Founded in May 1607 by the Virginia Company of London, Jamestown was the site of England’s first permanent settlement in the New World and the capital of its Virginia colony until 1699. From the beginning, the venture in Virginia had close associations with Ireland, where England was concurrently engaged in the Plantation of Ulster.
Leading members of the Virginia Company were influenced by personal experience in Ireland, where more than forty of them held office, owned land, or had other business interests. Some members of the founding expedition were veterans of the Irish wars, and had among their subordinates Francis Magnel, an Irish-born sailor who lived at Jamestown until April 1608.
Dennis O’Connor, a tradesman of Irish birth or descent, reached Jamestown in October 1608. He probably died there during the 1609-1610 winter famine known as ‘the starving time’.
The architecture of the Virginia settlement also had Irish precedents. The plan of James Fort, a triangular enclosure erected in 1607, bore striking similarities to a 1601 fort built by English forces on the River Blackwater in Co. Armagh. In orientation and layout, the town that later spread out from the Fort resembled the fortified villages built by English planters in Ulster.
1994, archaeologists excavating the rediscovered Fort have unearthed copper
pennies and a halfpenny minted for use in Ireland. The Irish coins, dated 1601
and 1602, satisfied the Virginia settlers’ needs for small change and for
copper objects to trade with the local Indians.
William M. Kelso, Jamestown Rediscovery III (Richmond, Virginia, 1997)
David B. Quinn, Ireland and America: Their Early Associations, 1500-1640 (Liverpool, 1991)
John W. Reps, Tidewater Towns (Williamsburg, Virginia, 1972)
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Irish Connections at America’s Birthplace: Jamestown
Just how Francis Magnel came to be numbered among
’s earliest settlers is still something of a mystery. Virginia