1607-1620 Jamestown Light Industry, Jamestown Poles and Dutch-men

& Jamestown-related Publications Errors

Rick Orli (C) 2006

For a personal living history project, last year I made plans to present an interpretation as a Polish glassworker at Jamestown Settlement, since it was ‘common knowledge’ that the Jamestown glassmakers were Poles.  Checking around, I was surprised to see the Virtual Jamestown.com and also the National Park website claim that the 1608 glassmakers were three named Germans.   That was a remarkable development, and I was if anything pleased to see that a new body of detailed information and research had expanded our knowledge.  For my purposes, I would be just as happy to present a Polish Potash maker, or even a German Glassmaker. However, I looked carefully at the claims, and what was used to back up these claims, and I found that nothing new had been discovered in the last 50 years except that some of the glass pots are apparently of Hesse origin.

Indeed, I went though all of the primary material available, and have to conclude that that several statements in some of the websites are either in outright error, or make speculations that are very unlikely, and state these speculations as facts.

This is what we do know: Smith tells us that a group of eight Poles and ‘Dutchmen’ (German speakers, which may include Pomeranians or Dutch and at least one “Zwitzar” (Swiss)) arrived with the "Second Supply" from London, aboard the ship Mary & Margaret in late September or Oct 1, 1608.  The company recruited these as skilled craftsmen and industry specialists: soap-ash, glass, lumber milling (wainscot, clapboard, and ‘deal’ – planks, especially soft wood planks) and naval stores (pitch, turpentine, and tar). 

Only the identity of the mining/mineral/metal ores specialist is known definitely as a Swiss man named William Volday or Waldi.  The national identity of all the other craft specialists requires a degree of conjecture. 

Considering all the other evidence, these are my conclusions (supported below):  The glassmaker was probably a Pole.  The naval stores (pitch/tar/turpentine) maker was probably a Pole; the millners and lumber specialists were probably 3 Germans, and the potash maker was probably a Pole. And of course the miner/metals man was a Swiss.   If that were the case, the total would be 4 Dutch-men and 3 Poles for a total of  7… one more is needed for the 8.  One version of the count of Dutch-men sent to build the house is 4, so there could have been an additional German, who was not mentioned because he stayed loyal to the colony.  Or that could have been Smith’s error.  The better possibility is that the glassmaker had an assistant, since the ‘glass-men’ are referred to in the plural on at least one occasion.  Finally, “frankincense” – aromatic plant extract - was mentioned as a product – that may have been another specialist but it could also have been a modest variation of turpentine making.

The above is based mostly on what I conclude from Smith’s writings.  An intriguing detailed account of this adventure has surfaced as the 1625 commercial diary of Zbigniew Stefanski, however the authenticity is in doubt and I discount it.  (That account suggests that the Glassmaker, Naval Store and Soap-ash men were 3 Poles and a Lumberman with specific skills as a boatmaker was a Lithuanian.)

Another group of Poles arrived in Jamestown in 1619 to manufacture pitch, tar and resins for ships and also to develop the timber industry. The Poles went on strike because they knew themselves to be among the most productive members of the colony, yet, the Legislative Assembly denied them the right to vote. The Assembly backed down and granted them full rights in July 21, 1619.  

APVA Publication Errors
         "The glassmakers have long been thought to be from Poland or individuals from both Poland and Germany....  Scholars now believe that the Germans were the glassmakers and the Poles were the producers of
"the rest"-the pitch, tar and soapashes."
William M Kelso with Beverly Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery, 1994-2004. (Also Jamestown II earlier) Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 2004, p. 188.
OK, I went through all the stuff they have published, and I don't see where they really defend the case or footnote other research.  The "scholars" mentioned seem to be the authors.  It seems entirely based on the identification of some crucibles as being of Hesse origin, and what seems to me a rather obvious misreading or non-reading of the primary sources. 

The fact that the Crucible was of Hesse origin is not an indication that the glassblowers were German anymore than the fact that I am writing this on a made-in-China laptop suggests I’m Chinese. The crucibles from Hesse were considered the best, and were made by the millions for the export trade, and in fact literally a million were imported from this region to England over the 17th C. (See my article, the first Dutch-men in America, for references)

Futher,  It seems unlikely that on hiring the glassmaker he would have been deep in Europe rather than in England or in a port area such as Ebling or Gdansk. when agents were sent out to hire someone they did not go to the ends of the earth if they did not have to.   Nor would he have gotten a large cash advance which would have been required if he was to do all of his own shopping and materials acquisition and was then expected to ship a ton of stuff to England.  Least of all that he did his shopping deep in central Germany at Hesse, hundreds of miles from the Baltic. Further, any scenario is unlikely that requires agents to give large cash advances to hired men.   More likely the glass supplies were acquired in England by the company, and that these pots were standard Hesse exports.

Also, some of the crucibles identified as Hessian are not glass pots, but are instead metallurgical pots.  (Remember the metallurgist was identified as the Swiss man Waldi.)   That alone seems to demonstrate
that the origins of the pots and the nationality of the hirelings are disconnected.  (Not to mention that the mercury pots found seem to be Spanish, and other glass industrial starters (blue glass cullet) seem to be English.....)
The other apparent argument put forward (indirectly) is that when the Germans all die in 1609-10, glass production ceases, yet tar and pitch etc. continues to be made.  To this I would answer 1) that all the
craftsmen were brought  to train the English and set up the factories. Most of the production would have been done by dozens of English, not one or two Poles or Germans. "skillfull workemen from forraine parts,
which may teach and set ours in the way, whereby we may set many thousands a worke, in these such like services."  2) All the craft masters were probably on a set contract, and some of the surviving ones
may have returned to England in 1609.  3) most people who stayed died, which fate would not have spared any Poles who stayed.4) Glassmaking ultimately proved too technically challenging for the colony, and they
never found a source of pure quartz sand; tar, pitch, potash are far more simple undertakings. 5) nobody disputes that the tar pitch and potash men may have been Poles, in fact I think they were. 6) I believe there was only one master glassmaker and maybe an assistant, not a bunch of glassmakers.

Further, a very possible pool of recruits for adventure would have been those economically disrupted by the Polish-Swedish wars.  This would have included Germans and Poles from Pomerania, and Poles, Lithuanians, and Latvians who were citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and may have been identified simply as Poles. It should also be remembered that such lines can be blurry, especially to an Englishman – for example my recently deceased Pomeranian grandmother saw herself as ethnically and linguistically Polish, yet grew up as an Imperial German subject, spoke perfect German and (because English is closer to German)  spoke English with a rather more German than Polish accent. 

The primary sources, and what they say, I address below.

Specific VirtualJamestown.org Webpage Errors

The Jamestown website claims:  The Mary and Margaret carried a "trial" of glass that the German glassmakers produced when it returned to England in November of 1608. Adam, Francis, and Samuel had to prove that it was possible to make glass in Virginia before they would receive money to build a glass works. It is likely that the glassmakers made their "trial" inside the fort because the first reference to a glass house was not until the spring of 1609.

(This is made up ….. in the first place there is no evidence that Adam, Francis, and Samuel were glassmakers, rather there is evidence to the contrary as will be explained below, and ‘receiving money’ was not the way this worked.  If they did their trial within the fort, then it may have been a somewhat dishonest trial that may have used some imported ingredients.  On the other hand, they could  have built one of the smaller auxiliary kilns (such as the one we now label as the fritting kiln) within a week at the site of the future glass house.)

Website: In December 1608, John Smith sent three “Dutch- men” to build a house for Powhatan because he did not have enough food to feed them. The glassmakers got food from the Indians and decided to assist the Powhatan in a possible attack against the colonists.

(It is more reasonable to suppose that the lumber workers and wood mill-men would use there relevant skills to prepare materials and build a house, not the naval-store makers and ‘real’ glassworkers. Nothing in the history suggests that the three Dutch-men were glassworkers.  Also, Smith clearly says this is for political relations and to earn substantial quantities of food – to ‘load his ship with corne’ for the fort, not merely for ‘room and board’ for a few surplus hands, as the website incorrectly suggests, although he does mention that they were on ‘small allowance’ of food.  He also hints that the place they are going is as good a place to work for the colony as any – which would be true if they needed trees as raw material, and perhaps even a moving water source to run a mill. ( I can’t imagine that they planned to seriously manufacture clapboard and deal without a water powered sawmill, even through a mill of that type is not mentioned anywhere. The men probably included someone skilled as a millwright, and kits for a couple of mills would have been logically required if mill-men would have a mill to use for their milling )

(Also It is worth remembering that a glassmaker would have been trained do all other precursor work – potash, charcoal, and lime making, all valuable products for the colony even if the glass kiln was cold.  )

Website:  Adam, Francis, and Samuel used the new glass house on Glass House Point as the mid-point when they smuggled arms out of James Fort.

(Ah yes, Smith DOES mention that that this isolated spot, one mile from the fort, is where the plotters met.  Does this prove they are glassworkers? No, and I don’t think it suggests it either. They likely helped build the glass-house, if they were wood workers….  Note that there were only a handful of out-of-the-way named places where they could have met, in tiny Jamestown.  Further, later when Smith is 'attacked' by Indians near the glasshouse, 2 Poles come to his rescue; again not proof that that Poles were working there making glass or prep work, but in this case I do think it is suggestive of that possibility.)

Website:  It does not appear that they produced much if any glass in this structure. Smith realized what the glass makers were doing, but welcomed them back to the fort. The Indians killed Francis in the winter of 1609. Adam and Samuel met the same fate in May 1610.

(This is also incorrect.  Adam and Francis were killed by Powhatan after escaping the fort again in 1609, according to Smith P. 197,  Samuel is killed by the Indians in 1610, as witnessed by the boy Henry Spelman (See Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, 1613).

Finally, Smith is clear on P. 175  that the trial of glass and the soap-ash and naval-store production (but not mill-work) happened during the time these “Dutchmen” were with Powhatan.  Therefore the glass and the soap-ash and naval-store workers were most probably the Poles, and “Dutch” were almost certainly the Lumber and Mill men, and a final man is the ‘Zwitzer’ miner.  The only way the glassmaker could have been a German is if a 5th never mentioned German was the glassworker (or potash maker or naval-store maker) – not impossible but also not likely. )

Jamestown National Park Website Errors

These errors were also propagated in the Jamestown National Park website, with an addition about the crucible’s apparent Hesse origin.

These objects are fragments from a crucible made in the Hesse area of Germany. A potter made the crucible out of refractory clay that can expand and withstand very high heat without breaking. Beaker-shaped crucibles were used to make glass samples and pottery glazes. Sometimes the craftsman used two crucibles—one as a lid and the other as a container—when he heated the raw materials. He had to break the join between the two crucibles in order to get the liquid glass. It is possible that one of the three German glassmakers whom the Virginia Company of London brought to the colony broke open this crucible soon after his arrival on the Mary and Margaret in September 1608. The officials of the Virginia Company of London wanted the glassmakers—Adam, Francis, and Samuel—to make window glass that could be used in London.”  

See my comments above.

Philip Barbour and the "Poles can't do that" argument.


Philip L. Barbour, a researcher of the early Jamestown Colony, declared, “The postulation that the Poles were hired to make glass is based on evidence that is flimsy indeed....  Indeed, my research into the history of glassmaking in Poland tends to hint that the Poles were hired for pitch and tar work, and the Germans for the glass, despite the vagueness of John Smith's account.  There is no evidence that Poland had a glass industry of any great consequence in the days of Zygmund III (1587–1632)...”  (Barbour, Philip L., “The Identity of the First Poles in America,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, Volume XXI, January 1964, p. 90).

Others took up this argument and ran with it:

         The literature of 16th and 17th century glassmaking makes virtually no reference to Polish production.  On the other hand, the German glassmaking industry of that period is described at length:

          A History of Technology: Volume III From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution c. 1500—c. 1750  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957) extensively describes German glassmaking but is silent on Poland . 

         The Encyclopedia Americana (International Edition, Danbury, Conn.: Grolier, 1994, p. 798) discusses 16th century glassmaking techniques in various German states but ignores Poland . 

         Historical German glassmaking techniques are discussed in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (Micropaedia, Vol. 5, “Glass,” pp. 296–297), but again there is no mention of Poland .

This is essentially arguing that the Poles were too primitive to do anything so complicated as run glassworks, and if they hadwhy have we never heard of it.  


I published an extract from "Szklo w Polsce od XIV do XVII w"  by Andrzeja Wyrobisza 1968 which lists 94 major glassworks in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during this period. This resarch shows a thriving and diverse Polish glass industry which could easily provide a glassmaker or two to the Jamestown venture. Wyrobisza footnotes several books and articles that had been published by1964, that clearly had much of the same information, which suggests that Barbour's claimed 'research into the history of glassmaking in Poland" was limited to his local college library's stacks.  I unfortunately must report that reseachers in any field will discover a general lack of any information in English on any aspect of Polish history or culture.  Of course there was no mention of Polish glassworks in Western works.... Western historians don’t read Polish, don’t you know.  

Why the big deal over nationality of a couple of craftsmen?

The Poles are sensitive about this sort of stuff, don't you know. Consider as an example, that Joseph Conrad is today still on a official list of 100 greatest Russian Artists.  The biases for claiming that the boy who fled Europe (after his parents were executed by the Czar's men for being prominent leaders of the Polish patriotic movement) for a career in English shipping, and later English literature,  is a Russian? That his birthplace was part of Polish lands that were annexed into the Russian Empire. That, and a deliberate state-financed, state-enforced policy of Imperial and then Soviet Russia to suppress and subsume all aspects of national pride, and to co-opt all national leading lights.  I rather think of Conrad as an Englishman just as I think of myself as an American, but he sure as heck is no Russian.  Yet, Russians today still are taught by public schools that he is one of them.  Ditto for the Ukrainians, because his birthplace is now on today's Ukrainian soil.

So, about the Germans, they were also Imperialist occupiers of Polish lands, and many Poles alive have memories of German deliberate state-enforced suppression of Polish culture and nationalism.  The Polish-Pomeranian grandmother I mention above spoke perfect German in part because the penalty for speaking Polish at her elementary school, even in private conversations, was a beating.  (Of the three imperial occupiers of Poland, only the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had a modest reputation for cultural tolerance.)  

Impartial historians read the sources and came up with the same conclusion that I have reached.  While the identity of the glassmen cannot be established beyond question, they were very probably Poles.  It is unfortunate that dubious new evidence in the form of a few pots of that may have been purchased anywhere in Europe was seen by a few researches as sufficient to overthrow the weight of historical evidence, and that they then chose to state their conclusion not as a theory but as a fact.  Now that 'fact' has taken on a life of its own, and has spread with the speed of the internet as a plague of misinformation. Not only have uncounted school term papers now been written about the 'German' glassmakers, but Nationalistic German web page authors now demand that all references to Poles as glassmakers be struck everywhere, and monuments to the heroic German glassmakers be built straightaway. 

I have to admit I am uneasy about taking a seemingly 'Nationalistic' position on this,  and I would hope that the facts would speak for themselves.  But in this case the facts seemed to need an advocate.

Relevant extracts from Primary Sources

“And for the making of Pitch, Tarre, Turpentine, Sope-ashes, Deale, Wainscott, and such like, wee have alreadie provided and sent thither skillfull workemen from forraine parts, which may teach and set ours in the way, whereby we may set many thousands a worke, in these such like services.” – Nova Britannia, 1609

As for the hyring of the Poles and Dutch-men, to make Pitch, Tar, Glasse, Milles, and Sope ashes when the Country is replenished with people, and necessaries, would have done well, but to send them and seaventie more without civtualls to worke, was not so well advised nor considered of, as it should have beene. Yet this could not have hurt us had they beene 200. though then we were 130 that wanted for our selves. For we had the Salvages in that decorum [position or situation]

(their harvest being newly gathered) that we feared not to get victuals for 500.


The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar - Volume 1


Chapter VII. The Presidency surrendred to Captaine Smith: the Arrivall and returne of the second Supply. And what happened. P.139


Thus if you please to consider this account, and of the unnecessary wages to Captaine Newport, or his ships so long lingering and staying here (for notwithstanding his boasting to leave us victuals for 12 moneths, though we had 89 by this discovery lame and sicke, and but a pinte of Corne a day for a man, we were constrained to give him three hogsheads of that to victuall him homeward) or yet to send into Germany or Poleland for glasse-men & the rest, till we be able to sustaine our selves, and relieve them when they come.

P. 150


Mistresse Forrest, and Anne Burras her maide; eight Dutch men and Poles, with some others, to the number of seaventie persons, &c.

P. 151


(He sends the Dutch-men to build Powhatan’s house)

 being invited by Powhatan to come unto him: and if he would send him but men to build him a house, give him a gryndstone, fiftie swords, some peeces, a cock and a hen, with much copper and beads, he would load his Ship with Corne. The President not ignorant of his devises and subtiltie, yet unwilling to neglect any opportunitie, presently sent three Dutch-men and two English, having so small allowance, few were able to doe any thing to purpose: knowing there needed no better a Castle to effect this project,

P. 153


 (This page states a different figure…. apparently four dutch-men were in fact sent, either this or the prior count of three is right after all.)

P. 154


All this time the Dutch men remaining with Powhatan, (who kindly entertained them to instruct the Salvages the use of our Armes) and their consorts not following them as they expected; to know the cause, they sent Francis their companion, a stout young fellow, disguised like a Salvage, to the Glasse-house, a place in the woods neare a myle from James Towne; where was their Rendezvous for all their unsuspected villany. Fortie men they procured to lie in Ambuscado for Captaine Smith, who no sooner heard of this Dutch-man, but he sent to apprehend him (but he was gone) yet to crosse his returne to Powhatan, the Captaine presently dispatched 20. shot after him, himselfe returning from the Glasse-house alone

P 175


NOw we so quietly followed our businesse, that in three moneths wee made three or foure Last of Tarre, Pitch, and Sope ashes; produced a tryall of Glasse; made a Well in the Fort of excellent sweet water,

(Note that during this time the “dutch men” were with Powhatan, so this work must have been done by the Poles with English help.  No mill-work product is mentioned).

The Dutch mens projects.

All this time to recover the Dutch-men and one Bentley another fugitive, we imployed one William Volday, a Zwitzar by birth, with Pardons & promises to regaine them. Little we then suspected this double villaine of any villany; who plainly taught us, in the most trust was the greatest treason; for this wicked hypocrite, by the seeming hate he bore to the lewd conditions of his cursed country men, (having this oportunity by his imployment to regaine them)

P. 184

All this time we had but one Carpenter in the Countrey, and three others that could doe little, but desired to be learners: two Blacksmiths; two saylers, & those we write labourers were for most part footmen, and such as they that were Adventurers brought to attend them, or such as they could perswade to goe with them, that never did know what a dayes worke was, except the Dutch-men and Poles, and some dozen other. For all the rest were poore Gentlemen, Tradsmen, Serving-men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoyle a Common-wealth, then either begin one, or but helpe to maintaine one.

P. 194

Archeological evidence that the first 1608 trial of glass was done on the grounds of the fort.


Jamestown Rediscovery FIELD REPORT 1994 Nicholas M. Luccketti. William M. Kelso, Beverly A. Straube; May 1994


“There is no evidence that early craftsmen made any of the glass at the site, but there are obvious signs of other glassmaking. The top layer of pit fill contained a concentration of broken glass, including a number of edge pieces and some central bull’s-eyes, which are waste fragments from crown glass disks. The quantity, color, and waste fragments from manufacturing are sure signs that this glass did not come from any broken windows at James Fort. The pit cullet suggests early glass making at James Fort, perhaps resulting in the “trial of glass” sent back to England in 1608-09. Crucible fragments from the pit with molten glass on the interiors may be even a more convincing case for small scale glassmaking in the fort. The pit contained five crucibles of incremental sizes all showing no signs of fire damage from use (Figure 31). Two crucibles fused together, one on top of the other, came from the electrical trench cut through the pit in 1939. Apparently craftsmen used these vessels to heat frit in the furnace. The gall overflow caused the vessels to fuse necessitating breakage of the upper vessel to extract the finished product.”



The illustration is labeled ” Figure 31: Triangular crucibles of varying sizes, probably made

in Hesse , Germany .



However, later work seemed to lead to the conclusion that these triangular crucibles were not glasswork crucibles but rather metal-smelting crucibles, such as would support Waldi, the Swiss miner and metals prospector who was one of the ‘dutch-men’ of 1608.  (According to the APVA website that pictures these artifacts).

First Dutchmen of America  

Polish Glassworking in the 17th C.

Jamestown Settlement Light Industry Interpretation

A Jamestown story