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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
Evolution of the Virginia Colony, 1610-1630
John Rolf Reports on Virginia to Sir Edwin Sandys, 1619

John Rolf, who first went to Virginia in 1609, became one of the most prominent people involved in the colony. Many of his letters provide important snapshots of the life and workings of the colony. Rolf wrote the following letter to Sandys in 1619. Its intent was to update Sandys on happenings in Virginia. What is Rolf's overall estimation of the prosperity of the colony? What insights into the colony's life and circumstances does Rolfe's letter reveal?

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Studieng wth my self what service I might doe yow, as a token of my gratefull rememberance for yor many favors and constant love shewed me, aswell in my absence as when I was prsent wth yow I could not at this tyme devise a better, then to giue yow notice of some pticulers both of or prsent estate, and what happened since the departure of the [ship] Diana. . . .

Presently after the Diana hadd her dispatch Sr George Yeardley (according to a Commyssion directed vnto him and to the Councell of State,) caused Burgesses to be chosen in all places who mett at James City, where all matters therein conteyned were debated by severall Commyttees and approved: and lykewise such other lawes enacted, as were held expedient & requisite for the wellfare and peaceable govermt of this Common-weale. Captaine Martines Burgesses for his Plantaccon were not admytted to this Assembly, the reasons I am assured yow shall receive from or Governor, who sendeth home a report of all those pceedings. . . .

Captaine Ward in his shipp went to Monahigon in the No: Colony in May, and returned the latter end of July, wth fishe wch he caught there. He brought but a smale quantitie, by reason he hadd but little salte. There were some Plymouth shipps where he harbored, who made greate store of fishe, wch is farr larger then New-land-fishe.

The [ship] George was sent by the Cape Marchant (wth the Governors consent) to New-found-land to trade and buy fishe for the better releif of the Colony and to make triall of that passage. . . . She made her passage to Newfound-land in less then 3. weekes, and was at the banck amongst the french fishermen in 14. daies. She came back hether againe in 3. weeks, wth bare wyndes, and brought so much fishe as will make a saving voyadge, wch, besides the greate releif, giveth much content to the wholl Colony. . . .

The Cattle in the Triall came exceeding well, and gaue the Colony much ioy and greate incouragemt. Both they horses and Mares wilbe very vendible here a long tyme, the Colony increasing wth people as of late.

About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arriued at Point-Comfort . . . He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, wch the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he prtended) at the best and easyest rates they could. . . .

Three or 4. daies after the [ship] Treer arriued. . . . [The captain] reported . . . that if wee gott not some Ord'nance planted at Point Comfort, the Colony would be quyte vndone and that ere long: for that vndoubtedly the Spanyard would be here the next [spring] wch he gathered (as was sayd) from some Spanyards in ye West Indyes. This being spread abroade doth much disharten the people ingerenall. ffor wee haue no place of strength to retreate vnto, no shipping of certynty (wch would be to vs as the wodden walles of England) no sound and experienced souldyers to vndertake, no Engineers and arthmen to erect workes, few Ordenance, not a serviceable carriadge to mount them on; not Ammynyccon of powlder, shott and leade, to fight 2. wholl dayes, no not one gunner belonging to the Plantaccon . . .

. . . Or Corne and Tobacco being in greate aboundance in or grounds (for a more plentyfull yere then this, it hath not pleased God to send vs since the begining of this Plantaccon, yet very contagious for sycknes, whereof many both old and new men died) . . .

All the Ancient Planters being sett free haue chosen places for their dividends according to the Commyssion. Wch giueth all greate content, for now knowing their owne landes, they strive and are prpared to build houses [&] to cleere their grounds ready to plant, wch giveth the [Colony?] greate incouragemt, and the greatest hope to make the Colony florrish that ever yet happened to them.

Vpon the 4. of November the Bona Noua arriued at James Cyty. All passengers came lusty and in good health. They came by the west Indyes, wch passage at that season doth much refreshe the people.

The proporcons of Victualls brought for those 100. men fell so short, that Captaine Welden and Mr Whitakers were forced (notwithstanding or plenty) to putt out 50. or thereabouts for a yere, by the Governors and Councells advise. ffor whom they are to receyue the next yere, 3. barrells of corne and 55n of tobacco for a man; wch their sicknes considered (for seldom any escapeth little or much) is more then they of themselues could euer gett. By this meanes the next yere, they wilbe instructed to pceed in their owne busynes and be well instructed to teache new-commers. Wth the menaynder (being about 25. a peece, the one is seated wth one Capt Mathewes 3. myles beyond Henrice for his owne securytie, and to his greate content. And Mr Whithakers within 4. myles of James Cyty on the Companies land. . . .

Thus farr as pte of my duty (ever ready at yor service) haue I breifly made knowen vnto yow, some ptyculers of or estate: and wthall in conclusion cannot chose but reveale vnto yow the sorrow I conceyve, to heare of the many accusaccons heaped vpon Captaine Argall, wth whome my reputaccon hath bene vniustly joynted . . . Lastly, I speake on my owne experience for these 11. yeres, I neuer amongst so few, haue seene so many falseharted, envious and malicious people . . . nor shall yow ever [heare] of any the iustest Governor here, who shall liue free, from their scandalls and shameles exclamaccions, if way be given to their reports.


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