Visiting the past: Henricus brings 1619 to life in 2010

Thomas Read greets the guests upon their arrival to Ma Lado (Mount Malady) to visit with representatives Thomas Dowse and John Polentine to hear reports on what occurred at Jamestown during the 1619 Assembly and to listen to concerns people may have about the new freedoms and responsibilities they acquired coming to the New World. The representatives will, in turn, carry the concerns to Governor Yeardley.

On Saturday, June 17, the grounds of the Citie of Henricus at Henricus Historical Park returned to the year 1619 in a special program, Origins of a Free America: The 1619 Assembly. The staff and volunteers researched and adopted the personas of real men and women colonists, such as servants, soldiers, laborers and planters who were present in the Henrico community in 1619.

As a visitor, one was enlisted as a new colonist to the area, introduced to the main characters in the Citie and prompted with a list of questions to ask. Visitors were able to actively engage with the colonists to acquire information to set up a homestead in the new colony. Guides were also available along the way to answer any modern questions.

Thomas Read arrived to the Citie in 1614 as an indentured servant. After serving his five years as an indentured servant, he was given 100 acres in Coxendale, which later included a building after eight years of service to the community.

Sergeant William Sharpe was the first colonist one met Saturday. Sharpe arrived with Sir Thomas Dale in 1611. His mission was to subdue the savages and protect the colony from Spaniards. He was one of the few veterans that remained. “They have either died or returned to England,” he said. “Virginia is very, very treacherous. Many lost lives to Virginia heat.”

Fighting for food, bad air from the swamps and the possibility of receiving severe punishment from Thomas Dale for not sweeping and cleaning one’s house were very much a part of the life when the new colonists arrived.

Carpenter Robert Fisher had his journeyman, Mr. Adkins, busy at work planeing a piece of wood for a bookshelf. Fisher’s workshop business picks up with each new arrival of colonists.

Sometimes weeks and months would go by before another ship arrived with colonists and supplies. “Sometimes we would have several ships a year,” he said. “Other years, we may have one or two.” Around 1,000 colonists were living in the area in 1619.

As an investor in the Virginia Company of London, Master Thomas Sheffield received 150 acres of land upon his arrival. His 10 indentured servants have a seven year contract. At the end of their contract, they will receive 50 acres of land from the company, as well as a year’s supply of corn and goods. The servants protect their master’s land from the Native Americans, who were referred to as “naturals” by Master Sheffield, farm the land, which includes 100 acres of tobacco, and service the general needs of the household. Master Sheffield is also licensed to trade with the Indians.

“Last year, we made enough profit with tobacco to not have to trade with the naturals,” he said. With his wife and son still in England, Sheffield maintains two households and plans to remain in Virginia for several more years.

The first-person encounter program was an opportunity to discover life experiences of the new settlers. The Citie of Henricus and Henricus Historical Park offer programs throughout the year. Autumn events include Publick Days, Sept. 18-19; School of the Musketeer, Oct. 8-10; Things that Go Bump in the Night, Oct. 22-23; and People of Pocahontas, Nov. 6-7. For more information, call 748-1613 or visit


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