American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-073
Author: Percy, George, 1580-1632
Title: Observations by Master George Percy, 1607
Source: Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor). Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907). Pages 3-23.
Pages/Illustrations: 23 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-073/

Author Note

George Percy was born September 4, 1580, a younger son of the Earl of Northumberland. He was a soldier in the Netherlands until he joined Captain John Smith and the first expedition to Virginia, England’s new colony. Percy served as president of the Jamestown Colony council from September 1609 to May 1610 and again, after Lord de La Ware’s departure to England, from March 1611 to April 1612. He left Jamestown and returned to England in April 1612. He did not return to Virginia, but served again as a soldier for the English army. He died in 1632.

Jamestown Settlement, 1607-1625

In 1606, the London Company received a royal charter from King James I to organize an expedition and establish colonies in North America. The Plymouth Company would establish the short-lived colony in Maine (see AJ-042). The Virginia Company set up England’s first permanent colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Their primary goal was profit; investors hoped settlers would find valuable natural resources, such as lumber, herbs, pitch, and even gold, to send back to England. However, the English government also wanted to resist the Spanish colonization of North America (see AJ-077 for a Spaniard’s account of the Jamestown colony). One hundred and four men and boys came ashore in May 1607-no women arrived until the following year. Over the next three years almost eight hundred settlers would arrive to colonize the Virginia coasts-six hundred of them arriving in 1609. Unfortunately, Jamestown was not an ideal spot for a colony. The low marshy land was not healthy, and clean water could be difficult to find. Attacks by the Powhatan Indians began shortly after the English colonists built their first fort at the Jamestown site. Fighting between the English and Indians continued, despite the settlers’ reliance on the Indians for corn during the difficult winters. In addition, many of the settlers were hardly qualified to farm and survive in this difficult setting. During the first years, mortality was very high through disease, starvation, and accident.

Captain John Smith was elected president in September 1608 (see AJ-074 and AJ-075). By enforcing strict discipline and requiring all settlers to farm, he increased the food supply. However, a serious injury in 1609 forced his return to England. George Percy was president of the Virginia’s council during the winter of 1609 and 1610, called the “starving time” when only sixty settlers survived. In June 1610, they decided to abandon the town, but the arrival of the new governor, Lord de La Ware (see AJ-076) and his supply ships brought the colonists back to the fort. In 1612, the settlers began to grow tobacco on their plantations-over time, this successful crop transformed the colony into a successful venture. John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas (see AJ-079), is credited with first planting a marketable tobacco in Virginia. In 1619, the same year Africans were brought into the colony as slaves, the first representative assembly in North America was set up-the Virginia Assembly (see AJ-080). In 1624, the Virginia Company dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony under the governance of the English Crown.

Document Note

In this document, Percy describes the first expedition in great detail including their first contact with natives. He also writes of the physical attributes of the native people, landscape, vegetation, animals and fish of the islands and mainland of Virginia. Percy observes the traditions of the Native Americans he encountered and detailed their body paint, hunting and gardening practices, manner of food preparation and women’s manner of dress. Percy discussed the difficulty the colonists had with Native Americans following their settlement and the support that Powhatan’s Algonquian tribe gave to the colonists in the first years of the settlement.

While we do not have the original of this document, Samuel Purchas published a part of Percy’s recollections in 1625 in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes, contayning a History of the World, in Sea Voyages, and Lande Travells by Englishmen and others, Vol. IV. The document shown here is from Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor), Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The Jamestown Rediscovery archeology project website at http://www.apva.org/history/timeline.html contains historical summaries, a timeline, biographies, and description of the archeological findings made at Jamestown.

At the Virtual Jamestown website, you can find a portrait of George Percy, at http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/pic24a.html as well as other first-hand accounts of the Jamestown settlement (see http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/fhaccounts_date.html.

The Public Broadcasting Station website on the history of Africans in America presents a narrative of the early years of Virginia’s history and explores the settlers’ difficult relationship with the Native Americans and the introduction of black slavery at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/title.html.

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2014 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history