Here is another example of a man who could be lauded as a hero or condemned as a villain. Your choice.

Sam Mathews, born about 1580-1590, was almost a middle-aged man by the time he stepped on Jamestown soil. He had been hired by Robert Johnson, one of the two sheriffs of London in 1618. Sheriffs work included helping the judges of the courts. It was, and is, a very prestigious position, unlike the American sheriff who is head of a county-level law enforcement. Robert Johnson, who started as a grocer, had written advertising pamphlets and booklets for the Virginia Company of London. Politically active and a shareholder in the Virginia Company, he was very concerned about colonization across the Atlantic. Sam Mathews represented Johnson, likely, in going to Virginia and helping establish a “hundred” the year Johnson was sheriff.

A hard-worker, Mathews lived for a while at Jamestown. He moved to Shirley Hundred, one of Lord DeLaWare’s estates, with several  of Johnson’s employees. Shortly after that, Deputy governor Argall (1617-1618) made him a Captain and put him in charge of men at Harryhattock (possibly Henrico?).

Before 1623, Mathews was a member of the House of Burgesses. In 1624, he was nominated as a commissioner for the Mandeville Commission. This was the Privy Council’s investigation into Virginia’s viability as an independent colony, run by a company. He was both on the side of the colonists and on the side of the King, simultaneously. He walked a thin line. But it was of no use. The recommendations were never considered. The contract with the Virginia Company of London was cancelled and Virginia became a royal colony, owned and operated by the king.

Mathews loved Virginia and put money into its development. He earned land through the “head-right” system: fifty acres of land for every person he paid passage for to the colony. By the late 1620s, he was a major landowner, especially in the area east of Jamestown. This is where Newport News and Norfolk, Va stand today.

By 1628, Mathews was an outstanding man in his own right and, now in his late 30s, was ready to marry. He had known Frances Grenville West, a widow, who had married the younger brother of the Lord Delaware. She remarried a man, Abraham Peirsey, said to be the richest man in Jamestown. But he died two or so years later. She was executix of his estate for his two daughters.  It did not take Frances and Samuel to get together. With this marriage came a large estate on the south side of the river, which they renamed Flowerdew. It was to go to the two daughters, one of whom had just married.

Between 1628 and 1633, when Frances died, it is accused, they treated the plantation poorly, moving servants and possessions to Mathews new place, which he named Mathew’s Manor. It was a place of hospitality to all. It quickly became an outstanding little town in its own right, partly to the detriment of the two young ladies who lost their inheritance.

Meanwhile, the new governor, Sir John Harvey, who arrived in early 1630, had plans. He wanted to encourage farms with food stuffs, start settling the southern bank of the York River, build a palisade across the peninsula from the James to the York Rivers, a six mile long project, and get on better terms with the Indians. The Governor’s Council, of which Mathews was a member, was not entirely on board. Harvey was not one to negotiate. He handled the Council by being alternately generous and cruel to members.

With Mathews, he offered the man a year  of tax-free shipping of his tobacco. Mathews built up wealth with that year. In return, Mathews built, with colonial backing of over a million pounds of tobacco, a fort at Point Comfort, the eastern-most end of the James River as it emptied into the Chesapeake. Mathews also assisted in building the palisade, which would keep the cows in the English portion of the peninsula and keep the Indians out.

In 1633 and 1634, several things happened to get Mathews into deep trouble with the governor. His wife, Frances, died, leaving him with a toddler and a newborn. With her death, Abraham Piersey’s plantation, Flowerdew, had no executrix. One of the daughters, Mary, and her husband, Thomas Hill sued Mathews. He, having more important things to do, ignored it. The lawsuit and its variants continued for almost five years.

The other problem was the settling of Maryland, which led to skirmishes between the Catholics and Mathews’ friend William Clayborne, who was told that his trading post on Kent Island was no longer in Virginia, but Maryland. Mathews’ love of the English did not extend to Catholics. When Harvey was given orders to help Baltimore’s Catholic settlers in Maryland, Mathews was most insistent that he would not. He threw his hat on the ground and swore. For a year, the governor and the Virginia colonists had a verbal battle going over Harvey not supporting the colonists vs Harvey supporting the king’s wishes.

This all came to a head in late April, 1635, when several men, Francis Pott, Nicholas Martinau and William English, got arrested for complaining about Harvey to a packed house. Harvey called for an emergency meeting of the Council. The majority felt the arrested men had the right to complain. Harvey wanted to jail them and declare martial law. The afternoon ended with Mathews, John Utie, William Pierce, George Menifee and John Pott participating in arresting Harvey for treason and putting him under house arrest. None of their actions were allowed under English law. But they went on to have Harvey impeached and sent him to London to face trial.

Harvey was sent back by the king who ordered Mathews, Utie, Pierce and Menifee sent to London for trial. They waited a year plus in London and the trial was ultimately dismissed.

In the meantime, Governor Harvey allowed the Peirsey daughters to ransack Mathews’ place and take anything they could identify as theirs or their father’s. Harvey married the older sister, Elizabeth, who had been widowed, with young children. She sold her half of the inheritance, land. The younger sister, Mary, could not improve her land and house. It was too far gone.

Mathews, who had married Sarah Hinton in the meantime, brought his little family home from England to a damaged house. He went on to remodel his home and plantation where his boys could grow up safely. Mathews and his wife became a major source of hospitality in the early colony.

He outlived the other three men who went with him to London. He became a Councilor and a representative to London until his death in 1658. And he saw his son, Samuel Jr. become the governor of Virginia in the late 1650s.

Dr. John Potts: Hero or Villain?

Dr. John Potts: Hero or Villain?


A third man for you to evaluate: Was John Pott a hero or a villain? A reader can see it either way.

John Pott was a surgeon and epidemiologist (of the 17th century variety). He had earned a Master of Arts at Oxford in 1605. In the next fifteen years, he practiced medicine in the environs of London and associated with leaders of the medical community.

By the late 1610s, Pott had gotten tired of the London scene, or had his sights on adventure. In either case, Pott, his wife Elizabeth, and several servants left England aboard the ship, George, in March, 1619 and landed in Jamestown in June. Because the year number changed on March 25 every year, it is likely that the ship landed in June 1620.

Dr. Lawrence Bohune arrived in Jamestown with Thomas West, Lord De La Ware, in June 1610, as the governor’s personal doctor. When the governor became ill in the spring, Bohune returned to England with him. Almost ten years later, December 1620, Bohune, who was living in England,  was appointed surgeon general of the colony. Part of his recompense was 500 acres of land and twenty servants. He and his stepson left for Virginia at the end of January. On a stop for water in the West Indies, their ship, Margaret and John, was attacked by Spanish ships and Bohune was killed.

When news got to Virginia that their doctor had died, John Pott saw an opportunity for land and prestige. He got the recommendation of an old friend, Dr. Theodore Gulston, read into the minutes of the Virginia Company on July 16, 1621: “For so much as the Phisicons place to the Company was now become voyde by reason of the untimely death of Dr. Bohune, slaine in the fight with two Spanish Shipps of Warr the 19th of March last, Dr. Gulstone did now take occasion to recommend unto the Company for the said place one Mr. Potts, a Master of Arts, well practised in Chirurgerie and Physique, and expert also in distillinge of waters.”

Pott made sure to negotiate the same recompense as Bohune, including a box of medical tools.

Being in a premier position, Pott quickly became active in the political and social scene. He was soon appointed to the Governor’s Council, which advised the governor, participated in the General Assembly and presided over the General Court. George Sandys, poet, cousin-in-law of Governor Yeardley, and treasurer of the colony, did not approve of Pott, calling him a “cipher” and a “pitiful counselor”. Others referred to Pott as a very friendly man who “appears to have been a jovial, easy-going man, fond of company and liquor.” Some of his actions were questionable, and he was frequently under the scrutiny of his peers.

In 1622, the Indians, becoming concerned about the expansion of the white people, attacked the colony early one morning in March and killed about one third (350 people) of the settlers. After some months, the settlers had a peace ceremony with hundreds of Indians from around the Chesapeake area. Two hundred warriors were poisoned with wine. Since Pott was known to have experience with all kinds of medicines, he was blamed. An investigation ensued and Pott was not found guilty. His council seat was returned to him. No one else was ever blamed. But some continued to be suspicious.

Pott had a plot of land in Jamestown. In 1623, Captain John Harvey (later governor) was a commissioner with three others (Pory, Mathews and the cape merchant Piersey). While there, Pott observed Harvey abusing Harvey’s former servant. He ended up testifying in court against Harvey. The servant was probably happy. Harvey was not.

In 1624, he was removed for a time from the Council by Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick and a Virginia Company investor, for actions he felt made Pott unfit for state employment, writing “desiring Sec. Conway to put Mr. Potts name out of it, His Majesty knows the reason, he was the poisoner of the Savages there (in Virginia) and therefore it is very unfit that he should be employed by the state in any business.”

Pott was a member of the Council in May of 1625 and in 1628 became acting governor at the death of George Yeardley.

When Sir John Harvey, the nominated governor, came to Virginia, Pott’s reputation was upended again. By this time, Pott had a number of enemies. Pott, as governor, had upheld the law requiring swearing to believe the Anglican religion. So, when Lord Baltimore asked for temporary asylum for his Catholic friends, Pott denied it. A number of people were not happy. Harvey was a friend of Baltimore. He was likely not happy with the way Pott treated his friend. At the same time, seven years may not have been enough time for Harvey to remember Pott’s testimony on the abuse of a servant. Thus, there were two reasons Harvey had it out for Pott.

Pott was immediately reported for allowing a murderer to go free and holding on to cattle he did not own. Harvey soon brought him to court on charges of “felony”. Harvey confiscated Pott’s property and kept him under house arrest for three months. Although Pott insisted the evidence was unreliable, the jury of thirteen found him guilty. Harvey reversed himself and wrote to the King asking for a pardon because Pott was the only medical officer in the colony. The King investigated and determined that the finding of a felony on such flimsy evidence was drastic. A year later, Pott was free, and his property returned to him.

After that, Pott mostly retired from politics and concentrated on his medical practice, having a small vessel that went up and down the James River visiting patients.

In 1632, based partly on health considerations and partly on Harvey’s campaign to enlarge the colony and move inland, Pott bought land seven miles from the James River, starting a popular move to what became Williamsburg.

Three years later, Pott, his brother Francis, Samuel Mathews and several others had the largest rebellion to date in the colony. Francis Pott and two others were arrested for making speeches against the unpopular Harvey. The Governor’s Council met with Harvey to discuss this. However, Harvey tried to arrest some of the councilors. At the same time, the Council arrested Harvey, impeached him and sent him to London for trial. Dr. Pott was very active in this event, controlling the musketeers who would guard John Harvey until he left for England. His brother, Samuel Mathews and two others were sent to London to be tried for treason. A year later, they returned, after the charges were dropped.

Pott and his wife never had children, which was probably just as well. Captain Francis Pott and a nephew, John Pott, Jr. inherited most of his possessions.

External link: Doctor, Poisoner, Governor, Rebel: John Pott, America’s “Founding Physician” – The UncommonWealth (





The youngest of eight brothers, and a few sisters, Sam Argall was born about 1580 in Kent, England, the son of Richard Argall and Mary Scott. His father died when he was still of a tender age and his mother remarried within a few years. Her new husband was a Washington, the great uncle of the Lawrence Washington who moved to Virginia years later.

Samuel’s brothers started dying before he was an adult, and he became an heir with a yearly stipend. Soon he was a soldier in the Low Countries. And then became enamored of the sea and ships. By his mid-20s, he had a ship and was one of many captains making money in the fishing trade near Canada. In 1609, Captain Argall was in the employ of the Virginia Company of London as a ship’s captain. His assignment was two-fold, find a shorter route to Virginia and catch sturgeon, which were well known for their caviar. He did find a much faster route, sailing south to the Azores, due west to Bermuda and north north-west to the James River. He made his first trip in just over nine weeks, cutting the trip by a third.

A year later, 1610, Captain Argall saw Jamestown for the first time, bringing the Lord De La Ware from England to start his governorship. The place was a wreck. A large number of the Jamestown population had died in the “Starving Time”. The sixty or so residents left wanted to leave and were on their way to the Atlantic in ships when Argall’s ship hailed them. De La Ware insisted on all returning to the site of much suffering and the fresh people from the ship began to care for the sick and repair the fort. That fall, while the building was going on, Argall explored the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Unfortunately, by the following spring, the governor was so sick with malaria that Argall had to take him back to England.

Argall was sent back to Virginia when news came that French Catholic missionaries had moved into northern Virginia colony(now Maine). His assignment was to oust them. He crossed with his ship Treasurer in 1612. But first, before taking care of the French, he helped the new governor Dale with subduing the Indians. He went abroad, sailing into the Chesapeake, where he found friendlier natives, of the Patawomeck tribe. These people he could be on better terms with, trading for corn and other necessities. Thus, Argall developed a degree of diplomacy with the tribe and the chief, Iopassus. In 1613, he got Iopassus to help him kidnap Pocahantas. Despite the violence of such action, the result was a truce between the English and the Indians that lasted several years.

In  mid 1613, Argall sailed his Treasurer along the coast up to Maine, where he found the missionaries and routed them, taking hostages. Then he sailed to Manhattan where he attacked the Dutch. By late in the year, he was back in Jamestown, where he stayed til the next summer.

He made the round trip to England, returning in February 1615. While in England, there were hearings regarding his attack on the French outposts. They determined that he acted correctly. Then he took Pocahantas and her husband, John Rolfe to England in 1616, returning with a saddened widower the next year.

This time, in 1617, Argall returned as a deputy governor, willing to follow the policies and discipline of the past two governors, Gates and Dale. Think of martial law. Many were not comfortable with him, even though he was not nearly as demanding a governor as the other two. Word got back to England that he was not acceptable and it appears that he heard word that he would be arrested when the new governor, George Yeardley landed. Two weeks or so before that, Argall left.

In England, he was questioned about his leadership and seemed to be in trouble for a while. Possibly to get out of that trouble, he manned a 24 gun ship in an expedition against Algiers. Showing his strengths and winning the questioning, Argall was knighted in 1622. He was also made a member of the Council of New England and was very faithful in his work. In 1624, he was nominated to the governorship of Virginia but was not elected. Then he was promoted to Admiral.

His last assignment was to participate in the poorly designed marine attack on Cadiz in the fall of 1625. He may have been wounded or sickened by the plague that was rampant among the sailors. In any case, he died in January 1626.

There is no record of his having ever married, but some say he left a daughter. Although she was not in his will, she supposedly inherited his land in Virginia.




Of the five primary characters in my WIP, the oldest, and most studious, was John Pory.

Born in 1572, John and his twin sister, Mary, were the children of William Pory and his wife, Anne Ball. Anne was the half sister of Martha Stanley, who married Anthony Flowerdew. Their daughter, Temperance, married George Yeardley, who became governor of Virginia in 1619. John Pory got the job of secretary to Yeardley at that time. He played a large role in the establishment of the House of Burgesses that same year.

The younger Pory was an intelligent young man and went to Cambridge for his education, where he received his bachelor’s degree at 20 and his masters at 23. Early in his career, around 1597, Pory became an associate and protégé of the geographer and author Richard Hakluyt; Hakluyt later termed Pory his “very honest, industrious, and learned friend”. It was at Hakluyt’s urging that Pory engaged in his first literary effort, a translation of a geographic work by Leo Africanus that was published as A Geographical Historie of Africa (1600).

Not being a traveler, himself, Hakluyt surrounded himself with men who had an interest in travel, geography and who urged colonization of the New World. Among them were Captain John Smith, who Hakluyt encouraged. This author assisted in setting up the plans for the first trips to Virginia in the early 1600s and was intimately involved in the establishment of the Virginia Company. We can see where Pory got his interest.

Elected a member of Parliament from the borough of Bridgwater in 1605, Pory served until 1610. But that did not stop him from traveling. In 1607, Pory travelled through France and what is now Belgium and the Netherlands. He was involved in a plan to introduce silkworm breeding to England. Returning to England, he finished his term in Parliament, then returned to the continent. Between 1611 and 1616, he travelled through Europe, including Italy and even Constantinople. There he served as secretary to the English ambassador, Sir Peter Pindar. For a few months he served as the secretary to the English ambassador to Savoy, Sir Isaac Wake. He made the acquaintance of Sir Dudley Carlton, ambassador to Venice and then The Netherlands. This man was to share many letters with Pory over the years.

Right around the time that John returned to England, his cousin’s husband was appointed governor of Virginia for a period of three years. George asked John to come with him as secretary in 1618. Soon after arriving, George informed John that they would have a board of representatives from around the colony. John helped to form the board and wrote the first rules. He assisted at the first meetings and helped regulate the tobacco trade. Pory was in town when the White Lion delivered the first twenty-odd Angolans to Jamestown in exchange for food, the beginning of the servant-slavery trade. He even went exploring Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore with Thomas Savage in 1620. In 1621, he returned to England.

Less than two years later, King James I of England was not happy with the poor economy of the Virginia Company’s colony. He wanted it investigated. Lord Mandeville, of the Privy Council, set up a commission. To this commission he assigned John Pory, who had spent three years there, Captain John Harvey, a man who had transported several hundred immigrants to the colony, Abraham Piersey, the colony’s cape merchant and Samuel Mathews, a prominent citizen to join together and do the investigation on the quality of the colony. They wrote reports to be sent to Lord Mandeville. Pory also bribed the new secretary to get a copy of the responses from the burgesses. He had switched from supporting the colonists to finding major faults.

That was his last trip to the colonies. He wrote books about his experiences in Virginia and about his observations when he stopped at Plymouth for a short time. They are still available to purchase 400 years later.

In London from the early 1620s on, Pory helped Nathaniel Butter, who was creating news periodicals for the English public.[6] Headquartered at Butter’s shop at the sign of the Pied Bull, Pory was a “correspondent” in the literal sense, who maintained exchanges of letters with the wide variety of prominent people he had met and cultivated in his earlier public career. Other similarly situated men of his generation, like John Chamberlin, played comparable roles in such correspondences and exchanges of news; Pory was perhaps unique in that he turned his knowledge and contacts into commercial news ventures, Butter’s early newspapers. Pory also ran his own manuscript news service, charging patrons for regular news reports.

Although John Pory is seen as a precursor to today’s journalists, his contemporaries tended to see him as an alcoholic and a gossip and a busy body who had many friends. Because he was so gossipy, John Pory left us a legacy of one-of-a-kind comments on the everyday life in the colonies at an early point.

External link:

Mary Katherine Goddard, American Publisher

Mary Katherine Goddard, American Publisher

The Goddard Document

One of our early Founding Mothers has a long list of “firsts” to her credit. Mary Katherine Goddard was born June 13 1738 in either Groton or New London, Connecticut. Her parents, Dr. Giles Goddard and Sarah Updike Goddard, had one younger son, William. They educated both children, which was unusual for the time. Since Dr. Goddard was both a medical doctor and the postmaster of New London, it was mostly left to Sarah to tend to the teaching. William was apprenticed to a publisher while Mary Katherine stayed at home. But that did not last long.

Dr. Goddard died and William began the first newspaper in Providence, RI, the Providence Gazette. His mother and sister moved to Providence for support. William put both women to work on that publication and on West’s Almanack, an annual publication. Then William walked away from the business and moved to Philadelphia. The ladies ran the newspaper on their own for three years before William decided to sell it in 1768 and move his family to Philadelphia to join him.

Mary Katherine helped William publish the Pennsylvania Chronicle from 1768 to August of 1773. By that time, William got wanderlust again and moved to Baltimore. For about five months, Mary Katherine ran the publication alone. Then she sold her interest and moved to be with her brother again. He had come up with another business venture: a postal delivery service.

Although she began as an assistant, by May of 1775, Mary Katherine was acknowledged as the editor and publisher on the masthead of the Maryland Journal, probably the first woman publisher before the Revolution. William’s postal service was a hit. But Benjamin Franklin became the postmaster general, not William. That same year, Franklin named her the first female postmaster in the colonies, and probably the first female employee of the new government, a job she held for fourteen years. However, with the war, the Continental Congress had so little money that Mary Katherine had to find her own funds to pay the postal riders. Money was so hard to come by that she bartered with subscribers and accepted payment in beeswax, meat, flour and butter.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. At Christmas, with the British chasing the American soldiers out of Pennsylvania, many colonists were becoming afraid of the Revolution. Then, to everyone’s delight, the war turned, and Washington won at Trenton. The Continental Congress decided to reprint the document, with the names of all the men who had signed, to boost morale. The first printing had only two signatures. Mary Katherine offered to reprint it. At the bottom of the document, she proudly printed her name as publisher. This printing is called the Goddard Broadside. As the war progressed, she published news from the warfront, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and extra editions as she saw fit. The Maryland Journal was one of the few continuously published papers throughout the Revolution.

During the war, the Journal contained the standard news, but also supported the American view of the war, supporting the growth of linen and the making of cloth, for the women to do their part in the fight.

In 1779, William and a partner set up a paper mill to solve the problem of the paper shortages that were throughout the colonies. Many publications had to stop or reduce issues due to the shortage. Mary Katherine did not close down. However, in 1784, right after the end of the war, William forced her out. They had made the Maryland Journal into one of the most highly read journals in the country. Yet, he ended her tenure. Luckily, she still had her postmaster job. But she never talked to him again.

By 1789, with postal services in demand, all postal employees were expected to travel far distances to deliver the mail. As a female, it was considered unseemly for a woman to travel that far alone. Despite over 200 signatures on a petition supporting her, Mary Katherine lost her job.

When she lost her job as publisher, Mary Katherine began a store in Market Square, Baltimore selling books and dry goods. She ran it from 1784 to 1810.

Mary Katherine Goddard died August 12, 1816, after witnessing the invasion of Washington, DC by the British four years earlier. She left her estate to the woman who tended her in her last years, Belinda Starling, a slave who was freed in the will.