Citie of firsts: From ‘sweete seate’ to Henrico Town

A historical interpreter recounts the landing in 1611 by Capt. Christopher Newport at what he would name the Citie of Henricus.
Just weeks after landing at Jamestown in the spring of 1607, a band of settlers set out on an expedition up what is now the James, with instructions from the Virginia Company of London to explore the source of the river.

Led by one-armed veteran Capt. Christopher Newport, the expedition landed on the third day at the village of the Arrohattoc Indians, where the adventurers became the first Englishmen to set foot on what was to become Henrico soil.

Although the settlers soon returned to Jamestown – after planting a flag at the falls and claiming the river for King James I – that visit was only the first of their exploratory trips upstream.

For the next four years, as Jamestown's residents struggled with famine, disease, severe weather and Indian attacks, additional groups made forays toward the falls – until in 1611, Sir Thomas Dale led the voyage that would establish the Citie of Henricus.

Under orders from the Virginia Company to construct a more "healthful" and secure settlement upriver, Dale sought high ground (unlike the marshy land around Jamestown) that could be easily defended from attacks by both Indians and Spaniards. He chose a bluff 80 miles north of Jamestown, "a neck of very high land, three parts thereof environed with the main River . . . a sweete and healthie seate."

Accompanied by 300 settlers from Jamestown, Dale established a new fortification that he named Henrico Town, for Prince Henry, eldest son of King James. Erecting a log fence (known as a pale) across one side of the peninsula to form an island, Dale hoped the “citie” would eventually replace Jamestown as the new principal seat of the county.

Although the town flourished for only a decade – until a 1622 Indian massacre – Henrico Town (a.k.a. Henricus) nevertheless represents the site of nearly a dozen of the nation’s firsts, including the first chartered university, first library, English-speaking America's first hospital, and the first private ownership of land.

As Tuckahoe District supervisor and long-time Henricus Foundation board member Pat O’Bannon likes to point out, the private-ownership distinction endows Henrico County with a unique status: as the birthplace of capitalism in America.

For its significance as the "Citie of Firsts" and as the site on which much of our American way of life began, the establishment of Henrico Town ranks No. 2 on the Henrico Citizen’s list of the most significant moments in Henrico’s 400-year history.

Land ownership: ‘A real innovation’
As Henrico Town grew into a fortified settlement, one of the first buildings to be constructed was the hospital, which served primarily as a retreat or haven where colonists could recover from their long journey.

After an Atlantic voyage lasting two to four months, a stay at the hospital provided settlers a haven in which to recover and become acclimatized or "seasoned" to Virginia's unaccustomed heat and humidity. Patients at Mt. Malady could also seek treatment for ailments such as intestinal worms, typhoid fever, dysentery, and the salt poisoning they contracted from drinking contaminated water.

The men of the town also built frame houses, thatched huts, storehouses, watchtowers, a frame parsonage and a wooden church – the first seat of Henrico Parish. It was at this church, most likely, that Chief Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas became the first Native American to convert to Christianity, under the guidance of Rev. Alexander Whitaker, the parish's first rector. Captured and brought to Henricus during the Anglo-Powhatan War, Pocahontas later married
colonist John Rolfe, who developed the new strain of tobacco that would be instrumental in the colony's success.

In 1614, shortly after the introduction of tobacco as a crop, Sir Thomas Dale and other leaders of the town instituted the experiment that is arguably Henricus' most significant first.

Recognizing that the productivity of indentured settlers had lagged under the communal system of land ownership in Jamestown, Dale gave each man a three-acre plot and allowed him to do with it as he wished. All that was required in return was that each landowner provide two barrels of food a year to the common food store.

“This was a real innovation,” said Dr. Dennis A.J. Morey, a founder of Henricus Historical Park, at a 2004 brown bag lecture about Henricus. "Prior to that no commoner owned land – only the aristocracy. This was really something for citizens to own land . . .the beginning of privatization of land and free enterprise.”

In Jamestown, on the other hand, whatever crops came in under the communal system were put in the common store – and everyone received an equal share regardless of contribution. So it doesn't surprise Pat O'Bannon that efficiency was much improved under the new, private system.

"At Jamestown, you grew squash, someone else grew corn," she explains. "But what if you put nothing in? You still got something! That's what blew it; they just couldn’t make it work.”

Land ownership became a prime incentive for newcomers – especially indentured settlers and later-born sons -- to travel from England, where the traditional hierarchy limited advancement.

"If you were in England," O'Bannon says, "there was no way to go up. You were stuck with what you were born with."

Yet a draw was needed, says O'Bannon, because word had filtered back to England about the dangers of life in the New World – assuming, that is, that a person actually survived the long voyage and managed to make it here.

"It was a huge risk just to get on that ship," O'Bannon points out. "Then consider that you are leaving comfy England to go to this wild land where Indians might shoot arrows at you and you have to deal with the elements. How do you get them here?"

That so many Englishmen overcame their fear of the unknown and made the trip to the new land, says O'Bannon, "is part of why we are the type of country we are." Only the most motivated made the trip.

"Everyone knew they had to pitch in and work, to pull their weight and produce something – even the gentlemen," she says. "Everyone had the desire to be successful. . . and make a profit. But you had to earn it.

"That spirit is what really made us great," O'Bannon sums up. "I think that's the [beginning of] the American way."

The American dream
Although making money for the Virginia Company stakeholders was the primary objective of the settlement, the company had other goals. In 1619, it set aside a 10,000-acre parcel of land and stipulated that it was to become the Colledge of Henricus, a place of higher learning for both the settlers and Native American youth.

The college was chartered and plans were made for a trade school that would educate Native American youth and convert them to Christianity. This first university in the New World also was to feature the first library – donated by an unknown Englishman – and to bestow the first scholarship on a Native American teenager so that he could attend.

But the college never materialized; like the rest of the Henricus settlement, it fell victim to a 1622 Indian uprising led by Chief Opechancanough, Powhatan's younger brother and successor. Although some survivors managed to flee to Jamestown, and nearby settlements such as Bermuda Hundred and the Falling Creek Ironworks remained, the
abandoned settlement at Henricus was never repopulated again.

For close to 400 years, the site slumbered away in obscurity on the James River opposite Varina. But in 1985, with the establishment of The Henricus Foundation, the “Citie of Firsts” began the mighty stretch that marked its emergence from that slumber.

Though today the riverfront park lies almost entirely in Chesterfield County (carved from Henrico in the 18th century), Henrico and Chesterfield have joined together in the restoration effort, which began when physicians from Henrico Doctors’ Hospital started a campaign to rebuild Mt. Malady. The recreated hospital was constructed with the help of a hefty contribution from Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), and the gardens and tobacco plots have been built with the help of volunteers and funds from Altria (formerly Philip Morris USA).

Often lauded as a model of regional cooperation and public-private partnerships, the 40-acre park also features a re-creation of the palisade, watchtower, militia buildings and a parade field, a tobacco barn and husbandry buildings, trade buildings, the Rocke Hall parsonage, and Indian longhouses. Distinguished guests from the United Kingdom helped dedicate the education center in 2006, as well as attending this past September to help celebrate Henricus' 400th anniversary.

For a “citie” that existed only a decade, Henrico Town left an indelible mark on our history. As Morey argued in his lecture, "It was these people [at Henricus] who really established our country."

With all due respect to the founding fathers, said Morey, "If it hadn’t been for Dale, Rolfe, Pocahontas and people like that, [the founders] would have never had any place to come.

“It was right here,” Morey concluded, “that the American dream began.”
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Business in brief


The Jenkins Foundation has granted The McShin Foundation $25,000 for residential recovery services to serve those with a Substance Use Disorder. The Jenkins Foundation is focused on equitable access to health care services, as well as programs that help reduce risky behaviors and promote safe and healthy environments. The McShin Foundation was founded in 2004 and is Virginia's leading non-profit, full-service Recovery Community Organization (RCO), committed to serving individuals and families in their fight against Substance Use Disorders. > Read more.

Early voting for Democratic nominations in Brookland, 73rd House districts tonight


APR. 24, 11:10 A.M. – Henrico Democrats will hold an early voting session tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in two party caucus elections.

Democrats in the county are selecting a nominee for the Brookland District seat on the Henrico Board of Supervisors and a nominee for the 73rd District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Danny Plaugher, the executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, and Courtney Lynch, the founder of the Lead Star leadership development organization, are seeking the Brookland District nomination. > Read more.

Crime Stoppers’ Crime of the Week: April 24, 2017


Crime Stoppers needs your help to identify the suspects who participated in a home invasion and robbery in the City of Richmond.

At approximately 2:33 A.M. April 12, four or five men forced their way through a rear door and into an apartment in the 1100 block of West Grace Street.

According to police, the suspects – one with a long gun and all but one in ski masks – bound the occupants with duct tape and robbed them of several items, including cash, mobile phones and a computer. > Read more.

HCPS named a ‘Best Community for Music Education’ for 18th straight year


For the 18th year in a row, Henrico County Public Schools has been named one of the best communities in America for music education by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation. The school division has earned the designation in each year the group has given the awards.

The designation is based on a detailed survey of a school division’s commitment to music instruction through funding, staffing of highly qualified teachers, commitment to standards and access to music instruction. The award recognizes the commitment of school administrators, community leaders, teachers and parents who believe in music education and work to ensure that music education accessible to all students.
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A safer way across


A project years in the making is beginning to make life easier for wheelchair-bound residents in Northern Henrico.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is completing a $2-million set of enhancements to the Brook Road corridor in front of St. Joseph's Villa and the Hollybrook Apartments, a community that is home to dozens of disabled residents. > Read more.
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YMCA event will focus on teen mental health


The YMCA, in partnership with the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation and PartnerMD, will host a free event May 2 to help parents learn how to deal with teen mental health issues. “When the Band-Aid Doesn’t Fix It: A Mom’s Perspective on Raising a Child Who Struggles” will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Shady Grove Family YMCA,11255 Nuckols Road. The event will focus on education, awareness, and understanding the issues facing teens today. > Read more.

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.
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Restaurant Watch


Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

 

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Bethlehem Church, located at 4210 Penick Rd., will host a concert by The Finney’s John and Frankie at 4 p.m. All are welcome. A love offering will be taken. For details, call 262-8339. Full text

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