Researched by Drex Bradshaw and Lynn Rose Written by Drex Bradshaw
It would take a couple of years for the letters from those in power in Jamestown to get back to England and be digested as to what was happening. In the meantime more people arrived in “New England” as it was called early on. There is an entry in one of the letters to the Council of Virginia in 1611 regarding planting of corn and clearing land for corn by Thomas Dale. He spent time at Fort Charles and Fort Henry, realized the size of cleared land and immediately had them start planting corn. At Fort Henry alone they had planted more corn than Sir Thomas Gates had found set by the Indians the year before.
It was in 1611, after four years of fighting and or trading with the Indians for food, that the Jamestown colonists really started their agricultural effort. Jamestown by the way was still way behind, but the outlying areas were starting to improve. Jamestown will get some direction to plant corn and get small vegetable gardens going among many other improvements. The letter from Thomas Dale on pages 520-525 gives full details and is very interesting. In 1612 a letter by Robert Johnson, pages 560-561, states in part that “the colony now 700 strong consisting of sundry arts and professions was moved some fourscore miles upriver to a place of higher ground and more defensible with much ground freed from woods and wood enough at hand”. Here they start and build a new town including a hospital, brick homes, and planting lots of corn. As noted in his letter page 562 last paragraph “it cannot be denied by anyone of reason but with their now diligent planting and sowing of corn, whereof they have two harvests in a summer, the plentiful fishing there, the store of fowls and fruits of the earth, their present provisions sent from hence at every shipping, together with the speedy increase of those sundry sorts of tame poultry, conies, goats, swine, and kine landed there above a year ago with Sir Thomas Dale, and since again by Sir Thomas Gates, that this objection too, this main objection of wanting food, is utterly removed, so that I cannot see, nor any man else can judge in truth, that that ill and odious wound of Virginea, which settled so deep a scar in the minds of many, in (is) so sufficiently recovered as it may now encourage not such alone (as heretofore) which cannot live at home nor lay their bones to labor but those of honest minds and better sort which get their bread but ; meanly here may to mend it there.”
From the English standpoint the Virginia colony was a must for a variety of reasons. We think it appropriate to quote from Caput10, page 675 of the Jamestown Narratives for your consideration. “Nor let any man suppose that materials of so goodly a navy as may be there framed-for planks, masts, pitch, soap-ashes, turpentine, iron, cordeage; mulberry trees for silk, and another kind of silk of the grass; saxafras and other aromatical drugs, gums, oil, and dyes are of no value or not worthy the exposure of a colony for secondary and politic ends to be established there, since Muscovia and Polonia do yearly receive many thousands for pitch, tar, soap-ashes, rosin, flax, cordage, sturgeion, masts, yards, wainscot, furs, glass, and suchlike; also Sweathland(Sweden) receives much from us for iron and copper; France in the like manner for wine, canvas, and salt; Spain as much for iron, steel, figs, raisins, and sacks; Italy for silks and velvets consumes our chief commodities; Holland maintains itself by fishing and trading at our own doors. All these temporize (negate) with other necessity, but all as uncertain as peace and war, besides the charge, travel, and danger in transporting them by seas, lands, storms, and pirates.
Then how much may Virginia have the prerogative for the benefit of our land, whenas within one hundred miles all these are to be had, either ready provided by nature or else to be prepared_____.”
From the previous quote you can see that Virginia had a lot to offer and it was simply a matter of getting the colony on firm footing and moving on. The main goal of the Virginia London Company was to gather products to ship back home for use in England. On the other hand the colonists were fighting for their survival with little or no supplies or help from the home land. When ships arrived every nine months or so they brought more people and little supplies which made the current situation worse.
The Indians were growing corn, beans, melons and tobacco as their main crops in Virginia. Meat was readily available as noted in earlier quotes. Add to this the seeds the colonists brought with them from England later on: parsnips, carrots, turnips, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, parsley, endive, etc. Orange trees, vines from France (grapes), tobacco seeds from Trinidad, cotton, wool, potatoes and Mechoacan (rhubarb). We can add to that list in later years peanuts (goobers), soybeans, etc. Virtually every item mentioned above would do well in the Greater Chuckatuck Historical (GCH) area of interest.
In 1621 John Smith, Planter of Warwick, was given 100 acres, near Cedar Island in the Nansemond River plus 50 acres for a servant named Reginald Griffin in a land grant. Although this might not be the first land grant in Virginia it is one of the earliest we have found to date. This data comes from Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants 1623-1666 by Neil Marion Nugent. It is stated on page 3 of a History of Suffolk and Nansemond County Virginia, 1970 edited by Ann H. Burton that “Settlements had begun in what is now Nansemond county prior to 1622, the year of the Great Massacre, at which time some of the inhabitants were reported killed”. Shortly after this massacre, war was declared on the Nansemond Indians during which time their dwellings were burned and their crops destroyed. Most of the Indians that were left moved south into North Carolina. In 1669 it is estimated that there were only 45 warriors left within the Nansemond Tribe.
The first 15 years of this occupation, most especially the first three or four years, were extremely difficult with only a matter of survival on the minds of the colonists. Then the next ten or eleven years from the founding of Jamestown to land grants and settlements within this area can be considered a time frame during which the colonists finally started to settle in. It is also stated that on several occasions when new arrivals came to Jamestown they would be so ravished that they would devour all of the corn leaving nothing behind for others. In 1616 there were barely 300 people in Virginia. In 1622 the year of the great massacre some 347 people were killed out of 1240 in Virginia. That number fluctuated and in 1628 it was reported to be about 600. It should be noted here that during the first 12 years of the colonization of Virginia the members who came over were considered public or indentured servants (really the indentured servants were slaves) and did only what the “gentlemen” demanded of them. Lack of food, sickness, and desertion (only to be killed by the Indians) was the fate of many of those who originally arrived in Jamestown. In 1619 with the arrival of Sir George Yeardley he brought certain commissions and instructions from the company for a better establishment of a commonwealth. These commissions and instructions freed from all public service those who had served under Sir Thomas Dale. All the cruel laws were abrogated and the colonists were to be governed by the free laws of England. Thus free liberty was given to all of them to make choices as to their abilities concerning their land and its uses. This was the change to a more democratic society, but not the Republic formed in 1776, that we still live under today.
Now with this confusing background from various sources let’s move on to what we believe was happening within the GCH area. We know for a fact that in 1675 the grist mill was built in Chuckatuck. In 1685 the “Anchorage” was built on Cherry Grove Road and in 1701 the Pembroke plantation home was built on the Nansemond River. It should be remembered that the first plantations near Jamestown such as Brandon, Upper Brandon, Bermuda Hundred, etc., were to the north on the James River, rather than on the Nansemond. Seems the Indians were a little friendlier in that direction early on. According to many reports land grants had been made for most if not all of the land within the GCH area by the mid 1600s for the production of products that hopefully would eventually find their way to England. For example, Edward Bennett in 1621 obtained a patent for a plantation near Bennett’s Creek on the assumption that he would have 200 immigrants. In 1622 reference is made that settlers were building their homes on this plantation when the great massacre took place. Certainly individual subsistence was important and was improving rapidly under the new laws, but England was still looking for goods to be shipped back to them. Consequently, they kept on sending people to the new world to grow and mine for minerals that they still suspected to be available. Chapter XXV of Seventeenth Century Isle of Wight County Virginia by John Bennett Boddie mentions a grant to Capt. Thomas Godwin in 1655 in Nansemond. There is a reference on page 467 of a Col. Thomas Godwin of Cherry Grove, married to Mary, daughter of Henry Pitt Esq., of Isle of Wight. There were two sets of Godwin’s within Chuckatuck with lots of commentary about both sets. The Godwins and Pitts were very prominent in Chuckatuck and the GCH area.
It should be mentioned that tobacco was really the first cash crop that the colonists raised once they got on firm footing. The following quote is taken from an article written by John Edwards on 8-18-2010 in the Smithfield Times. “Even in the days of the Virginia colony’s infancy, farmers were torn between the two goals of subsistence and wealth. No sooner had John Randolph developed a favored blend of tobacco and found a market for it in England, that every one wanted to plant it. “Planters” as they were known, wanted to devote all of their land and energy to this profitable leaf, to the point that insufficient effort was paid to growing food. Tobacco would become the gold they had hoped to find when they set out for this New World”. The problem was growing tobacco over and over destroyed the land and by the time of the Revolution much of the plantation and farm structure in Virginia was faltering economically. After the Civil War most of the farmers and plantations owners were back to square one just trying to provide for their family. Transportation and the peanut would help the GCH area flourish as it had when tobacco was king.
Listed here are some of the more notable plantations/land grants that are mentioned in the above publication such as Pembroke, Cherry Grove, Holiday Point and Cotton Plains. By 1660 Virginia was exporting many products to various countries which bode well for production of exportable items from the planters. Once the colonist were freed and allowed to produce for themselves all they had to do was look at what the Indians had been growing, harvesting and killing for years. Here are just a sampling of these and as they spelled them: “Corn, peas, mulberry trees, chestnuts, cherries, gooseberries, chokecherries, persimmins, pickle pears, pumpkins, strawberries, raspeberries, grapes, many roots the Indians used for food and medicine, tobacco. Animals such as deer, bear, squirrels, opossum, muskrat, mink, hares, beavers, wildcats, foxes, wolves, turkeys, phesants, partridges, cranes, swans, geese, brants, ducks, widgeon, dotterel, oxeyes, mallards, teal, shelldrakes and diving fowl. Fish of all kinds, tortoises, oysters, crabs and clams. Commodities such as wood like oak, elm, ash, walnut, cypress, saxafras roots, pines, bay trees, wild roses, locust, and crabtrees. Minerals which they are looking for but have not found as yet”. As noted above the colony was doing well by trading with other countries which would create a major problem for England and is one reason leading to the Revolution mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Much could be said about the Civil War in 1861-1865 and how much destruction was done to the buildings and crops during that period. However, let it be known that while there were significant losses on both sides the fact we came together in the end set this country apart from others and made us what we are today.
As we approached the 1900s it should be noted that vegetable farms were mainly along the waterways which were the best means of transportation to get their perishable products to market relatively quickly. Chuckatuck Creek, Brewer’s Creek, Nansemond River and its tributaries including its western branch, Indian Creek and Cedar Creek were all navigable waterways which allowed farmers easy access to a wharf or pier for loading boats. Many farms or plantations had their own stencils with name, number or initials made of copper, to identify the place from which the product came. There are at least three still in existence from Cotton Plains Farm, Cedar Brook farm and the Sarick Farm. (show pic of stencil)
In a semi biography, unpublished, by Roland Anderton about himself, Clinton Carson and Charles G. Adams, covering the period from his birth, circa 1900 thru 1960, the following comment has been paraphrased for brevity. In early 1900 the gasoline engine had not been developed for boats therefore steam and or sails were the primary means of propulsion. Around 1909 a ferry service handling both passengers and freight was initiated by Capt. Will Matthews from Chuckatuck and Capt. John Quincy Adams II of Crittenden. Capt. Matthews carried mainly freight and some passengers leaving Chuckatuck, stopping at L.(lip) Johnson’s wharf (now Volvo Penta), Point of Marsh (possibly Marshy Point) across from Volvo Penta on the Isle of Wight side, and Bunkley’s. From there it was off to Norfolk, Newport News and Portsmouth. The older Ray Gilliam would also operate a boat, the Edvina, on some sort of a schedule from Chuckatuck. On the other side of the peninsular was the Godwin farm (Holiday Point) the home place of Governor Mills E. Godwin, Jr. The following is quoted from his memories and reflects just how important the waterways were prior to 1928. This farm being on the Nansemond River had a pier that allowed boats to call for loading and unloading of products. “Our farm was highly productive on which were grown the major cash crops of Irish potatoes, watermelons, snap beans, garden peas, strawberries, and other vegetables, also cattle and hogs. Potatoes were the principal money crop. A great deal of labor was required to harvest them because after they were plowed up they had to be taken out of the dirt and put in barrels or containers so they could be shipped away. Spinach was likewise a major crop, and I learned to eat spinach in my early life because sometimes it was a necessity.” (SHOW PICTURES OF HARVESTING POTATOES)
In 1925 the Chuckatuck High School had been become a consolidated school for white students from the GCH area as well as King’s Fork and Driver students. (see Schools for more details) Also in 1925 Bill Rippey, a graduate from the University of Missouri, College of Agriculture (Class of 1921), had been working on his Master’s Degree when the depression hit so he moved to Virginia and taught school at Washington-Henry High School in Handover County. He met and married Mildred Flannagan of Charlottesville with whom he had four children. In 1929 Mr. Rippey had decided to go back to Missouri and continue his Master’s Degree. However, Dr. Walter Newman. state supervisor of Vocational Agriculture and President of VPI, suggested he come to Chuckatuck and teach in the high school there. Between 1929 and in 1961 Mr. Rippey was both the Shop and Vocational Agriculture teacher for the boys with additional duties in teaching ancient history, civics and government, biology and general science to mixed classes. Mr. Rippey was a perfectionist not only in his dress, coat and tie always, but in his instructional techniques as well. He understood the hormonal increases in boys and had some serious discussions with them while they were under his supervision. He could be counted on to answer specific questions like a father would to his children and many young men would rather talk to him than their parents. His knowledge of agriculture was such that many of the local farmers and “want to be” farmers would get his opinion on how to produce a better crop, how to cure a disease in chickens, how to redo a truck body or weld a plow share (the cutting blade on a plow) and then grind it down to make it sharp. He was a strong supporter of the discipline methods of the principals and teachers. Mr. Rippey was known county wide as a teacher who did classwork in shop and worked as a practical farm professor while working his own farm in his spare time. Agriculture in the GCH area was improved significantly by his instructional methods passed on to the young men who would grow up to be farmers of the future. Many would take their place beside their parents while some decided that farming was too iffy for them and moved on to other vocations. This writer was a student under Mr. Rippey and learned a great deal about farming and truck body construction. It was not unusual to rebuild a truck body in shop class nor was it unlikely to take part in a short field trip to the farm to load hay bales or clean out a stall (after school) for some hands on instruction to facilitate a teaching point. The parents knew and understood these field trips were necessary to build self esteem and in some cases confirm in our minds that farming was or was not to be our destiny. Drex Bradshaw could be found working the farm when Mr. Rippey would be out of town and he always had help especially when it came to feeding the cattle. Dwight, his brother, drove and Drex put out the hay while trying to keep the bull at bay. Some of the above information, paraphrased, was taken from an article written in 1961 entitled “Rugged Idea Guide for Young Farmers”. The GCHF has this article on file. (pic of Mr. Rippey)
The road system was such that speed was important to get produce to market for shipment up North. Capt. Mathews had two boats, the Annie P. Parks and the Morning Light, and the Edvina, owned by Capt. Gilliam, all under new Captains that were in service until the 1960s within the Chuckatuck Creek area. There are no specific names of similar boats on the Nansemond but they did exist. We are sure that as these boats moved along the various waterways should a person be standing on one of the wharfs waving, a quick stop would be made for transport of either products or personnel. (pic of Edvina)
The following names were provided as farmers in the 1897-1898 time frame and although may not be complete it will give you a better understanding of just how farm rich the GCH area was:
Chuckatuck area: R.B. Hodsden, S.G. Webb, E.C. Ramsey, J. W, Pitt, C. Hall, R.H. Tynes, J.D. Corbell, Jr., Mills Rogers, W.A. Wills, W.F. Cotton, W.B Pruden, Mrs. A. G. Upshur, J.T. and W.C. Whitney, J.H.Parker, C.B. Godwin, Dr. G.W. Butts, J.B. Crumpler, J.W. Owens, D.N. Pitt and G.E. Pitt
Everets area: C.T. Minton, John Beale, George W. Griffin, A. Saunders, George Denson, Richard White, Mills Godwin, John Godwin, J.H. Underwood, J.J. Saunders, C.J. Minton, M.L. Underwood, Mrs. G. Gray, E.J. Matthews, W.B. Pender, Holliday Packer, C.C. Thornton, and I.W. Pitt
Exit area: J.F. Eley, E.J. Matthews, J.R. Holland, M.C. Nelms, Sol J. Saunders, J.R. Archer, J.F. Stroud, R.E. Matthews, A.H. Saunders, J.R. Delk, E.L. Gardner, M. Gardner, J.F. Uzzell, E.W. Johnson, E.M. Johnson, S.T. Ellis, and J.J. Whitley
In the 1940s some of the larger early land holdings within the local GCH area were:
Chuckatuck area: Meador lot, Meadowbrook, Cedar Brook (run by the Winslow’s) which was part of Smith-Douglas before, Holiday Point, Ferry Point, Glasscock farm, Powell farm, Upshur farm, Dailey farm, Cox farm (run by the Holland family), Pembroke (later the Warrenton farm), Butts farm (owned by Powells)
Sandy Bottom area: Pruden farm in two parcels (Marvin and Leona Pruden and Wilson and Ruth Pruden), Pitt and Johnson farms, Brock farm, Sarick farm, Pope farm, Corbell farm (a large land holding that would include the Cotton farm, Copeland farm, Newman farm and Wilkerson farm, Briar Farm (owned by Michaux Raine and Bill Rippey), and Ferry Point farm (owned by Nick Wright).
Longview area: Horne farm, Oliver farm, Brock farm, Holloway farm and Mrs. Marie Davis.
Reid’s Ferry area: Butler farm, Gayle farm, W.G. Saunders (Five Mile farm), Henry Pinner farm, and several smaller farms like Osmond Underwood, Moore farm, Garner farm, Chandler farm, and the Winslow farm.
Cherry Grove area: Cherry Grove, Cotton Plains (Barlow farm), Anchorage (Hall/Duff) and Savage farm (still working on these names)
Everets area: Pruden, Beale, Saunders, Kirk, Minton, Joyner, Griffin, Butler, Rhodes
Exit area: Saunders, Jordan
Most if not all of the plantations/farms within easy reach of water transportation were producing “vegetables for market” such as Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelons, snap beans, garden peas, strawberries, cabbage, butterbeans, lettuce, collards, kale, spinach and other greens. There are others products left out but you get the general idea. Those farms/plantations inland, without quick availability to transportation, had vegetables gardens for their use while tobacco, cotton, corn, watermelons, wheat, and soybeans were their livelihood. In the case of any plantation/farm, a vegetable garden, chickens, hogs, sheep, and cattle were grown for both their consumption as well as for market sales. A smoke house was a necessity to provide meat all winter long and since refrigeration had not developed as yet it was necessary to preserve the meat in the smokehouse and can vegetables by boiling for the long winter months. Sweet potatoes could be stored in underground pits while Irish potatoes and onions and many other vegetables were placed in root cellars (cool stowage) during the winter. If a vegetable was not canned it was stored in a fashion that would last several months for a steady supply. Green tomatoes can be stored for about two months before they ripen. Smithfield hams are the result of early use of the smokehouse and salt curing that you hear so much about especially if you live in the south. For those who are reading this it will explain why the farmers made out some what better during the depression than city dwellers. It will explain why the smoke house was so important. Here is a short lesson on getting to the end product like cured hams, shoulders and sides which are quality products.