An 18th Century insight into the gradual colonisation of North America by the English




A ‘new map’ of North America. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


In Worcester Cathedral Library, there is a set of books entitled “Collection of Voyages and Travels”. The eighth volume has short descriptive passages about the then known parts of the North American continent. It was published in 1747 from several much earlier accounts and travel writings collected in the library of the late Earl of Oxford. The authors of the various sections are anonymous. I have tried to make a brief summary of the historic descriptions to give you a view of how the new lands and peoples were perceived in the early eighteenth century.


New England



A map of New England. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)



A map of New France. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)



Adjoining New France, formerly a part of that named region, is New England, lying between 41 and 45 degrees. The north east part has as yet been little discovered by the English. This area begins at the River Penobscot, which the French call Pentegevet, near to the River Haute. Lying near to the English plantations are considered safe anchorages, these are noted as Hender Bay, Accomack and Milford Haven, near Cape Cod. All of them are within 34 leagues (a league being about three miles) of Cape Anna, opposite the Bristow Plantation.

In 1606 King James licensed a plantation there. The first colony consisted of 100 husbandmen (farmers), under the governing figure of George Popham. In 1609 they settled on the banks of the River Saga De Hoc where they stayed for a year, but then abandoned the site and returned to England. The reasons being that they could not provide enough food for themselves and the deaths of the Pophams had a negative effect upon the community. Their failure deterred any further projects for opening plantations in the region. The area was left to the French to occupy, but they were driven out by a Captain named Argall.

After this event, more detailed preparation was given to further expeditions. Captain Hobson took with him two Native Americans from the region. They had lived in England for a couple of years and had learned the English language. They were to be used as guides and interpreters. However, that scheme fell apart when the Native Americans learned that an Englishman, named Hunt, had taken twenty of the locals and sold them as slaves to the Spanish.

Subsequent voyages were planned and undertaken by Captain John Smith in the years 1614 and 1615, but neither of them proved to be successful as no gold or silver mines were discovered, “nor yet found any such useful whales as he expected.”

During the second of his voyages, he was captured and held for some time by French pirates. Then in September 1620, a further voyage set out from Plymouth, with a colony of nineteen families. They arrived in the following November, near Cape Cod. There they stayed until 16th December, but not liking the place they moved on to a more hospitable region near Milford Haven, where they settled and built a town called Plymouth. Over the next twenty years, hundreds of families made the journey to the new plantations and settled. Apart from the cultivation of the land, great effort was made to indoctrinate the local Native Americans in the Christian faith, not without, in some instances, a heavy handed approach to this end.



The opening description of the region is mainly listing the rivers and which Native American tribes inhabit the areas, also the climate.

The region is divided into two parts, north and south. In 1586 the southern area was found by Sir Walter Raleigh and named in honour of Queen Elizabeth I. This region is within the 33 to 39 latitudes. In 1606, from the 37 to 39 degrees the northern area began to be more populated by the English, with varying moments of success and failure.

As regarding the climate, it is described as being as hot as Spain, especially the months of June, July, and August. From December to March “It freezeth sharply, but it is not usually of any long continuance.” It also experiences periods of drought and heavy rains, but the inhabitants cope, “affording a due care and endeavour”, and in so doing “reap the fruits of the land in great variety”.

The description of the area then moves on to the noting of which is written as follows: “There is but one only coming up unto this northern part of Virginia, which is by a wide arm of the sea called Chesapeacke, bounded on the north, and on the south, with two great promontories, whereof the northern taketh denomination from King Charles, the southern from Prince Henry.” Note is then made of the number of rivers that flow into the bay and how far certain stretches are navigable.

The account goes on to describe the native tribes and the numbers of warriors they could summon to go to war. The author also mentions the various rivers around which several of the tribes lived. Perhaps the account was written to attract future settlers, but the anonymous author seems to think that the numbers of Native Americans in the area are small enough to be no match for the even smaller number of colonists.

That this was part of a tract to encourage settlers to come to America is confirmed by a description of the quality of Virginia’s soil and its ability to grow a wide variety of produce with good crop yields. The author also then talked about the various beasts, fish and fowl in northern Virginia: for example deer, castors (beavers), hares and squirrels “as big as our coneys” (rabbits), and the rearing of neat (cattle) and swine. The writer claimed that there was “sufficient beef, pork, turkies, hens and salt fish, with such storage of grain, as may sufficiently victual any navy of ours, which shall be imployed that way.”

The fruitfulness of the land they found may have been in part because of the size of the population that depended upon it, and so the demands on the land were considerably less. Also, that the Native American tribes were mainly hunter gatherers must have had a bearing upon the fact.

Of the native tribes, the author noticed that some, such as the Sasquesahanoxes who lived two miles from the River Chesepeake, were giant in comparison to the Europeans, but a tribe called the Wickocomacks were smaller. However, in general, the Native Americans were of the same stature as the Europeans and were noted as being “strong and nimble of body, and well inured to endure winter and summer.”

 Southern Virginia was described as being even more fertile, with many “merchantable commodities”.




A map including Florida. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


The anonymous author or authors of this early undated social and geographical account were writing at a time when Florida was “not yet fully discovered” and went as far north as Virginia. He mentions the coastline, with its storms and reefs as being dangerous for ships, such as for the Spanish bullion fleets taking precious cargoes to Spain. However, the coastline provided a large amount of ambergrease (a wax-like substance used in the perfume trade and sometimes in cooking). This was an area mainly explored by the Spanish and French in the sixteenth century and the anonymous author recounts some of the early expeditions. The Native Americans of Florida were described as of  “great stature, and well compacted bodies, very expert archers, exceeding active, fierce and manly in their manner of assault.”





Part of a chart showing the English Dominions on the continent of North America. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


An interesting bit of social history follows on in a section of the book which covers “all the English dominions on the continent of North America, from N.E. to S.W. with the Indian (sic) nations bordering upon them.” For each state the writer described “The Present State of Religion”, “Assistance received from the Society” and finally “Demands upon the Society for Ministers, Schools, Libraries etc.”. A sample entry is that for Pennsylvania below:

Present State of Religion:

“Is settled by people of almost all languages and religions in Europe: but the people call’d Quakers are the most numerous of any persuasion; and in Philadelphia, their capital city, there is an Episcopal Church called Christ-Church, having a very large congregation, supply’d by Mr. Evans, who besides the voluntary subscriptions of the inhabitants, hath a grant from her majesty lately of 50l. per annum, and the schoolmaster 30l. There is likewise here a Quakers’ meeting, a Presbyterian one, an Anabaptist one, and a Swedish one without the town.”

Assistance received from the Society:

“To Mr. Henry Nichols, at St. Paul’s in Uplands 50l. per annum and 20l. in books.

To a patent for a minister and schoolmaster 32l. 6s. 8d. at Philadelphia

To Mr. Thomas Crawford at Dover-Hundred 50l. per annum and 15l. for books.

To Mr. Andrew Rudman for the supply of Oxford 12l. 10s.

To Mr. Club, schoolmaster at Philadelphia, 15l. in books, as much in money.”

Demands upon the society etc.

“1 Minister for Newcastle town, where there is a Church built, and a Welch congregation mostly.

1 Minister at Appequenomy in Newcastle County, who would do great service.

1 Minister at the Falls, 30 miles above Philadelphia, where Church is building

1 Minister at Oxford near Franckfort.

1 School dependent on the minister of Chester or Uplands.”      


The chart indicated that in Maryland, the religious situation had a Catholic and Quaker presence as well as 30 Episcopal parishes. Sixteen of these have ministers with a decent living and good parish libraries. These libraries had mainly been provided by the good works of the Reverend Dr. Bray.

In Virginia there were fifty parishes and around thirty chapels. It also had a College set up for the education of the American youth in the studies of Philosophy and Divinity.

When this particular anonymous account was added to the book, Carolina must have been little settled by the English. Of these there were only five thousand ‘scattered souls’ and many thousands more Native Americans of the Tuskarora tribe. However, a church had been set up at Charles town and another further south near the Edisto River.


Adrian Skipp



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