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COLONIAL FOUNDERS DAY: And Searching RPL’s New Catalog

Posted about 9 months ago by kathryn Coker

In 2004, the Virginia General Assembly designated May 14th as Colonial Founders Day.  So, I decided for this blog to give a short historical overview of Jamestown and then launch into how we can learn more by searching the library’s new, user friendly catalog.

Historical Overview

At the direction of King James I, in December 1606, 104 settlers (immigrants) sailed from London with Virginia Company of London orders to construct a stable settlement, discover gold, and find a water way to the Pacific. On May 14, 1607, the immigrants who landed on Jamestown Island 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay established the first enduring English settlement in America. Between 1616 and 1699, Jamestown was Virginia’s capital. This was the second attempt to found a community in North America as it followed the failed effort in 1590 in what is referred to as the lost colony of Roanoke

King James I
Coat of Arms of the Virginia Company

According to the conventional narration of Jamestown’s early history, the colonizers were not up to the job. However, 20 years of archaeological research at the site first called James Fort indicates that Captain Bartholomew Gosnold and numerous of the artisans, craftsmen, and laborers who traveled with the noblemen leaders like Master George Percie did all they could to establish a thriving colony. In addition to these groups, there also was preacher Master Robert Hunt; a sailor, Jonas Profit; drummer Nicholas Skot and of course member of the Councell like Captains John Smyth and John Ratliffe and Master Edward Maria Wingfield.

Powhatan Indians

Days later the settlers arrived Powhatan Indians attacked them. The immigrants worked for weeks to ‘”beare and plant palisadoes’ for a wooden fort.” Three extant reports along with a sketch of the fort proves the walls shaped a triangle surrounding a storehouse, church, and several houses. The colonists built raised platforms for cannons at the fort’s three corners in the event of a Spanish attack. To learn more about the Powhatan Indians you might want to watch this video:

But, the Powhatan Indians led by Chief Powhatan were the immediate threat, not the Spanish. Captain John Smith described the chief:

Chief Powhatan
 He is of parsonage a tall well proportioned man . . . his head somwhat gray. . . . His age neare 60; of a very able and hardy body to endure any labour. What he commandeth they dare not disobey in the least thing. It is strange to see with what great feare and adoration all these people doe obay this Powhatan. For at his feet, they present whatsoever he commandeth, and at the least frowne of his browe, their greatest spirits will tremble with feare: and no marvell, for he is very terrible and tyrannous in punishing such as offend him.

A Bleak Time

Jamestown’s bleakest time was called the “starving time” winter of 1609-10. Around 300 immigrants packed into James Fort when the Powhatan Indians laid siege. By the following spring, just 60 settlers were alive. They chose to bury the ordinance and leave the fort. When the survivors heard that a new governor Thomas West, twelfth baron Lord De La Warr and his supply ships had arrived they returned to the fort determined to make a go of the colony.

Thomas West

First Representative Assembly

And they did. On July 30, 1619, the first representative assembly in North America and anywhere in the Americas met in the Jamestown church responding to directives from the Virginia Company ‘”to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia’” and provide ‘”just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.’”  [https://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-general-assembly/]

In 2019, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists unearthed the final fourth wall of the 1617 church and the sites of the choir and chancel area where the First Assembly met. Because the archaeologists’ plans called for an exhibit, visitors now can see the church’s brick foundations and sit in recreated pews. See what the archaeologists found at https://youtu.be/mHaZ34HbZ1s.

First Africans Arrive

Several weeks after the assembly met the first Africans landed via the transatlantic slave trade at Jamestown. They had been captured in a number of conflicts as part of the larger Portuguese wars against the Kongo and Ndongo kingdoms and other states. Their captors forced the Africans to march 100 to 200 miles to the main slave-trade coastal port of Luanda. In the summer of 1619, they were made to board the San Juan Bautista, which transported 350 captives bound for Mexico’s Vera Cruz.

The crowded deck of a slave ship.
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Slave traders packed Africans on the ships, creating terribly overcrowded conditions. Men were held below while women and children stayed on the deck, often abused by the crew. To escape these miserable circumstances some suicided by throwing themselves overboard or by self-imposed malnutrition. The voyage was truly horrifying, violent and brutal. Many did not survive.

As the slave ship approached Vera Cruz, two English privateers, the White Lion and the Treasurer, attacked it in the Gulf of Mexico, stealing 50 to 60 Africans. The two privateers sailed to Virginia. Close to the end of August 1619 the White Lion reached Point Comfort (now Hampton). The well-known planter and merchant John Rolfe (earlier the husband of Pocahontas), stated that ‘“20. and odd Negroes’” were ‘“bought for victuals,’ (italics added).’” Affluent and influential English planters like Governor Sir George Yeardley and the leading merchant, Abraham Piersey, purchased most of the Angolans. [https://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-africans/]

The First Africans Arrive In Virginia (Sidney King)
Landing Negroes at Jamestown

The Treasurer dropped anchor at Point Comfort a few days after the White Lion, staying only a short time until leaving for Bermuda, another English colony. Before setting sail it is likely that from 7 to 9 Africans were sold. One was “Angelo” (Angela), a woman, who was seized and taken to Captain William Pierce’s property. Partnering with the National Park Service, Rediscovery archaeologists excavated the site. You can explore online the artifacts uncovered at  https://historicjamestowne.org/collections/artifacts/.

For more information about the Atlantic slave trade you can view “The Atlantic slave trade: What too few textbooks told you” at https://youtu.be/3NXC4Q_4JVg or “1619 at Jamestown: Racialized slavery begins,” https://youtu.be/y1M4VrdM3DY. Of course, these are just two of the many sources available.

Searching the Library’s New Catalog For More Information

To learn more about Jamestown you can search the library’s new, improved catalog. When I entered “Jamestown” in the search bar there were 459 results. That included for instance Jamestown by Rodney Taylor. The catalog even gives you a summary of the book so you can figure out if you really want to check it out. And, of, course the Call Number is there too.

I needed to limit my search since Jamestown, Alaska was among the results. Entering “Jamestown Virginia” narrowed the results to 153. Among the “hits’ was Dennis B. Fradin’s Jamestown, Virginia. The short summary reads: “Describes the colonization of America by England, and how its first successful colony, in Jamestown, Virginia, managed to survive and then thrive.” You can then select an action including placing a hold on the book, text or email the book details to yourself, see a Google preview, add to your own book lists or see the MARC (a librarian’s cataloging tool) preview. What an Astounding tool!

If 153 is still too much to manage, the catalog allows you to narrow the results by setting limits on your search. Just check out the sidebar on the left, like part of which is displayed below. 

The catalog also lets you know which branch or branches has the item you want. The catalog is   federated search, meaning it retrieves digital and physical resources. One audiobook from Hoopla I found on the catalog list is Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown Virginia by Patricia L. Lawrence. You can even download it!

But, I wanted a more in depth history. So, still searching under “Jamestown Virginia,” I found The conquest of Virginia, the second attempt: an account, based on original documents, of the attempt, under the King’s form of government, to found Virginia at Jamestown, 1606-1610 by Conway Whittle Sams.  At 916 pages, that might be enough. If not, there is Pocahontas: alias Matoaka, and her descendants through her marriage at Jamestown, Virginia, in April, 1614, with John Rolfe, gentleman: including…. and others by Wyndham Robertson, published in 1887. Just my kind of reading! The catalog also includes a primary resource, The Records of the Virginia Company of London, The Court Book, from the Manuscript in the Library of Congress.

If you are interested in art check out the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Rule Britannia!: art, royalty & power in the age of Jamestown. The catalog’s summary reads in part:

“The British monarchy’s abiding connection to the sea during the age of exploration was a critical factor in the establishment of Britain’s first colonies in the New World….Rule Britannia! explores the rich artistic culture of Elizabethan and Stuart England and the artists who forged their reputations in the alternately violent and decadent circles of some of the last exponents of absolute monarchy….”

In summary, the new catalog makes it far easier to search for what you want. That’s so important since we all have limits on our time and just so much to Discover by Reading!

kathryn Coker

I am a retired Department of the Army civilian historian now working as a Library Associate in the Law Library.

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