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A Pictorial Booklet on Early Jamestown Commodities




Jamestown, Virginia

Illustrated by Sidney E. King

Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation Williamsburg, Virginia 1957

Copyright(C), 1957 by J. Paul Hudson, Jamestown, Virginia

Jamestown 350th Anniversary Historical Booklet Number 23


In the pages which follow only a few of many goods and commodities made, collected, or grown at or near Jamestown during the seventeenth century will be discussed. No pretense is made to do more than touch lightly on the ones mentioned most frequently by the early settlers. With the exception of tobacco, grape vines, and herbs, agricultural products are omitted.

Jamestown has never received proper recognition as the place where many American industries were born in the New World. Few people are aware that boatbuilding, timbering, glassmaking, tobacco-cultivation, wine-making, iron-smelting, and the making of pitch, tar, potash and soap-ashes, were carried on in Virginia's colonial capital; nor is it generally known that there was production of pottery, bricks and tile, of considerable volume.

Besides the products mentioned in this booklet, attempts were made to grow or produce other items at or near "James Citty"--including cordage, silk-grass, dyes, salt, flax, hemp, alum, white earth, walnut-oil, minerals, sweet-gums, madder, sugar cane, cotton, citrus fruits, olives, bark, roots, and berries. A few brought profits to the planters while others, like indigo, cotton, sugar cane, and citrus fruits, resulted in failure. The tropical plants from the West Indies could not, of course, withstand the cold Virginia winters.

Attempts made by the early planters to find commodities and raw materials revealed to a large degree the industrial and agricultural resources of the new colony. The lessons learned at Jamestown--even information derived from the failures--were invaluable ones. For from the successful activities carried out in the small huts, in the fields, and in the woodland areas, would later develop industries and agricultural pursuits undreamed of by the early settlers.

The history of American commodities, like the history of the nation, is no longer a brief one. Three hundred and fifty years have now passed since the first adventurous Englishman, with musket in hand and ears alerted to the sound of moccasined feet, searched the wilderness area up and down the James River for New World wealth. As time permitted, he worked in his small shop making utilitarian things out of clay, wood, sand, and metal--objects not entirely lacking in beauty. Busy as he was with these tasks, he still found time to tend his small vineyard and tobacco field. As he worked he may have dreamed of the day when his hogs-heads of sweet-scented tobacco and casks of red wine would reach England safely and be sold for a profit. Trying to better his condition in a new land, he never dreamed that the seeds of his incessant labors, which he was unconsciously planting, would some day flower into a great industrial and agricultural nation.

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