made by the early writers to the presence of the porcupine, but in a letter written by John Clayton in 1739, nearly a century and a half after Jamestown was founded, he mentions as a fact that several had been recently killed, although the species was extremely scarce.2 There were three varieties of squirrel, the gray, the ground, and the flying; of these, the most interesting was the flying. When first discovered, it was considered such a remarkable creature, that it was much sought after by English noblemen as an ornament for their parks, and by English naturalists as a specimen for their cabinets. We are told that King James, who had a special taste for such pets, displayed great anxiety to obtain one of these natural curiosities when information as to their existence in Virginia reached England, and doubtless his wish was gratified.3 This species of squirrel was not infrequently seen to make a flight of thirty or forty yards in passing from tree to tree.4 The ground squirrel appeared hardly less interesting on account of the beauty of its coat, this being spotted like the skin of a fawn. The gray squirrel was as large as the English rabbit. The hare does not seem to have been abundant in the neighborhood of Jamestown,

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 125. Clayton, writing in 1688, remarks: “The Rackoone I take to be a Species of Monkey, something less than a fox, gray haired, its feet formed like a hand, and the face too has likewise the resemblance of a Monkey’s, besides being kept tame, they are very apish.” Clayton’s Virginia, p. 36, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. See also Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 26.

2 Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, Sept. 8, 1889.

3 Sainsbury Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, 1574-1660, p. 8:

4 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 123.


owing, no doubt, to the fact that the whole of the surrounding country was overgrown with forest, but on the islands and in the vicinity of Kecoughtan and the Falls, where there was a considerable area of open land, it was very numerous at the time of the arrival of the English.1 Much more remarkable was the opossum, an animal previously unknown to the colonists, but at once exciting curiosity on account of the natural pouch in its belly, in which it lodged, suckled and transported its young. A large water rat, differing from the English water rat only in the strong odor of musk pervading its fur, was also discovered; it built a nest of reeds, frequently as large as half a hogshead, containing two floors, with two rooms to the floor, two being above and two under ground. Panthers seem to have roamed only about the heads of the rivers, for none were seen in the Jamestown peninsula, although their skins and claws were noticed among the possessions of the Indians who inhabited that part of Virginia.2 Insect and reptile life was everywhere abundant and varied. The marshy character of the country was revealed in the number of mosquitoes, rising in many places in vast swarms.3 A peculiar worm in the salt waters of the navigable streams inflicted serious damage on the wooden hulls of the ships by eating into the planks exposed to its attacks, and thus causing leakage and decay.4 There were several kinds of water frogs, one kind being ten times as large as the largest in England. This variety emitted the peculiar sound like the

1 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 123.

2 Ibid., p. 124. The panther was found in the Northern Neck as late as 1688. See Letters of William Fitzhugh, June 1, 1688. Clayton mentions that one had been recently killed in Gloucester. This was near the end of the century.

3 Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 63.

4 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 94.


bellowing of a bull, which has given it its name. Hardly less strange was the cry of the tree frog, which the early colonists found it as difficult to place as their descendants in the present age. There is no evidence that rattlesnakes were discovered in the country adjacent to Jamestown by the adventurers of 1607, although Clayton saw them there towards the end of the century. They were probably as numerous in the forests extending to the southwest on the opposite shore of the Powhatan as they were an hundred and twenty years later, when Colonel William Byrd was compelled to defer until autumn, on one occasion, the survey in running the boundary line, owing to the constant danger to which their presence exposed his men. Other varieties of snakes were common, such as the puff adder, the moccasin, the corn, the black, the water, and the horn.1

1 Clayton’s Virginia, pp. 38, 43, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. Clayton states that during his visit to the Colony he killed four or five rattlesnakes, each of which had eleven, twelve, or thirteen joints. This was in 1688. The “Declaration of the Assembly,” passed in 1651, in opposition to the first Navigation Act, refers incidentally to “our rattlesnakes.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. I, p. 80. The only references to snakes which I find in the records written in the time of the Company are, first, in a letter from Sir George Somers to Salisbury, in 1610: “‘they (the Colonists at Jamestown in the Starving Time) had eaten all the quick things that weare there, and some of them had eaten snakes or adders” (State Papers, Colonial, James I, vol. I, No. 21; Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 401); secondly, in the “Briefe Declaration of the Plantation of Virginia during the first Twelve Years”: “Famine compelled us (that is, the English in the Starving Time) wholly to devoure those hogges, dogges and horses that weare then in the Collony, together with rats, mice, snakes, etc.” (British State Paper Office, Colonial, vol. III, No. 21, I; Colonial Records of Virginia, State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874, p. 71); thirdly, Captain Smith states in his account of the animals, etc., of the country, that the colonists had no reason to think “that either the flyes or serpents were anie waie pernitious,” from which it is to be inferred that the rattlesnake and moccasin were not observed until a later period, or, if observed [footnote continues on p. 130] from the beginning, their dangerous powers had not been displayed (Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 60).


A full account has been transmitted to us of the character of the climate of aboriginal Virginia. The heat of summer did not exceed the heat of the summers in Spain, while the temperature in winter was as cold as the temperature of the winters in England and France. Following the round of the year, we find that the spring opened nearly four weeks earlier than in the mother country. Rain fell in great quantities, especially in April. In May and June the heat, which had now increased very much, was mitigated by gentle breezes, beginning to blow about nine o’clock in the morning, and gradually dying away as the sun declined towards the horizon; in July and August these breezes ceased altogether, the air became stagnant, and the heat grew heavy and oppressive. In September the weather broke very suddenly, and copious rains came to drench the ground. The abruptness of the change always caused this to be the most unhealthy part of the year to the English colonists. The autumn, extending in point of temperature to the second week in December, was a period of singular beauty. Winter began about the fifteenth of December, and continued until about the fifteenth of March. The atmosphere at times was extremely sharp, but this condition rarely lasted longer than a few days.1 In the course of the

1 See, as the authorities for these details, Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 47, 48; Clayton’s Virginia, p. 6, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. John Hammond, in Leah and Rachel, declares that the heat in Virginia was allayed throughout the summer by a “continual breaze of Winde which never failes to cool and refresh the labourer and traveller.” “The Cold,” he remarks further, “seldom approaches Sencibly untill about Christmas . . . and when Winter comes, which is such and no worse than is in England, it continues two months, seldom longer, often so long.” Hammond’s Leah and Rachel, p. 12, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


first winter following the establishment of the Colony there were very heavy frosts, the river at Jamestown freezing almost from Lank to bank, but in the course of the second there were said to have been fourteen days of sunshine for every eight or ten days of harsh weather; it was, however, during this winter that Smith visited Werowocomoco, and found the surface of the river frozen half a mile from either shore.1 The state of the atmosphere was almost entirely governed by the direction from which the wind was blowing, and as this was very variable, the air was hot, cold, or temperate in rapid alternations. In December, January, February, and March, the north and northwest winds were always sharp and piercing, it being supposed at a later period that they had their origin on the great lakes. The northwest wind generally brought clear weather. The hardest freezes followed a heavy blow from that quarter, after an equally heavy blow from the southeast, accompanied by rain. The snow, which so often attended the northerly winds, rarely lay upon the ground for a period longer than a few days, although it may have fallen to a considerable depth. The winds from the south and southeast were warm even in January, and in summer they always produced a hazy and sultry atmosphere. It was from the southwest that the heaviest gusts of hail and rain arrived, and in the tempests brewed in this quarter, it was observed that the thunder reverberated the loudest, and the flashes of lightning were most

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 48, 449; see also pp. 603, 604, for an account of the sufferings of Governor Butler and his companions from the cold in February, 1623. Secretary Spencer informed Clayton, about 1688, that he had seen the Potomac frozen from shore to shore opposite to his house, where the river was nearly nine miles in width. Clayton’s Virginia, p. 5, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


blinding and terrifying.1 The thunder and lightning of aboriginal Virginia are represented in all the earliest descriptions of the country to have been far more calculated to cause alarm than the same natural phenomena in England; it was supposed that this was due to the vast extent of the primæval forests, for it was noticed that the violence of the storms diminished as the open lands of the plantations increased in area, but even in the latter portion of the seventeenth century, when the country had been in part under cultivation for eighty years, this violence was so frightful while it lasted, that the atmosphere was thought to be pervaded by a distinct odor of sulphur.2 The tempests of hail rose to the fury of tornadoes, and as the stones were sometimes eight or ten inches in compass, they often caused very great destruction both to vegetable and animal life.3 Excessive droughts in summer, which were generally broken by hail storms, were a common feature of the climate.

There was much diversity of opinion among the early colonists as to whether Virginia was a wholesome region from a hygienic point of view. The weight of the testimony transmitted would seem to show that the settlers upon their arrival, with few exceptions, suffered in health very severely from the sudden changes in the atmosphere, and that it was only after the body had been thoroughly

1 See, for these various details, Clayton’s Virginia, pp. 5, 6, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 48.

2 Clayton’s Virginia, p. 8, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 344.

3 “On the eleventh of May, 1618, about ten of the clocke in the night, happened a most fearefull tempest, but it continued not past halfe an houre, which powred downe hailestones eight or nine inches about, that none durst goe out of their doores . . . it fell onely about Jamestowne, for but a mile to the east and twentie to the west, there was no haile at all.” Rolfe’s Relation, Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 539.


seasoned, as it was called, that these changes could be borne without any injurious impression upon its functions. In the August of 1607, three months after landing on Jamestown Island, the colonists began to die, and until the fifth of September hardly a day was unmarked by a death. Percy informs us that although many perished from the effects of fluxes, fevers, and swellings, yet the majority died from famine.1 Famine was undoubtedly a powerful agency in the destruction of these unfortunate men, but it is open to question whether the unwholesomeness of the air diffused over the whole locality from the marshes in the vicinity, was not the primary cause of the debility to which so many succumbed. It was observed at an early date that the country above salt water was much more healthy in its climate than the country below, the endemical disorders of September and October being in the former much less severe and dangerous than they were in the latter. Of the one hundred persons or more who were seated at the Falls under the care of Captain West in 1607, not a single one perished, and this was also true of the same number of men who were stationed on the Nansemond, under Captain Martin, although the deaths at Jamestown during the same period were thought to have been a hundred at least. The food of each of the three companies was equally unwholesome, and their lodgings were equally exposed to the weather.2 In the summer of 1609 Lord Delaware arrived at Jamestown, and in a very short time his followers, owing to the excessive heat, were

1 Percy’s Discourse, p. lxxii.

2 True Declaration of Virginia, p. 14, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. See also Whitaker’s Good Newes from Virginia, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 584. Bullock also comments on the same fact. See his Virginia, p. 4.


attacked by fever, and in a few months one hundred and fifty had died. Delaware himself was stricken with the ague almost as soon as he reached Jamestown, and only saved his life by withdrawing for a long sea voyage but for the food and medicine brought over in the ships, the remainder of the Colony would have been destroyed by disease.1 One of the charges which Butler advanced against Virginia was, that owing to the presence of a countless number of bogs, swamps, and marshes, it was subject to all the forms of sickness found in those parts of England that continued undrained.2 Robert Evelyn, in the New Albion, declares that agues were more prevalent in Virginia than in the English counties of Essex and Kent, and that this was not surprising when it was recalled that the water used in drinking was brackish, and that the valleys were full of marshes and the forests of ponds. He asserted that during the first thirty years of the Colony, five of every six persons imported had died.3 Molina stated in 1613, that one hundred and fifty in every three hundred perished in the course of the first year following their arrival in Virginia.4 In 1624 Governor Wyatt, in a letter to the authorities in England, mentions that all the settlers who had recently arrived were in a low state of health on account of the change of climate.5 In some instances whole bands of immigrants

1 Letter of Governor and Council of Virginia to the London Company, 1610, Neill’s Virginia Company of London, p. 48.

2 Unmasking of Virginia, Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, p. 171.

3 New Albion, p. 5, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II. Evelyn declares that during the first thirty years, one hundred thousand persons died while in the course of seasoning.

4 Molina to Velasco, Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 648.

5 British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 4; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1624, p. 197, Va. State Library. See also Works of Capt. [footnote continues on p. 135] John Smith, p. 421. Governor Wyatt advised the English authorities to appoint the governors in Virginia for long terms, because, for the first year at least, “they are for the most part in ill disposition of health through the change the climate.” British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 5; Winder Papers, vol. I, p. 31, Va. State Library. For a later period, see Archives of Maryland, Proceedings of Council, 1667-1687, p. 192.


seemed to have been swept away soon after they reached Virginia; this was the case with William Rowsley and his wife, and the ten persons accompanying them, who came over in 1621,1 and the same fate must have overtaken many others at this time who were similarly placed. This mortality was attributed by some careful observers to several causes in addition to the change of air, the evil effect of which was generally acknowledged. The sudden substitution of Indian corn for wheat bread is said to have produced relaxation in the digestive organs, often ending in fatal fevers among inexperienced colonists;2 the change from malt liquors, which had constituted their principal drink in England, to the unadulterated water of Virginia, exercised a similar influence upon their bodies.3 Much of the mortality was also due to the crowded condition of the ships in which the ocean voyages were made; pestilences were frequently produced in this way, leading to terrible epidemics, as for instance in the year following the great Indian massacre of 1622,4 at which time not less than six hundred people died.

The mortality on shipboard was often frightful. Bradford,

1 Neill’s Virginia Vetusta, p.121.

2 Company’s Letter of August 21, 1621, Neill’s Virginia Company of London, p. 237. See also Royal Hist. MSS. Commission, Eighth Report, Appx., p. 43.

3 Reply of the General Assembly, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 7; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1623, p. 204, Va. State Library.

4 George Harrison to his Brother, British State Papers, Colonial, Vol. II, No. 17; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1622, p. 77, Va. State Library.


in his History of the Plymouth Plantation, gives the instance of a vessel which, in the course of its voyage towards the Virginian coast, lost one hundred and thirty persons in a crew of seamen and roll of passengers numbering one hundred and eighty; packed together like herrings in a barrel, they sank under a flux brought on not only by this pestilential condition, but also by lack of fresh water and wholesome food.1 The disorder from which the passengers suffered and which they introduced into the Colony was ship, jail or typhus fever.2 William Capps was undoubtedly correct in saying that the chief cause of the sickness was to be found in gross uncleanliness. “Betwixt decks,” he declared, “there can hardlie a man fetch his breath by reason there arisith such a funke in the night that it causes putrifaction of bloud and breedeth disease much like the plague. The more fall sick, the more they annoy and poysen their fellows.” He recalled the voyage in which he had accompanied Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers to Virginia. “We came,” he said, “in heate of summer, were at sea fifteen weekes and lost not a man. There were appointed swabbers for cleaning of the orlopp, and every part of the shipp below; then every man was forced in faire weather to bring up his bed to ayre in the shrowds. In the meantyme, the Quarter Masters were busied in the swabbing of every cabine belowe with vinegar, as alsoe betweene decks, which cast such a savor of sharpness to the stomach that it bred health.”3

1 Mass. Hist. Coll., vol. III, series IV, p. 37.

2 It has been suggested that it may have been yellow fever. Dr. Charles Creighton, in his standard work, A History of Epidemics in Britain, declares that the first appearance of yellow fever, “whether in the West Indies or anywhere else,” was in 1647-48. p. 623.

3 William Capps to Deputy Treasurer Ferrer, 1623. This letter is printed in Neill’s Virginia Vetusta, pp. 128-132. See page 131. A case [footnote continues on p. 137] of jail fever, described as “calenture,” is referred to in the account of Challons’ voyage, Brown’s Genesis of the United States. See p. 137. See also Virginia Gazette, July 15, 1737.


When strict precautions like these had been taken in the course of the voyage, and the masters of the ships had been careful to time their entrance into Virginian waters with the late autumn, the sickness among the immigrants, both before and after they reached land, was less extensive.1 How dangerous it was to be inattentive to the month of the arrival was shown in the number of sea-captains who, in 1635, were stricken down by the evil influence of the climate. Fifteen in a company of thirty-six died. They had never previously visited the Colony, and had come before the frosts had destroyed the germs of ague. This year was probably more than usually unhealthy.2 Devries informs us that at this time, persons who had not been seasoned “died like cats and dogs in June, July, and August.” This sickness was thought to be due to the variableness of the climate. “One hour,” it was said, “the air was so hot that it seemed to be unendurable, and the next, a wind from the northwest arose with so much freshness that an overcoat was necessary to comfort.”3 There was still reason, however, to attribute much of the illness among those who were unseasoned to infections beginning in the ships of the merchants. In 1636, Governor West pointed out with great warmth the injustice of charging upon the climate instances of mortality which were easily to be traced to the extreme noisomeness in the condition of many of the vessels on their arrival in

1 Letter of Governor and Council to Company, 1621, Neill’s Virginia Company of London, p. 276.

2 Devries’ Voyages from Holland to America, p. 112. Greater mortality among ship captains was probably never known, not even on the West Coast of Africa.

3 Devries’ Voyages from Holland to America, pp. 54, 109.


the Colony.1 Culpeper, referring to his voyage to Virginia, declared that the fleet accompanying him was full of “death, scurvey, and calenture,” and it may be safely taken for granted that this was not exceptional.2

However great the amount of sickness in July, August, and September among those who had newly arrived, and however much they suffered, the persons who had passed through the period of seasoning found the climate of Virginia highly favorable to health if they were removed from the contagion of diseases introduced by ships from abroad. Governor Wyatt wrote as early as 1623 that the average length of life among the old residents was as great as in the most wholesome parts of England,3 and the proportion of deaths was even smaller; in the families of ancient planters, the larger number of whose members had been born in the country, not one in twenty were cut off.4 The same condition was observed by the early adventurers to exist among the Indian inhabitants; they were subject to few diseases, and in many instances attained to a great age, proving that the supposed unwholesomeness of the climate of Virginia, except in midsummer, was to be attributed not so much to any fault in the climate itself, except in the immediate vicinity of the marshes, as to the natural result of a change of air and alteration in diet on the part of the newly arrived colonists, not to mention

1 Governor West to Lords Commissioners of Plantations, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. IX, No. 7; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1636, p. 150, Va. State Library.

2 Letter of Culpeper to Secretary Coventry, May 2, 1680, McDonald Papers, vol. V, p. 353, Va. State Library.

3 Governor and Council to London Company, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 1; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1623, p. 175, Va. State Library; New Description of Virginia, p. 7, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II.

4 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 565.


the imprudences which their inexperience or their intemperateness led them to commit.1

As the area of the clearings enlarged, a great improvement in the public health was observed, extending even to those persons who had recently arrived in Virginia. In his answers to the interrogatories of the Commissioners of Plantations in 1671, Governor Berkeley stated that it was then rare that an unseasoned hand died, although at one time the mortality had been in proportion of one to five.2

1 As early as 1649, it was the habit of some Virginians to retire into Maryland as soon as the heats of summer arrived. There, it is stated, they enjoyed uninterrupted good health. Bullock’s Virginia, p. 4. In 1687, Howard, at that time Governor of the Colony, wrote to the King, that he would withdraw himself during the vehement heat and “almost indispensable sickness of this place (Jamestown) in the dog days,” to some more healthy climate, he had tried several summers, and found them so prejudicial to his health that the physicians had advised him to change the air. Colonial Entry Book, No. 83, pp. 145-147; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1687, p. 73, Va. State Library. For the effects of intemperance, see Beverley’s History of Virginia, pp. 241-242.

2 Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 515.

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