HOPEWELL: THE EARLY DAYS
By Tamara Eastman, Historian
Apr 14, 2017, 13:55
Did you know that the Hopewell Post Office has one of the best murals every painted in a public building in the area? Commissioned in 1939 during the New Deal era, this mural depicts first contact between two peoples, and is entitled “Captain Francis Eppes Making Friends with the Appomattox Indians.”
Many people already know about Hopewell having its start shortly after Jamestown was founded – but, in reality, the city has a much older history. When the English settlers arrived in what would become “Bermuda City,” they were greeted by the first settlers of the area – including the Arrohateck, Mattoponi and the Chickahominy Indian tribes.
The first English settlers developed Jamestown, East of the city, and by the time Bermuda City was founded in 1613, the Native Americans had come to know the English settlers and were able to speak some English.
Archeological artifacts indicate these Native American tribes were living in this area for at least 10,000 years before the English settlers arrived. They were known as Paleo-Indians and though they were separated into various tribes, they did have some kinship with one another.
The men in the tribes made canoes, fished in the Appomattox River, and did the hunting for their sources of meat. At the time, the forests around the area were teeming with deer, bear, turkey, possum, squirrels, rabbits, and other wild game. The name Appomattox meant “Tobacco Rich!” The Native Americans used the local grown tobacco for medicinal qualities and in rituals.
The women of the tribes planted and harvested the crops – their chief crops were corn, beans, and squash. They also grew pumpkins and gourds. They also picked wild berries and plants, which were eaten and also used in making medicine and dyes.
One of the most well known Indian women of the area was Pocahontas! Her real name was Matoaca, and she was the daughter of Chief Powhatan. The name Pocahontas means “Little Playful One.” Captain John Smith met her several times while he was visiting with her father, but there was never a relationship between him and the girl, for Pocahontas was a little girl when she met Captain Smith. He described her as “very smart, high spirited and funny.” After being captured by Samuel Argall in 1613, Pocahontas was originally taken to Jamestown and finally to The Citie of Henricus where Governor Dale instructed Reverend Alexander Whitaker to instruct her in the ways of Christianity. She was baptized “Rebecca” and married John Rolfe in April 1614. After they married, Chief Powhatan signed a peace treaty with the English which lasted until March 22, 1622 when Chief Opechancanough led a series of surprise attacks that killed 347 English people, a quarter of the population at the time.
By 1619 this area had become known as Charles City Point, and it was eventually abbreviated into City Point. Many people don’t realize that the Hopewell and City Point areas are the oldest most continuously inhabited English settlements in the United States!
Initially the English settlers did not care for the strain of tobacco that grew here in the area. Sir John Rolfe brought a sweeter strain of tobacco from Trinidad as well as some very difficult to obtain Spanish seeds. He became the first person to commercially cultivate these tobacco plants in North America, turning Virginia into a profitable venture when this tobacco became the cash crop that made several of the early settlers very wealthy!
Some of the earliest families of Hopewell included Sir Henry Randolph, who built Swift Creek Mill, which is believed to be one of the first grist mills in the country. His son, William, was a member of the Virginia Burgess and Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses as well as a founding trustee of The College of William and Mary. John Randolph Hospital is named for one of Sir Henry Randolph’s descendants, John Randolph, a U. S. Senator.
Sir Francis Poythress was a lieutenant in the Virginia militia in 1644 and became a captain in 1648. He was a Burgess for Charles City County, as well.
Sir Francis Eppes acquired large plats of land and built a spacious plantation along the river. In 1625 he was elected to the Assembly of James City. His daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1702 on the plantation, married Colonel William Poythress. She died on October 10, 1750 and was buried in Blandford Cemetery in what is now Petersburg. However, her remains did not “rest in peace,” for on April 25, 1781, during The Battle of Blandford during the American Revolution, a cannon ball crashed into the top of her tombstone, and today you can still evidence of this when you visit her grave.
Next week I’ll discuss the building of City Point Railroad in 1838 between City Point and Petersburg, and the role the city played during the American Civil War when General Ulysses Grant headquartered the Union Army in Appomattox Manor, one of the Eppes’ plantation homes. I’ll discuss the Quartermaster depot and warehouse that was housed at City Point for the Union Army, as well. I’ll also tell the story of Richard Slaughter, an Eppes slave who escaped and made his way to a Union ship. He later told his story to an interviewer in 1936 for the Works Progress Administration.