Pictured is a reconstructed church of the 17th century. The original settlement was founded by Sir Thomas Dale in 1611 as an alternative to the swampy and dangerous surroundings of Jamestown and was named for Prince Henry, the eldest son of King James I. This site later became part of the Shire of Henrico (1634), renamed Henrico County in 1637. In 1749, that portion of Henrico County that lay south of the James River was detached to form the present-day Chesterfield County. After the visible 1609 decay of the town, the erection of a second town was commenced. Within four months the structures, hospital, framed dwellings on the edge of the river, and one brick home, were more substantial than Jamestown. Nevertheless the new settlement soon showed the same symptoms of decline as Jamestown. The buildings were decaying and in need of constant repair. Source: Ralph Hamor's "True Discourse", p. 30.
One of the early investors in Virginia, Sir Thomas Dale, departed Jamestown in the later summer of 1611 with a strong force of 300 men to proceed up river to establish a new settlement. This settlement was expected to be the chief seat of the Colony and its purpose was to remove the fear of Spanish invaders to the colony. In other words, it would serve as a defensive fortress in the wilderness country. The reason was that the settlers were generally dissatisfied with the Jamestown location. The town was to be named Henrico in honor of a protector and patron of the colony, Henry, Prince of Wales. While Marshal Dale took a party upstream by boat while the larger part of settlers went overland, led by Captain Edward Brewster. But the latter party was met with resistance from the Indian chief, Munetute whom the Englishmen referred to as "Jacke of the Feathers". After various skirmishes with the Indians, however, Dale and Brewster rendezvoused at the appointed place where they began construction of a fort on a peninsula which jutted into the James River from the north side several miles below the Arrahatock village while the Indians continued their protests. In about fifteen days, Dale had impaled seven acres of ground and then set to work to build watch towers upon each of the five corners of the town. They also constructed a church and some storehouses. After this was accomplished, houses and lodgings were constructed for Dale and his men. The site was two miles inland and it ran from river to river making an island of the neck upon which Henrico stood. Presumably this palisade faced a ditch. But the project cost Dale his life, but Dale Laws prevailed, punishing deserters and law breakers. George Percy related the results in graphic terms. Some "in a moste severe manner cawsed to be executed. Some he appointed to be hanged, some burned, some to be broken upon wheles, others to be staked and some to be shott to deathe; all theis extreme and crewell tortures he used and inflicted upon them to terrefy the reste for attemptinge the like." Yet these stern measures produced results and few of his contemporary associates took issue including John Rolfe, Ralph Hamor, Reverend Alexander Whitaker and even Sir Edwin Sandys. To them, motivated by the spirit of the time, hard conditions required stern handling. During the year of 1612, Robert Johnson evaluated the new settlement as he saw it: "the colony is removed up the river forescore miles further beyond Jamestown to a place of high ground, strong and defensible by nature, a good air, wholesome and clear, unlike the marshy seat at Jamestown, with fresh and plenty of water springs, much fair and open grounds freed from woods, and wood enough at hand." In 1614 Hamor described the town here as having " three streets of well framed howses, a hansom Church, and the foundations of a more stately one laid, of brick, in length one hundred foote, and fifty foot wide, beside store houses, watch houses, and such like." Near it, and behind the pale, was a great quantity of ground corn, enough to support the whole Colony and easy for manuring and husbandry. Yet not more than two years had passed before the " "Citty of Henricus" had retrogressed, perhaps, out of emphasis on Bermuda City just down river. At this time there were only 38 men and boys in Henrico. Even though the "citty" continued its decline, the Incorporation carried on its name. In 1619 Henrico was reported to have had but a few old houses, and a "ruinated" Church. It continued, however, as a fixed community until it was finally destroyed by the Indians during the famous massacre of March 22, 1622. After the tally was made, however, only five were killed at Henrico Island.
County and Probate Records to Help you Find your Virginia Ancestors