American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-136
Author: Spelman, Henry, 1595-1623
Title: Relation of Virginia
Source: Spelman, Henry. Relation of Virginia. (London: Printed for Jas. F. Hunnewell at the Chiswick Press, 1872).
Pages/Illustrations: 62 / 2
Citable URL:

Author Note

Fourteen-year-old Henry Spelman (1595-1623) ran away from his home in Norfolk, England, in 1609 and left for Virginia. He was assigned by Jamestown's leaders to live with the nearby Powhatan Indians in order to learn their language. After about a year and a half he returned to the English colony in December 1610 to work as an interpreter. This brought him into a unique relationship with the leaders of the Indian and white communities, and he was said to be well-liked by both. He was recognized as the most accomplished linguist in the colony and also made a captain of the Virginia militia.

When the Indians attempted to drive the English out of their territories in 1622, Spelman survived the massacre at Jamestown. In the spring of 1623, with the settlement short of food, he volunteered to take an expedition north to the Potomac River to barter with Indians further from the scene of hostilities. On March 23, 1623, at the site of present-day Washington, D.C., Spelman’s party was attacked by Anacostan Indians who were avenging previous English mistreatment; he was killed.

Jamestown Settlement

The London Company sponsored the expedition to establish a profitable colony. The expedition started with 144 men but only 104 survived the trip. No women were a part of the initial expedition. In 1609, about six hundred people, including women and children, joined the colony in the hopes of making it more like a settlement. Other voyages brought more settlers in the years between 1606 and 1624 expanding the population and goals of the Jamestown colony.

The document contains information about Jamestown’s establishment and early years. The 1606 charter that allowed the settlement of Jamestown gave the King of England and an English council complete control over the colony. A revised charter of 1609 gave authority over the colony to a governor who resided in England and cooperated with a treasurer and council. The 1612 charter gave the Virginia Company, based in England, control over the activities in the colony. These changes in government created tensions in the ruling parties that could not be resolved and eventually led to the end of the Virginia Company and its involvement with the Jamestown Colony.

Document Note

Spelman left behind a manuscript “Relation of Virginia” that remained in private hands until the nineteenth century. Henry Stevens, an American book dealer living in London, bought it for a Massachusetts collector who had a small edition printed privately in London. We reproduce here one of those one hundred copies printed at the Chiswick Press in 1872.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

A version of Spelmans text in modern English is available, along with many other primary materials, at the Virtual Jamestown projects “First Hand Accounts of Virginia, 1575-1705”:

More background information on the settlement can also be found there.

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2021 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history