The Warrascoyack Plantation

Edward Bennett, a wealthy London merchant, owned a fleet of ships active in early trade with Virginia.  In early 1621 he joined the Virginia Company, and assumed the first of several Company offices in London a few months later.  Later that same year, he and another merchant named Richard Wiseman, along with four associates, proposed to settle an area opposite and downstream from Jamestown on the Pagan River in what was later Isle of Wight County.

The partnership was awarded a patent on 21 November 1621 on its promise to settle 100 planters on the land, to be followed later by another 100.  The following February Bennett’s ship, the Seaflower, arrived with an initial 120 settlers, all of whom were probably indentured –- that is, who had contracted to work for Bennett’s plantation for a few years.  The plantation was called “Warrascoyack” (spelled in an amazing variety of ways from one document to the next), as was the general area in which it was located, after the Indian tribe and village already in the area.

The fate of these initial settlers is a striking example of Virginia’s staggering death rate from disease and starvation, not to mention Indian attack.  Just three years after their arrival, the muster of early 1625 shows not one single survivor from that first ship of 120 settlers still at Warrascoyack.  Barely a month after the arrival of the first shipload of colonists, the Indian massacre on Good Friday 1622 occurred, leaving a quarter of Virginia’s population dead.  Outlying areas were particularly hard hit.  A muster counted 46 of Bennett’s men among the dead, and another 7 elsewhere at Warrascoyack.

The Governor ordered the plantation abandoned and the survivors removed to Jamestown.  More than a year later, in early 1623, the Governor ordered a fort to be built at Warrascoyack and drafted planters from other plantations to do the work.  In June 1623 Robert Bennett wrote to his brother Edward in London that the fort was “building apace” and that he hoped to have enough residents to raise a crop the following year.  There is no record of Bennett importing a second group of settlers, and the original group must have by then been significantly depleted.  The muster of February 1624 taken the following spring showed only 33 people residing at the plantation and listed another 25 who had died there “since April last”.  The muster taken the following year in February 1625  showed only 19 people remaining at Edward Bennett’s plantation.

Later that year, on May 1625, an inventory of patents was sent to London, showing a total of 1,750 acres allotted in Warrascoyack to ten different persons, effectively demonstrating that Bennett’s venture was defunct.  By then, the name “Warrascoyack” had acquired a broader meaning, being applied to all the plantations in the area, and was used in 1634 as the name of the “shire” that included what became Isle of Wight County three years later in 1637.   Bennett and his relatives continued to be quite active in Virginia affairs, and secured large tracts of land elsewhere, but their attempt at a Warascoyack plantation was effectively abandoned.

We know that Christopher Reynolds arrived in 1622 in a ship, coincidentally owned by Edward Bennett, called the John and Francis and  that he was residing in Warrascoyack in 1624, and that he was listed as a servant of Bennett there in the 1625 muster.  But we don’t know whether he arrived alone or as part of a family unit.  Nor whether he was imported as one of Bennett’s colonists or as one of the planters from another plantation drafted for Bennett in 1623.  The latter is a distinct possibility.   At least five of Bennett’s 19 servants in 1625 were obvious “draftees” from other plantations, as they had arrived two years before Bennett’s association with the colony began.   Further, eight of the 19 had not been listed in the prior year’s muster, suggesting that Bennett had bought their contracts in the meantime.

We will never know the answer to the precise circumstances of Christopher Reynolds’ arrival in Virginia, given the lack of surviving records.  What we do know is that he beat enormous odds merely by living through his first few years in Virginia.  A lucky thing for those of us who count him as an ancestor.