American History Told by Contemporaries

Author: William Strachey  | Date: 1849

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U.S. History

An Account of Virginia (1618)


VIRGINIA BRITANNIA is a country in America; yt lyeth betweene the degrees of 30 and 44 of the north latitude; the bowndes whereof may well be thus layd: on the east runneth the great ocean, or mayne Atlantique Sea; on the south side, Florida; on the north, Nova Francia; as for the west, the lymitts thereof are unknowne, only it is supposed there maye be found the discent into the South Sea, by the Spaniards called Mar del zur, so meeting with the doubtfull north-west passage, which leades into the east, to China, Cathay, Giapan, the Moluccaes, etc., now ymagined to be discovered by our countryman Hudson, and therefore, for the more certainty therof, the search anew this presente yeare, undertaken by Capt. Button, Capt. Nelson, and Capt.       : albeit, there be who affirme that if there should be a third land-locked sea, which hath no entercourse at all with the ocean (like the Mare Caspium, and Mare Mortuum in Palestina), yt lieth upon the north-west of America; when yet againe Gemma Frisius recordeth three brethren that went this passage, and left a name unto the Streights of Anian, where the sea striketh south into Mar-del-zur, beyond America, whereby that streict is nowe called Fretum trium fratrum: we doe reade, likewise, of a Portugal that passed this streict, of whom Sir Martin Furbisher speaketh, that was imprisoned therefore many yeares in Lishbon, likewise Anordaneta, a frier of Mexico, came out of Mar del zur this way into Germany, whose card [map] hath ben scene by gentlemen of good credit.

It is a spatious and ample tract of land; from north to south, upon a right lyne, yt maye be seven hundred myles; from east to west (in the narrowest place) supposed some three hundred myles, and in other places one thousand; a sufficient space, and ground ynough to satisfie the most covetous and wide affection of him whoe frames to himself any other end, then the only true one, of this plantation. . . .

Concerning the high-land little can we say as yet, because thereof little have we discovered; only some Indians’ relations and some fewe daies’ marches into the Monocan country of our owne, have instructed us thus far.

This high land, or Britannia, then, say we, is the marne and firme continent, which extendeth, we wot not how far, beyond that cataract or fall of water, which the Indians call Paquachowng, from whence one daie’s jorney into the Monocan country. Our elder planters (at their first comyng) proclaymed His Majestie king of the country at Mohominge (a neighbour village), and sett up a crosse there with His Majestie’s name inscribed thereon, the said falls being one hundred and fifty myles up from the mouth of the bay, and where the current there at his head falleth, with an easye discent, three or four fathome downe into the low contry.

From the falls our men have heretofore marched (as the river led them) about forty or fifty miles, and fownd the high land woody, little champion, with rising hills, rockey and mountanous, and so all along from the north, by a sowth-west lyne, in so much as the more so-ward the further off from the bay are those mountaynes; from them fall certaine brooks, which after come to be five principall navigable rivers, these run from the nor-west into the so-est, and so into the west side of the bay, as hastinge themselves to emptye into the bay, to paye their tribute to the ocean.

The mountaines here at the head are of divers natures, for the rocks are of a constitution like milstones; some of a blue metallyne coulour, some of marble, etc.; and many pieces of scattered cristall we find, as throwne downe by water from the mountaines; for in wynter these mountaines are covered with snow, and when yt dissolveth, the waters fall with such violence that they cawse great inundacions in the narrowe vallies, which yet is scarse perceaved, being oute in the rivers. These waters wash from the rocks such glistening tinctures, that the grownd in some places seemeth as gilded, where both the rocks and the earth are so splendant to behold, that very good judgments would perhapps be perswaded they conteyned more then probabilities. Sure it is that some mineralls have ben there found. . . .

To the norward of the Falls, and bending to the nor-east, lieth the skirt of this high land country, from whence the aforesaid five great navigable rivers take their heads, which run through the low land (as is before mencyoned) into the Chesapeack Bay; this quarter is altogither unknowen to us as yet, only herein are seated (say the Indians) those people whom Powhatan calls the Bocootawwonaukes, who (he saith) doe likewise melt copper and other mettalls; how true we must leave to further discovery.

To the nor-ward againe of this, in the height of 44, lyeth the country called Panaquid, the kingdome wherein our westerne colony, uppon the river of Sachadehock, was sometyme planted, which is a high land, and nee lesse fruictfull then these other parts, save only the extremity of the winter’s coldness makes yt lesse pleasant; yet did our men, in their yll built and bleake cottages, endure one whole wynter there, without any great losse or danger; nor is it more cold then the winter in Scotland; and therefore, though that colonye be now discontynued, yet is not yt the reason, but rather the death of the honorable gentleman, Sir John Popham, knight, late lord chief justice, chief patron of the same. . . .

South Virginia is a very low, sandy soyle, without rocks, or any stones at all; yt is thick sett with woodes of divers kindes, and in all things resembleth North Virginia, excepted the lownesse of the land and want of stones; yt hath divers rivers in yt, but none navigable to our knowledge; yt hath many islands, which lie into the sea before the firme land, but the water is not deepe for shippinge betweene them and the mayne. Yt is said to have of the same silke whereof the Chynoes make their damaske, called by the Portugalls sone del cherua, in great aboundaunce, and sondry apothecary druggs, which are nowe found likewise as frequent in our north parte; it is a fruitfull countrey, and not much subject to cold; in this country it was that Sir Walter Raleigh planted his two colonies, in the islande aforesaid, called Roanoack. . . .

The sommer here is hot as in Spaine, the winter cold as in Fraunce or England; the heate of the sommer is in June, July, and August, but comonly the cool breeses asswage the vehemency of the heat; the chief of winter is half December, January, February, and half March.

The temperature of this country doth well agree with the English constitutions, being sometymes seasoned in the same, which hath appeared unto us by this, that albeyt, by many occasions, ill lodging at the first (the poorer on the bare ground, and the best in such miserable cotages at the best, as through which the fervent piercing heat of the sun, which there (it is true) is the first cause, creating such sommer fevers amongst them, found never resistaunce) hard fare, and their owne judgments and saffeties instructing them to worke hard in the faint tyme of sommer, (the better to be accomodated and fitted for the wynter,) they have fallen sick, yet have they recovered agayne, by very small meanes, without helpe of fresh diet, or comfort of wholsome phisique, there being at the first but few phisique helpes, or skilfull surgeons, who knew how to apply the right medecine in a new country, or to search the quality and constitucion of the patient, and his distemper, or that knew how to councell, when to lett blood, or not, or in necessity to use a launce in that office at all. . . .

William Strachey, The Historic of Travaile into Virginia Britannia (Hakluyt Society, Works issued, 1849, London, 1849), 23–30 passim.


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Chicago: William Strachey, "An Account of Virginia (1618)," American History Told by Contemporaries in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1897), 200–203. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022,

MLA: Strachey, William. "An Account of Virginia (1618)." American History Told by Contemporaries, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 1, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1897, pp. 200–203. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Strachey, W, 'An Account of Virginia (1618)' in American History Told by Contemporaries. cited in 1897, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.200–203. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from