Witches and the Thorowgoods in 17th Century Virginia

0005 flying witches public domain

Sorry, New Englanders, Virginia was not only founded first (13 years before Plymouth); had the first publicly proclaimed Thanksgiving (1 year before the Pilgrims arrived); held the first elected representative Assembly (again 1 year before the Pilgrims arrived); but Virginia can also claim the first known colonial trial of a suspected witch (four years before the Puritans under Governor John Winthrop even arrived in 1630).  Massachusetts does get the award, though, for the most dramatic presentations:  inviting the indigenous people to their Thanksgiving feast and  hanging their witches.  So how then was witchcraft handled in Virginia?  Did Adam Thorowgood or his family have any dealings with suspected witches?

Witches in England and Scotland

witches 6 34427876715_0e59110873_bSince Biblical times, good Christians had been taught to fear the Devil and his evil spirits, but around the 14th century, suspicions developed that the odd ones living in their communities might have sold their souls to the Devil and contracted to do his biding.1 When inexplicable misfortune hit, it seemed reasonable that one’s disagreeable neighbor, the town’s social misfit, or the eccentric widow who collected herbs by night might be responsible through a witch’s spell. 

Folger’s Shakespeare Library  Washington, D.C.

Witches seemed very real to most of the English and Scots in the 16th and 17th century.  Even Shakespeare conjured up three Scottish witches to poison Macbeth’s mind  with ambitious prophecies. The problem, though, was how to recognize and catch them.

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The Witches’ Well Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

King James VI of Scotland (who also became King James I of England) was very concerned about witches and, in fact, literally wrote the book on what to do about them. Relying heavily on a 1584 English translation of a popular treatise published by two Dominican friars, Malleus Maleficarum, the King composed his  Daemonologie in 1597 with a Protestant twist.   When he took the English crown in 1603, he had his book published in England and had witchcraft again made a felony punishable by death under The Witchcraft Statute of James I. That was the law that the colonists brought to Jamestown. 2

The First Colonial Witch Trial: Joan Wright 

Gov. Yeardley  Historic Jamestowne

Sir George Yeardley, twice the Governor of Virginia, had many firsts.  In 1619, he convened the first House of Burgesses and purchased some of the first Africans to arrive.  When he was later reappointed, he presided in 1626 over the first known trial of a suspected witch in the colonies .  The early colonists had been  quick to condemn the native Powhatans as Devil worshippers and children of the Devil, but were a bit slower at pointing the finger at each other.

Elizabeth Cittie Parish (formerly called Kecoughtan; now known as Hampton) was one of the early shires in Virginia.  Its population increased when it was designated as an area of safety for the settlers after the Powhatan Uprising of 1622.  According to the census of Virginia conducted in 1624/5, there were  258 settlers living in that area.  Among those were Edward Waters and his servant Adam Thorowgood.   Also living there were Robert and Joan (or Jane) Wright, servants to Anthony Bonall, a French silk maker and wine grape cultivator. In 1626, the Wrights moved to Pace’s Paines across from Jamestown (now Surry County), but suspicions followed that Joan had practiced witchcraft in Kecoughtan.  Soon thereafter she was formally charged and tried. 3

IMG_0145As the trial was in September, it is unknown whether Adam had returned to England before the trial started.  However, having lived in Kecoughtan the previous years as part of Edward Waters’ household, he may well have known the Wrights or at least heard talk of  Joan’s suspicious activities.  According to the surviving transcript of the trial, charges against Goodwife Wright included causing hens in Kecoughton to die, healthy plants to be drowned, and people to become sick; foretelling  deaths; cursing a hunter so that he “for a long time could never kill anything;” and causing an infant to die. 4

IMG_0195Joan Wright had been asked by Lt. Allington, to attend to his pregnant wife as the midwife, but when the wife discovered that Joan was left-handed and heard the rumors about her, she refused her and had another midwife brought.  When Goodwife Wright found out,  she was upset.  The Allingtons believed she therefore cursed them, and consequently, each sequentially became ill (although of different disorders).  Even though they all recovered,  the infant succumbed after a second illness more than a  month after its birth.   

In the trial, Mrs. Isabel Perry testified that Mrs Gates said that “she (Wright) was a very bad woman and was accompted a witch amongst all them at Kickotan” and that Dorothy Behethlem had said that Wright had even practiced witchcraft back in Hull, England.  Also according to Mrs Perry, when Mrs. Gates confronted Wright, she did not deny being a witch, but rather “replied, god forgive them, and so made light of it.” 5

Governor’s House at Jamestown Settlement

There obviously was much hearsay testimony and circumstantial evidence brought against Joan Wright.  Clearly, she had troubled relationships with her neighbors and may have even enjoyed making them fearful of her.  However, illness and death were so common in Virginia that it would have been difficult to prove she caused them, particularly over an extended period of time.  Although the transcript of the trial survived, the verdict of Gov. Yeardley did not. It is likely, though, that he took a more reasoned approach to the accusations. If she had been put to death for witchcraft, that certainly would have been remembered or survived in some record.  This fall, Jamestown Settlement presented an excellent re-enactment of the trial of Jane/Joan Wright in “ Season of the Witch.”

The Thorowgoods and Virginia Witch Trials 

There were at least 22 witch trials in Virginia from 1626 to 1730.  Of those, 8 were held in Lower Norfolk County (later Princess Anne County), 3 of which involved the same accused witch, Grace Sherwood. 6  While it may appear that the citizens of this county were particularly superstitious or accursed, the seemingly high proportion of cases is partly because those court records survived, while records of many other counties were destroyed.  Lower Norfolk was the county settled by Adam Thorowgood; its first county court was held in his home; and he often presided as a justice at the court until his death in 1640.  Although he never tried the case of a witch, his grandsons did.

mesmerizing-translucent-waves-19th-century-painting-ivan-konstantinovich-aivazovsky-6The Virginia justices found most of the accusations of witchcraft unsubstantiated.  The only guilty verdict that remains is for William Harding of the Northern Neck in Virginia, who was accused by his Scottish preacher of witchcraft and sorcery in 1656.  The accusations must not have been too serious, for his punishment was only ten lashes and banishment from the county.  Nor were the citizens overly concerned, as he was given two months to leave.  Katherine Grady was the only suspected witch to be hung, but it was done before she even reached Virginia in 1654 and under the direction of the ship’s captain, not court justices.  When the ship encountered a severe storm near the end of  its journey, the passengers were convinced that Katherine had caused it through witchcraft.  Upon reaching Jamestown, the Captain had to appear before the admiralty court, but its findings have been lost.7

The justices were concerned, however, that reputations and lives were being damaged by casual accusations of witchcraft. In 1655, the Lower Norfolk justices ordered that persons who  raised “any such scandal concerning any party whatsoever and shall not be able to prove the same, both upon oath and by sufficient witness” would have to pay 1,000 pounds of tobacco and be censured by the court. 8

5000 flying witchesThis was put to the test in 1698 when John and Ann Byrd sued Charles Kinsey and John Potts for having “falsely and scandalously” defamed them by claiming they were witches and “in league with the Devil.”  Kinsey finally admitted to the court that he might have only dreamed that they “had rid him along the Seaside and home” through witchcraft .  John Thorowgood, a son of Adam Thorowgood II, was one of the justices on that court which surprisingly did not give a cash award to the Byrds, but rather found for the defendants. However, they chose not to pursue witchcraft charges against the Byrds. 9

The Trials of Grace Sherwood

Grace Sherwood Memorial  Virginia Beach

The hysteria of Salem’s witch trials in 1692-3 might have encouraged Virginians  to take a closer look at their neighbors, as there was a modest increase in witch trials from 1694-1706.  Lt. Col. Adam Thorowgood III,  John’s brother, also served as a justice in the Lower Norfolk County Court. He was part of the famous and complicated 1705/1706 witch trials  of  Grace Sherwood, “The Virginia Witch” or “The Witch of  Pungo.”   Like Joan Wright, Grace had a history of contentious relations with her neighbors.  It started when a neighbor, Richard Capps, called Grace a witch, and the Sherwoods brought suit against him for defamation. 10

Although that was settled out of court, a few months later several other neighbors began to make accusations that she had bewitched pigs to death, destroyed cotton, and taken Mrs. Barnes on a ride through the keyhole.  In 1698, the Sherwoods again brought a defamation suit against those neighbors. Grace Sherwood presented eight witnesses in her behalf, but again the justices decided in favor of the defendants who had made the accusations of witchcraft. Grace Sherwood had to pay the court costs and for the defendant’s nine witnesses.  Even so, the court did not pursue charges of witchcraft.

witches 3 34385864146_c55d0419ee_cIn 1705, Elizabeth Hill, another neighbor, called Grace a witch, and  a brawl between them ensued.  Grace filed a complaint of trespassing and assault and battery against Elizabeth.  Although Grace prevailed, she received little in monetary damages.  Elizabeth Hill’s husband then made a formal charge of witchcraft against her.  Accusations included that no grass would grow where she had danced in the moonlight, that she had soured the cow’s milk, and that she had made herself small enough to fly in an eggshell to England and back in one night to get rosemary seeds for her garden. However, rosemary was abundant locally and, ironically, often used to protect against witches. 11

wirch exam
Examination of a Witch by T.H. Matheson

The justices, which included Adam Thorowgood III, warned the Hills against making false claims, but agreed to have Grace examined by a jury of women to see if she had any “devil’s marks” (unusual growths or discolorations) on her.  The foreman for the women was Mrs. Barnes, one of those Grace had previously tried to sue.  They came back with the finding that she did have some unusual marks.  Unlike the photo, the exam would have only been conducted by a group of women; nonetheless, it would have been very humiliating.

Colonial Williamsburg Capitol

The Princess Anne justices then passed  the case to the General Court in the new Virginia capital of Williamsburg, but that court remanded it back to the county justices for clearer charges.  In Princess Anne, the justices ordered another group of women to examine her to confirm the prior findings, but the women refused to come.  Another group was asked, and they also refused.  It seemed no one wanted to tangle with a possible real witch.


The justices then decided to try the method of “ducking” the accused in a body of water as King James had advocated.  As water was considered a pure medium, an innocent person would sink, whereas the water would reject a witch and she would float.  A rope was tied around Grace’s waist to pull her up so she would not drown if innocent, and they even postponed the test to a sunny day to not endanger her health.  Grace was dressed in a shift, so whether the ropes were tied so air was trapped in her shift or she held her breath or, as some claimed, she untied her ropes and swam around the cove laughing at the observers, Grace did not sink. The results of the physical examination and ducking were taken to indicate she was a witch, but which accusations were considered credible is unknown.

Grace Sherwood in Colonial Williamsburg

The case was probably sent back to the General Court, but those records burned in 1865, and  we do not know the final disposition of the case.  Her trial is dramatized in Colonial Williamsburg’s program “Cry Witch.” Grace Sherwood spent some time in jail, but was ultimately released and lived until around 1740. 12

walk2 Virginia Beach has erected a kindly statue in honor of this misunderstood woman, and the Governor of Virginia recently pardoned her, even though there is no record of her conviction.  Grace seems not to have had the sweet disposition portrayed in the statue, but still she serves as a symbol of those innocent “cunning women” who suffered when their skills with herbal potions and their independent and defiant spirits were  misconstrued as evil.  The last known witch trial in Virginia was in 1730.

The Witch’s Bottle

Thoroughgood House Education Center

It appears that not all the Lower  Norfolk/Princess Anne County residents were confident that the justices could keep them safe from witches.  In 1979, near the Thorowgood property, a still-sealed witch’s bottle was found buried upside down, as would be expected, possibly dating from the era of the Sherwood trials. 13 Inside one can still see the straight pins intended to harm the witch and a yellowish liquid stain, which might have been urine, to keep the witches away.  Someone was worried.

A Modern Dilemma

6000 burning witchesWitchcraft and the occult are still practiced by some today.  While there are those who try to connect with the spirit of the earth and be “good witches,” there are others who have carried out horrific acts.  Unfortunately, over the ages, many innocents were sent to their deaths because of the superstitions and suspicions of others.  It has been estimated that 85% of those killed in European witch hunts were women.  A Puritan preacher of the time, William Perkins, was unapologetic in his explanation: 14

The woman, being the weaker sex, is sooner entangled by the devil’s illusions, with the damnable act, than the man.  And in all ages it is found true by experience, that the devil hath more easily and oftener prevailed with women than with men.

Although we may recoil from or laugh at the beliefs and practices of the past, today we also struggle with what to do with individuals who desire to inflict harm.  How can we humanely identify and deal with potential terrorists and mass murderers without sweeping up “strange,” but innocent, victims?  How can we better prevent and respond to acts of evil and hatred?  These challenges are with us still.











  1. Hudson, Carson O., Jr., Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2019), 16. 
  2. Hudson, 55-60. “King James VI and I’s Demonology, 1597,” published online in The British Library: Discovering Literature: Shakespeare and Renaissance collection items. http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/king-james-vi-and-is-demonology-1597.  Accessed online 10/22/2019. 
  3. Hudson, 75.  Hotten, John Camden, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1980), 253. 
  4.   Hudson, 75-79.  “Transcription from the Original: General Court Hears Case on Witchcraft, 1626,” Encyclopedia of Virginia, accessed online 10/15/2019. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Hudson, 127-129. 
  7. Hudson, 81. “Witchcraft in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 1:3 (January 1893), 127-128. 
  8. Hudson, 89. Turner, Florence Kimberly, Gateway to the New World: A History of Princess Anne County, Virginia, 1607-1824 (Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1984), 79. 
  9.   Hudson, 89.  “Witchcraft in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 2:1 (July 1893), 60. McCartney, Martha W.,  Jamestown People to 1800 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 403. 
  10. Hudson, 90.  “Transcription from the Original: The Case of Grace Sherwood (1706),” Enclyclopedia of Virginia, accessed online 10/5/2019.  Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, 4th ed., vol 3  (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 335. 
  11. Hudson, 90-92.  Tucker, 79-80. “Transcription from the Original: The Case of Grace Sherwood (1706),” online access. 
  12. Hudson, 92-98.  Tucker, 80-81.  “Witchcraft in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 1:3 (January 1893), 127-128.  “Transcription from the Original: The Case of Grace Sherwood (1706),” online access. 
  13. Tucker, 82. 
  14. Hudson, 74. 

Update: Hauntings at the Thoroughgood House?


A year ago, I posted stories of  Hauntings at the Thoroughgood House?  At that time, the house and museum in Virginia Beach had only been reopened with its new interpretation for a few months, so I queried at the end of my post:

If there have been restless spirits on Thorowgood land, will they finally be appeased and  able to rest in peace now that historians have figured out who really lived in the house and have discovered its importance as a Native American site?  Perhaps.


Recently, I decided to return to the Thoroughgood House to investigate whether everyone is now at peace.  One event that seemed likely to stir up the spirits was Descendants’ Day which was held at the site on October 5, 2019.

IMG_5650The Virginia Beach History Museum staff had thoughtfully invited not only the descendants of Adam Thorowgood, but also those with Native or African ancestors who might have lived or worked at the site.  Generously, they also offered free admission and birthday cake to anyone else who showed up.  I thought surely some of the departed ancestors would come for cake and a chance to see how their descendants turned out.  However, if they did, they were most discreet, and any missing cake was attributable to hungry guests.


IMG_5646The party celebrated the 300th birthday of the construction of the house.  As noted in my prior posts, some thought the 300th birthday had already happened in 1936 based upon the now- disproven theory that the house was originally built by Adam Thorowgood, the immigrant,  in 1636.  Historical records, architectural analysis, archaeological finds, and dendrochronology now place the construction in 1719.  The Education Center at the Thoroughgood House and my posts give more detailed explanations for the change in dates.

IMG_5708To celebrate, there was dancing on the lawn and children’s activities as well as informative presentations by historian Matthew Laird on “Adam and Sarah Thorowgood–Virginia Beach’s First Power Couple”  and on “Finding Your 17th Century Ancestor,” by Donald Moore, a professional genealogist.  Although I made contact with some friendly, living Adam Thorowgood descendants and experts, I did not meet any of the haunting kind.

IMG_5854Therefore, I decided to take a more direct approach and returned the next week for an evening tour, “Haunted Encounters of the Thoroughgood Kind.”  The staff had set the stage for our adventure by serving the guests either witches’ brew or dragon’s blood and cookies while showing the silent movie version of Phantom of the Opera in the waiting area.

IMG_5861As we headed across the grounds, our guide became enveloped in fog before we found our way to the gardens. There we were instructed in the proper techniques and herbs to use to protect our houses from evil spirits.  Though the house was quiet that evening, the tales of inexplicable encounters and occurrences experienced by reputable staff and guests gave credence to the earlier stories.

IMG_5879There continue to be accounts of the openings of a door bolted from the inside; of noises and shadowy figures; of the man in the brown suit and the woman in the window.  In the dim interiors, the 17th century crackled looking glass (mirror) gave back eerie reflections.

IMG_5891As I left that evening, a full moon was rising over the darkened house.   Was there something hidden in those obscure corners, waiting to come out after the noisy intruders left?  I didn’t stay to find out.

Coming very soon: Witches and Thorowgoods in 17th Century Virginia

Special thanks to Ann Miller and the staff of the Virginia Beach History Museums for these great events (and the cake)!

The Big Bang Theory of Marriage: How Sarah (Offley) met Adam (Thorowgood) in London 1627

0IFp2jSUN4dvpL4MjThis was my  puzzlement–the curiosity that started my research and blog.  How did a twenty-two-year-old young man raised in Norfolk, England, having just spent four years working as an indentured servant in Virginia, suddenly show up in London and, within a year, marry the daughter of a wealthy merchant who was also a granddaughter and great-granddaughter of  Lord Mayors of London?  In the Big Bang Theory of life, how did these two very different orbits ever come crashing into each other? The marriage of Adam Thorowgood to Sarah Offly was recorded in the parish register of St. Anne’s Blackfriars, London, on July 18, 1627.

Jamestown Brides

In the Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia exhibit at Jamestown, it is noted that there was a “poor marriage market” in London in the 1620s.  That may have influenced the decision of some proper maids to accept the Virginia Company’s initiative to provide brides to the settlers at a substantial cost.  Those daring young women retained their right to refuse proposals, but many must have accepted, for it turned out to have been one of the Company’s few lucrative ventures. 1  However, considering that fewer than 6,000 total men, women, and children migrated to Virginia over 17 years (1607-1624), that could not have been solely responsible for the decrease in marriageable men in England’s population of about 4 million. Certainly, the 1625 plague and disastrous military campaign at Breda would have affected the London “marriage market” the year Adam returned.2 So, how then did Sarah manage to find and catch Adam or was it the other way around? Some possibilities to consider include:

“They Were Childhood Friends”

Wrong.  As noted in prior posts, Adam grew up in Grimston, near Kings Lynn, in Norfolk. Having left for Virginia as an indentured servant in 1621 when only 17 years old, there is no evidence that he had spent any significant time in London or met the Offleys (or Offlys) before leaving.  Sarah would have only been 12 years old at that time, so even if they had a chance meeting before the sailing, it is unlikely either would have thought of courtship.

Survivor of the London Fire  Photo by Maren Mecham

Sarah Offley  grew up at her father’s home on Gracechurch Street in London.  At that time, Gracechurch Street connected to the south with Fish Street Hill which extended over the Old London Bridge where her grandparents once lived. To the north, the street headed through town to join Bishopgate Street.   Sarah’s neighborhood was later consumed by the Great Fire of 1666, but houses which survived near St. Bartholomew’s Church give a sense of  London streets of that era. With her family’s success as merchants, Sarah would have enjoyed a very comfortable life in London. 3

“Dad Made Me Do It”

Wrong again.  Since the 12th century, English parents could arrange and recommend marriages, but not legally force or disallow a marriage of children who were of age. For girls, that was age 12; for boys,  it was 14. Few married that young, and many in that time married in their 20s. Especially if there was property involved, parents worked to arrange advantageous marriages for their children, and,  if those children hoped for a dowry or an inheritance, they would have complied with parental preferences.  4  While both William Thorowgood and Robert Offley were distinguished in their own spheres and probably would have approved the union of their children, there is no evidence they ever encountered or had dealings with each other.

IMG_5558William Thorowgood was born around 1560 in Felsted, Essex, but moved to  Grimston, Norfolk around 1585 when he married Anne Edwards of Norwich, Norfolk, and accepted the post as the Vicar of St. Boltolph’s Church.  All of William’s nine  children were born in Grimston.  Reverend Thorowgood was honored by being appointed  as the commissary for the Bishop of Norwich.  William came from an armorial family. Although not needed for his position with the church, he received “a confirmation of this Armes and Crest” in March 1620. 5  While theirs was a legitimate claim, attempts to raise money without Parliament during the reigns of James I and Charles I included expected “loans” from gentry and the selling of knighthoods.6 The crest “confirmation” may have come with a fee, but was probably helpful to his son John who was beginning to move in courtly circles. William Thorowgood sent his son Adam to Virginia, but neither William nor his other sons contributed to or were involved with the Virginia Company or other merchant companies as far as is presently known.

IMG_5561 OffleyRobert Offley II and his wife, Anne Osbourne, were both born in London. Robert was a “Turkey merchant” with the Levant Company (traders with the Ottomans) whose first Governor was his father-in-law, Sir Edward Osborne.  Osborne had been knighted and had been a Lord Mayor of London (like his father-in -law William Hewitt). The Offleys were also an armorial family, and Robert II’s “step-uncle,”  Sir Thomas Offley, had been a Lord Mayor of London.  7 Robert II was a member of the Virginia Company of London and invested over L 100 there.   He was nominated by James I in 1622 as a Deputy to the General Court, but was not elected by the Company.  He  was also one of the Original Adventurers (investors) of the Somers Islands (Bermuda) in 1615 and supported Bermuda tobacco . 8

Both Robert Offley  and William Thorowgood died in 1625, the year before Adam returned from Virginia.  These two deceased dads did not arrange this marriage.

“It Was Big Brother”

Possibly.  Adam and Sarah both had several older brothers who could have been looking out for them.  If so, the contacts would probably have taken place in London.  There are no reports of related Offleys moving to County Norfolk until some of Sarah’s nephews moved there in the second half of the 17th century. 9

58b2394cb45344af09b1c0dee7574e0b--th-century-fashion-th-centuryIt has sometimes been assumed that Adam’s older brother, Sir John Thorowgood of Kensington, brought the families together based on his position in the court of King Charles I and the erroneous belief that he had been serving as the secretary to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a significant member of the Virginia Company of London.  As previously noted, though, there were two Sir John Thorowgoods at this time. Pembroke helped his Sir John win a seat in Parliament in 1624, and  that Sir John later married the widow of Sir Henry Neville, III. 10 On the other hand, Adam’s brother Sir John Thorowgood of Kensington’s prior background is unclear, and he married Frances Meautys.  He likely came to the Court of Charles I around 1625 as a gentleman pensioner when Charles came to the throne.  However, as with others, he probably was not knighted until the king’s official coronation in Scotland in 1630.  11 The Levant Company of merchants held considerable influence during the reign of Charles I, so there might possibly have been some interaction between Sir John of Kensington and the Offleys, but it was more likely on business rather than personal matters. 12

At the time of Adam’s return to England, two of his older brothers, Thomas and Edmund, were preachers in Norfolk; Mourdant had died the previous year in the Siege of Breda; William had settled around Norfolk as had his sister Frances Thorowgood Griffith and his younger step-brother Robert.  Little is known of Edward, his eldest brother, although he might have resided in London.  If one of Adam’s brothers was not the match maker, there were other Thorowgoods in London, possibly cousins or uncles, who might have had dealings with the Offleys.  Thomas Thorowgood, a draper, who was noted to have rented a shop/residence outlined in Ralph Treswell’s survey of Pancras Lane, could have been a relative.13

Oldest House in London Photo by Maren Mecham

Sarah’s siblings might also have been likely players in this mutually advantageous match.  The Offley family had been interested in new settlements and trade and may have been anxious to have their own Virginia connection now that there would be no profits being returned from their father’s investment in the defunct Virginia Company. Adam Thorowgood could have been notable in the London “marriage market” because he had not only survived  disease and the Indian uprising in Virginia, but he also knew how to work tobacco, had just purchased 150 acres of good river land in Virginia, had an inheritance from his father, and was enthusiastically recruiting others to  join him in the Colony which would then grant him more land.  14 He was a healthy (hopefully handsome-enough) young man who was poised to progress. Adam also would have benefitted greatly from the match with Sarah, as that would have likely resulted in a substantial dowry as well as connections to the commercial contacts of the Offley/ Osborne family.

IMG_3775Sarah and her sisters might have been even more daring than her brothers. They likely had watched with interest as the Virginia Company had recruited “young, handsome, and honestly-educated Maids” to send to the Colony in 1620-21 on “bride ships” to establish families and bring greater stability and order to colonial society.  These women were as much “adventurers” as their male counterparts.  15 Just as Adam had chosen a life of adventure in Virginia when he was 17, so Sarah at age 17 was also drawn to that life.

While her brothers continued their work in England, at least one of her sisters and spouse later followed Sarah and Adam and settled in Lower Norfolk, Virginia. Robert Hayes and Anne Offley Workman Hayes were there before 1638 when he was elected to the Assembly. There must have been comfort in having a sister nearby to help face the challenges of the New World.   Adam’s brother-in-law, Edward Windham, whose sister Ann Windham had married Adam’s brother Thomas in 1623 in Norfolk, England, also came to Virginia giving them more family connections  

“They Met at Church”

St. Bartholomew, London Fire Survivor  Photo by Maren Mecham

Intriguing Idea.  What church were Sarah and Adam attending?  Already in England, there were divisions over congregations and preachers with Puritan leanings and those with traditional/conservative Anglican practices. Probably, Adam’s brother, Sir John, newly come to Charles I’s Court, would have been involved with a conservative congregation at that point.  Just the year before, Sarah’s family had buried their father, Robert, at their neighborhood church, St. Benet’s of Gracechurch Street with its new steeple. Sarah and her siblings had been christened there, Sarah on April 16, 1609. Her grandparents were buried there.  Gracechurch was their family church, and it appeared to be a traditional congregation. 16

Blackfriars (Ireland Yard) Photo by Maren Mecham

So why then did Adam and Sarah choose to marry in St. Anne’s of Blackfriars, a strongly Puritan church? The Blackfriars area was an exciting and eclectic part of 17th century London.  The Dominican (Black Friars) monastery had been dissolved by Henry VIII around 1541.  Tennis courts were set up at the site as well as the church known as St. Anne’s.  Shakespeare owned a place close to the private, covered Blackfriars Theater that had been built on monastery lands. It could hold up to 700 people and was frequented by the wealthy and well educated. Being a favorite theater of King James, the actors there became known as the King’s Men. In addition, many artists, such as Anthony Van Dyke,  lived in the quarter and attended St. Anne’s. Unfortunately, St. Anne’s and the neighborhood were also destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.  Only part of a wall remains. The church was never rebuilt, and the parish was incorporated into St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

220px-William_GougeWilliam Gouge, a known Puritan, was a lecturer there by 1622.  For forty-six years, he would serve as the “laborious, the exemplary, the much-loved minister of St. Ann’s Blackfriars” who said his highest ambition was “to go from Blackfriars to Heaven.” 17  Later, in 1643, he would serve on the Westminster Assembly of Divines with Adam’s brother, Thomas Thorowgood, also a noted Puritan.  Might Thomas have heard about Reverend Gouge and recommended that congregation to Adam in 1626?  Norfolk was known for its Puritan leanings.  But as the wedding in London was probably planned by the bride and her family, what or who brought Sarah to Blackfriars?  Was it “in” to be married by Reverend Gouge? Were they both drawn to novelty and excitement in that lively part of town?  Was there a daring element of nonconformity and independence in them, a desire to be “on the cutting edge”?  Those kind of  traits would serve them well in the New World.

2222 Marriage2Sarah and Adam would certainly have been familiar with Reverend William Gouge’s famous sermon “Of Domestical Duties”  delivered there in 1622 which was considered a “text” on family life in that era.  In the hierarchical structure popular in that age, Reverend Gouge saw a wife as above her children, but below her husband who was to be  “as a Priest unto his wife…. He is as a king in his owne house.” 18  There are no records of Sarah ever being in conflict with the three spouses in her life.  However, she became a strong and forthright woman, not to be intimidated by other men she encountered.

“Cupid was the Culprit”  

Daniel Heinsius, Cupido, 1615

Surely.  Being the era of Shakespeare, when Cupid traveled with a full quiver of love’s arrows to send into the hearts of unsuspecting lovers, it is likely Cupid had some part in bringing Sarah and Adam together. Did their hearts flutter at a chance encounter at the market place, during a furtive glance in a church service, or at an introduction by family or friends?  Despite his restricted view on a woman’s place, even Reverend  William Gough encouraged “love matches.” Hopefully, that’s what Sarah and Adam had found. No matter how this match was made, the Thorowgood-Offley alliance turned out to be a good one.

Special Thanks again to Maren Mecham for the use of her London photographs.











  1.   Bruce, Philip Alexander, Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century. 2nd Edition.  (Lynchburg, Virginia: J.P. Bell Company, 1927), 233-4.  Potter, Jennifer, The Jamestown Brides: The Story of England’s Maids for Virginia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). 
  2.  Population of Virginia. Accessed online 9/20/2019 at http://www/virginiaplaces.org/population. 
  3. Bell, Walter George, The Great Fire of London in 1666 (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 377.  Tinniswood, Adrian, By Permission of Heaven (New York: Riverhead Books, 2004). 
  4.   Horn, James, Adapting to a New World:  English Society in the Seventeenth Century Chesapeake (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 206-207.   Walsh, Lorena S. “Till Death Us Do Part: Marriage and Family in Seventeenth Century Maryland,” in The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century, Thad W. Tate and David L. Ammerman, eds. (Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 1979) 126- 140. 
  5.   Harrison, William Welsh, Harrison, Waples, and Allied Families (Philadelphia: Edward Stein & Co published for private circulation only, 1910) 131-132. Facsimile.  “Rev. William Thorowgood 1560-19 May 1625” Family Search (online database).  Accessed online 9/5/2019. 
  6. ” Thirty-Pound Gentlemen and the Jacobean Inflation of Honours,” Map of Early Modern London (MoEML): Encyclopedia.  University of Victoria: MoEML v.6.3, svn rev. 12049 2018-06-19. Accessed online 9-18-2019. 
  7.   Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5,  2,(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 697-701.   Wood, Alfred C., A History of the Levant Company, New York:Barnes & Noble, Inc, 1935), 7-20.  Brenner, Robert, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders 1550-1653 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 18-19.  Harwood, “Pedigree of Offley,” The Genealogist: A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research, XIX, 1903, 217-231. 
  8.   Dorman., 697-8. Brenner, 18-19. Kingsley, Susan Myra (ed.), The Records of the Virginia Company of London, II (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1906), 28. Kingsley, Susan Myra (ed.), The Records of the Virginia Company of London, III (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1933), 86.  LeFroy, J. H., Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somers Islands, vol. I (London: Bermuda Government Library, reprinted 1932), 100. 
  9.   “Norfolk Connections,”  The Offley Newsletter, Newsletter No. 11 (Cambridge, England: self published by The Offley Family Society, Spring 1989), 12-13. 
  10. Thrush, Andrew and John P. Ferris, ed.,  Thorowgood, John (1588-1657), of Brewer’s Lane, Charing Cross, Westminster; later of Billingbear, Berks. and Clerkenwell, Mdx.  accessed 7/7/2018 at   history of parliament online 
  11. Matthew, H. C. G.,  and Brian Harrison ed., “Thoroughgood, John” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 54 (London: Oxford University Press, 2004), 660-662. Will of Sir John Thorowgood of Kensington, 1675, Catalogue Reference Prob /11/349, Public Records Office:  The National Archives (UK). 
  12.   Brenner, 281-283. 
  13. Schofield, John, The London Surveys of Ralph Treswell  (Leeds, England:  W.S. Maney & Son, 1987), 106-107. 
  14. McCartney, Martha W.  Jamestown People to 1800: Landowners, Public Officials, Minorities, and Native Leaders, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 403. 
  15.   Potter, 7.  Horn, James, Mark Summers, and David Givens, 1619-2019 Democracy, Diversity, Discovery (Jamestown: The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and Preservation Virginia, 2019), 23. 
  16. Harwood, “Pedigree of Offley,” The Genealogist: A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research, XIX, 1903, 217-231.  Ancestry.com London, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1518-1812 (database online). Provo, UT, USA.  Accessed online 12/5/2017. 
  17.   White, James George, The Churches and Chapels of Old London: with a short account of those who have ministered in them, (London: C. E. Gray, Printer,  printed for private circulation, 1901), 33. Accessed online through andrea@archive. org  on 9/15/19. 
  18. Horn, 205. 

1625 England: Thorowgoods, Plague, War, Death, and the Defunct Virginia Company

Granger, Plague of London 1666

For those in the Virginia Colony, life seemed to be improving in 1625.  For many in England, it would be a year of death.  Would that change life for the Virginia immigrant, Adam Thorowgood, or his older brother, Mordaunt, in England?

The Death of the Virginia Company

Reenactment of the First General Assembly (House of Burgesses) of 1619 at  Historic Jamestowne

In 1624, The Virginia Company of London received its mortal wound.  Chartered in 1606 by King James I as a commercial venture of a joint stock company of “adventurers” (investors and settlers), the Company had attempted to establish a profitable colony in the Americas.  However, the anticipated wealth was not found, the native people were hostile, and the chosen location was unhealthy.  Yet, the Virginia Colony somehow survived and slowly grew stronger despite starvation, Indian attacks, and internal dissension.  In 1619, the positive changes of representative government through the House of Burgesses and private ownership of land made settlement more attractive.

IMG_4672However, in 1623, accusations of mismanagement fueled by the  report “Unmasked Face of our Colony in Virginia as it was in the Winter of the Year 1622” by Nathaniel Butler (a Governor of Bermuda who had only briefly visited Virginia), led to an investigation by the King’s Privy Council.  That had been a particularly difficult year for the Colony with the unanticipated Powhatan Uprising, and there were deep divisions in the Company. Sir Edwin Sandys who controlled the company at that time had been an outspoken critic of the King.  Despite lengthy protests and rebuttals by the Virginia Governor and Councilors, the Crown dissolved the Virginia Company and made Virginia a Royal Colony on May 24, 1624.  This was a hostile “take-over,” not a “buyout,” of the investors who had initially provided the capital and absorbed all the risk.  In the Company’s dying gasp in 1625, Governor Wyatt protested: “…the business of Virginia, so foiled and wronged by the party opposite and now reduced to extreme terms…wherein our former labors, cares, and expenses had received … the undeserved reward of rebuke and disgrace.”1

However, in May 1625, the new King Charles I wrote to reassure the colonists that it “…was not intended … to take away or impeach the particular interest of any private planter or adventurer….Our full resolution is that there may be one uniform course of government in and through the whole Monarchy….”2  Private property and representative government would stay.

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham

It may seem surprising that anyone thought the King’s men could manage the Colony better, for the royal coffers were nearly empty, and King James I was frequently at odds with Parliament over money.  That same year, the Lord Treasurer (Sir Lionel Cranfield) was impeached by Parliament.  The King’s powerful favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was distrusted and disliked, and Prince Charles and Buckingham were more focused on raising money for their desired war with Spain than the  troubles of Virginia. 3

1836 h IMG_3249_edited-2
English Cheviot Sheep

The English economy was sick. Rather than Virginia being the cause, it was hoped revenues from the tobacco trade could help. Since the 16th century, much of England’s export wealth had come from selling woolen cloth, particularly heavy broadcloth, to the continent.   However, there was rising competition from German, Dutch, and even Spanish weavers who produced a less expensive cloth.  By 1624, England was dealing with an economic crisis over the falling demand for and price of their woolen cloth.  Some cloth merchants, like the Custis brothers, left for Rotterdam and the continent.  The Custis brothers will be part of a later story.4

The Death of a King

A Sickly King James I

King James I  was one of the early casualties of 1625.  For several years his health had been deteriorating.  At age fifty-eight, he had lost all his teeth, and he reportedly suffered from diarrhea, arthritis, nephritis, colic, and gout “which he tried vainly to cure by standing in the bellies of bucks freshly slaughtered in the hunting fields.”5 He was frequently scratching himself, hiccuping, and belching and had stones in his bladder, sores on his lips and disease in his liver.  “It was difficult not to be repelled by him in his illness, but impossible not to feel pity for him. “6 The King died on March 24, 1625.

King James Version

King James had been a king of contradictions.  Remembered for bringing together scholars to create the King James Bible and supporting the Protestant cause,  his court was also known for excesses and debauchery. 7 Despite success in uniting England and Scotland and establishing an uneasy peace with Spain, he waffled on foreign policy and did not give adequate support to other Protestant rulers.  However, James I had managed to maintain relative peace within the kingdom, avoiding the prior excesses of  religious purges. Despite James being  honored with a funeral “the greatest indeed that ever was known in England”  at the cost of L 50,000, the people quickly refocused on the newly energized King Charles I and the still powerful Duke of Buckingham.8 Within the next twenty-five years, however, the fickle public would rejoice when Buckingham was murdered, and the King, beheaded.

The Great Plague of 1625

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A Plague Doctor

 “The Great Plague” of London usually refers to 1665-66 when over 100,000 died.  However, not able to foresee this future calamity,  that was also the name of the horrific outbreak of the plague in 1625 that claimed 41,313 lives in London.   The plague (probably bubonic) had targeted London and its crowded, dirty streets since the “Great Pestilence” arrived on trading vessels from China and Asia in 1348.  

1572 c uk redo 003_edited-2There were around 40 major outbreaks of plague in London over the next three hundred years, occurring approximately every 20-30 years.  Although there were cases of the plague in intervening years,  it is still a mystery as to why an outbreak would suddenly stop and a new one not start up until years later. It was estimated that nearly a quarter of the London population died from the plague in 1563, whereas, with the increase in population a hundred years later, “The Great Plague” of 1666 killed about 20%. 9 

St. Batholomew’s, a Rare Survivor of the London Fire  Photo by Maren Mecham

The healthy fled London; the sickly were shut up in their homes to die; parliament was postponed; entertainments were closed; dead bodies were piled into plague mounds and ditches, such as one next to St Bartholomew’s Church. Compassion was in short supply.  Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary, “The plague (is) making us cruel as dogs to one another.” 10 While the London fire of 1666 destroyed all but a few corners of the old city, it also eliminated  lurking causes of  plague: flea-infested rats.  After the fire, there were no more serious outbreaks in London.

Death at the Siege of Breda

IMG_0957Unfortunately, it was not just church bells in London that tolled in mourning that year.  Without adequate finances, planning, preparation, provisions, or training of its troops, England agreed to join the fight with the Dutch (Protestant) Republic to lift the siege of the City of Breda by the (Catholic)  Army of Flanders/ Hapsburg.  When the lengthy siege finally ended and the Dutch were forced to sign articles of capitulation on June 2, 1625, fewer than 600 of the 7,000 (less than 9%) of the English troops had survived.  Rather than blaming the commander Mansfield, most put the blame on the Duke of Buckingham “whose military enthusiasm did not include  attention to the details of policy or planning.” 11

1617 image1
Entrance to Cambridge  Photo by Maren Mecham

Among the thousands of  young English recruits who died at Breda was Mordaunt Thorowgood.  He had been baptized July 27, 1601 as  “Mordautus” by his father, William Thorowgood, who was the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Church in Grimston, Norfolk.  Mordaunt was the sixth of seven sons born to William Thorowgood and his wife, Anne Edwards, of Norwich:  Edward, (Sir) John, Thomas, Edmond, William, Mordaunt, and Adam.  They also had one daughter Frances, and William had another son, Robert, by his second wife, Mary Dodge.  Mordaunt must have been a promising young man with a bright future ahead as he had enrolled at the  Gonville and Caius College of Cambridge University in 1617.  His untimely death at age 24 during the siege of Breda was noted in the history of the college.  12

Death in the Family

1998 Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Not all deaths that year were untimely or unanticipated.  Robert Offley, having lived an abundant life for about 60 years, passed away and was buried at St. Benet’s Church in London on May 16, 1625.   His widow, Anne Osborne, was the daughter of Sir Edward Osborne, a Lord Mayor of London, the first Governor of the Levant Company, and, yes, the one who had notably jumped into the River Thames as a young apprentice to rescue an infant daughter (Ann Hewitt) who later became his wife.  (More on that famous story in later posts).  Robert Offley  not only was a Levant Company “Turkey Merchant” (one of few able to trade with the Ottomans), he was also an investor in both the Virginia Company of London and the Bermuda Company as well as a merchant with the East India Company.  His family was well cared for, but his younger daughters were still unmarried at his death.  As fathers often arranged marriages for their daughters, perhaps, in spite of sadness,  Elizabeth (age 18) and Sarah (age 16) wondered what the future would hold for them. 13

Adam Thorowgood, who was completing his indentureship in Elizabeth Cittie, Virginia, must have been saddened when he received news both of his father’s and his brother’s deaths that year. Being only a few years apart, Mourdant and Adam likely would have done much together. Perhaps Adam reflected  on how fortunate he was to have evaded death and disease in Virginia when he had seen so much around him.  With over 46,000 dead of disease and warfare in England that year, it was evident that Virginia was not the only risky place to live.   Nonetheless, after Adam finished his indentureship to Edward Waters, purchased 150 acres of land in Virginia,  and become recognized as a Gentleman of Kecoughtan,  he decided in 1626 to take the chance and return to England to see family, receive his inheritance, recruit other settlers, and find himself a suitable wife.14

Next post: How Sarah Met Adam or Finding a Spouse in 17th Century London

Special Thanks to Maren Mecham for permission to use her English photos and for going out of her way to take them.









  1. Kingsbury, Susan Myra, The Records of the Virginia Company of London, vol. IV (Washington , DC: Government Printing Office, 1935), 519-523. Wolfe, Brendan, “Virginia Company of London.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 10 Nov. 2016. Web. Accessed online 8 Aug. 2019
  2. Neill, Edward D., Virginia Carolorum: The Colony Under the Rule of Charles the First and Second, originally published as part of Neill’s Series of Virginia History (Albany, New York: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1886), 9-12.  Reproduced from original in public domain by Scholar Select. 
  3. Ackroyd, Peter,  Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)  85-88.  Hibbert, Christopher, Charles I: A Life of Religion, War and Treason (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014),  63-64.    Willson, David Harris, King James VI and I (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1956), 442-444. 
  4. Lynch, James B.,Jr., The Custis Chronicles: The Years of Migration (Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1992), 36-37. 
  5. Hibbert, 81-82. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Ackroyd, 18. Willson, 446-447.  Underdown, David, Revel, Riot and Rebellion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 84, 120. 
  8. Ackroyd, 92. Willson, 447. 
  9. ” London plagues 1348-1665,”  Pocket Histories from Museum of London.org.uk .  2011.  Accessed online 8/11/19.  Ackroyd, 110.  Lynch, 36. 
  10. Ibid. 
  11. Ackroyd, 91. Swart, Erik, ” The siege of Breda, 1624-1625:  The last great victory of the Army of Flanders in the Eighty Year’s War,” Academia.edu, 1-8.  Accessed online 8/12/19.  “Siege of Breda 1624” Wikipedia.  Accessed online 8/12/19. 
  12. Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, vol 3 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 326.   Venn, John, Biographical History of  Gonville and Caius College 1349-1897, vol 1 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1897.  Accessed online through Internet Archive  on 8/18/2019. Baptismal record of Mordautus Thorowgood at   https://www.freereg.org.uk/search_records/58181f2ece93790eca321654c/show_print_version?search_id=58c87a57791e3b0d416c61b5 
  13. Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, vol 2  (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 697.  Bower, G.C. and  H.W.F. Harwood, “Pedigree of Offley,” The Genealogist: A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research, XIX, 1903, 217-231. Garner-Biggs Bulletin, 30:1, self published. 
  14. Dorman, vol. 3, 326. 

Verdict in the SeaVenture Murder Mystery


Shipwrecks, murder, storms, greed, and mistaken identities:  these are common elements of a good play by Shakespeare.  They are also all found in the true tale of the SeaVenture shipwreck on Bermuda in 1609 (which Shakespeare incorporated into The Tempest) and the life of Edward Waters.  In my last post, I put the evidence on trial as to whether Edward Waters, to whom Adam Thoroughgood was indentured in 1621, was a killer and/or a pirate.  Here, I will post my verdict and the basis for my conclusions.  I encourage you to refer to Edward Waters and a Trial of the SeaVenture Murder: Bermuda 1609 if you have not already read it or this may not make much sense.

mesmerizing-translucent-waves-19th-century-painting-ivan-konstantinovich-aivazovsky-6Shakespeare, himself, had his heroine Juliette pose the question, “What is in a name?”  (Romeo and Juliette)  In this case, the name seems to be the issue on which the verdict hangs.  Everyone basically agreed that the sailor Edward Samuel was killed with a shovel by another sailor with the last name of Waters in a dispute shortly after the shipwreck on Bermuda.  He then hid on the island and refused to join the other passengers when they finally sailed to Virginia in 1610. 1 But was it Edward Waters, who later became a settler in Virginia, or a Robert Waters, who was not again mentioned?  As I pointed out before, this matter has divided authors and scholars since the seventeenth century who have either rallied behind William Strachey’s “Robert” or John Smith’s “Edward.”

As I delved into the records and accounts of the SeaVenture and the life of Edward Waters, there was one item which I found compelling in my verdict that he was not the person who killed Edward Samuel on Bermuda.  I was not convinced by the much-touted reference to Alexander Brown’s finding of a confession of a diseased and distraught sailor on his way to the East Indies.  In the quote that Mr. Brown provided in defense of Edward Waters in 1890, the sailor’s name was not directly quoted nor was there any solid connection provided to the incident in Bermuda.2 There could be more supporting evidence in that record, but someone would need to find it.

King James I
King James I

In 1624 King James I revoked the charter of the financially-strapped Virginia Company of London and made Virginia a Royal Colony.  At that time, he ordered a muster (census) to be taken in a house to house survey that included information about where the settlers  were living, their ages, and the dates and ships of their arrival to Virginia.  Information was also collected about the households’ food, arms, livestock, and buildings and boats; however, apparently, women, children, and servants were not significant enough to include.

img_0184In the Muster, Edward Waters was living in Elizabeth Cittie and listed as the head of the household.  He was reported to have 37 barrels of corn and  1500 dry fish (far more than his neighbors); no livestock (very few had any);  1 boat, 4 houses/buildings, and 1 palisade; 10 pounds of powder, 100 pounds of lead, 11″pieces” (muskets?), 1 pistol, 6 swords, and 4 “armors and coates.”  Edward Waters gave his age as 40 and stated he had arrived in Virginia on the Patience, having left England in 1608.  He had actually embarked on the SeaVenture in 1609, but with the Julian calendar still in use in England, it would have been only a few months into that new year. 3

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400th Anniversary Memorial, Bermuda             Permission by R. Suerdieck

However, the name Edward Waters listed for his ship is  the critical information. The Patience was one of the two ships built in Bermuda to take the shipwreck survivors to Virginia in 1610.  It only made one voyage bringing passengers there.  If Edward Waters went to Virginia on the Patience, he could not have been the sailor who everyone agreed hid out and refused to leave Bermuda. No one in Virginia later disputed his claim to have been on the Patience, and there were still several, including Sir George Yeardley, who had been shipwrecked with him that could have challenged a false claim.   Edward Waters was awarded 100 acres as an Ancient Planter based on the report that he had arrived in Virginia prior to 1616. 4

Image 6-30-19 at 12.27 AM
Somer’s Garden, Bermuda Permission by R. Suerdieck

I also found the record that has been ascribed to Governor Butler, an early governor of Bermuda, to be supportive.  While the Governor never met Edward Waters, he would have known of him through Christopher Carter who was the only man who knew the full story, having never left Bermuda after the shipwreck.  Following Christopher Carter’s  attempt to lead a mutiny among the SeaVenture survivors, he escaped and joined the sailor who had killed Edward Samuel.  Based on The Historye of the Bermudaes or Summer Islands, the man who stayed on Bermuda with Carter when the others went to Virginia was a “Robert Walters.”  Then, after Sir George Somers returned to Bermuda and died, it was reported that only one of the two original men stayed on the island when the ship left to take the body of Sir George to England. The two new sailors who chose to stay with Christopher Carter were  Edward Waters and Edward Chard. 5 The information passed on by Carter is in line with what William Strachey, who was also on the shipwreck, had written.

The other “evidence” which reinforces my belief that Edward Waters  was not the killer is that society at the time did not take murder lightly.  Even if pardoned by Governor Gates, the stigma would have remained.  Yet, Edward Waters became a justice in the local Virginia Court and was even elected as a Burgess. If the man who killed Edward Samuel was too afraid to go to Virginia with the others in 1610, why would he later risk coming as a colonist?  Would a man known to have killed another be elected and appointed to leadership positions in the Colony at that time?

Woodcut_from_Charles_Johnson_39_s_A_General_HistorThat does not mean that  Edward Waters’ conduct was spotless.  He was ready to resort to violence with Edward Chard over disputes regarding the ambergris.  He also  chose to join the shady voyage to the West Indies for “supplies” which Richard Norwood refused to be part of.  That group of 32 from Bermuda were never designated as pirates or privateers, although they did attack and capture a Portuguese vessel while they were “off-course” in the Canary Islands, had an encounter with  a French pirate, and later were rescued after another shipwreck on a deserted isle by an unnamed English pirate.6  Many questions can be raised, but few answered, about what really occurred during those five years between when he left Bermuda and returned to Virginia.  I would conclude that Edward Waters might have been capable of killing someone in a fit of anger, but I believe his arrival in Virginia on the Patience indicates that he did not.

Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare

There are a lot of Edwards in this story: Edward Samuel, Edward Chard, and Edward Waters.  Could the sources that Captain John Smith consulted when he wrote his history of Bermuda have confused the names? 7 By the time Smith published his history, Edward Waters was a known name as a finder of the ambergris on Bermuda, a participant in an ill-advised venture to the West Indies, and a Virginia settler who had escaped the Nansemond Indians during the Massacre.  Perhaps the coincidence of having two unrelated Waters on the same ship, both choosing to stay on the uninhabited island one after the other, seemed to Smith, as it does to me, to be improbable, and he merged their stories.  However, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.

Special thanks again to Rebecca Suerdieck for the use of photos from her journey to Bermuda in search of the SeaVenture story.  Check out her website at http://www.maryebucke.com

Next post: Adam Thorowgood and Sarah Offley: Finding a 17th Century Spouse


  1.   Wright, Louis B., A Voyage to Virginia in 1609: Two Narratives (Charlottesville VA: University of Virginia Press, 1964), 5-16, 105-109. 
  2.   Brown, Alexander, The Genesis of the United States, vol. II (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, facsimile reprint 1994; original copyright 1890), 1042. 
  3. Shifflett, Crandall,Search the Jamestown 1624/5 Muster Records,”  Viritual Jamestown, (1999, 2000) accessed online on 6/29/2019 at  http://www.virtualjamestown.org/Muster/muster24.html 
  4.   Hotten, John Camden, ed., “Musters of the Inhabitants of Virginia 1624,” The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1980), 253. 
  5.   Lefroy, J. Henry, ed., The Historye of the Bermudaes or Summer Islands, transcribed from Manuscript in the Sloane Collection, British Museum (London: Hakluyt Society, 1882), 15.  Lefroy, J. H., Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somers Islands 1515-1685, vol. I (London: Bermuda Government Library, reprinted 1932), 14. 
  6.   Kennedy, Jean, Isle of Devils: Bermuda under the Somers Island Company 1609-1685 (Glasgow: Collins, 1971), 84-85. 
  7.   Smith, John, ” The Fifth Book: The General Historie of the Bermudas,” The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), edited by Philip L. Barbour, vol. II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 350. 

Edward Waters and a Trial of the SeaVenture Murder: Bermuda 1609

Image 5-20-19 at 10.34 PM (1)
                               Tercentenary Monument to SeaVenture in Bermuda                                      Used with  Permission of Rebecca Suerdieck

“Putting the Evidence on Trial”

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: Today you are asked to investigate a most unusual murder case that will involve conjuring up the deceased to determine if there is sufficient evidence to convict Edward Waters of the murder of Edward Samuel on the island of Bermuda in 1609. Briefs have been submitted by family and friends on behalf of Edward Waters, claiming that he is not the one and that there is no reason to once again cast dispersion on his honored name. However, please carefully consider the facts.

Captain Christopher Newport

For my first witness, I call Captain Christopher Newport, the famed Captain who led the first fleet to Jamestown and was chosen to return with the Third Supply of nine ships. Captain Newport, how did you and the defendant, Edward Waters, come to be on the Island of Bermuda in 1609?

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Sea Venture, World Heritage Center Permission R. Suerdieck

The Virginia Company of London did me the great honor of appointing me Captain of our excellent new ship, the SeaVenture, to transport needed supplies and passengers to the Colony of Virginia. As this was the largest and best of our ships, it was determined that Sir Thomas Gates, our newly appointed Governor, Sir George Somers, our Admiral, and other important Colony leaders should accompany me. All went well for much of the journey until about a week before our expected landfall at Cape Henry. Suddenly a storm came upon us unlike any I or my fellow seamen had experienced. My passengers have described it well.1

William Strachey: …the clouds gathering thick upon us and the winds singing and whistling most unusually…, a dreadful storm and hideous began to blow….at length (it) did blow all light from Heaven…. The storm…had blown so exceedingly as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence; yet did we still find it not only more terrible but more constant, fury added to fury…. Prayers might well be in the heart and lips but drowned in the outcries of officers: nothing heard that could give comfort, nothing seen that might encourage hope.

Silvester Jourdain: …with the violent working of the the seas, our ship became so shaken, torn, and leaked that she received so much water as covered two tier of hogsheads above the ballast; that our men stood up to the middles with buckets… to bail out the water and continually pumped for three days and three nights together without any intermission; and yet the water seemed rather to increase than to diminish. Insomuch that all our men, being utterly spent, tired, and disabled for longer labor, were even resolved, without any hope of their lives, to shut up the hatches and to have committed themselves to the mercy of the sea (which is said to be merciless)….

De_Windstoot _-_ A_ship_in_need_in_a_raging_storm_ (Willem_van_de_Velde_II, _1707)
The Gust of Wind by W. v. Velde

On the morning of the fourth day, as we despaired and prepared to meet our God, Admiral Somers, who had tried to steer us through the storm while lashed to the deck without food or water, cried out that land was sighted. However, it was not Virginia, but the much to be feared Devil’s Island, a haunted isle of demons and shipwrecks. Desperate, Sir George ran our ship between two reefs, steadying the SeaVenture so all of the 150 passengers could be ferried to land. We then returned to salvage what we could from the ship which was damaged beyond repair. To our surprise, we found the island to be an uninhabited paradise. The demons and fairies were no more than cahow birds and wild hogs upon which we did feast.

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SeaVenture Landing Site, Bermuda  Used by Permission of Rebecca Suerdieck

Edward Waters was one of Admiral Somer’s crew. Shortly after we arrived, there was a dispute between two sailors, Waters and Samuel. Edward Samuel died when Waters hit him with a shovel. I do not know what the argument was about. There was an issue over jurisdiction on the island, as Admiral Somers was in charge during the voyage and Governor Gates was not the official governor until Virginia. The survivors soon divided, the passengers remaining with Governor Gates and the sailors removing themselves to another part of the islands, each tasked with building a new boat to carry them to Virginia. “The secret was that the sea and land commanders, being alienated one from another ( a quality over common to the English) and fallen into jealousies, there was produced, not only a separation of the company…but an affection of disgracing one another….” 2

I next call William Strachey, the Secretary of the Colony and author of “A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight upon and from the Islands of Bermudas….” Mr. Strachey, you wrote about the murder. Did you witness it? No, I did not. However, this is what I know: 3

That Waters was a sailor, who at his first landing upon the island…killed another fellow sailor of his….We buried …one untimely, Edward Samuel, a sailor, being villainously killed by the foresaid Robert Waters (a sailor likewise) with a shovel, who strake him therewith under the lift of the ear; to which he was apprehended and appointed to be hanged the next day….But being bound fast to a tree all night, with many ropes and a guard of five or six to attend him, his fellow sailors…in despite and disdain that justice should be showed upon a sailor…they cut his bonds and conveyed him into the woods, where they fed him nightly and closely, who afterward by the mediation of Sir George Somers, upon many conditions, had his trial respited by our governor. 

Are you certain that his name was Robert Waters? I did not know him well as I seldom mixed with the crew on the voyage. Then we were very busy during the storm and in setting up our camp. He fled to the woods after the murder; his crew mates left us shortly thereafter, but, yes, I believe that is what they called him.

Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith, would you please step to the bar. In 1624 you wrote “The Fifth Book: The General Historie of the Bermudas … with their proceedings, accidents, and present estate.” Yet you were never present on Bermuda. Where did you obtain your information and whom do you believe killed Edward Samuel?

The tales of the SeaVenture shipwreck created quite a stir when survivors and their manuscripts started to show up in England. Even our favored barb, William Shakespeare, worked some of this into his play The Tempest. In my book, I cited my sources as Master Jordan (Jourdain), Master John Euens, Master Henry Shelly and others such as Governor Nathaniel Butler, Richard Norrod (Norwood), Mr. Pollard and Thomas Sparkes. According to my sources, when the boats were finished, the company departed for Virginia 4

…only leaving two men behind them, called Christopher Carter and Edward Waters, that for their offenses, or the suspicion they had of their judgments, fled into the woods, and there rather desired to end their days than stand to their trials and the event of justice….Waters being tied to a tree also to be executed, had by chance a knife about him, and so secretly cut the rope, he ran into the woods where they could not find him.

Are you certain that his name was Edward Waters and that your sources did not confuse his first name with that of the victim? Can you provide us with the reports of Master Euens and Master Shelley? I have heard that their reports have gone missing over these many years. I wrote what I found and was told. I believe that Edward Waters was the person who killed Edward Samuel, stayed on Bermuda the first and second time, and was kidnapped, but escaped, from the Nansemonds after the 1622 Massacre in Virginia. I have heard that some think I have the wrong name of the killer, and yet they still accept the other information I provided on the life of Edward Waters in Bermuda after the death of Sir George Somers. 5

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Sir George Somers  Permission by R. Suerdieck

Then, let us now hear from Sir George Somers. Sir, how was it that you and most of the company reached Virginia? Why did you then return to Bermuda?

There were many of the common people amongst us who wanted to stay in the paradise of Bermuda, and we had three serious threats of mutiny. However, our charge had been to deliver the settlers to Virginia. I had talked to Governor Gates who agreed to pardon Waters and Christopher Carter, a leader of the mutiny. However, they did not trust the truce and refused to come with us. I reassured them we would return. We knew they would be able to survive there and thought they could help maintain England’s claim to the island. 6

Historic Jamestowne

On May 24, 1610, we arrived at Jamestown in our new boats, the Patience and Deliverer, only to find the settlers in desperate condition. Of the 400 who had been there in the fall, only 60 pitiful colonists remained after the Starving Time. They had eaten their belts and shoes, rats and snakes, and, in desperation, had even eaten the flesh of some who had already died. The other ships of our original fleet had arrived in late summer 1609 after the hurricane, but as their cargo had been tossed overboard, they brought only more mouths to feed with no supplies. Shortly after our arrival, Governor Gates made the difficult decision to abandon Jamestown, as it was no longer sustainable in that condition. We planned to leave for Newfoundland where arrangements could be made to return the colonists to England. With sadness, we buried the cannon, but looked forward to returning home to England as we headed down the James River. 7

Then, as I related in my letter of June 20, 1610 to the Earl of Salisbury:8

We met with the Lord La Ware (DeLa Ware) and Lord Governor which made our hearts very glad and we presently returned up to Jamestowne….I am going to the Bermuda for fish and hogs with small pinnaces and am in a good opinion to be back again before the Indians do gather their harvest. The Bermuda is the most plentiful place that ever I came to, for fish and fowl. Thus wishing all health with the increase of honor do humbly take my leave from Virginia.”

I took my nephew Matthew and a select group of sailors with me. Edward Waters, having come to Virginia with me on the Patience, was one of them. Samuel Argall also set sail, but we were separated in a storm. He returned to Jamestown, never finding the island. 9

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Bermuda Reefs   Permission by R. Suerdieck

If Edward Waters had been with you on the Patience, then whom did you find in Bermuda? Having returned today for this inquiry from two graves , Admiral Somers, are you aware of what happened to you while there?

We found the two sailors we left on the island “alive and lustie.” 10 Despite having survived the hurricane and nine months on Bermuda, this time, however,  my feasting upon the hogs resulted in my death. It was most inconvenient. Contrary to following my strict instructions to bury me on beautiful Bermuda and then take food to Virginia, my greedy nephew, hoping to gain my inheritance, decided to take my body back to England to prove I was dead. They buried my heart and entrails, embalmed the rest of me, put me in a cedar box, and snuck me inconspicuously into the cargo without the knowledge of superstitious sailors. In England, I was given a ceremonious funeral. Having disobeyed me, I’m glad that my nephew never did get my inheritance. This time three of the sailors stayed on the island: Christopher Carter, Edward Waters, and Edward Chard. 11

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Grave of Sir George Somer’s Heart  Permission of R. Suerdieck

Another Edward? I am confused. Which Waters stayed on the island? Excuse me. Perhaps I can help. I am Alexander Brown of the Virginia Historical Society and author of The Genesis of the United States which I published in 1890. I am here at the request of Edward Waters’ family. I became aware of “the badly mixed-up and unfriendly account of this voyage” given in Smith’s History. Knowing that 12

the descendants of Capt. Edward Waters are numerous and respectable (some of them highly honorable) citizens of this country, it gave me pleasure to be able to clear their ancestor of the crime of murder, which Capt. John Smith fastened on him. The real murderer was a sailor named Robert Waters; he it was who remained in the Bermudas with Christopher Carter when Gates sailed to Virginia in May, 1610. He returned to England with Capt. Matthew Somers; entered the service of the E.I. Co. (East India Company), and died at sea on the voyage to East India, August 6, 1614, ‘a man long diseased in bodie, disturbed in minde by torment of conscience, for a man by him killed in Virginia.’

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Site of Sea Venture Wreck   Permission by R. Suerdieck

So, you would have us believe that there were two unrelated men with identical last names, both assigned to the same crew, who both chose to stay, one after the other, on a primitive island? With due respect, Mr. Brown, I am acquainted with many of the fine documents you preserved in your book, but can you or anyone here produce a complete copy of this East India Company record? Your quote simply states you found a record of “a man” on his way to East India who was “long diseased in body” and not in his right mind who confessed to a killing in Virginia. Was there anything in the account you found that directly links this person to the murder of Edward Samuel in Bermuda?

You stated that you were trying to help his descendants. However, from the testimony we have heard so far, the Waters who first stayed on the island was in good health and not mentally distraught when Somers and his crew returned to Bermuda. Why then would he have wanted to leave Bermuda or suddenly have had debilitating pangs of conscience? Is there any evidence you can produce at this time that this was the same man who enlisted with the East India Company? Can anyone locate this document?

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SeaVenture 400th Anniversary Memorial  by R. Suerdieck

I next call as an expert witness Major-General J. H. Lefroy, a former governor of Bermuda and compiler of the two volume “Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somer Island,” published in 1882. Gen. Lefroy, we appreciate your diligence in collecting manuscripts pertaining to the founding of Bermuda, including your transcription of an untitled manuscript from the British Museum for the Hakluyt Society which you thought might have been authored by John Smith. I understand that it is now ascribed to Nathaniel Butler, governor of Bermuda from 1619-1622 . What additional information did you find regarding the murder and Edward Water’s activities after the death of Sir George Somers?

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The Carter House and 1612 Reconstructed Hut Permission by R. Suerdieck

Neither the report by Master Jordain nor the transcription of Governor Butler even mentioned the murder incident. Based on his sources, Governor Butler stated the the two men left hiding on Bermuda when the colonists went to Virginia were Christopher Carter and a Robert Walters. After the death of Sir George Somers, Governor Butler said that the ship’s captain 13

forced the rest…to shape their course toward England; so that once again these islands had been desolate, had it not been for one of those two formerly left behind , named Christopher Carter, (who, for that fact only deserves to be mentioned)……He would by no means be induced to return with the rest…the which moved them all, especially it wrought upon the humours of two (one of which had been Sir George’s servant), so that at last offered themselves to be the companions….

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Map of Bermuda Based on Survey by Richard Norwood

Edward Waters, Christopher Carter, and Edward Chard then 14

… began to erect their little commonwealth , for a while with brotherly regency….Then…they chanced upon the greatest piece of Amber- greese (ambergris) was ever seene or heard of in one lump, being in weight four-score pound, besides divers other small pieces. But now being rich, they grew so proud and ambitious contempt took such place, they fell out for superiority, though but three forlorne men, more than three thousand miles from their native country….Notwithstanding, they sometimes fell from words to blows about mere trifles. At last Chard and Waters the two greater spirits must try it out in the field, but Carter wisely stole away their weapons…. And thus those miserable men lived two full years….

Please continue General Lefroy. How did Edward Waters get to Virginia and what about his rumored connection to Pirates? In 1612, the Virginia Company decided to sent 50 settlers to Bermuda under Master More as Governor. The “Three Kings of Bermuda,” as they became known, intended to keep their finding of ambergris quiet as this ingredient (sperm whale vomit) used for perfumes was (and still is) more rare and valuable by the ounce than gold. However, Master More became aware of the find when, after much questioning, Carter revealed the plot. The Virginia Company laid claim to the ambergris, although Governor Moore would not send it all at once, as a surety the Company would not abandon them. Carter, Chard, and Waters were given nothing, although it was never known how much they really found. Master More returned to England after a year, and a Council of Six was chosen to administer the island, each serving for a month until a new governor arrived. Edward Waters and Christoper Carter were among those chosen. 15

Woodcut_from_Charles_Johnson_39_s_A_General_HistorAt the end of the first month, the first of the counselors, Caldicott, persuaded thirty-two others, including Edward Waters and Edward Chard, to go with him to the West Indies for “supplies” (loot). Richard Norwood, the surveyor, wrote in his diary: 16

Mr. Knight…was desirous that I was to go with him as his mate. But knowing what their design was, namely to rob and take what they could, it pleased the Lord to stay my heart from running into such a desperate evil course….And afterwards roving at sea they were driven to great extremity and at last, I have heard, taken by the Spanish who hanged up divers of them, what became of the rest I know not.

Captain John Smith related in his book: 17

But this poor vessel, whether through bad weather, or want of Mariners or both …instead of the Indies fell in with the Canaries (Canary Islands) ….where (it) was taken by a French Pickaroune (pirate), so that the Frigate … makes a second time for the West Indies, where she no sooner arrived, but foundered (filled with water or failed) in the sea; but the men in their boat recovered a desolate Isle, where after some few months stay, an English pirate took them in, and some of them at last got for England….

Edward Waters obviously did not return in time to serve his month as one of the Council of Six of Bermuda. About five years after leaving Bermuda for this venture, Edward Waters showed up as a colonist in Virginia.

Sir George Yeardley Jamestowne Interpreter

Sir George Yeardley, please step forward. You had the opportunity to know Edward Waters both as a fellow survivor of the shipwreck in Bermuda as well as an “ancient planter” in Virginia. As Deputy Governor and then Governor of Virginia , did you receive any formal complaints or demands for justice from other SeaVenture survivors regarding Edward Water’s behavior in Bermuda once he arrived in Virginia? Was he ever brought to court in Virginia for piracy or threatening or violent behavior?

I believe Edward Waters finally came to Virginia as a colonist around 1617, and he acquired 100 acres of land as an “ancient planter” near Blount’s Point in the Elizabeth Cittie Parish. I never received formal complaints against him from the former Bermuda passengers and am unaware of any court proceedings against him for threats or violent behaviors at least until my own death in 1628. He married a fine young woman who was actually working in my household at the time of their marriage around 1621. I did not object to their union. He was not charged with piracy. 18

Adam Thorowgood at Thoroughgood Education Center, Virginia Beach

Captain Adam Thorowgood, please approach the bar. I understand you worked for Edward Waters as an indentured servant near Blount’s Point. According to court records, I see you yourself were involved in an incident during that time when two servants died. Would you explain the incident and Mr. Water’s reaction? Did you ever see episodes of unprovoked anger or have reason to fear for your life while working for him?

I was seventeen when I began as an indentured servant for Edward Waters in 1621 at Water’s Creek in Elizabeth Cittie Parish. Mr. Waters was a fair master. We were all very concerned when he and Mrs. Waters were kidnapped by the Nansemonds during the Massacre and excited when they returned. It is true that on New Year’s Eve 1625, I and six others foolishly took the Grace out on the river without permission. Not being skilled sailors, we could not manage it, and five ended up going overboard. With our calls for help, others assisted in pulling three out of the water. Tragically, the other two drowned. I was relieved when the case was dismissed. Whereas some masters would have punished their servants, prolonged the contract, or dismissed them, I was allowed to complete my contract with Mr. Waters, although I learned a serious lesson. The following year, I purchased some land near Mr. Waters on the Back River in Hampton. We continued as good friends and neighbors. 19

Church attended by Waters and Thorowgood

Mr. Waters held important leadership positions during the years I knew him intimately. He was deemed to be a gentleman in 1625, became a justice of Elizabeth Cittie’s court the next year, and was elected a Burgess. He also served as a Captain in the militia and was particularly pleased when he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1629 and given responsibility over a group of plantations in Elizabeth Cittie Parish. Edward Waters was also a church warden for our parish. I was saddened when I heard of his death in 1630 on a visit to England. He was buried in his home town of Great Nornemead in Hertfordshire, England. His wife remarried Obedience Robins and moved to the Eastern Shore. I always enjoyed his tales of adventure but cannot recall a time I felt threatened by his behavior. 20

Having been a justice for the Lower Norfolk court and a member of the Governor’s Council, I know that any accusation of murder is taken very seriously as it is a heinous crime. However, some leniency can be granted when the death is not intended or in the protection of oneself or others. There are many unexplained facts about the death of Edward Samuel. I note that the sailors who were present, rather than demanding revenge for the death of one of their crew members, protected and assisted the killer. I would conclude that there must have been special circumstances if the esteemed Governor Gates and Admiral Somers both agreed to a pardon.

I would like to thank all of the witnesses for their efforts to appear. I also note that several amicus curiae (briefs of interested parties) have been filed. Those supporting the innocence of Edward Waters include “The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown,” and ” In the Eye of All Trade”; those accusing Edward Waters of the murder include “Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers,” “Isle of Devils,” and “SeaVenture: Shipwreck, Survival, and the Salvation of the First English Colony in the New World.” 21

Ladies and gentlemen of our Public Jury, after considering all of the available evidence, what is your verdict?

Special Thanks to Rebecca Suerdieck for her assistance and permission to use her photos of Bermuda. Check out her website at http://www.maryebucke.com

(I’ll reveal my verdict in my next post and what piece of evidence finally swayed me.)


  1. Wright, Louis B., A Voyage to Virginia in 1609: Two Narratives (Charlottesville VA: University of Virginia Press, 1964), 5-16, 105-109. 
  2. Lefroy, J. H., Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somers Islands 1515-1685, vol. I (London: Bermuda Government Library, reprinted 1932), 14. 
  3. Wright, 53-55. 
  4. Smith, John, ” The Fifth Book: The General Historie of the Bermudas,” The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), edited by Philip L. Barbour, vol. II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 350. 
  5. Smith, John, ” The Fourth Book,” The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), edited by Philip L. Barbour, vol.II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 308-309. 
  6. Smith, “The Fifth Book,” 351. 
  7. Wright, 59-83. 
  8. Lefroy, Memorials, 11. 
  9. Hotten, John Camden, ed., “Musters of the Inhabitants of Virginia 1624,” The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1980), 253. Brown, Alexander, The Genesis of the United States, vol. II (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, facsimile reprint 1994; original copyright 1890), 1042. 
  10. Lefroy, J. Henry, ed., The Historye of the Bermudaes or Summer Islands, transcribed from Manuscript in the Sloane Collection, British Museum (London: Hakluyt Society, 1882), 15. 
  11. Lefroy, Memorials, 52-53. 
  12. Brown, 1043. 
  13. Lefroy, Memorials, 53-54. 
  14. Ibid 
  15. Kennedy, Jean, Isle of Devils: Bermuda under the Somers Island Company 1609-1685 (Glasgow: Collins, 1971), 84-85. 
  16. Ibid 
  17. Smith, “Fifth Book,” 359. 
  18. McCartney, Martha, Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 722-723. 
  19. “Minutes of the Council and General Court 1622-1629,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XXV:2 (April 1917), 118-119. Nugent, Nell Marion, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants 1623-1666, vol I (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 1974),70-71. 
  20. McCartney, 722-723. Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607-1624/5, vol. III, 4th edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), 473-474. 
  21. Glover, Lorri and Daniel Blake Smith, The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2008. Doherty, Kieran, Sea Venture: Shipwreck, Survival, and the Salvation of the First English Colony in the New World, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007. Jarvis, Michael J., In the Eye of All Trade: Maritime Revolution and the Transformation of Bermudian Society 1612-1800: A dissertation presented to the faculty of the Department of History of the College of William and Mary, Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation Services, 1999. Kennedy, Jean, Isle of Devils: Bermuda under the Somers Island Company 1609-1685, Glasgow: Collins, 1971. 


Virginia 1622: Make War, Not Peace


What if ?

The conundrum of history.  What if the English never came to Virginia or King Philip III of Spain took decisive action in 1607 and wiped out  Jamestown as the English feared?  What if the English had chosen another spot for the colony without swamps and brackish water where they could grow abundant crops without depending on the Powhatans?  What if there had been no hurricane to delay the Third Supply of ships in 1609 or if, after the colonists had abandoned Jamestown in 1610, they had not met Governor De La Warr coming up the river with supplies?  What if Pocahontas (rechristened Rebecca) had not died in England but returned to Virginia?   There are so many possibilities for alternative history.  While any one of these could have changed the outcome for individual lives in the 17th century, one thing seemed fated: that during that century, one of the  European nations would be on a collision course with the Algonquin tribes of Eastern North America.

The English:  March 22, 1621/1622

IMG_3471That morning the English arose to what they anticipated would be an ordinary day.  As a group, they were optimistic about the future of the Virginia Colony.  The colony was growing quickly with the frequent arrival of colonists and the expansion of settlements along the James River.  Families were established, and hostilities with the local tribes in the Powhatan Chiefdom were reduced.  In fact, a college was being prepared for Powhatan young boys to be educated in the ways of the English.  Opechancanough ( Powhatan’s brother who seemed to wield the most power after his brother’s death) had  encouraged his people to visit, trade, and even live among colonists.  Opechancanough even welcomed the missionary George Thorpe and asked to learn about his religion.  The English thought the Powhatans were starting to accept the superior English ways, and Thorpe wrote,  “they begin more and more to affect English fashion.” 1

IMG_3527However, before that day was over, 340+ English settlers were dead, an estimated quarter to a third of the colonists.  In a well- coordinated and well-planned attack, Powhatan tribes appeared and quickly and efficiently moved from settlement to settlement, murdering the men, women, and children.  Many of those who had traded and lived among the colonists rose up against them.  However, a few who had developed personal attachments warned their English associates, sparing some areas, including  Jamestown. 2 Settlements upstream near the falls on the James River (Richmond) were particularly hard hit. The Pocahontas Peace was over.  The Second Anglo-Powhatan War had begun.

IMG_3483According to the first report sent to the Virginia Company by Edward Waterhouse:  27 were killed at or near the Falling Creeke iron works (Henrico); 25 at or near the College lands by Henrico; 18 at or near Sheffield Plantation; 23 at or near Charles City (Bermuda Hundred);  43 at Berkeley Hundred and nearby Westover; 25 at or near Flowerdieu Hundred; 21 at Weyanoke;  12 at Powle-brooke; 19 at or near Southampton Hundred; 80 at Martin’s Hundred;  54 at Edward Bennett’s Plantation; 6 at Thomas Pierce’s at Mulberry Island; and 5 at Master Waters’.  The body of George Thorpe, the hopeful missionary who had promoted the college and the Christianization of the Indians, was mutilated. 3  Every March 22 at today’s reconstructed Henricus/Henrico Fort, there is a commemoration held with a matchlock musket salute to honor all those who died there or nearby that day . They also include any possible Powhatan casualties, although none were recorded by the English, and, with the element of surprise, there probably were not many.

Kidnapped by the  Nansemonds

IMG_3609Adam Thorowgood had only been in the Colony a little over 6 months when the March 22 assault took place.  He was a 17 year old indentured servant to Edward Waters who lived on land in the vicinity of  Blunt/ Blount Point (Newport News) on the James River.  Most historians report that there was little harm done to those in the Elizabeth Cittie area that day, but, as noted above, there were five dead or presumed dead from Master Waters’ lands.4 The following interesting incident was recorded by  John Smith in his General Historie:5

Not long after, a boat going abroad to seek out some releefe amongst the Plantations by Nuports-newes met such ill weather, though the men were saved, they lost their boat, which the storme and waves cast upon the shore of Nandsamund, where Edmund Waters…dwelling in Virginia at this Massacre (he and his wife these Nandsamunds kept prisoners) till according to their custome of triumph, with songs, dances, and invocations,  they were so busied, that Waters and his wife found opportunity to get secretly into their canow (canoe), and so crossed the river to Kenoughtan, which is nine or ten miles, wherat the English no lesse wondred and rejoiced, then the savages were madded with discontent.

IMG_0097Those reported as dead were  Edward Waters, his wife, a child, a maid, and a boy.  In the 1624 muster, two children (William and Margaret Waters, “bourne in Virgina”) are listed. 6 Did that child listed by Waterhouse also survive?  There is no mention of a child with the Waters during the capture nor a reason for the Indians to keep them together.  Who were the boy and maid, and why did they not make it when the others did? As there were other settlers in the Blunt Point area, why were Edmund and Grace Waters targeted as a couple?   As the attacking Indians often knew those they attacked,  perhaps the Nansemonds had reason to believe they would be of value  as hostages.

Where were Adam and the other servants during the attack?  They obviously did not witness the kidnapping if they then reported Waters and his wife as dead.  That first evening, how much did Adam and the other workers know about what had happened in the Colony that day?  Had they been hiding or just unaware? Were the Waters’ dwellings damaged or destroyed or were the people just missing?  Did they spend the night in terror  that the Nansemonds would return or were they just puzzled about what to do with their Master gone without a trace?  How quickly did the news of the massacre spread among the plantations?    So many unanswered questions.  We do not know how long the Waters were captive, but it must have been long enough for them to have been reported dead.  Edward Waters and Adam Thorogood were both listed as living in Elizabeth Cittie that next February, so it was less than a year.  Truly, there must have been amazement and joy when Edward and Grace Waters  suddenly showed up in a canoe!

IMG_3516The Nansemond Tribe was part of the Powhatan Confederacy, living southeast of Jamestown on the  Nansemond River. There was first  conflict between the Nansemonds and English when they resisted selling their corn to John Smith in 1608. Later, John Martin and George Percy selected Dumpling Island in the Nansemond River for English settlers, but it was a sacred site for the tribe.  Because the Indians brutally killed the messengers, the English retaliated by burning their houses, desecrating their temples, destroying the corpses of their kings, and taking their precious pearls and adornments.  Later, in Governor Dale’s zeal to control the mouth of the James River, he led 100 soldiers in full armor against the Nansemonds who fought fiercely but were not able to overcome the armor advantage.   The English burned their town, killed or captured their warriors, and took their corn.  The Nansemonds had no reason to be merciful to the English in 1622.  They participated in the attack against Edward Bennett’s plantation where so many men and women died. 7

Although the majority of victims were killed that day, there were some others who were captured.  At least nineteen women at Martin’s Hundred were taken by the Pamunkey.   Several of these women’s stories are told in the current Jamestown Settlement’s exhibit Tenacity.  Sara Boyse was the wife of a Burgess and the first to be returned  in March 1623 in exchange for a limited peace agreement for the planting season.  She reported “great misery” during her captivity.  Anne Jackson had only recently arrived  at Martin’s Hundred when she was captured.  Her experience had been so traumatic that she was given permission to return to England in 1628.  A group of men were also captured from Martin’s Hundred, but none of them returned. 8

The Powhatans: March 22, 1621/1622

IMG_3154That morning the Powhatan warriors had also been optimistic.  They hoped that this would be a mortal blow to this strange (overdressed and smelly) people who had come uninvited to their kingdom, taking their lands and demanding their food, even in times of drought when there was not enough for their own people.  Perhaps, these strangers would finally acknowledge their incompetence in surviving in this land, and, defeated, return to their own country.  When the English ordered their survivors to abandon their lands and settlements and pull back to secured areas after the attack,  the wereoance chiefs must have hoped they had succeeded.

IMG_0831Could this conflict have been prevented?  As noted above, there are always alternative possibilities.  Chief Powhatan himself, knowing the difference between “war and peace better than any” had posed the question to John Smith in 1609, “What will it avail you to take…by force what you may quickly have by love, or to destroy them that provide you food?  What can you get by war?” 9

Perhaps, the sides could have worked through their cultural misperceptions of each other.  The Powhatans thought the English were inept, as they couldn’t even grow enough food to feed themselves and would rather spend their effort on growing the tobacco weed instead of nutritious corn;  the English thought the Powhatans were backwards using stone age technology.  The Powhatans saw the English as dirty, probably smelly, and inappropriately dressed for the Virginia climate; the English considered the Powhatans to be immodest in their dress and immoral with their flexible marriages and multiple wives.  The  worship of the Powhatans included appeasing their god of evil to protect themselves; the English viewed that as devil worship.

IMG_3393Even if such differences could have been accepted, the two groups  would never be able to meet each other’s expectations or give what the other wanted most.  The English wanted land and subservient, Protestant, Indian subjects of King James I.  The Powhatans wanted  their lands, English weapons and allies who would work under their Chiefdom to defeat their tribal enemies and protect them. The English considered them false-hearted; to the Powhatans,  the English were truce-breakers. 10

Reporting the Event

800px-1622_massacre_jamestown_de_BryWhat should this event be called?  For centuries, American textbooks called it  the Indian or Jamestown  “Massacre.” Recently, recognizing the complexities of the conflicts between the English and Powhatans, it has been preferable to call it the Powhatan Uprising or The Great Assault.  By definition, the incident was a massacre, but, using the same standard, so were many of the attacks by the English.  The events of that March day were brutal, but they were neither the first, nor the last, horrific act perpetrated by both sides.

Within months, reports began to reach London of this terrible event. In order to control rumors. Edward Waterhouse sent his report A Relation of the State of the Colony and Affaires in Virginia. With a Relation of the Barbarous Massacre in the time of peace and League, treacherously executed by the Native Infidels upon the English, the 22 of March last…. The usually contentious and factious English, however, did not respond as the Powhatans  had wished.  Rather, the attack strengthened their resolve, and they emerged stronger and more unified. 11 Waterhouse went on to state 12

“so the world may see that it was not the strength of a professed enemy that brought this slaughter on them,  but contrived by the perfidious treachery of a false-hearted people, that know not God nor faith. No generous Spirit will forbere to go on for this accident …but proceed rather cheerfully in this honorable Enterprise, since the discovery of their brutish falsehood will prove…many ways advantageable to  us , and make this forewarning a forearming forever to prevent a greater mischief.”


The incident did prove advantageous for the English.  There were no longer any qualms about taking Indian lands or lives. In 1624, Governor Wyatt declared, “our first worke is expulsion of the savages to gaine the free range of the countrey…for it is infinately better to have no heathen among us, who at best were but as thornes in our sides, than to be at peace and league with them.” 13 The English side of this story was well recorded and well remembered through the years.

Powhatan Silence

img_1303What story did the Powhatans tell about this time?   Searching for  the authentic 17th century Powhatan voice is difficult.  There are voids; silences.  Some of the tribes no longer exist–killed off by war and disease or absorbed as they were moved off their lands.    Native Tribes were forced into submission and their tribal stories and traditions were suppressed, if not forbidden.  By the 1800s, their Algonquin language was considered “dead” and most of their lands had been ceded to the English/ Americans.14

Much of what we “know” must be implied through what the English wrote.  In a speech prepared for Jamestown by Dr. Karenna Wood on March 18, 2019, she noted that it was difficult even for Native Americans to find and give voice to these ancestors, especially the women.  Fortunately, several colonists, such as William Strachey and John Smith, wrote down their observations.  Helen Roundtree has skillfully attempted to reconstruct this period of the Powhatan history by melding tribal practices and traditions with the English narrative. 15

The Real Date of the Attack

Despite the persistent legend, the attack on March 22 did NOT happen on Good Friday. Nor, according to the Julian calendar that was still in use by the English at the time, did it happen in 1622.  In the Julian calendar, the new year began on March  25.  Although most of Europe was using the Gregorian calendar which began on January 1, the English did not want to follow that Popish calendar.  To avoid confusion (sort of), the English noted those first three months with both years (1621/1622). The English finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752.  In today’s histories, years are generally referred to in the context  of their Gregorian equivalent.  March 22, 1621 in the English / Julian calendar was not Good Friday. 16

IMG_1170There have been other attempts to explain the timing of the attack (phases of the moon, the English New Year, etc), but it does not appear there was  a symbolic choice of dates.  Helen Roundtree suggests that the Powhatans may actually have hoped to carry out the attack  the prior year.  It does make sense, though, that it would be carried out in the native season of cattapeuk (early spring) after the warriors had returned from their winter hunts where they could have laid plans out of earshot of  English spies, and while their women and children were away fishing and foraging, out of the reach of the revengeful English. 17

The Anglo-Powhatan Wars

IMG_0212Were the Powhatans and English really engaged in a war?  Sometimes history books read more like there were just isolated and random attacks. Today scholars now divide this early  period of colonial conflict into the First (1609-1614), Second (1622-1632), and Third Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1644-1646) with periods of truce and relative peace in between.  There was no formal declaration of war, but at each point there were egregious acts which “quickly escalated into a bitter, vengeful ‘holy war’ for political hegemony and territorial control that neither side could afford to lose.” Each side became more determined to eliminate the other. 18

Opechancanough clearly won the battle that March day in 1622, but, in the end, the Powhatans did not win the war.  After surviving the earlier poisoning by the English in 1623 during the exchange of prisoners , the mighty werowance Opechancanough, possibly 100 years old, was shot in the back in 1646, against orders, by a guard while confined in Jamestown . 19


When the English arrived, there were over 30 named tribes in the Powhatan Confederacy and additional ones in the area we call Virginia. However, by 1913, Mr. Walter A. Plecker, a vocal white supremacist and the head of the Virginia Bureau  of Vital Statistics, declared there were no Indians left in Virginia, and he and others made sure by enforcing the Racial Integrity Act  in 1924  to maintain racial purity. Virginians were reclassified as either White (100%) or Colored. Indians were re-classified “Colored,” excepting some white-skinned descendants of prestigious Indians, such as Pocahontas.  The ethnic identities of thousands of  Indian descendants living in Virginia were technically eliminated  with the stroke of a pen. With altered records, it became a challenge  for tribal descendants to later find and prove their tribal ties. 20


img_1473It is sadly ironic that the first Native People the English encountered have been some of the last to receive tribal recognition.  With much effort, Virginia now recognizes the following tribes: Cheroenhaka (Nottaway); Chickahominy ; Eastern Chickahominy; Mattaponi; Monacan; Nansemond; Nottoway; Pamunkey; Patawomeck; Rappahannock; and Upper Mattaponi. In 2016, the Pamunkey tribe (to which Powhatan and Pocahontas belonged) became the first  Virginia tribe to receive federal recognition.  In 2018, the federal government also granted federal recognition to the Chickahominy; Eastern Chickahominy; Upper Mattaponi; Rappahannock; Nansemond; and Monacan tribes.21

Since  Virginia opened its Jamestown Festival Park (now called Jamestown Settlement) in 1957 in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the English arrival, a replica of a Powhatan village has been part of the interpretation.  Increasingly, there has been focus on finding and sharing a more accurate portrayal of the lives and struggles of the three cultures (Native American, English and African) that collided  in Virginia in the 17th century.  Next door at the original fort site, the  Archaearium Museum  at  Historic Jamestowne displays and interprets the archaeological findings of both the Powhatans and English settlers.

The National Park Service also owns and intends to explore the site of one of Powhatan’s capitals, Werowocomoco, on the York River, and the Virginia Commonwealth has recently announced plans to create a state park close by to help tell the Virginia Indian story.   The Pamunkey Tribe has opened a museum to tell their history, and the Nansemonds are developing their own site. Slowly the Indian voice and story are being heard.

IMG_3590Attending the recent Nansemond Firebird Festival, I was reminded that the native nations that live amongst us are our closest 21st century neighbors.  Can we finally learn respect and acceptance from our troubled shared history?  Hopefully.

Next Post:  Edward Waters and the Murder in Bermuda


  1. Roundtree, Helen, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005), 209.  Horn, James, A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 250-255. 
  2. Roundtree, 213-215. 
  3. Kingsbury, Susan Myra, The Records of the Virginia Company of London, volume III (Washington DC:  United States Government Printing Office, 1933), 541-571. 
  4. Horn, 259.  Kingsbury, 571. Lester, Annie Lash, Newport News, Virginia 1607-1960 (Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, 1961), 18-20. 
  5. Barbour, Philip L.,” The Fourth Book,” The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), volume II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 308-309. 
  6. Hotten, John, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1980), 253. 
  7. Horn, 165-167, 198-99, 258-259.  Fausz, J. Frederick, “Abundance of Blood Shed on Both Sides” Englands’s First Indian War, 1609-1614,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 98:1 (January 1990), 22-23. 
  8. Roundtreee, 217-219.  McCartney, Martha, Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictioinary (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), 149, 414. 
  9. Fausz, 19. 
  10. Roundtree, 53-63, 112-118.  Horn, 20-22. Fausz, Frederick J., The Powhatan Uprising of 1622: A Historical Study of Ethnocentrism and Cultural Conflict, A Dissertation (Williamsburg: College of William and Mary, 1977), 
  11. Fausz, Frederick J.,  “Merging and Emerging Worlds” in Colonial Chesapeake Society, eds. Lois Green Carr, Phillip D. Morgan, and Jean B. Russo (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 52-53 
  12. Kingsbury, 541- 542. 
  13. Fausz, “Merging and Emerging Worlds,” 47. 
  14. Roundtree, Helen, Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 107-127, 154, 188. 
  15. Roundtree, Helen, Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Opechancanough. 
  16. Fausz, The Powhatan Uprising, 11. 
  17.  Roundtree, Pocahontas’s People, 72-75; Roundtree, Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Opechancanough, 211-212. Fausz, The Powhatan Uprising, 350-351. 
  18. Fausz, “An Abundance of Blood Shed,” 3-8. Roundtree, Pocahontas’s People, 55, 74, 84. 
  19.   Roundtree, Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Opechancanough, 219, 233. 
  20.  Roundtree, Pocahontas’s People, 221-224. “Native American Tribes in Virginia,” Wikipedia, accessed online 3/28/19. 
  21.  “Native American Tribes in Virginia,” Wikipedia, accessed online 3/28/19.