In 1607 America’s first permanent English colony was planted on Jamestown Island, in Virginia. Soon afterwards, thousands of immigrants flocked to Jamestown and surrounding areas on the James and York Rivers, where they struggled to maintain a foothold. A number of these settlers–by their own prodigious efforts or by virtue of their financial investment in the colony–rose to prominence, leaving a paper trail that historians have followed ever since. The majority, however–the ordinary men, women, and children whose efforts enabled the colony to become viable–simply escaped notice. As a result, 400 years later, we’re still curious about Virginia’s earliest settlers–who they were, where they lived, and how they lived. To answer these questions, this book brings together a variety of primary sources that inform the reader about the colony’s earliest European inhabitants and the sparsely populated and fragile communities in which they lived, resulting in the most comprehensive collection of annotated biographical sketches yet published.
From the earliest records relating to Virginia, we learn the basics about many of these original colonists: their origins, the names of the ships they sailed on, the names of the “hundreds” and “plantations” they inhabited, the names of their spouses and children, their occupations and their position in the colony, their relationships with fellow colonists and Indian neighbors, their living conditions as far as can be ascertained from documentary sources, their ownership of land, the dates and circumstances of their death, and a host of fascinating, sometimes incidental details about their personal lives, all gathered together in the handy format of a biographical dictionary.
Maps provided here identify the sites at which Virginia’s earliest plantations were located and enable genealogists and students of colonial history to link most of the more than 5,500 people included in this volume to the cultural landscape–establishing definitively a specific location and a timeframe for these early colonists. Placing all this in perspective, an introductory chapter includes an overview of local and regional settlement and provides succinct histories of the various plantations established in Tidewater Virginia by 1635.