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Berkeley, Glos, and Berkeley, Va, 1619

From Berkeley in Gloucestershire to Berkeley in Virginia 1619

From Berkeley and Wanswell and Wotton and Nibley,

Distressed weavers labouring in poverty;

From the tobacco fields near Winchcombe,

Yet more distressed labourers;

And from King James and a 1617 Charter:

A charter of incorporation by the name of the Governor and Company of the City of London for the Plantation of the Somers Islands’ (the Bermudas of today),

And so to Virginia,

To a new Berkeley in Virginia.

One year after John Rolfe, Pocahontas,

And a dozen or so ‘Indians’

Landed at Plymouth (‘Salutem in Christo’),

Thirty-five colonists will voyage to Virginia,

Aided by the Venturers’ Company,

And they will transport the following:

16 swords, 24 muskets, 3 barrels of gunpowder,

For ‘a town to be called Berkeley and to settle and plant our said men

and divers others … To the honour of almighty God, the enlarging of Christian religion …And the particular good or ourselves and our servants …’.

Domestic items will include wax,

Parchment, ink, paper, silk string, beads,

Pots and pans and kitchenware,

Carpentry and agricultural tools,

And of course, precious bags of vital seeds.

They left Bristol in September 1619:

‘To worshipful gentlemen of Gloucestershire George Thorpe of Wanswell esq and John Smith of Nibley esq Wishing you all manner of prosperity and especially in this honourable attempt of planting in this country which I make no doubt with God’s assistance will be a benefit to your selves and posterity; a good to the commonwealth of England; and in time, a means to convert these poor faithless Indians.’

(The Voyage written by Ferdinando Yate To Virginia, 1619)

Jamestown was reached on the 4th of December

(‘the good ship of Bristol calling’),

The colonists thus made their way

To the nascent settlement of Berkeley;

Some fifty-six days later, a second ship

of Berkeley colonists would arrive …

George Thorpe to Edwin Sandys 1621 May 15th: ‘Honourable Sir,

Unto whom although I owe very much and am willing to pay something, yet so slender hath been the harvest of our labours, that I can scarce find out what to offer, in as much as I doubt [not] God is displeased with us, that we do not do as we ought to do, take in his service along with us by our serious endeavour of converting the heathen that live round about us and are daily conversant among us that doth so much afford them a good thought in his heart, and most men with their mouths give them nothing but maledictions and bitter execrations … Who are not so charitable to them as Christians ought to be … If the Company would be pleased to send something in matter of apparel and household stuff to be bestowed upon them … I think likewise that the company shall do well to make some public declaration of their intent and desire of the conversion of these people.’

But on the 22nd March 1622,

Between 350 and 400 settlers were killed

In a somewhat inevitable First Nation attack.

Opechancanough, tribal leader,

Tired of the colonists’ constant plantation expansion

On the most fertile lands by the James river,

Tired of the attempts to convert First Nation children

Into Christian subjects of King James,

Attacked …

And between 350 and 400 settlers were killed over one day.

But Might was Right:

The colonists’ ordnance and allies would prevail,

And after the defeat of the First Nations peoples,

It was recorded that contiguous tribes

Could now be ‘compelled to servitude and drudgery,

and supply the room of men that labour’:

This included transportation as slaves;

‘Lastly … every good patriot …will … consider how deeply the prosecution of this noble enterprise concerneth the honour of his Majesty and the whole nation, the propagation of the Christian Religion, the enlargement, strength and safety of his Majesty’s dominions, the real augmenting of his revenues, the employment of his subjects idle at home …’

Christopher Brooke, who lost friends in the conflict,

Wrote a six hundred line or so poem,

A Poem on the Late Massacre in Virginia,

Here is a short extract for flavour,

An extract on George Thorpe of Berkeley:

‘Brave Thorpe, thou true deserver of thy style,

Whose mind with things exorbitant or vile

Had no affinity; thy worthy deeds

Virginia’s hand shall spread like virtual seeds …

Thou that wert used to negotiate

In matters of Religion as of State;

Who didst attempt to make those Indians know

Th’ Eternal GOD; their sinewy necks to bow

To his obedience; and on that ground

To make them apt to what thou didst propound

For our Commerce with them; their good, our peace,

And both to help with mutual increase …’

The Berkeley Company ended in 1637:

‘The said Eight Thousand acres of land being due to them the said William Tucker and others as aforesaid by Deed of Sale from the Adventurers and Company of Berkeley Hundred exemplified under the great seal of England …’

Be all of this as it may,

What of the first Thanksgiving Day in North America?

Was it in Plymouth in 1621,

When the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ thanked God

For their ‘fruitful and liberal harvest’?

Or was the Berkeley Company responsible?

Impr we ordain that the day of our ship’s arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.’


George Thorpe and the Berkeley Company

Eric Gethyn-Jones, Alan Sutton 1982

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