Study Guide

Jamestown People

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  • Richard Hakluyt

    Richard Hakluyt, the younger (1552–1616) was an English clergyman, geographer, and advocate of expansion. 

    About 1579, he began urging the English to challenge Spain's domination over the western hemisphere. The indigenous people of the Americas, currently enslaved by the Spanish, would rally to an English empire, he argued, and then they could be integrated within an empire dedicated to the international expansion of English liberty.

    Hakluyt's messianic vision contributed to the expansionist enthusiasm of the late-16th century. His writings, including his history of English exploration The Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, published in 1589 and 1600, provided, in addition, a blueprint for colonial development. He suggested that the English could build a complex economy in the New World, in which England's skilled craftsmen would turn the continents' natural wealth into exportable goods. 

    England's rapidly growing population would also find new opportunities within this economy, and the Native Americans would provide a willing source of labor as well as a market for English goods.

  • Powhatan

    Powhatan (unknown–1618) was a Pamunkey Indian chief and the father of Pocahontas. He was also the leader of the confederation of Chesapeake tribes surrounding the English settlement at Jamestown. This confederation consisted of 30 tribes and some 9,000 people.

    Unintimidated by the small English presence at Jamestown, Powhatan seemed interested in trading with the English and even integrating them within his confederation. He provided the corn essential to the colony's early survival and, according to some historians, staged a formal adoption ceremony aimed at making John Smith one of his sub-chiefs. He also approved the marriage of his daughter, Pocahontas, to John Rolfe.

    While periodic violence disrupted the relationship between the Pamunkeys and the English, an extended period of peace followed the marriage between Pocahontas and Rolfe. After Powhatan's death in 1618, he was succeeded by his brother, Opechancanough. Opechancanough grew increasingly unsettled by the growth of the English colony, and launched a massive raid against Jamestown in March 1622, killing 347 settlers.

  • Pocahontas

    Pocahontas (1596–1617) was the daughter of Powhatan, the Pamunkey chief who ruled the confederation of Native American tribes surrounding Jamestown, and the wife of John Rolfe, a Jamestown settler. John Smith claimed she saved his life when he was captured by Native Americans in 1607, and that she was a valuable liaison between the Algonquian and English communities.

    Taken captive in 1613 in an attempt to secure the release of English settlers held by Powhatan, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and married John Rolfe. 

    In 1616, she traveled with her husband and son to England, where she was celebrated as a symbol of the potential for English and Christian success in the New World. She died aboard ship en route back to America in 1617.

  • John Smith

    John Smith (1579–1631) was an English soldier and adventurer, and Jamestown's most important figure during the colony's first two years. Born in England, Smith briefly served an apprenticeship with a merchant. But at age 17, his father died, and Smith left home for military adventures throughout Europe. He joined an English brigade fighting for Dutch independence from the Spanish, and he enlisted in an Austrian army fighting the Turks.

    Smith returned to England in 1604 and joined the first company of settlers sent to Jamestown in December 1606. He was named to the colony's governing council but his heavy-handed methods quickly antagonized the other leaders. He similarly alienated common settlers and the local Native Americans, but he's generally credited with saving the colony from complete ruin its first two years.

    In December 1607, while negotiating provisions for the colony, Smith was captured by Powhatan, the Algonquian chief. Smith claimed his life was spared through the intervention of the chief's daughter Pocahontas. But many historians believe Smith either misunderstood or sensationalized a formal adoption ceremony.

    Tensions between Smith and the colony's other leaders prompted him to return to England in October 1609. He never returned to Virginia, but he later traveled to New England, and he also published several books and maps on the New World.

  • John Rolfe

    John Rolfe (1585–1622) introduced tobacco to Jamestown and married Pocahontas, the daughter of the Algonquin chief, Powhatan. He was born in England and migrated to the Virginia colony in 1610. His infant daughter died en route, and his wife died soon after reaching Jamestown.

    In 1612, Rolfe began experimenting with West Indian tobacco in an attempt to find a profitable export for the struggling colony. The first shipment was sent to England in 1617.

    In 1614, Rolfe married Pocahontas, who was being held captive in the English colony. Their marriage initiated several years of peace between the English settlement and the Algonquians. After the death of Pocahontas in 1617, Rolfe remarried and held several positions within Virginia's colonial government. He died in 1622, possibly in the major Native American attack of that year.

  • William Berkeley

    William Berkeley (1606–1677) was the Governor of Virginia from 1642 to 1652 and again from 1660 to 1677. Born in England, educated at Oxford, and knighted by Charles I in 1639, he was Virginia's most enduring and influential governor of the 17th century.

    Troubled by Virginia's one-dimensional economic structure, Berkeley tried as governor to diversify Virginia's economy by imposing limits on tobacco production and paying bounties for alternative crops and industries. He brutally suppressed the Native American uprisings of 1644, but afterward, tried to set aside Native American lands on the colony's frontier as a reservation and buffer. 

    In 1676, he faced an uprising of primarily smaller farmers from the interior, led by Nathaniel Bacon, who were dissatisfied with his supposedly too-conciliatory Native American policy. While forced by Bacon's army to temporarily flee from Jamestown, he regained control over the government after Bacon's death in October 1676. 

    He subsequently pursued a harsh policy of punishment for the rebellion's leaders, and under pressure from the king, resigned his office in April 1677. He died shortly after returning to England later that year.

  • Nathaniel Bacon

    Nathaniel Bacon (1640–1676) was a Virginia planter and the leader of the insurrection against Virginia Governor William Berkeley subsequently labeled Bacon's Rebellion. He was born in England, educated at Cambridge, and moved to Jamestown in 1673. He purchased land on Jamestown's northern frontier, and he was named to the governor's ruling council. Some believe Bacon was related to Berkeley's wife.

    In 1676, Bacon requested authorization from Berkeley to raise a militia to pacify the Native Americans on the colony's frontier. Suspicious of Bacon, Berkeley refused to grant the commission. When Bacon proceeded without governmental authorization, Berkeley accused him of treason. 

    The ensuing battle between the two men culminated in Bacon's burning of Jamestown in September 1676. Shortly after Bacon's death from dysentery on October 26th, the rebellion ended.

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