Essex County History
1608: Essex and John Smith

John Smith, the adventurous leader of the early Jamestown settlers, visited the lands of modern Essex County three times between 1607-1608. On the first occasion he was a prisoner, the second time an explorer and finally a mediator. He thought well of the area writing, "It is an excellent, pleasant, well inhabited, fertill, and goodly navigable river".

Smith's first visit to Essex County occurred when he was captured along the Chickahominy River in the winter of 1607-1608. He was exhibited throughout villages of the Powhatan Indians, then, as Smith wrote, "From hence this kind King conducted mee to a place called Topahanocke, a kingdom upon another River northward". Smith was delivered to this village of the Rappahannocks on Christmas Day 1607 because of crimes he was suspected of committing a few years earlier. Upon seeing him, however, they judged him not to be the perpetrator.

Smith's second visit was in the summer of 1608 while on an exploration trip up the Rappahannock River with 14 soldiers and their Wighcomoco guide Mosko. Smith's small party encountered a small group of Rappahannocks on shore, possibly near the mouth of Piscataway Creek. Before commencing trade, each side traded a hostage with Anas Todkill going ashore. Once ashore, Todkill "perceived two or three hundred men as he thought behind the trees". Todkill yelled a warning, and a brief and furious exchange of arrows and gunshots followed. Many Rappahannocks were killed and a wounded Todkill was recovered. The Rappahannocks continued attacks as the sailing vessel ventured further upriver.

On the party's trip back down the river, Smith issued a strong warning to the Rappahannocks, "he would now burne all their houses, destroy their corne, and forver hold them his enemies". The Rappahannocks feared the new weapons of the English and ceased their attacks. On his final visit to Essex, Smith helped broker a peace treaty between the Rappahannocks and the Moraughtacund tribe. After Smith's visits, there would be little English activity in Essex until the 1640s.


1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. by James B. Slaughter. Walsworth Publishing Co., Inc., 1985. (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 49. A Brief and True Account of the Writings of Captain John Smith and the Beginnings of American Literature, by Robert Alexander Armour. September 2007

3. The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, Vol. 2. Edited by Phillip L. Barbour

4. The Jamestown Narratives. Edited by Edward Wright Haile. RoundHouse Books, 1998. (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)
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