The State of the Virginia Colony in 1623

The colonists wanted the King James I’s financial support, and here is their report on the state of the colony. 31 Virginians signed this document.

The King in 1623 was James I.

The Indians (supposedly) told the colonists there were gold and silver mines in the area. One suggestion is to bring over malt to make beer for water to drink. This post is a primary source with thirty-one names of original colonists.

The King asked his Privy Council (his closest advisers) to ask the Virginia colonists to give a state of the colony report, based on these four propositions.

Modernized transcription begins:

Whereas out of his Majesty’s gracious care for the good of this plantation, it has pleased their Lordships of his Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council to command us to give them true and particular notice of the present estate of the same in divers [various] considerable points, some whereof may best be resolved by this worthy Assembly, our earnest desire is that you would be pleased to deliver unto us your opinion in writing to these four propositions, Viz.:

1. What places in the country [of Virginia] are best or most proper to be fortified or maintained either against the Indians or other enemies that may come by sea.

2. How the colony now stands in respect of savages [Natives].

3. What may truly and really be conceived of this plantation [of Virginia].

4. And lastly which be the directest means to attain these hopes.

John Harvey, Joseph Porey, Abraham Persey, Samuel Matthews, Ed. Shar les. Clerk

Here is Virginia’s General Assembly’s reply:

The General Assembly’s reply to those four propositions made unto them by the Commission to be presented to the Lords of his Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council.

  1. What places in the County are best or most proper to be fortified or maintained against the Indians or other enemies that may come by sea.

Point Comfort is most use but of great charge and difficulty. Wariscoyake where fortification was intended more effectual to secure the places above it, from Wyanoke marshes upwards there are divers [various] places which may peremptorily commands shipping and boats; the best against the Indians and most use for the future increase of plenty is the winning of the forest by running of a pale from Martin’s Hundred to Chiskiake which is not above the six miles and planting upon both rivers, the River of Pamunkey being also more defensible against a foreign enemy.

  1. How the colony now stand in respect of the savages.

The terms betwixt us and them are irreconcilable, the charge of driving them away, which would reduce us to a better state than we were in before the massacre, so great as it is too weighty for us to support, though hitherto [up to now] we have done whatever it was possible for our means and numbers to effect;

An enemy from whom there is no spoil to be expected; the advantage of the woods and nimbleness of their heels prevent execution.

The harms that they do us is by ambushes and sudden incursions where they see their advantages, we never since the massacre having lost one man in any expedition against them.

The inconveniences we receive from them are of far more consequence, we have not the safe range of the country for increase of cattle, swine, etc., nor the game and fowl which the country affords in great plenty, besides our duties to watch and ward to secure ourselves and labours are as hard and chargeable, as if the enemy were at all times present.

  1. What hope may truly and really be conceived of this plantation:

We hold it to be one of the goodliest parts of the earth abounding with the navigable rivers full of a variety of fish and fowl, falling from high and steep mountains, which by the general relation [narration] of the Indians are rich with mines, gold, silver, and copper and other sea lying within six days journey beyond them into which other rivers descend.

The soil fruitful and apt to produce the best sorts of commodities replenished with many trees for several uses, gums, dyes, earths and simples [samples] of admirable virtues, vines, and mulberry trees [for silk] growing wild in great quantities, the woods full of deer, turkeys, and other beasts and birds;

For more particular relation [narration] we refer you to the reports of Sir Thomas Gates and Sir Thomas Dale made unto the company concerning those praises now way hyperbolical, nor any country more worthy of a Prince’s care and supportance [support].

  1. Which be the directest means to attain these hopes.

The way to attain to these hopes is to have a running army continually afoot to keep the Indians from settling on any place that is near us;

To send over numbers of people to arrive here about the prime of winter with provisions of cattle and with full provisions for themselves at least for a year.

In the meantime to fall only upon the planting of vines and mulberry trees and to send men over that are expert in those faculties to plant gardens and orchards and such things as are useful for the sustenance of man’s life;

To raise the price of tobacco by the sole importation and reducing the customs to the rate of the letters patents;

And when the country shall be blessed with plenty of such provisions and multitudes of people to proceed in the discovery of the wealth of mountains and commodities of the seas that are credibly reported to lie beyond them;

A care must be had that ships come not over pestered [diseased] and that they may be well used at sea with that plenty and goodness of diet as is promised in England, but seldom performed;

That when they come they first fall to building of good and convenient houses and bring men over for that purpose.

That for the first year they only endeavor themselves to the planting of corn, to the making of gardens to the choosing and enclosing of fit places for their cattle;

And to the planting only of so much tobacco as may serve to sustain them in necessary clothing for succeeding year;

A proportion of malt they should also bring over to make themselves beer that the sudden drinking of water cause not too great an alteration in their bodies;

That they should employ themselves to the planting of English grain that thereby we may have hopes of two harvests.

And that such numbers may be seated together as may be able to secure themselves;

And to make good such a part of the country as they may have free and secure range for the sustenance and increase of their cattle.

These done, we doubt not but in convenient time to purchase to his Majesty’s a rich and flowering Kingdom.

Francis West, George Sandys, Raphe [Ralph] Hamor, Roger Smyth, William Tucker, Henry Watkins, John Whitaker, Nathaniel Basse, John Pollington, John Utie, Robert Adams, Richard Biggs, John Chew, Richard Kingsmill, Edward Blainey, Luke Bois, George Yeardley, J. Pountes, John Pott., Nicholas Martain, William Peirce, Isaac Madison, Samuel Sharpe, Isaac Chaplin, Clement Dilke, Rawley Crosham (Crosshaw), Nath. Caussey, Thomas Marlott, Thomas Harris, Richard Stephens, John Wilcox.


Gateway Ancestors of Virginia

Members of Virginia House of Burgesses 1619 to 1660


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619-1658/59, ed. H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond: 1915), pp. 38-39

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