Early Settlers of Colonial Virginia

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Virginia, United States
Year range
1600 - 1750

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Historical Overview

The recorded History of Virginia began with settlement of the geographic region now known as the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States, previously settled thousands of years ago by Native Americans. The earliest visits to the area were conducted primarily by English and Spanish explorers. After early attempts by Spain to establish a colony in the 1570's were abandoned, permanent European settlement did not occur until the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, by English colonists. As tobacco emerged as a profitable export, Virginia imported more Africans to cultivate it and hardened boundaries of slavery. The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America.

After an early expedition in 1584 to the "New World" by Sir Walter Raleigh, many other expeditions from England were sent to explore and colonize, including three ships that set sail on April 30, 1607, which were funded by "The Virginia Company". The 'Discovery', the 'Godspeed' and the 'Susan Constant' sailed for 4½ months to reach the shores of the New World. From the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the three ships sailed. Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, Captain Christopher Newport, Captain John Ratcliffe, Captain Gabriel Archer, and Captain Edward Wingfield were in charge of the expedition. The people of the expedition consisted of 'gentlemen' and farmers.


The first settlement in what became known as the Virginia Colony was Jamestown, which was founded in 1607. It was set up to be the center of the Virginia Colony's government and commerce. Later in 1624, Virginia was created as a royal colony that included the original Jamestown settlement, when King James I revolked the charter of the bankrupt Virginia Company and the colony transferred to royal authority as a crown colony, but the elected representatives in Jamestown continued to exercise a fair amount of power. Under royal authority, the colony began to expand to the North and West with additional settlements. In 1630, under the governorship of John Harvey, the first settlement on the York River was founded. In 1632, the Virginia legislature voted to build a fort to link Jamestown and the York River settlement of Chiskiack and protect the colony from Indian attacks. This fort would become Middle Plantation and later Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1634, a palisade was built near Middle Plantation. This wall stretched across the peninsula between the York and James rivers and protected the settlements on the eastern side of the lower Peninsula from Indians. The wall also served to contain cattle.

Also in 1634, a new system of local government was created in the Virginia Colony by order of the King of England. Eight shires were designated, each with its own local officers. These shires were renamed as counties only a few years later. They were:

Accomac (now Northampton County)
Charles City Shire (now Charles City County)
Charles River Shire (now York County)
Elizabeth City Shire (existed as Elizabeth City County until 1952, when it was absorbed into the city of Hampton)
Henrico Shire (now Henrico County)
James City Shire (now James City County)
Warwick River Shire (existed as Warwick County until 1952, then the city of Warwick until 1958 when it was absorbed into the city of Newport News)
Warrosquyoake Shire (now Isle of Wight County)

These counties served as the primary foundation for governing for many years in early Colonial Virginia, until the colonies agreed many years later to form what now is the United States of America. The settlers listed below were all considered very important to the establishment of government and were significant in the historical impact on Colonial Virginia:


Wikipedia: History of Virginia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Virginia
Colonial Virginia, Williamsburg Official site; http://www.williamsburg.com/
InfoPlease: Virginia: History, Geography and State Facts: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108283.html

List of Early Colonial Virginia Settlers

The following persons were among the prominent first families that immigrated to Colonial Virginia in the 1600's-early 1700's:

Name of Early SettlerDates of Birth/DeathCountry of OriginYear ArrivedCountyComments
Anthony Armistead(1645-1726)Englandbef. 1676Elizabeth CityWas a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1693, 1696, 1699, and one of the committee in 1700 reporting a revision of the laws which were approved by the General Assembly in 1705
Gov. Richard Bennett(1609-1675)Englandbef. 1629Virginia ColonyServed as Colonial Governor of Virginia
Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botetourt(1717-1770)England1768Virginia ColonyServed as Colonial Governor of Virginia 1768-1770
Maj. Robert Beverley(1641-c1685)Englandabt. 1663Middlesex CountyGrandfather of Col. William Beverley, who patented "Beverley Manor" in Orange (later Augusta) County.
Col. Robert Bolling(1646-1709)England1660Prince George's
Maj. Lewis Burwell(c1621-1658)England1640Gloucester Sergeant-Major of Militia
William Byrd(1652-1704)Englandbef. 1672Charles CityWas a fur trader and served in the House of Burgesses
Col. John Carter(1620-1669)England1649NorfolkServed in House of Burgesses in 1653-1658, father of Robert "King" Carter, acting Governor of Virginia 1726-1727.
Capt. Raleigh Croshaw(1584-1624)England1608Elizabeth CityArrived in Jamestown in 1608, Served in House of Burgesses for Elizabeth City County.
Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie(1673-1770)Scotlandbef. 1751VirginiaServed as Lt. Governor of Virginia from 1751 to 1758
Gov. William Drummond(1617-1677)Scotland1637James CityFirst colonial governor of Albemarle Sound settlement in the Province of Carolina and a participant in Bacon's Rebellion.
Sir William Fairfax(1691-1757)England1730'sKing George's CountyFairfax's daughter Anne married Warner Washington, 1st cousin of President George Washginton
Sir Thomas Gates(c1585-1621)England1609Jamestown SettlementServed as Governor of Jamestown in 1610.
Sir William Gooch(1681-1751)Englandbef. 1727Virginia ColonyServed as Governor of Virginia from 1727 until 1749, named Goochland County, Virginia after himself in 1727. Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia was named after his wife, Rebecca Staunton.
Capt. Thomas Graves(c1580-1635)England1608Jamestown SettlementOne of the early Settlers of Jamestown
John Henry(c1704-1773)Scotlandbef. 1732HanoverFather of Patrick Henry, American Founding Father
Gen. Robert Hunter(1664-1734)Scotlandbef. 1707unk.Served as Lt. Gov. of Colonial Virginia 1707-1709, Gov. of New Jersey and New York 1710-1720 and Gov. of Jamaica 1728-1734.
Gov. Edmund Jennings(1629-1727)Englandbef. 1680YorkServed as Acting Gov., Secretary of State and Attorney General
Col. Richard Lee(c1618-1684)England1639Jamestown SettlementServed as Attorney General, High Sheriff and Col. of the Militia
Col. George Mason I(1629-1686)England1652Norfolk, Virginiaserved in House of Burgesses and was Sheriff in Stafford County
John Rolfe(1585-1622)England1610Jamestown SettlementFirst to successfully cultivate tobacco in Colony; married Pocohontas.
Capt. John Smith(1579-1631)England1607Jamestown SettlementFounded the Jamestown settlement in 1607
Alexander Spotswood(c1676-1740)Morocco/Englandbef. 1710SpotsylvaniaAppointed Lt. Governor of Virginia in 1710, founded the first Germanna Colony in 1714.
Col. John Washington(1630-1677)England1656WestmorelandGreat Grandfather of Pres. George Washington
Francis West(1586-1634)England1608Jamestown SettlementServed as Deputy Governor of the Colony of Virginia 1627-1629.
Lt. Col. John West(1638-1703)Englandbef. 1661AccomackHigh Sheriff and Capt. of Militia in Accomack County, a contemporary of Col. John West.
Gov. John West(1590-1659)Englandbef. 1632King WilliamServed as Colonial Governor of Virginia 1635-1637.
Col. John West(1632-1691)Virginiabef. 1654New KentServed in House of Burgesses for New Kent County, son of Gov. John West.
Gov. George Yeardley(1587-1627)England1610Jamestown SettlementServed as Deputy-Governor of the Virginia Colony from 1616-1617, 1625 & 1627.
William W Thornton(1620-1708)Englandbef. 1646Gloucester Large Landowner Gloucester Richmond Stafford Counties.