Martin's Hundred

   The Indian attack against the small English settlement near Jamestown on March 22, 1622, was brief and vicious. When it ended, 58 Europe­ans were dead. Another 20 were carried off as hostages. Their scattering of homes and outbuildings, which may have rivaled the original Jamestown settlement of 1607 in size, never recovered from the treacherous blow. Within a few years, it vanished completely, its name and location utterly forgotten for three and a half centuries.

   The brief history of the small community shows the fragility of the early European settlements in America. Most of the settlers at the tract, located about ten miles downriver from Jamestown, left England in 1618 aboard the ship Gift of God. There were about 220 in all, under the auspices of the Virginia Company of London, the private shareholders' group that had founded Jamestown. The 20,000 acre tract that would be home to the Gift of God contingent was considered to be a hun­dred, a British term for a unit of land capable of supporting one hundred families. As Richard Mar­tin was the leading shareholder, it was called Martin's Hundred.

   Bad luck dogged the venture from the start. Some settlers died on the Atlantic crossing, and the main contingent rested for a time at Jamestown. The ranking officer to survive the voyage, John Boise, was responsible for parceling out land to the settlers. He hurried to establish the first fortified home at Martin's Hundred because the settlers were concerned about inva­sion by England's European enemies, Spain and France.

   When the settlers finally reached their new home, they numbered about 140. They soon built a larger fort, houses, and a sizable common barn. Their town was named after the most prominent shareholder in their London company, Sir John Wolstenholme (who had backed the ill-fated explorer Henry Hudson in his search for the Northwest Passage). The community began to thrive.

   But not everyone was pleased by its success. Watching the colonists, the Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy—led by Chief Opechancanough—were gripped, as one of the surviving colonists later put it, by "the dayly feare . . . that in time we . . , would dispossesse them of this Country." Their solution: an uprising against all the settlements in the Virginia Tidewater area.

   When the blow fell, more than twenty communities were attacked, and about 350 Europeans killed. Wolstenholme Towne was among the hardest hit. According to survivors, the Indians disguised their intentions by arriving at the towns unarmed. Some of them even "sate downe at Breakfast." Then, at a signal, the guests grabbed up the tools and weapons of the English and began to kill. A colonist later noted that the attackers were "so sodaine in their cruell execution, that few or none discerned the ... blow that brought them to destruction." The attackers mangled and scalped many of the corpses.

Among those killed was Richard Kean, the governor's deputy. John Boise was out of town when the attack came and survived; but his servants were killed, and his home destroyed. His wife, listed as dead, was carried off as a hostage and released a year later, "caparisoned like an Indian queen."

   The attack destroyed all but two houses at Martin's Hundred and reduced the population to about 62 settlers. More important, it broke the group's spirit. By 1625, only 30 people still lived on the tract. By 1645, according to present evidence, the place was uninhabited. No one knows precisely when the Martin's Hundred plantation faded out of existence. Eventually only the name was left, and even that was altered by usage over time to Merchant's Hundred. When a plantation called Carter's Grove was built near the original town location, even the name disappeared. The original settlement was buried under plowed fields.

   The resurrection of Martin's Hundred began in 1969, after the Carter's Grove site became the property of the Colonial Williamsburg foundation. In 1976, archaeologists searching for eighteenth-century outbuildings to the mansion stumbled upon traces of the older structures. The layout of the housing sites, plus the placement of the barn, convinced them of links between Wolstenholme Towne's plan and English settle­ments in what is now Northern Ireland, where colonies had been established early in the seventeenth century. Wolstenholme Towne has now been partially reconstructed for the benefit of tourists and historians. Despite death and long obscurity, the Martin's Hundred settlers have outlasted their enemies, for the tribes that so rightly feared the colonists' suc­cess have largely vanished.