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Virginia Indian Wars

In 1585, the first effort to establish an English colony in the "New Found Land of Virginia" was attempted by Sir Walter Raleigh and 108 men. Their settlement of Fort Raleigh was built on Roanoke Island. From this stronghold, a small group of metallurgists explored the coastal portions of North Carolina, and the area eventually becoming Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Portsmouth. Fear of the Spaniards to the south, and unstable relations with local Indians caused the effort to be abandoned after 10 months.

A fleet commanded by Sir Francis Drake arrived in June, 1586, and returned the survivors to England. Within days of this departure, but with no contact, a second group of settlers arrived at the Fort. They also abandoned the effort, but left behind 15 men. None of these men could be found by a third group of 117 settlers (91 men, 17 women, and 9 children) who, under the leadership of John White, put ashore on 22 July 1587.

Originally, this last group had been instructed to land and explore the innermost shores of the Chesapeake Bay, but the sailors refused to take them there and landed instead at Roanoke Island.

On 18 August, White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare become the first English child to be born and christened in the New World. White returned to England for supplies, and by the time he returned in 1590, everyone had either died, been captured by the Spanish, or assimilated by local Indian tribes. Thus the name, "The Lost Colony"

An English presence returned to Hampton Roads in 1603, when Bartholomew Gilbert, on behalf of King James I, explored "the great water". This was the Indian phrase for K'tchisipik which Gilbert translated as Chesapeake.

In December of 1606, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery set sail from England for the New World. This expedition of 144 passengers were to become the first permanent English colonists intent on starting a new life in what was for them an unexplored wilderness. The ships companies included respectively: Captain Christopher Newport/71 settlers; Captain Bartholomew Gosnold/52 settlers; and Captain John Ratcliffe (aka. Sicklemore) /21 settlers.

On 26 April 1607, Captain Newport, in his flag ship the Susan Constant, arrived off Cape Henry, the first actual anchoring being near the Ocean View beach in Norfolk. The landing sailors were met with hostility from local Indians. Being concerned that the site provided too little protection from the ocean, the ships sailed up a wide tributary on the north side of the bay. That river was later named the James. There, on a swampy peninsula, after 2 weeks of exploration, the first permanent English colony in the New World was founded. Located on a deep water anchorage with good defensive position, construction began at the settlement on 14 May. (This was 13 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth in Massachusetts.) The London Company of England financed the colonizing expedition as a business venture, and specified that the colony be named Jamestown, after James I.

More settlers came, and of the first 1,600 colonists to arrive, about 1,000 died and 300 returned to England. The majority of the deaths were attributed to typhoid which was carried from England by the first Anglican clergyman, Reverend Robert Hunt. Despite setbacks, the colony grew and there became an increasing English presence and expansion into surrounding areas. Also in 1607, the palisade triangular James Fort built in Jamestown was immediately followed by Fort Monroe, which was located on 63 acres at Old Point across from Ocean View. It was at this time that Captain John Smith was temporarily captured by the Powhatan Indians. It might be of interest to know that despite the legend, there was no mention in Smith's journals, or by any of his contemporaries, that he had been saved by Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas.

In January, 1608, the settlement was almost destroyed by fire. This calamity caused the loss of many provisions and the need for greater community cohesiveness. Consequently, Captain Smith deposed Captain Ratcliffe as the colonial council president, and Captain Gabriel Archer, who were intent on returning to England. Becoming the colony's new leader, Captain Smith established his "No work, No food" policy. Even the Captain spent time during exploration by adding to the larder. While gigging fish at the mouth of the Rappahannock River, he impaled a stingray with his sword. The fish proceeded to imbed its barbed tail spike about 1.5 inches into his wrist. The inoculated poison ran its course, the Captain suffered and survived, and the place of occurrence became known as Stingray Point.

During this time, Captain Newport, having gone back to England, returned in a ship named John-and- Franics, bringing what was known as the First Supply to Virginia. It was this trip, his third, that brought the first women to the colony.

The colonists, while exploring acreage along the Elizabeth River, found fertile land, clean water, and an abundance of fish and game. But in the Fall of 1609, Captain Smith was injured by burning gunpowder and returned to England. By the Spring of 1610, after a winter of starvation, everyone was ready to return to England. Fortunately, one of the original ships (Godspeed), Captained by Newport on this last of five voyages to Virginia, also returned with supplies and more colonists. Among the new settlers were Thomas West (Lord Delaware), and Sir Thomas Dale. Sir Dale was appointed high marshall and deputy governor of Virginia in 1611, and held the position until 1616.

In 1612-13, John Rolfe (the future husband of Pocahontas) successfully harvested tobacco along the banks of the James River, thus establishing presence of an item of trade with England.

Over a 15 year period, disease, famine, Indian attacks, and other obstacles took a heavy toll. Of 14,000 settlers who arrived at the colony between 1607 and 1622, 13,000 died. The survivors increased trade with England to include timber, furs, tobacco, and other goods, and by 1614 the first sustaining shipment of trade goods was exported.

Within 15 years, two other historically significant events occurred: In 1619, the colonists formed the first New World representative ruling assembly; and the first black slaves arrived. This year also marked the first westward movement of English settlers, as the community of Pasbehay was founded near the confluence of the James and Chickahominy Rivers.

In 1622, John Porgy, the first speaker of the Jamestown Assembly, resigned to return to England aboard the Discovery. That ended a 15 year period in which the ship had been used for local trading and exploring. Also, on 22 May 1622, Indians massacred 347 of the Jamestown residents.

In 1634, the spreading colony was divided into eight shires (counties), four of which (Elizabeth, Nansemond, Norfolk, and Princess Anne) covered the area known as South Hampton Roads. Because the land on the eastern banks of the Elizabeth River was the principle settlement of the Chesapeake Indians, it was not until later that the area was developed as an English settlement. Powhatan (actually Wahunsonacock), had been the ruling Chief of this tribe, which was one of thirty in the Powhatan Confederacy of Algonquins.

In 1636, 100 acres of land on the western bank of the river, and known as the "Point", were purchased with tobacco by Captain (Sir) Thomas Willoughby, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. This land extended 400 feet further into the Elizabeth River than it does today, and was adjacent to what was to become the city of Portsmouth. Later, the land reverted back to the colony and was then purchased by Robert Glasock.

In 1639, the Grand Council at York drafted fifteen men from Lower Norfolk County (including Portsmouth) to march against the Nanticoke Indians. The Colonial Indian Wars were off and running, with soldiers being supplied with 40 pounds of biscuits and a half bushel of dried peas. In 1644, a military district had been formed, consisting of Isle of Wight, and Upper and Lower Norfolk Counties. By the 1645 war, eighty men were ready to fight the Nansemonds, driving them beyond the Roanoke River.

The number of ships coming to Portsmouth and Norfolk gradually increased to the point that in the 1650's, large bonfires were lighted at Cape Henry to guide them safely from the Atlantic into the Virginia Capes.

Aware of the trend towards shipping, in 1659 Captain William Carver, ship owner and master mariner, patented lands where Portsmouth is now located.

England ruled Virginia until the Revolutionary War, but the elected representative assembly provided local law. In 1660, to encourage trade, King Charles II decreed that port cities would be established in the colonies.

By law, tobacco could only be exported from designated ports, with Norfolk being one of the first of these. But emphasis on tobacco farming in the area led to production in 1666-67. The legislature suspended planting, even though new tobacco warehouses had been built in Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Great Bridge.

A serious blow to trade and the port of Norfolk came in 1667. After a very wet summer, a hurricane with its torrential rains and "tornado-like" winds flattened the fields of corn and tobacco, and blew down thousands of houses. (That is why there are only a few 17th century houses in the area today.)

In 1675-76, Captain Edward Wiggins and forty men again declared a general war on the Indians of the area.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:36:27 Zulu