Henricus & Beyond

In May 1611 Sir Thomas Dale arrived in Virginia with instructions from the London Company to find a secure and healthy area to establish a new town and principal seat for the colony. In September 1611, Sir Thomas Dale moved up the James River to establish Henricus, the colony’s second settlement.

  • Approximately 250 Virginia Indians, known as Arrohateck, live in the area. They are part of the Powhatan Chiefdom, whose population is approximately 30,000 in coastal Virginia.

  • Sir Thomas Dale arrives in Virginia with instructions from the London Company to establish a new town and principal seat for the colony. In Autumn 1611, Sir Thomas Dale establishes “Henryco,” the colony’s second settlement.

  • By the end of summer, John Rolfe cultivates the first successful tobacco from his experimental gardens in Virginia. This tobacco becomes the “golden weed” that will ensure economic survival of the colony.

  • The settlement expands when Dale begins constructing a series of fortified homes known as “Coxsondale” including the first English hospital in Virginia, “Mount Malady” and Reverend Alexander Whiteker’s new home, “Rocke Hall.”

  • Pocahontas is eventually brought to Henricus, where she is cared for and instructed in Christianity by Reverend Alexander Whitaker. She is baptized and given the Christian name Rebecca.

  • Dale expands downriver to adjacent land, naming this area Bermuda Hundred. Bermuda Hundred and Bermuda City would become the largest and most vibrant community in the colony and only leading planters allowed to reside there. It’s deep water port and confluence of rivers made it a leading choice for a new capital.

  • Henrico became the location of the first chartered college in the English colonies. It was designed initially for Powhatan boys who were carefully chosen from their own communities and there attend school for trades, agriculture, and Christian education.

  • On March 22, 1622, after several year of Anglo-Powhatan peace, the new Powhatan leader, Opechancanough, initiated a coordinated series of attacks on most of the English settlements from near the Chesapeake Bay to the Falling Creek Iron Works.

  • After the deaths of the 1622 attacks and slowly growing profits and criticisms regarding Virginia, James I revokes his charter to the Virginia Company, establishing Virginia as a royal colony.

Pre-1611 “Powhatan Chiefdom”

There was a strong and thriving native community in the tidewater area of Virginia prior to 1607. At the time of Anglo-Powhatan contact in 1607, there was a well-organized collective region of tribes led by a mamanatowick (in English words - like a king), generally called Powhatan by many who had to encounter him. His other name, having less formal usage, was Wahunsenacawh. Powhatan organized a few dozen larger and several smaller tribes into a regional power of approximately 30,000+ native people, what some historians often now refer to as his paramount chiefdom. The two westernmost communities under Powhatan’s authority were the Arrohateck and Appamatuck people, who would encounter and feast with Captain Christopher Newport in his corps of discovery in May 1607. These two tribes would be the closest communities to encounter Sir Thomas Dale at the time he established his “Henryco Fort” in the autumn of 1611.

1611 Sir Thomas Dale’s “Henryco Fort”

In May 1611, Sir Thomas Dale arrived in Virginia and immediately went to work repairing the colony. By the autumn of 1611, Sir Thomas Dale, the High Marshal of the Virginia Company, had scouted a property near the Arrohateck community 60 miles upriver from Jamestown and quickly prepared logistics and materials at Jamestown to establish a new seat of government upriver. The assembled force that marched westward from Jamestown was a mix of new colonists that had come with Dale to Virginia in 1611, trained as militia, as well as veteran fighters who had been in Virginia since before Dale, those men commanded by the elite governor’s guard officer, Captain Brewster. Powhatan warriors led by a great war leader, who the English called “jack-of-the-feathers,” launched attacks at Dale’s troops. Those attacks failed. By the winter of 1611-1612 a seven-acre fort was built, demonstrating the first permanent successful expansion of the Virginia colony.

1612 Tobacco

By the harvest season of 1612, John Rolfe’s experimental growth of Spanish seeds of tobacco proved successful in the soil of tidewater, Virginia. Those “trials” of Spanish tobacco may have taken place both at Jamestown and Henrico, but wherever they flourished, optimism of profit and permanence would grow with them. Curiously, a few years before Virginia was settled, King James I, no fan of the product, wrote a book against its use, Counterblaste to Tobacco, but in the end would support the colony’s efforts and would forbid its growth anywhere but Virginia. It would become the great commodity identified with the fortunes of those settling along the James River in the 17th Century.

1613-1614 The First Hospital

Pocahontas was about 16 years old when she was brought by Sir Thomas Dale to Reverend Alexander Whitaker at Rocke Hall for Christian instruction. Dale and Whitaker led the way for proposed Christianity or conversion efforts towards the Powhatan people. Pocahontas would have most likely lived at Rocke Hall with women chaperones attending her during that time. Her Christian instruction was in keeping with the charters offered by King James I to the Virginia Company of London, which gave instructions to, when possible, bring biblical teachings to the native community. Pocahontas would ultimately leave Henrico on Sir Thomas Dale’s expedition to the Powhatan capital in March 1614. A month later, in April 1614, she would be married to John Rolfe who was also on Dale’s expedition.

1619 America’s First College at Henrico

By 1619, many intellectuals and investors of the Virginia Company of London wanted to establish a college for native children, perhaps as a follow up to the Pocahontas conversion. The authority to do so was given by James I and the investors started to get to work in May 1619. The institution would be called “The College of Henryco” and would be built on the old Arrohateck community a mile or two from Sir Thomas Dale’s old 1611 fort. The Arrohateck people had long since vanished from that region. The college lands would encompass approximately 10,000 acres and have a specialized English community of trades people to build it, eventually coming under the direction of leading colonist, George Thorpe. The school was first designed to have carefully selected Powhatan boys attend and learn literacy, trade sciences, agriculture, and Christianity. It was destroyed in the March 1622 attacks and never worked on afterwards.

March 22, 1622 The “Fatal Day”

After eight years of continued peace between the English and Powhatan people, the new leader of the Powhatan chiefdom, Opechancanough, had planned out a brilliant, well-coordinated military offensive. This offensive stretch over 70 miles, from the college lands to nearly the Chesapeake Bay, and killed over 300 colonists. The upriver settlements such as Falling Creek Iron Works, the college lands, several plantations, and the then small community of “Henrico Island” were all struck. The Henrico Island community lost five of the only 30 or so inhabitants. In one nearby fight, Mistress Alice Proctor held out her husband’s plantation successfully for three weeks. Eventually, Governor Wyatt ordered all surviving colonists downriver, so between 1622 and 1624, many of the local communities were uninhabited.

Post 1622- 1637 Farrar’s Island

Captain William Farrar, whose family was long connected with the Virginia colony, led a group of 40 people to the old community that was once Dale’s fort and established themselves as prosperous planters. They were officially awarded in their patent 2000 acres to start their community. Many of those persons would grow into families settling much of Varina or Eastern Henrico County. 

18th Century- 1781 Battle of Osborn’s Landing

The area around Henricus was home to Thomas Jefferson’s family through the early to mid-18th century. They eventually moved on and new inhabitants took over the land. The property just west of the old Sir Thomas Dale Henrico settlement was the Trent home and his well-respected business operating James River dock and crossing known as “Osborn’s Landing.” Throughout the Revolutionary War that location would be constantly guarded by militia and saw the passing of armies north to south and south to north. It would be there that on April 27, 1781 British General Benedict Arnold and his veteran loyalist, Hessian, and British soldiers attacked the Virginia State Navy that was either docked or in anchor there. His land forces were successful at capturing or destroying all the tobacco cargo ships and fighting vessels in a short but vicious battle.

19th Century- 1850 -1860 Cox’s Plantation & Dutch Gap

By the 1850’s the area around the former Henrico Courthouse and community was extremely rural and often inhabited by very wealthy planters and slave communities. The leading families were the Cox’s, Aiken’s, and Howlett’s. On the immediate north side of the bend and narrow neck of the James River was the vast environs of the Henry Cox Plantation, who had his largest business in agriculture, but also a saw mill and commercial ventures. By 1860 Cox owned approximately 100 enslaved people who worked his various businesses. According to an 1850’s newspaper a boat race to Richmond between an English captain and Dutch skipper resulted in the Dutch skipper getting help to get his small boat over the narrow neck at Cox’s, and back into the river ahead of the Englishmen, winning the race.

19th Century- 1864-1865 The Civil War and Dutch Gap Canal

The Civil War broke out in April of 1861 and the area was virtually untouched by warfare until May 1864 when the Army of the James under Union General Benjamin Butler launched his Bermuda Hundred campaign against Richmond. After the fighting bogged down that summer, Butler ordered a military canal finished at Dutch Gap. Members of the 1st NY Engineers and various regiments came to assist in that effort. The Confederate army and navy constantly threw shot and shell at the workers, so by the time it was completed on January 1, 1865, 50 men were killed and 200 wounded in that engineering effort. Many of those casualties were on several USCT (United States Colored Troops) regiments. The canal was never used by the US Navy. 

19th Century- 1865 Battle of Trent’s Reach

On January 24-25 the Confederate James River Squadron of their navy in Richmond sailed down and hoped to threaten General Grant’s HQ at City Point. What resulted was the ferocious Navy battle of Trent’s Reach, just to the south and east of the old Henrico community. In this battle several Confederate Ironclads clashed with shore batteries and the power USS Onondaga, a double turreted Monitor. The Confederate ships had to retreat, thus ending one of the last Civil War naval engagements.

20th Century- 1917-1918 Artillery Range for the 80th Division

The 80th Division was trained at Camp Lee (Fort Lee today) in 1917 and early 1918 and used Dutch Gap as a training range for their artillery companies and pontoon training for their engineers. Their men were usually set up at Camp McLaughlin between Confederate Battery Parker and Confederate Water Battery Dantzler. They were trained with spotters and focused on hitting targets around Dutch Gap and Hatcher's Island. They eventually went on to France and fought with distinction in the last campaigns of the war.