Did The Ancient Planters In Jamestown Believe In Witchcraft?

Many of us associate witchcraft with United States history; Salem, Massachusetts in particular. But the phenomenon of witchcraft was something firmly believed in by those who were rooted in the Christian faith throughout Europe. In other words, most Jamestown settlers from 1607 and on didn’t just believe in witchcraft: they knew it existed. There was even a string of accusations that began sometime after 1622. Dozens of trials were conducted from 1626 to at least 1730.

They probably would have gone on longer if Parliament hadn’t repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1604, which is what planted many of the seeds of the future chaos in the first place. It really started back in 1542 when Parliament criminalized witchcraft.

It didn’t help that the ancient planters assumed the Native Americans worshiped alongside the devil. It’s no coincidence that John Smith once said Powhatan was “more like a devil than a man.” Others used similar descriptions after encountering the indigenous tribes. Alexander Whitaker was an Anglican minister who described them like the “English Witches” all men of the cloth seemed to “know” so well. George Percy wrote that the Native Americans would make “noise like so many Wolves or Devils.”

It shouldn’t come as such a surprise, then, that the colonists thought witchcraft was a big problem even in their own backyards.

Historians have no idea exactly how many trials regarding witchcraft were conducted in the early 1600s, because most of the era’s court records were destroyed during the Civil War nearly two hundred years later.

In September 1626, Joan Wright of James City County was formally accused of witchcraft. She was an English settler. Witnesses testified that she had prophesied the deaths of fellow colonists around the same time she allegedly destroyed crops and cows, and somehow caused the death of a baby. Naturally, they said it all occurred through witchcraft.

Even though she admitted her part in all of it, she was acquitted of the charges.

Although we’ll never know for sure exactly why these charges were brought about, we can safely assume it was not the result of supernatural activity. Perhaps Wright was not a popular member of the community. More likely the charges were the result of unexplained phenomena that were so commonplace in the early 1600s: unexplained crop failure, death, persistent illness, etc. Even today people feel the need to place blame when something goes wrong. How often do we turn to science? It was even less common back in the colonies.

Naturally, witchcraft cases tend to reflect the presence of misogyny in the culture of the ancient planters. Only two of the cases we know about made allegations that men had played at witchcraft. Women were the primary targets, but we have no idea how far the paranoia really spread.

Things You Didn’t Know About the Virginia Colony

Much of this country’s early history can be found in Virginia. It was home to one of our first colonies, and Jamestown was as important as any of the rest. The residents who called this place home struggled to survive, and actually did so, against all odds. All that aside, it was one of the most interesting places to live as well. Here are some things you may not have known about the history of these settlements!

  1. Before there were even colonies, Sir Walter Raleigh named all of the British territory north of Florida and south of Canada “Virginia.” Everything. When the population exploded, new colonies chipped away at the already-named territory little by little.

  2. European tobacco wasn’t introduced into the Virginia colony until about 1610, and only then by the husband of Pocahontas, John Rolfe. Needless to say, it was a great investment even if it was a lot different than what we’re familiar with today.

  3. That tobacco was likely smuggled from Central America or Spain, where the sale of tobacco seeds was illegal.

  4. Native Americans were already cultivating tobacco of their own, but naturally the European settlers of Jamestown preferred a taste of home just a little bit more.

  5. From late 1609 and well into 1610 was a period known as The Starving Time. The search for food was so fruitless that upwards of 80 percent of all the colonists perished over the winter. Some archaeologists believe that the residents who survived resorted to cannibalism in order to do so.

  6. Most historians agree that the first colonists to settle Virginia weren’t actually planters at all. They were rich men trying to become even more wealthy by stealing natural resources that the Native Americans had found for themselves. It was harder than they anticipated!

  7. Hampton was settled in 1610, and has been continuously settled ever since. That’s saying a lot since the town burned down during the chaos of the Civil War.

  8. Virginia was the site of the first capital trial and execution in the New World. A councilman and captain, George Kendall was accused of being a Catholic spy. The other colonists were worried that he might be supply information on colonization and settlement efforts to Spain, so they tried and executed him.

Was Tobacco In Colonial Virginia Different From What We Grow Today?

The ancient planters struggled to survive when they first arrived in Virginia, but they knew what they were getting into. They came for a variety of reasons, but they had to work together in order to make their new homework to its full potential. One of the biggest contributing factors to the long-term success of this early colony was tobacco–an important cash crop everywhere, but especially to the colonists.

They needed the influx of capital it provided, but as their need for resources grew, so too did their conflicts with the Native Americans who lived in the area. They needed land more than anything else to continue growing their tobacco, which led to conflict, social strife, and war.

Whether or not the tobacco tasted familiar to the settlers depended on where the seeds were found. The first tobacco the settlers found belonged to the Native Americans who lived there, and was called “nicotiana rustica.” To them, it would’ve tasted darker and more bitter than what they were accustomed to growing. Eventually, John Rolfe managed to procure Spanish seeds called “nicotiana tabacum.” These seeds helped the settlers grow a plant that tasted dark yet mild compared to the former.

It should be noted that the dominant means of “consumption” was called “snuff.” The ground tobacco leaves would be sniffed or inhaled. It was quite unlike the cigarettes today and probably wasn’t as offensive.

These latter seeds would become the standard for tobacco farming over the next century, but of course, the way we grow and breed plants has evolved quite a bit over time. Tobacco cultivation became so important to the economy of new colonies that the General Assembly mandated a number of regulations by 1619. Tobacco had to undergo inspection, and could only be stored in specific types of warehouses and transported in port towns. This process helped expand other settlements in Norfolk, Richmond, and Alexandria. Anyone one who failed to do this would face criminal charges and be in need of a criminal defense lawyer.

It was a brutal cycle. The cash crop was directly used to pay for the indentured servants or slaves who would inevitably be responsible for cultivating the land where the next batch would be planted. Many of the crops would be shipped back to England in return for new slaves, servants, and an influx of cash.

Who Is Virginia Dare?

Daughter of Anania Dare and Eleanor White, Virginia Dare was the first English child born in “the New World” in Roanoke. She was born on August 18th, 1587. Virginia’s grandfather, John White, was the governor of Roanoke at the time of her birth. After White left for England to get supplies, he was prohibited from returning due to a war with Spain. Eventually, he returned three years later to discover all of the colonist, including Virginia missing.

While there are many theories about what happened to the colonists at Roanoke, it still remains one of the greatest American mysteries. Theories range from assimilating with the neighboring Native American Tribe or that they were mass murdered by the Powhatan Indians.

This has led Virginia Dare to become a heroine in American folklore and symbology. For example, within North Carolina Virginia Dare is used to both extremes. In Raleigh, one group VDARE believes that North Carolina should “remain white … in the name of Virginia Dare.” While another group of feminists used Virginia Dare as a symbol for equal rights.

Back in 1937, she was memorialized by the United States Mint and was depicted on a half silver dollar making it the first time a child was represented on currency within the United States.

Several other historical fiction writers have used The Lost Colony of Roanoke and Virginia Dare’s story as inspiration. She has been used as a character as early as 1840 in Cornelia Tuthill’s novel Virginia Dare and as recently as 2014 on the television series Sleepy Hollow.

Sadly, we will never know the truth about Virginia Dare or what happened to the other settlers of Roanoke. All we can do is take solace in the fact that the settlers did not appear to be missing due to force.

Awesome Historic Places To Visit In New England

New England refers to a region made up of six states including Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont. As a heart of the American Revolution, this part of the country is littered with a huge collection of historical sites and attractions.

New England is littered with a variety of historic attractions including academic, religious and revolutionary war sites as you will discover below.

Freedom Trail

Located in Boston, the two and a half mile Freedom Trail leads eager visitors through 16 historic sites; making it a must visit for any history buff out there. The guides wearing costumes as well as the enthralling stories are a massive hit for visiting kids.

Some of the main sites to look out for include the Old Corner Book Store, Old State House, Park Street Church, the USS Constitution, and many others.

Stonington Borough

If you are looking to have a colonial feel, then this is definitely the place to be. Stonington Borough is lined with numerous buildings from the colonial period. This seaside village is also home to a collection of small restaurants and antique shops among others; all lined up along the main street. You can also go on a people and boat watching tour on the harbor.


Currently, one of the best learning centers in the US and world at large, Yale University was established back in the 1600s. Renamed Yale College in early 1700 after being granted a charter, it went on to survive the revolution and develop into the institution we know today.

This attraction boasts impressive architecture, a number of art museums and a rare book library in addition to its historic appeal.

Museums Of Old York

Located in York, this area is made up of 9 historic buildings including a warehouse once owned by John Hancock, a patriot, an old jailhouse, and an antique filled estate among others. The on-site nature preserve will provide a place for a much needed break as you move from one part of this attraction to the next. Be sure to check out the contemporary art gallery, museum shop and museum buildings.

First Baptist Church In America

Architecture lovers will probably love the prospect of touring this impressive attraction. Built between 1774 and 1775, the church features a blend of traditional New England meeting house and English Georgian architecture.

As you travel down the coast towards New York down to Virginia, the history of the early settlers only grows deeper. The original colonies developed the foundation of what America is built on.

Who Is Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr

Thomas West, 3rd, and 12th Baron De La Warr was born on July 9th, 1577 and died on June 7th, 1618 at the age of 40 years at sea while traveling from England to the Colony of Virginia. He was a former English politician whose name is colloquially called “Delaware” and is the person for which the bay, river, and state are named after.

In colonial Virginia, during the time that Captain John Smith was president, Lord De La Warr was designated as Governor. During this time the first Anglo-Powhatan War began in 1610 to which De La Warr using his own finances sent 150 men from England to help the effort. He was notorious for using “scorched earth” tactics to help drive the Native Americans away from the colony. Such tactics included raided villages, burned houses and torched cornfields.

In 1611, De La Warr became ill and returned to England leaving deputy Sir Samuel Argall in charge of the colony. However, many Virginian settlers complained about Argall’s tyrannical rule and De La Warr set to return to Virginia to investigate in 1618. It was during this trip where he died at sea.

Originally, historians at thompsonlawtx.com believed that his body was buried at the town of Azores or at sea. However, in 2006 it was concluded that his body was indeed buried at Jamestown. His brother John West became the Governor of Virginia after his death.


But What Did They Plant?

We have spent several weeks discussing what life was like for these Ancient Planters but we just realized that we have not discussed what they actually planted. There is a great exhibit currently at Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in Williamsburg, Virginia that includes gardens that include examples of the types of crops that were grown during the formation of our country.

We all know the story of Thanksgiving and Pocahontas but many of us are not aware of how much of that influenced colonial American diet. Corn was original grown by the Powhatan Indians and was adopted by the colonists. The Powhatan also showed the colonists how to grow beans and squash around the corn. Other foods and spices that are on display include:

  • peas
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • chard
  • onions
  • radishes
  • kale
  • cabbage
  • parsnips
  • feverfew
  • wormwood
  • savory
  • rosemary
  • yarrow
  • coriander
  • sage
  • thyme
  • dill
  • oregano
  • chamomile
  • lemon balm

But not everything that was grown during this time was used for food. Crops were used for medicine, fabric dye, insect repellent and for sale. Two types of tobacco are grown in the exhibit – Nicotiana rustica which was found native in the Americas and Nicotiana tabacum which was brought over to the Americas in the early 17 century. Cotton and flax are also both grown as this is what the colonists used to make clothes.

The exhibit also has a “slave farm” with other crops that slaves grew for personal use or to sell at the market. Crops include peanuts, collards, cowpeas, okra, peppers, and gourds.

Biography of Thomas Dale

You could write a great movie script about a man like Thomas Dale. He wasn’t the most light-hearted of guys, and he ruled with an iron fist. He didn’t believe in fuzzy bunnies, candy or rainbows. Luxury didn’t exist in the New World. He was a military man–knighted by King James I, he knew you had to do what needed to be done in order to survive. If one of his underlings refused a work order, that underling would be granted three years work as a slave instead. If that didn’t work, death would suffice. You were free only so long as you followed the rule of order.

While the harshness of his rule might be undeniable, so too was his effectiveness. He was sent to the Virginia Colony to act as the “Marshall of Virginia” by the Virginia Company of London for exactly that reason. His reputation was solid. He arrived in Jamestown as part of a three ship entourage on May 19 of 1611, only a year after The Starving Time, a brutal winter period that saw the vast majority of the colonists die of hunger. He immediately set forth to make things better. He started by calling the Jamestown Council to order. During this session, he established guidelines for rebuilding the colony.

Before he arrived, the settlers might as well have been living as a pack of animals. Thomas Dale helped establish “Dale’s Code”, or more formally the “Articles, Lawes, and Orders Divine, Politique, and Martiall” which was a strict code of laws.

Economic prosperity was no more than a distant mirage before Dale arrived. He increased the amount of land granted to settlers that had already been living in the colony, while later arrivals to Jamestown would be provided with less. This allowed veteran settlers to markedly increase food production. The economy would become much healthier after John Rolfe’s hybrid tobacco yield in 1614. During that same year, Dale established the production of salt.

These policies worked in part due to other actions: if you were caught stealing extra rations, you were strapped to a tree and left to starve. In addition, Dale attacked the Native American tribes that had once surrounded Jamestown, and helped end the first Powhatan War.

Dale also recognized how terrible a location the original Jamestown was built upon. He gave up the relative discomfort of the old site, and dreamed instead of new potential at the junction between the Appomattox and James Rivers. This location never panned out. He also began to develop at a location that would eventually be named Farrars Island, but that was destroyed by a Native American massacre that resulted in the deaths of a third of the colonists present at the time. By that time, Dale had already returned to England.

What Is The Starving Time?

The name itself should give you an idea of the subject: The Starving Time was a period without food. The New World was a great place for adventurers to explore, but it was also an example of how harsh the force of Mother Nature can be when not respected. The Virginia Company of London helped find enough investors to set off into the unknown, but money can only do so much. There were no maps, no guarantees of success, and no expectations of survival. If you left England, you might never return–and most didn’t.

When you explored the New World, you did so without much help. There were no hospitals and no criminal defense lawyers to make sure you came out on top if you got hurt traveling around what was at the time mostly untamed wilderness. That’s why most people who made the journey were only looking to strike it rich. The especially cruel winter from 1609 to 1610 was known as The Starving Time, and it ended most of those dreams.

It didn’t help that many of the colonists who settled Virginia were so-called gentlemen. These weren’t workers. These were a class of the entitled. They expected that those of lower standing would do all the hard labor themselves and that the wealth would trickle upward, so to speak. It turns out that wealth doesn’t trickle in either direction. Jamestown was founded in a terrible location. Clean water was difficult to find, and hunting was mostly unsuccessful. The area was chosen because of its soil, which was perfect for farming, and its defensible location.

Problems resulted with this location almost immediately because the settlers of Jamestown didn’t have adequate time to sow seeds for a fall harvest. The lack of reliable food for the coming winter was only the start of their problems. With at least half of the population useless, there weren’t enough houses built by the onset of winter, nor was the Native American population a reliable source of resupply. The only real chance settlers had was the hope of resupply ships, but the ships did not come. The Starving Time was upon them.

Rule over Jamestown spiraled out of control quickly. If you opted to abandon the colony, you would be shot down by the Native Americans who had essentially laid siege. If you stayed, you would starve. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the possibility of cannibalism was discussed in reports out of the colony. Martial law was mandated.

The Starving Time resulted in the deaths of about three-quarters of those who tried to colonize Virginia. When help finally arrived in 1610, it was decided that Jamestown would be abandoned. Almost immediately after their departure, another ship carrying the first governor of Virginia made contact with the settlers and ordered them back to the colony. After this, Jamestown continued to struggle with flatlined morale, and under much harsher rule.

What Was So Special About John Hancock’s Signature?

American historians are known for their ability to find healthy debate in literally any historical topic, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the somewhat unusual signature of John Hancock raises eyebrows from time to time. Hancock gained even more notoriety after signing the Declaration of Independence first, and his signature certainly seems to have cemented his place in history because it stands out far more than the others. He signed directly under the last line of the document, and his signature is the biggest, boldest, and most centered of the whole bunch. That’s not all.

The laymen might look at the signature and simply conclude: “Oh hey, that one’s bigger than the rest. This guy must have thought highly of himself.” The historians take it one step further than the rest of us. There was no structure on the declaration; you couldn’t just sign on the dotted line and be done with it. If you wanted the moment to matter, you had to be methodical. John Hancock was.

That’s why historians and handwriting analysts have mostly concluded that his signature shows his brazen self-esteem. They believe that Hancock was extroverted, authoritative, and believed himself to be important. They believe he lacked the humility common among other men within the group. The signature achieves other historically contextual goals: because it remains directly below and in the center of the document, it can never go unnoticed. When one thinks of the Declaration of Independence, there are a number of names that come to mind–and a number which do not. John Hancock is one of the former. On top of that, the placement might suggest optimism in the signing.

The signature seems to be well-practiced, nearly impeccable, and calligraphic. All of these aspects imply confidence, perhaps even theatricality. Showmanship may have been important to the man. This is a guy who takes pride in his seat at the table, and he is ultimately confident in the event’s important. Furthermore, his signature is underlined. This is yet another sign of confidence, perhaps even heightened ego.

These are all aspects that normal people could analyze if push comes to shove, but here’s one that’s not: the signature is slanted to the right, which indicates a very specific personality type. These are extroverted individuals. They work to express themselves to others. Unsurprisingly, those who write with a right slant are often innovators. They have bold new ideas and the confidence with which to bring them into the world. Their lives revolve around social gatherings; they are comforted by the presence of friends and family.

Who knew that a signature could say so much to others? Take that to heart the next time you sign an important document!