Statues and Memorials in London: Virginia Settlers

Posted: February 12, 2015 in History, London, Post medieval history, UK
Tags: , , ,

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This monument which stands alongside the River Thames on the north shore between at Blackwall commemorates the three ships which left from here in December 1606 to found the colony at Jamestown. The tablet was a gift from the people of Virginia.The original monument which consisted of the stone structure was unveiled by the American ambassador to London in 1928. The expedition had been funded by ‘The Virginia Company of London’ and it was hoped that it would return large quantities of treasure such as been obtained by the Spanish from their colonies further south.

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The original monument fell into disrepair as the usage of the site, between the entrances to the East India Docks and the West India docks, declined. In the 1990s the land was bought by Barretts the house builders who planned a large housing development on much of the site of the old East India Docks. A local campaign led to them calling the development Virginia Quays and restoring the memorial to the settlers. It was unveiled,in its new form, in 1999 by the American ambassador.

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Captain John Smith was born in 1580 and by the age of 16 was already a seaman. He initially fought as a mercenary against the Spanish and the Ottomans in the Mediterranean. He was knighted for his services by the Transylvannians, but was captured and sold as a slave by the Ottomans before escaping and returning to London. He was recruited by the Virginia Company, setting sail from Blackwall in December 1606. Unfortunately relations between Smith and the ships captain, Christopher Newport, deteriorated and he was charged with mutiny,imprisoned and faced execution. However, on arrival at Jamestown, previously unopened orders revealed that the company had appointed him leader of the community and so he avoided the consequences of his fall-out.He remained a leader of the Colony until August 1609. He is credited with the exploration of inland Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay, mapping these areas.One story has him captured by Indians and only surviving because of the intervention of the chief’s daughter Pocahontas.

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Smith returned to England in 1609 after being injured in an explosion. He returned to the Americas in 1614 mapping the coast further to the north and is reputed to be the first to use the name ‘New England’. He returned to London and began to write accounts of his adventures. Interest in these was high following the visit of Pocahontas to London in 1616. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Sepulchre without Newgate church in central London close to where his statue stands today.

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