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Document Number: AJ-077
Author: Molina, Diego de
Title: Letter of Don Diego de Molina, 1613
Source: Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor). Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907). Pages 217-224.
Pages/Illustrations: 10 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-077/

Author Note

Don Diego de Molina was a member of a Spanish convoy sent to spy on the English colony in Virginia. Members of the Jamestown Colony captured Molina and two other spies in 1611. Of the three, Molina was the only one returned to Spain. In 1618, Molina encouraged King Philip III to engage the English colonists in battle for control over silver mines he believed existed in the Jamestown territory. His plans were never carried out.

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. 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. One of the original settlers, George Percy (see AJ-073), 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, 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. In 1624, the Virginia Company dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony under the governance of the English Crown.

Document Note

Molina’s letter was written to Don Alonzo de Velasco, Spanish Ambassador in London, 1610-1613. He reported on the weaknesses of the fort at Jamestown and encouraged the ambassador to use force to stop the progress of English colonization in the New World. Molina feared the spread of English colonization into western territories and eventually the threat of English control over the seas. He described the river inlets of the Chesapeake Bay and believed that the area would prove profitable to the Spanish because of gold and silver mines in the area. In 1890, Don Diego’s letter was translated from Spanish to English and published in Alexander Brown’s Genesis of the United States. 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/jr.html contains historical summaries, a timeline, biographies, and description of the archeological findings made at Jamestown.

At the Virtual Jamestown website, you can find 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.

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