In the first few years in the English settlement at Jamestown, colonists built small, isolated, fortified structures- called blockhouses- around the perimeter of the main settlement to provide refuges, observation posts, and rallying points in the case of attack. On 29 Mar. 1610, Paspahegh Indians, who consistently resisted the English incursion into their territory, attacked the blockhouse near here, killing the soldiers stationed there. The attack was in retaliation for the February killing of their leader, Wowinchapuncke. On 20 May 1611, Sir Thomas Dale directed the raising of another blockhouse “on the north side of our back river to prevent the Indians from killing our cattle.”
Blockhouses were early American structures that were built in order to ensure protection for the nearby colonial settlements. Traditionally, they were used as defense posts against possible native Indian attacks. The blockhouses were constructed of wooden timbers and beams and were fortified using loop-hole style architecture on its sides to accommodate for muskets and weapons (Tyler, 150). They were guarded by a garrison, which is simply a group of troops designated with the job of protecting a specific entity whether it be a fort or a city. The garrison was solely responsible for any forms of trade between the colonists and the natives, as they were the only ones authorized to trade with natives (The Southern and Western Literary Messenger, 136).
In the Spring of 1609, the first blockhouse at Jamestown was erected. This first blockhouse was located at the neck where the Island connects to the mainland. In May of 1610, Sir Thomas Gates arrived to the Jamestown colony and acknowledged the growing native indian threat to the colony, stating of the natives “fast killing without the fort as the famine and pestilence within.”(Tyler, 150). Because of this, in May of 1611 when Sir Thomas Dale arrived in Jamestown, the decision was made to construct a second blockhouse “on the north side of our Back River, to prevent the Indians from killing our cattle”(Tyler, 150). The blockhouses made it easier for the colonists to keep an eye on their native neighbors.
The blockhouses that were built were crucial to the protection and survival of the colony. They provided not only a structure as to which the colonists could use as an observation post but as a means to ward off attacks as well by providing areas for weapons.
“The History of Virginia,” Southern and Western Literary Messenger and Review. Vol. 13, No. 1. Richmond: MacFarlane & Ferguson, Printers, Law-Builders, 1847.
Tyler, Lyon G. The Cradle and the Republic: Jamestown and James River Virginia. Richmond: Hermitage Press, 1906.
Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. The Cradle of the Republic. Richmond: Hermitage Press, 1906, (151).
“Sir Thomas Dale,” Henrico County Historical Society, www.henricohistoricalsociety.org (accessed April 30, 2012).
“Blockhouse Located at Martin’s Hundred,” Martin’s Hundred, http://jpwhit.people.wm.edu (accessed April 30, 2012).
Department of Historic Resources link not available