The colonial Virginia-era “Citie” of Henricus began as a military fort in the early fall of 1611 when 300 men and boys sailed 80 miles upriver from the first permanent English colony of Jamestown, debarking at a site high above the James River.
They planned to develop a more “healthie” site for colonization than was Jamestown, and perhaps to replace it as the colonial capital, which had been plagued by poor sanitary conditions, brackish water, governing and labor problems, starvation and attacks on the community by local natives.
Henricus was situated 40 feet above the river, had fresh water springs and fewer mosquitos; the colonists brought with them a new form of government, designed originally by Sir Thomas Dale at Jamestown, that relied on dictatorial or “martial lawe” designed to help the colony survive. Originally built as an upriver militia outpost, it would eventually morph into an economic project with a more liberal government — a “representative” government – a money-making tobacco trade, the beginnings of private land ownership and the first integrated “colledge” designed to educate both English and Indian children. Pocahontas would be converted and educated into English ways at this site and would later (probably at a different site) marry tobacco planter John Rolfe. This marriage helped inaugurate a period of “peace” between the two cultures that would end with the 1622 Indian uprising. By then, colonization had spread beyond the colony as tobacco plantations spread up and down the James River. While the Charter for the Virginia Company at Henricus was withdrawn by King James – ordering the colonists back to Jamestown — the plantations continued on and eventually expanded.
Today, Henricus Historical Park sits on or near the original site of the Citie of Henricus. While the original site has not been located, a re-created Citie and Powhatan village have been built through the use of primary source documentation including journal entries, maps and drawings and by archaeology done at Jamestown.
Using period materials and techniques, fourteen colonial buildings and an Indian village have been built, forming a backdrop to our Pre-K – 12 education programs. Period-dressed Native and English interpreters bring the site to life through demonstrations of house building, agriculture, military drill, Powhatan hunting and fishing, and inter-cultural activities such as Indian to English trade.
For younger children, our People of the River: Powhatan Indian, Success of the Citie: Henricus, 1611 – 22 and Mapping the James River programs emphasize the comparable and contrasting methods that each culture used to survive in this Eastern Woodlands environment. Older children compare and contrast governments, security, economics, religion and education through our Colonial Cultures of the James River, Virginia Governments and the Two Lives of Pocahontas programs. The 17th Century Sciences and Cultures in Contact: Archaeology programs help students track 17th century advancements in science and technology that would help make North American colonization possible.
We also provide teachers with primary sources, DVDs, historical consulting and Project- and presentations and loans of reproduction artifacts for Problem- and Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities.
Henricus Historical Park is located ~20 miles southeast of Richmond in today’s community of Chester. Jointly run by the Counties of Henrico and Chester and by the Henricus Foundation, we work closely with colleges and universities, museums, the Virginia Indian community and regional businesses. Together, they help Henricus provide a myriad of historical, educational and cultural resources for residents and visitors of all ages and interests.