Identity of the 1608 Jamestown Craftsmen
Richard J. Orli 2008
at yahoo dot com
Several nationalities and ethnic groups today voice pride in
Jamestown’s 400th Anniversary as the first permanent English colony
in America. Although the colony eventually received Italians, Africans, and
others, among the earliest known contributors were eight “Dutch-men and
Poles,” and a Swiss man, who arrived with the "Second Supply" from
London, aboard the ship Mary &
Margaret around October 1, 1608.
The company recruited these as skilled master craftsmen and industry
specialists: soap-ash, glass, lumber milling (wainscot, clapboard, and
‘deal’ – planks, especially pine) naval stores (pitch, turpentine, and
tar), and mining. All were hired to teach and organize new industries; not so
much to do the work as to train the colonists to work.
Unlike the colonists, who were company shareholders or servants of shareholders,
these were probably contractors, and their names do not appear on the colonist
Only the mining mineral/metal ores specialist is known definitely as a
“Zwitzar” (Swiss) man named William Waldi (or Volday or Valdo).
The national identity of all the other craft specialists requires a degree of
Dutchmen and Poles? Certainly skilled craftsmen worked in England; for example
there were several glass factories near London in 1606. One reason may be that
many English craftsmen were no longer accustomed to working in virgin forest and
primitive conditions, since the great English forests had been long since cut
down. Many of the glass factories near urban centers did not actually make glass
from raw materials, but recycled and bought raw glass ingots from elsewhere.
Serious glass industry went where the trees were, since a few pounds of glass
ship easier than tons of wood. Another reason might be bargain rate labor. As
early as 1585, Walter Raleigh was urged to look to Prussia and Poland for “Men
skilfull in burning of Sope ashes, and in making of Pitch, and Tarre, and Rozen…
which are thence to be had for small wages.”
Among the most eager recruits for adventure may have been those economically
disrupted by war, and the Polish-Swedish war was current. The Poles Smith
mentioned would have been affected, but in the large and diverse Commonwealth
this war would have also enmeshed Lithuanians, Latvians, Rus, and indeed
German-speakers who were Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth citizens and may have
been identified simply as Poles. As well, ethnic Poles may have hailed from
Swedish controlled Pomerania or other lands. The “Dutchmen” were probably
Netherlanders although there is a slight chance they may have been German
speakers from elsewhere.
What else do we know about them? Almost nothing. They were likely young,
as were almost all the colonists, yet at least in their mid-twenties to have
achieved mastery of their craft. Another interesting field of speculation is
their religion, which I address here because I have encountered a common
assumption that the Poles must have been Catholic. In 1607 Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth Baltic provinces had large Lutheran and Calvinist populations,
including those who spoke Polish, Lithuanian, and German as a first language.
Anglicans were almost non-existent outside Britain, so the craftsmen would not
have been members of the official religion of the Colony and so required some
accommodation. In their status as contractors they may have been under a
different standard than the Colonists (who were obliged to swear they were not
Papists), so some may even have been Catholics. The practice of accommodation
should have been well understood by the Colony’s leaders -for example, the
English navy at this time had protocols to follow for Catholic and other
sailors. Also, a Catholic-style crucifix has been uncovered from the early
period, and a generation later all (up to several dozen) Catholics in Jamestown
were exiled, so we know that eventually the Colony had some religious diversity.
The safer guess is that the 1608 craftsmen were Protestants, or were at least
willing to act the part.
Their actions and fates are known in a few instances. Adam, Samuel, and
Francis and perhaps a fourth Dutchman, were sent to help build a house for
Powhatan, for political relations and to earn food – to ‘load his ship with
corne’. They then joined and intrigued with Powhatan; Waldi was sent to entice
them back but played a complicated double cross. Despite this spotty record,
Smith gave high marks to the Dutchmen’s work ethic. “Only the Dutch-men and
Poles, and some dozen others… knew what a dayes worke was”.
Smith deemed Waldi an imposter who knew little of his craft.
Powhatan killed Adam and Francis
after they escaped the fort again in 1609,
Samuel was killed by the Indians in 1610, as witnessed by the boy Henry Spelman.
Waldi later “dyed most miserably”
while claiming he had found a valuable mine “the myne which, in his lifetime,
he would not be drawn to reveyle unto any one ells of the colony.”
We do not know what happened to the other Dutchman (if any) and the Poles. They
apparently worked hard and at any rate failed to gain notoriety by fermenting
rebellion. Possibly they stayed with the Colony and died in the 1610 Famine,
perhaps they left in 1609-1610 by terms of their contract, or perhaps they
survived to 1611 and beyond.
Dutchmen or Germans? Numerous
recent articles and books, both popular and scholarly, have taken the position
that the “Dutchmen” were Germans. During the mid 16th century and
earlier any Germanic language speaker might be referred to as a “Dutchman,”
but it would also have been customary to refer to a resident of the Netherlands
(Low Dutch speaker) as a Dutchman. By 1608 the “German equals Dutchman”
usage was obsolete and there are few if any examples in written text where this
use is unambiguous.
John Smith only once mentions Germany, when he is speaking in abstract terms and
not about the specific 1608 craftsmen “…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.”
The speculation that the Swiss Waldi was counted among the
Dutchmen is also advanced as a “proof” that the Dutchmen were Germans;
however, Smith is unclear on this point.
A well thought-out analysis associating the nationality with the craft was
published by Charles Hatch in a 1941 Article. I
believe his analysis stands well today, even considering new evidence. Below is summarized what we know of each set of
Lumbermen. The lumber mill-men and specialists were probably the three named
Dutchmen - Adam, Francis, and
In one version Smith states three
and on the next page four Dutchmen were sent to do lumber and construction work
in December 1608 (to build a house for Powhatan), so there could have been an
additional Dutchman. It is
reasonable to suppose that the lumber workers and wood mill-men would use their
relevant skills and tools to prepare framing and clapboard materials and then
build a house, rather than send the naval-store makers and glassworkers. The
master glassmaker especially 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.
states that they are going to a place as good as any to work for the colony,
which would be true if they needed trees as raw material, and perhaps even a
moving water source to run a mill. (It is difficult to imagine a plan to
seriously manufacture deal -softwood lumber- without a water powered sawmill,
standard 1607 technology; even though a mill of that type is not mentioned some
of the craftsmen are described as “millners” (millers)).
Smith is clear that the trial of glass, soap-ash and naval-stores, but
not mill-work, happened during the time these Dutchmen were with Powhatan.
In a different source, Smith mentions that clapboard was sent to England as
but clapboard is created by manually riving hardwood, not through a milling
process, so semi-skilled English colonists should have been performing that
work, which Smith explicitly states they were quickly trained to do. Therefore
Dutchmen were almost certainly the Lumber millers. All told, this is the
strongest case for associating a craft with any of the eight.
Naval Stores and Potash men. There
is almost no clue offered by the evidence from the 1608-1610 period. However,
several years later, in 1619, we know that Poles were associated with the
production of Tar, Pitch, Turpentine, and Potash. It is exceedingly unlikely
that these were the same Poles, since there were few survivors from the 1610
"starving time" and the casualty rate in other years was also high.
There is plausibility to the idea that replacements were sought from the same
source from whom Captain Smith claimed he had found good service. However, this
is a weak brand of speculation, and so although we can say these were probably
Poles there is a substantial chance that some of these were Dutchmen.
The Glassmakers. Perhaps
because of the "high-tech" implication of glassmaking, or because of
the survival of actual glassworks remains, special attention has been devoted to
speculation on the identity of the glassmakers. First
allow the observation that if three or four Dutchmen were lumber men, and if
there was at least the possibility that the naval store and potash men were
Dutchmen, and since we know that there were at the very minimum two and probably
more Poles, there is a “body count” problem if we are to believe that yet
another Dutchman or two were the Glassmakers. That is, either the great majority
of the party are Dutchmen, which the wording of the primary sources does not
seem to imply, or we run out of bodies to whom we can assign the work. I think
potentially significant the fact that when the named Dutchmen deserted, Smith
did not send another Dutchman after them to reason with them but instead the
Swiss man Waldi. Does this mean there was no other loyal Dutchman to send? We
can't know. The glassmaker could have been the hypothetical never mentioned
fifth Dutchman – not impossible. However also not probable, so on this basis I
give a slight edge to the Poles as the glassmen.
Dutchmen - Adam, Francis, and Samuel - used the new glass house on Glass House
Point as a hiding place when they smuggled arms out of James Fort. Smith
mentions this isolated spot, one mile from the fort, is where the three plotters
met. This does not suggest they were glassworkers, since they may well have
helped build the glass-house, if they were lumber specialists (as argued above I
strongly believe they were), and there were only a handful of named places in
tiny Jamestown. No other possibly-existing Dutchmen are mentioned in conjunction
with the glassworks
tells us, he is near the glasshouse when he is attacked by Indians, and there
“two of the Poles upon the sands” come to his rescue. This fact is far more
suggestive that the Poles were associated with the Glasshouse, since it carries
the implication that they were working there or at least nearby. Especially
significant, since lumber and potash work was performed even further away:
“But 30 of us he conducted downe the river some 5 myles from James towne, to
learne to make Clapboard, cut downe trees, and lye in woods.” I feel this is
another piece of evidence, even if weak, in favor of the Poles as glassmakers.
association with glassmaking and potash making is also suggestive. Potash
making, as one of the precursor steps for glass, was something that master
Glassmen had exposure to since the usual 17th century practice was
that masters receive some training in all the steps leading up to their work.
Possibility even the Glassman or his assistant had responsibility for potash
production. If the potash maker was Polish, as suggested above, this may again
be a non-coincidental suggestion that the glassmaker was a Pole.
the primary sources are silent. The only new development of the last century of
study is the discovery by archeologists that that some of the glassmaking tools,
and especially a crucible with glass remnants, are from central Germany. On this
basis only, Kelso and Straube state: “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.”
I studied all
the work published and cannot find a defense of their case or references to
other research. The “scholars” mentioned seem to be the authors and perhaps
Philip Barbour, addressed below; other quotations from them current in the
popular press don’t say ‘believe’, but state categorically that the
glassmakers were Germans. Since no comprehensive scholarly defense of the
“German Glassmaker” thesis exists, I attempt below to address arguments I
have encountered in various articles and websites.
archeologist, described his eureka moment when his team uncovered the crucible
with the remnants of glass within, and identified the pot as Grossalmerode
-Hessian in manufacture. On this basis, Dr. Strabe ventured: “current research
indicates that the three German glassmakers that arrived in 1608 were possibly
from Grossalmerode, a Catholic area of Germany near Kassel.”
Kelso and Straube seem to claim to have identified not just the nationality but
the hometown of the glassmaker.
Kelso did not respond to my request for information about any research other
than crucible identification; apparently the pot covers the expansive statement
“current research indicates.” I
would certainly expect Kelso to set great store in the product of his
archeological research. It is not the find’s value that is in question, but in
the speculative interpretation of the find and how they communicated their
speculations to the public as fact.
Some of the found crucibles identified were apparently used as
metallurgical assay pots.
These would be used by the Swiss metallurgist and the English refiners so the
pot’s origins and the craftsmen’s nationality are disconnected.
items made of refractory clay obtainable in only a few places in Europe, were
standard international exports that dominated world trade
– millions were imported into Britain alone.
Unfortunately, with the status of commodity export, a crucible of Hesse origin
proves the glassblowers were Hessian in the same way that the fact that I am
writing this on a made-in-China laptop proves I’m Chinese. (Or that the
Spanish mercury pots found prove there were Spaniards in the expedition, or that
English cullet was used proves that the Glassmaker was English after all.)
It seems unlikely that the agent hiring the glassmaker was deep in Europe
rather than in England or in an easily accessible port such as Amsterdam or
Gdansk. Any scenario is unlikely that requires the new Company (axiomatically
short on cash) to give large cash advances to a newly hired man of uncertain
trustworthiness, and a large cash advance would have been required if he was to
acquire his own materials hundreds of miles away, then to ship a ton of it to
England. Far more likely than a shopping expedition to remote central Germany
was seeking the hire and supplies in England or an accessible market such as
Amsterdam. The pot’s origin as evidence for the glassmakers’ nationality is
Another argument I encountered was that when the Dutchmen all die in
1609-10, glass production ceases, yet tar and pitch continues to be made. First,
the Dutchmen whom we know die were almost certainly the lumbermen. We know as
much about any other Dutchmen’s deaths as we know of any Poles’ deaths,
namely nothing. The craftsmen were brought to train the English and set up
industries. Dozens of English were the real labor force, not a few Poles or
Dutchmen. Some of the surviving ones may have returned to England in 1609, but
most people who stayed died, which fate would not have spared the Poles had they
Glassmaking ultimately proved too technically challenging for the colony,
and they never found a source of pure quartz sand; tar and pitch are more simple
Philip L. Barbour, writing on Jamestown Colony, declared, “… 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
A German-American-pride booster website claims: “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
This interesting argument seems to suggest that Poles
can’t run complicated glassworks, and if they could, we would have heard of
it. Information in English on any
aspect of Polish history or culture is scarce, and if western works do not
mention Polish glassworks, it’s because Western historians don’t read
Polish. I asked Polish scholar Radek Sikorka for help who within a day
generously sent the relevant parts of "Szklo w Polsce od XIV do XVII w”
by Andrzej Wyrobisz 1968; an extract has now been published.
This in-depth scholarly work lists 94 major glassworks in the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during this period, considering the base of
townsmen customers a number proportionate to German works. Wyrobisz references
several articles and books on the subject of the robust Polish Glass industry in
print when Mr. Barbour was researching
the “history of glassmaking in Poland.”
admire Mr. Barbour greatly. He did the great service of challenging several
Polish and Polish-American authors that stated the “fact” that the
glassmakers were Polish, listed with confident authority the names of numerous
alleged Polish Jamestown pioneers, and in some cases their hometowns and
pedigree, and in great detail their many great feats that saved Jamestown. Names
and feats and details not mentioned in the usual primary sources. He kindly
hounded an alleged 1635 primary source ‘diary’, which had the good taste to
It in the spirit of his work in debunking what he described as “sheer
speculation” or “enthusiastic history” that I write today. Yet, when he
apparently restricted his research on Polish Glassworks to his local library, he
sent the pendulum swinging in another direction. Now, we can
observe that a new generation of published sources make new unsubstantiated and
unlikely claims about the identity, hometowns and craft specialty of the
craftsmen of the Second Supply. The record once corrected by Mr. Barbour again
“Mistresse Forrest, and Anne Burras her maide; eight Dutch men and Poles,
with some others, to the number of seaventie persons, &c.” John Smith,
The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles,
together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea
Volume 1, 1624, P.
“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.
John Smith, in Philip Barbour, The
Complete Works of Capt. John Smith 1580-1631 (University of North Carolina Press, 1986) p. 487.
This was the practice of urban glassworks since Roman
times. See "Glass-Making and the Sixth Legion at York,"
H. E. M. Cool; C. M. Jackson; Jason Monaghan; Britannia, Vol. 30.
(1999) pp. 147-162.
John Brereton, A
brief and true Relation of the Discovery of the North Part of Virginia
“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.” Generall Historie P. 194.
Works of Capt. John Smith,
Generall Historie P. 197.
Henry Spelman, Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, 1613.
Works of Capt. John Smith,
Historie of Travaile into Virginia,
Germans were rarely if ever called Dutchmen by 1608. This is proven by a
random test of the use of the term Dutchman in contemporary English text, in
which there was no unambiguous uses of “Dutchman” as German in the first
20 items found on Google Books. Other evidence proffered that these
particular Dutchmen were German is refuted in my article: Rick Orli,
"Dutchmen, Germans and Enthusiastic History," unpublished
manuscript, June 2008.
Generall historie P. 150.
Although some German-American booster websites claim Waldi as a
“Swiss-German”, with a name like his it is difficult to exclude the
possibility that he was actually Swiss-Italian or Swiss-French. The only
time Waldi seems associated with the other Dutchmen is when he is sent to
negotiate with them, a circumstance that may have many explanations.
“…. Some of the Dutch were carpenters, it is
assumed, since they were entrusted with that type of work. Three of the
Dutch took refuge with Powhatan in the winter of 1608-1609, and presumably
they were not on hand when the trial of glass was made in the spring of
1609. This may imply that the Poles on the beach by the river during his
single-handed fight at the glasshouse may be an indication that the Poles
lived there.” Hatch, Charles E., Glassmaking in Virginia, 1607-1625. William and Mary College Quarterly Historical
2nd Ser., Vol. 21, No. 2. (Apr., 1941), pp. 119-138.
They would necessarily have brought the mill with them, with most parts
prefabricated. A mill requires special parts made of seasoned wood of the
appropriate type: elm for hubs, pear or apple for cogs, ash for working
beams, etc. A large water powered mill requires an axle up to two feet
diameter of a wood such as oak: this would take 6 years or longer to season.
The Jamestown crew simply could not have constructed a mill with local
materials except for some frames and other less-important structural pieces.
Generall historie P. 175.
Captain Smith’s Letter to the Treasures and Council of Virginia, quoted in
Arber, Smith’s Works, part 2, 443.
William M Kelso with Beverly Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery, 1994-2004
(Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 2004) p. 188.
B. Straube, N. Luccketti; 1997 Interim Report on the APVA Excavations at Jamestown, Virginia (Association
for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 1997).
March 2007), for example. Numerous of their other publications state without
qualification that the glassmakers were German. Straube is also quoted in
many popular press articles, such as one in Smithsonian magazine, asserting
the German nationality of the glassmakers.
Martinón-Torres, M., Rehren, T., and Freestone, I. “Mullite and the
mystery of Hessian wares”, Nature 444, 437-438 (23 November 2006).
Martinón-Torres, M., Rehren, T., "The
“Mystery” of the Post-Medieval Triangular Crucible Reconsidered – A
Global Perspective." Proceedings
of 34th International Symposium on Archaeometry,
May, 2004, (Zaragoza, 2004).
Barbour, Philip L., “The Identity of the First Poles in America,” William
& Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, Volume XXI, January 1964, p. 90.
Orli, Rick, “Glass making in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth 16th-17th
(Accessed March 2007).
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