The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Advanced Placement United States History Study Guide

Period 2: 1607-1754

A Jamestown settler describes life in Virginia, 1622

Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, January 13, 1622. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)The first English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, who arrived in 1607, were eager to find gold and silver. Instead they found sickness and disease. Eventually, these colonists learned how to survive in their new environment, and by the middle of the seventeenth century they discovered that their fortunes lay in growing tobacco.

This 1622 letter from Jamestown colonist Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, a Dutch merchant living in London, provides a snapshot of the colony in flux. Brandt, who likely arrived in 1619 in a wave of 1,200 immigrants, writes of his wife’s and brother’s deaths the previous year almost in passing. He mentions that, due to his own illness, he “was not able to travell up and downe the hills and dales of these countries but doo nowe intend every daye to walke up and downe the hills for good Mineralls here is both golde silver and copper.” Most of Brandt’s letter is devoted to its real purpose: putting in orders for cheese, vinegar, tools, spices, and other assorted goods from the London Company that were not available in Virginia. Interestingly, he promises to pay in tobacco and furs—not in the gold and copper he’s looking for.

We know little about Brandt. He does not appear in any known existing official records, and historians presume he died not long after writing this letter. The glimpse he offers into early Jamestown serves as a tantalizing example of the challenges and thrills of studying colonial American history.

A full transcript is available.


Well beloved good friend Henry Hovener

My comendations remembred, I hartely [wish] your welfare for god be thanked I am now in good health, but my brother and my wyfe are dead aboute a yeare pass’d And touchinge the busynesse that I came hither is nothing yett performed, by reason of my sicknesse & weaknesse I was not able to travell up and downe the hills and dales of these countries but doo nowe intend every daye to walke up and downe the hills for good Mineralls here is both golde silver and copper to be had and therefore I will doe my endeavour by the grace of god to effect what I am able to performe And I intreat you to beseeche the Right Hon: & Wor: Company in my behalfe to grant me my freedome to be sent either to me I dowbte not to doo well & good service in these countries humbly desyringe them also to provyde me some [appointed] fellowe & a strong boye to assiste me in my businesse, and that it may please the aforesaid Company to send me at my charge a bed wth a bolster and cover and some Linnen for shirtes and sheetes. Sixe fallinge bands wth Last Size pairs of shoes twoo pairs of bootes three pairs of cullered stockings and garters wth three pairs of lether gloves some powder and shott twoo little runletts of oyle and vinnegar some spice & suger to comfort us here in our sicknesse abowte ffyftie pounds weight of holland and Englishe cheese together, Lykewyse some knyves, spoons, combes and all sorts of cullerd beads as you knowe the savage Indians use Allso one Rundlett wth all sortes of yron nayles great and small, three haire sives, two hatchetts wth twoo broad yrons and some Allum And send all these necessaries thinges in a dry fatt wth the first shippinge dyrected unto Mr. Pontes in James Towne here in Virginia And whatsoever this all costes I will not onely wth my moste humble service but allso wth some good Tobacco Bevor and Otterskins and other commodities here to be had recompence the Company for the same And yf you could send for my brother Phillipps Sonne in Darbesheere to come hether itt [were] a great commoditie ffor me or suche another used in minerall workes And thus I comitt you to the Almighty. Virginia 13 January 1622.


EthanS171 wrote 10 years 45 weeks ago

A good source to help students think about immigration from "the very beginning."

smithd wrote 9 years 39 weeks ago

Kids say its like reading a text message. Ha

Gustafsonstudent2 wrote 9 years 37 weeks ago

This fact helps us understand that Virgina settlers weren't apdated to their suroundings yet. They probable didn't apdat their suroundings because they are used the way they lived from wherever they came from. They probable also brought diseases with them and also there was probable diseases unknow to them. So thier their immune systems weren't exposed to the diseases, resulting in a lot of death.

Also, the settlers probable didn't apdat to their suroundings until like three or four months living there. It also shows that the settlers went throuh hardships because they weren't used their environment. The settlers eventually get used by sending orders to London, England and ask for certain things. The certain things they ask for is vinegar, cheese, spices, tools, sugar, and other goods that Virgina didn't have. In conclusion I think the settlers had gone through a lot of hardships.

tyheem anderson wrote 9 years 36 weeks ago

The English settlers grow tobacco and they learned how to live off of there environment.That why they were eager to find gold and silver but instead they found there sickness and they also got diseases.A man named Brandit to Henry Hover arrived who was a dutch merchant to help.

Gustafsonstudent2 wrote 9 years 36 weeks ago


Sebastian Brandt does not mention his brother and wife (wyfe) again except at the beginning of the letter. These conditions tell us that it was very common for people to die back then in the 1600s in Virginia. It could've been caused by plagues or injuries but back then they may have not had the medication to treat them properly. Therefore they died. And Brandt may have not mentioned them again because maybe it was too painful to think about it. This is what I infer from Sebastian Brandt not mentioning his brother and wife (wyfe) again except at the beginning of the letter.

Gustafsonstudent7 wrote 9 years 36 weeks ago


I think i will need I will bring is Soil, seeds and weapons. Because I know when you get to a new place It will be difficult. But with A garden you can use it to eat and sell. And with weapons you can use it for hunting, or when people come to attack.

Gustafsonstudent2 wrote 9 years 36 weeks ago

Gabby's Blog Response
This fact helps us understand that Virgina weren't adpated to thier surrondings yet. They probable didn't adpat to thier surroundinds they were used to the way they lived from wherever they came from, and they arrived during the winter time.They probable brought diseases with them and since the arrived the winter time the weren't used to the unbearable cold. So they probable brought disesases with them, and most of the settlers probable froze to death, resulting in a lot of death.

The settlers probable didn't adpat to their surroundings until about three or four months of living there. But the settlers eventually got used living in America because they sent orders to London, England and traded with them. The things the settlers would traded with London for is cheese, vinegar, spices, tools, sugar, etc. The settlers eventually learned the ways to live in America.

Gustafsonstudent4 wrote 9 years 36 weeks ago

Settler's back In James town didn't really have that much.they didn't have doctor's or medicine so people were getting sick.when the first settlers came to James town they didn't have that much food left so they were hungry and people started to when Sebastian Brandt talked about his brother and wife he didn't talk about them any more because there death was to hard on him he didn't want to talk about them. So since they didn't have medicine they had to die.

Gustafsonstudent4 wrote 9 years 36 weeks ago

The fist sentence of Sebastian Brandt’s letter regarding his brother and wife's passing helps us understand how sick he was. I believe it infers that he was close to dying, he writes that he was thankful to god that he had recovered but also adds of the passing of his brother and wife. This sentence gives us an understanding of how the cause of death in that time period had to do with the spread of disease and how little treatment there was.
- Jazmine

emoy1 wrote 9 years 32 weeks ago

tells what us humans need for survival

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