The Identity of the 1608 Jamestown Craftsmen

  (Review Draft)

By Rick Orli

June 2008                                                                              

© Richard J. Orli 2008

orlirva 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.[1]

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.[2] Unlike the colonists, who were company shareholders or servants of shareholders, these were probably contractors, and their names do not appear on the colonist lists.

Only the mining mineral/metal ores specialist is known definitely as a “Zwitzar” (Swiss) man named William Waldi (or Volday or Valdo).[3] The national identity of all the other craft specialists requires a degree of conjecture.

Why 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.[4] 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.”[5] 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”. [6] Smith deemed Waldi an imposter who knew little of his craft.[7]  Powhatan killed Adam and Francis after they escaped the fort again in 1609,[8] Samuel was killed by the Indians in 1610, as witnessed by the boy Henry Spelman.[9] Waldi later “dyed most miserably”[10] 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.”[11] 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.[12] 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.”[13]  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.[14]

A well thought-out analysis associating the nationality with the craft was published by Charles Hatch in a 1941 Article.[15]  I believe his analysis stands well today, even considering new evidence. Below is summarized what we know of each set of craftsmen.

The Lumbermen. The lumber mill-men and specialists were probably the three named Dutchmen - Adam, Francis, and Samuel. 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.

Smith also 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)).[16]

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.[17] In a different source, Smith mentions that clapboard was sent to England as well,[18] 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.

The 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.

The named 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

Later, Smith 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.

The close 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.

Beyond that 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.”[19]

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.

Kelso, an 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.”[20] Kelso and Straube seem to claim to have identified not just the nationality but the hometown of the glassmaker.


Answer: Straube and 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.[21]


Some of the found crucibles identified were apparently used as metallurgical assay pots.[22] These would be used by the Swiss metallurgist and the English refiners so the pot’s origins and the craftsmen’s nationality are disconnected.


Crucibles, specialty items made of refractory clay obtainable in only a few places in Europe, were standard international exports that dominated world trade[23] – millions were imported into Britain alone.[24] 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 dismissible.


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 remained.

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 undertakings.

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 (1587–1632)...” [25]. 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 length.

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.[26] 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.”

I 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 vanish.[27] 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 requires correction.


We know for certain that there was one Swiss named Waldi, three Dutchmen named Adam, Francis, and Samuel and probably at least one more Dutchman, and at least two Poles and probably a couple more. We know the Swiss man was a miner or metals specialist. Beyond that is speculation. The evidence and informed reasoning allows me to speculate with confidence that at least three and possibly four of the Dutchmen were lumber millers or wood specialists. The Glassmaker and an assistant were probably Poles (meaning only somewhat better than 50:50 odds). The identity of the potash and naval stores men I believe on some suggestive evidence to be Poles. Perhaps one day the logs or manifest of the Mary and Margaret or other evidence will surface, but until then this is what we know.




[1] “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 grammar, Volume 1, 1624, P. 151.

[2] “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.

[3] John Smith, in Philip Barbour, The Complete Works of Capt. John Smith 1580-1631 (University of North Carolina Press, 1986) p. 487.

[4] 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.

[5] John Brereton, A brief and true Relation of the Discovery of the North Part of Virginia (London 1602).

[6] “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.

[7] Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 487

[8] Generall Historie P. 197.

[9] Henry Spelman, Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, 1613.

[10] Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 487.

[11] Historie of Travaile into Virginia, p. 132.

[12] 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.

[13] Generall historie P. 150.

[14] 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.

[15] “…. 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 Magazine, 2nd Ser., Vol. 21, No. 2. (Apr., 1941), pp. 119-138.

[16] 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.


[17] Generall historie P. 175.

[18] Captain Smith’s Letter to the Treasures and Council of Virginia, quoted in Arber, Smith’s Works, part 2, 443.

[19] William M Kelso with Beverly Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery, 1994-2004 (Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 2004) p. 188.

[20] B. Straube, N. Luccketti; 1997 Interim Report on the APVA Excavations at Jamestown, Virginia (Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 1997).

[21] APVA (accessed 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.

[22] According to Kelso’s own APVA website that pictures these artifacts. (Accessed Nov 2006)

[23] Martinón-Torres, M., Rehren, T., and Freestone, I. “Mullite and the mystery of Hessian wares”, Nature 444, 437-438 (23 November 2006).

[24] 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).

[25] Barbour, Philip L., “The Identity of the First Poles in America,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, Volume XXI, January 1964, p. 90.

[26] Orli, Rick, “Glass making in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth 16th-17th C.” (Accessed March 2007).

[27] Barbour, 1964.

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