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First Germans at Jamestown 4

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The German Carpenters
by Gary C. Grassl, President The German Heritage Society of Greater Washington, D.C.

Smith sent him Adam, Franz, and Samuel, who had arrived around October 1608 with the German glassmakers. (Powhatan is probably best known popularly today as the father of Pocahontas.) Smith was willing to send the house builders to the Indian chief, because he didn't have enough food for them to sustain their labor at Jamestown. But above all he wanted to use the substantial house they would build as a "castle," as he said, for trapping and killing Powhatan and as a subsequent refuge for himself, explains the American historian Conway Whittle Sams. This intended murder of Powhatan, however, was in direct defiance of orders from the Virginia Company of London to treat the native chief kindly. Smith tells us that he specifically instructed one of the Germans--Samuel--to spy on Powhatan so that he could get the chief in his grasp.

Smith sent the three German carpenters and some Englishmen by a direct overland route northward from James Fort about 13 miles to Powhatan's chief village. Werowocomoco was located on the north bank of what the English called the York River. It was situated near today's Purtan Bay, a corruption of Powhatan Bay. Here the carpenters began to construct one of the first substantial European-style houses in English America.

Meanwhile on 29 December 1608, Smith set out also for Werowocomoco with 46 armed men. But instead of going overland, he went in two small ships down the James and then up the York River. He arrived at the chief's headquarters on 12 January 1609.

When several of the leaders left behind at Jamestown became aware of Smith's intention to kill Powhatan, they tried to avert his misdeed by following after him. Their vessel sank, however, in a squall, and all eleven drowned.

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