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Early Virginia Pioneers

Captain John Smith founded the first English Colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Many of the first early English settlers did not survive those first harsh years. The mortality rate was exceedingly high, and in 1621, about one thousand persons (of a total of nineteen hundred who had sailed from Europe) had died before the Virginia coast had even been sighted. Of those who actually set foot on shore during that year, eighty of every ninety soon perished in consequence of diseases contracted at sea or resulting in a change of climate and diet in Virginia.

The winter of 1621-1622 brought much illness and hardship to the colonists, whereupon, hundreds died. The Indians were posing a constant life-threat. Even from the first days of Capt. John Smith they had been rebellious against white settlers. The Indian Emperor Powhatan was dead; his brother, Opencancanough, a powerful, strong-willed Indian, had displaced him. Opencancanough strongly professed his friendship for the English, yet all the while, was craftily plotting his strategy to forever drive the invading Europeans from Indian lands.

Perhaps the long, droughtful winter made the idea of an attack propitious. At eight o'clock on the morning of March 12, 1622, Good Friday, the redmen launched their full-scale attack of the peninsula. From Henrico to Hampton Roads (near Richmond to the southern tip of James City Island) the ruthless Indians attacked the poor, white settlers. Some had even arranged to be overnight guests in the settler's households, while others borrowed boats so that the settlers would be cut off from flight by water. Opencancanough's intent was clear - kill all white settlers! Suddenly, without warning, men, women and children were butchered to death in the fields or at home. The new town of Henrico and its college were wiped out. Of the twelve hundred settlers in the Virginia colony, close to four hundred were slaughtered that Good Friday morning.

Irrespective of the serious blow which Opencancanough dealt the settlers, annihilation of the whites failed, and now the Colonists hit back. A series of attacks were launched against the Indians. The objective was to defeat them in battle whenever possible and, when they fled from battle, destroy their villages and crops. Without corn, the Indians would face starvation. Thus, ultimately the weakened warriors were forced to withdraw from the area of the white man's settlements.

Yet Opencancanough had dealt a cruel blow. Of more than four thousand settlers who went to Virginia during the years 1619 to 1624, less than twelve hundred survived. Disease was another invader for the settlers.

Too, more than five hundred persons died in an epidemic during the winter of 1622-1623. Ships arriving from Europe often brought more ill persons than well ones, and periodically introduced new illnesses to the settlements.

The colonists had to spend so much of their time fighting the Indians that they had little time to plant crops and improve their land. Livestock had been driven off. There had been a rush to plant tobacco (that was used for money) at all hazards including the health of indentured servants, who were being cruelly exploited.

The town of Henrico was located south of Richmond. It was never rebuilt.

By the 1650's, Virginia planters began moving into the northeastern area of what is now North Carolina in pursuit of rich land on which to grow tobacco. These early settlers attracted the attention of England, and by 1663, a group of English courtiers, seeking power and wealth, sought a grant from King Charles II of England to colonize this region of the country. The king issued a charter to the eight Lords Proprietors in 1663 by which he created the Carolinas.


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