Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

James River, Virginia, USA Beggars Bush 1620

This is one of three frontier sites where English settlers arrived in a non English speaking country. Before Virginia English settlers arrived in Philipstown, County Offally, Ireland, and after it, Albany, Cape Province, South Africa. They have many features in common; they were on the very edge of the British Empire, they were remote. the settlers were poorly prepared, may not have been told the whole truth before they emigrated and the natives were not friendly.

Samuel Jordan

Samuel Jordan of Charles City, Virginia, had a house called Beggars Bush at his plantation Jordan’s Journey, on the confluence of the James and Appotomattax rivers, near Jordan’s Point. According to various Jordan County and Jordan family websites the house was named after the play by Beaumont & Fletcher.  The chronology makes this highly unlikely, as Jordan must have left England before it was written. The name is likely to have been given by Jordan and to have been ironic given the situation.

Jordan was reputedly from a family based in Dorset, and to have been married and widowed in England, leaving behind a son Thomas Jordan but there are no records to prove any of this.

Apart from the normal risks of being an early settler Jordan was also reputed to have been shipwrecked on Bermuda en route in the Sea Venture between 1609/10, but again there is no evidence of this or that he was related to Sylvester Jourdain, whose account of the shipwreck was reputed to be a source for The Tempest.

Jordan was a substantial citizen – in 1619 he was a representative of Charles City to the first legislative assembly Jamestown, the first ever to be convened in America, and on a committee to consider it’s rulebook. In 1620 Samuel married Cecily Bailey, (nee Reynolds) a young widow, also reputedly from Dorset. He died at Beggars Bush in 1623.

Jordan’s Journey

Jordan and his new wife received the second land grant in the colony in December 1620 of about 450 acres which he may have managed for the colonial administration till then. He was described as a “an ancient planter who hath abode ten yeares compleat in this Colony”, with five servants. From this he must have came in the Third Supply, or on the Patience or Deliverance (with the Sea Venture survivors) or another ship in 1610.

It is recorded in The Generall Historiie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles, by John Smith (1624) that during the Indian uprising by the Pamunkeys in 1622 when many settlers were killed that “Master Samuel Iordan gathered together but a few of the straglers about him at Beggers Bush which he fortified and lived in despight of the enemy”.

Jordan’s Journey was only occupied from 1620, when Samuel Jordan, and his household took up residence, until 1635, although the name is used in a land grant of 1638.

Excavations were conducted between 1990-1992 by Virginia Commonwealth University. These revealed Beggars Bush consisted of a palisade 260ft x110ft (c.52m x 36m) with what appeared to be gatehouse, enclosing a variety of structures. These including four longhouses, and seven outbuildings. These may have been occupied consecutively. The largest longhouse was 55ft x 16ft (c.9m x 5m) with a basic hall-parlour plan, and possibly an upper room. There were two other single storey dwellings. The artefacts included imported pottery and some Indian pottery shards, huge numbers of white & red clay pipes, and significant amounts of arms and armour. Outside the palisade was a graveyard containing 25 skeletons without coffins in graves mostly “crudely dug and relatively shallow”. More than half were between the ages of 10 and 19. One grave with hinges from a box is tentatively identified as that of Samuel Jordan. The impression is of basic living conditions on a farmstead of buildings close together, living in which would have been compressed further by the palisade.

The Plantation of Virginia

Charles City was one of four “incorporations” created by the Virginia Company in 1619, including land on both sides of the James River, named for Prince Charles, son of King James. The main settlement was Charles City Point, which was in an area south of the James River at the confluence of the Appotomax.

The Virginia Company founded and promoted by propaganda that portrayed the area as Earth’s only Paradise”, according to the poet Michael Drayton in his Ode to the Virginian Voyage in 1606. In 1610 Robert Rich described it as a place where “there is indeed no want at all”.

In reality, as even a promoter of the plantation recognised, the labourers complained there was “nothing but wretchedness and labour” and looking “lyke Anotamies [skeletons] Cryinge owtt we are starved We are starved.” Richard Frethorne, an indentured servant, wrote to his father and mother in 1623, lamenting his conditions; “I do protest unto you that I have eaten more in [one] day at home than I have allowed me here for a week. You have given more than my day’s allowance to a beggar at the door”. Overall the death rate for emigrants to Virginia was about 80%. Of 535 who arrived in Virginia in the ships of the Third Supply only 60 were alive two years later. There have been disputed accounts of cannibalism which appear to have been confirmed by recent discoveries. In contrast the local inhabitants were well nourished, and it was only through trade with them, or actually living with them, that the European settlers survived.

The settlers included a mixture of gentry and yeomen, indentured servants, and the masterless. In 1609 the Privy Council recommended to the Lord Mayor of London raising funds to ship beggars, vagrants and other poor to Virginia. Although many thousands were subscribed for the purpose but the project failed by 1622. In 1618 King James had proposed a similar scheme to Sir Thomas Smith, shortly to become governor of the Virginia Company. although again this was largely ineffective due to disputes between the Company and the City of London, although about 100 children were forcibly emigrated.

John Smith, the promoter of Jamestown, fought against the Spanish in the Low Countries in the late 1590’s and. Captain John Smith, Sir Thomas Gates, Sir Thomas Dale, and most other early leaders of the colony had fought in the Low Countries. It is therefore very likely to have encountered the gueuzen tradition there. Edward Wingfield, the first Governor of the colony, alleged that during his disputes with Smith that “It was proved to his face that he begged in Ireland, like a rogue, without a license“.


There are many Jordan family history websites which give at best unsourced and at worst incorrect information about Samuel Jordan. Michael Jordan has posted a collection of the few original records and an analysis of the common errors.

Archaeological Report

Coldham, P.W., The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1660, Genealogical Publishing Co, Baltimore, 1987,

Ransome, D.R., Village Tensions in Early Virginia: Sex, Land, and Status at the Neck of Land in the 1620s, The Historical Journal, (2000), 43: 365-381)

Linebaugh, P. and Rediker, M., 2000, The Many-Headed Hydra, p.2-5

Ribton-Turner, C. J. 1887 Vagrants and Vagrancy and Beggars and Begging, London, 1887,

Deane, C. (ed), 1860 A Discourse of Virginia, Boston Chapel Hill digital library

Historical Marker Database


Connie Grund

Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

4 Comments on “James River, Virginia, USA Beggars Bush 1620”

  1. 1: Bill Thorndale, Salt Lake City said at 4:31 pm on January 7th, 2014:

    Your page 18, re Samuel Jordan’s house that he named Beggars Bush, add Beggans Bay appears on the Vingboons map c. 1639 but conjectured copied from a English map estimated c. 1617. Michael Jarvis and Jeroen van Driel, “The Vingboons Chart of the James River, Virginia, circa 1617,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 54 (1997), 377–94, at 387, fig. IV. Vingboons didn’t do badly deciphering the English names, but his Hont poynte was and still is Blunt Point. NB: It’s James River, not Charles, the latter now York River.

  2. 2: beggarsbush said at 10:58 pm on January 7th, 2014:

    Many thanks for this.
    ‘Beggans Bay’ is certainly in the same place. Beggan is not a name in English. There is no obvious bay, but there is a creek shown at roughly the position of ‘Bailey’s Creek’. Therefore this is almost certainly a poor transliteration of ‘Beggars Bush’.
    As the article points out the map does not include the names of the post 1617 plantations, including ‘Jordan’s Journey’. The map does not show any buildings at the location.
    That seems to establish that ‘Beggars Bush’ predated Thomas Jordan, and was not originally given by him. The later references imply the name was used for the homestead, but he may have adopted rather than originated it.

  3. 3: Bill Thorndale, SLC, UT said at 2:27 pm on January 16th, 2014:

    Trust this my second and final email, won’t bedevil you. But Jordan’s first name was Samuel. From my files, sources: K=Kingsbury, M =McIlwaine, S = Capt. John Smith; Jordan missing from 1625 census. ++ Samuel Jordan represented Charles City in the 30 July 1619 assembly (McIlwaine 1915, 3, 6; K3:154). Samuel Jourdan of Charles City, gent., ancient planter ten years in the colony, is granted 450 acres in Charles City in three tracts, (1) 50 acres and house called ___ilies Point in Charles Hundred adj. John Rolfe, Capt. John Wardeefe, Martins Hope of Capt. John Martin, Temperance Baley, Capt. Woodlief; due 100 acres for his adventure, 100 acres for his wife Cecily an ancient planter nine years in the colony, and 250 acres for five headrights, being John Davies, Thomas Matterdy, Robert Marshall, Alice Wad, and Thomas Steed; VaPat 8:125, 10 Dec 1620 (recorded in 1690 at N2:358, text at N1:226). Mr. Sam: Jordan 1, persons admitted to shares in VaCo, 24 Oct 1621 list (Ferrar Papers, ms. 1595, reel 3, doc. 482). Samuell Jordan had cargo/baggage on the Warwick, lading mark of S impaled on long I w/ right tail, bill of lading 1621 (Ferrar Papers, MM 1606f, reel 2, doc. 322). Mr. Samuel Jordan responded to the massacre of 22 Mch 1621/22 by fortifying his house of Beggars Bush, refusing to abandon it (S1624, 2:303). Sam: Jordon of Charles Hundred [margin says in Diggs Hundred [Query: does it actually add Hundred to Diggs???] is assigned 100 acres by Mary Tue, list of shareholders 3 July 1622 (Ferrar Papers, ms. 1595, reel 3, doc. 482). Samuel Jordan of Charles Hundred, gent., received 100 acres in Diggs Hundred from Mary (Crouch) Younge now Tue [of England?], the land probably granted to Lt. Richard Crouch, Mary’s deceased brother; 3 July 1622 (K2:74, 89). Samuell Jordan one share from Mary Tue, 3 July 1622 (K3:65). Mr. Jordan, concerning his will that Mr. Farrar should return an estate account by 13 Dec, and warrant to Mrs. Jordan that Mr. Farrar give security for performing same; 19 Nov 1623 count (M8). Mr. Jurden allegedly had a great love for Mrs. Alice Boyse and this “caused much debate between Mr. Jourdon & his wife,” per later alleged slander uttered by Joane Vinsone [Vincent]; 25 Nov 1624 court (M31). Samuell Jordan granted 450 acres upon territory of Great Weyanoke, Charles City Corp.; May 1626 patent list (K4:554). Comment: I see no reason why, snug up near already founded Bermuda City (soon Charles City, now Hopewell) Samuel Jordan could not have settled by 1617 at what he came to call Jordans Journey to Beggars Bush.

  4. 4: Melissa Jane Jordan said at 6:21 am on July 5th, 2017:

    I have the family tree through the 1400’s, I believe. I am a direct descendant of Samuel. If you have interest, please feel free to contact me.

Leave a Reply