For the last seven years my focus has been Colonial Genealogy and the first English settlement on the shores of James River which the English named Virginia. Controlled by an English developmental company the Virginia Company of London, four shires were established. They were James City, Charles City, Henrico and Kikotan (Elizabeth City). For the first fifteen years the Virginia settlement experienced ups and downs but continued to grow even though it was plagued by illness, dysentery, Indian attacks and starvation. But, in 1622, the great Indian massacre killed a quarter of the population (347 settlers) with the surviving settlers convening in some eight plantations deemed capable of defending themselves. The rest, some seventy or so plantations were abandoned. The hardest hit areas were Martin’s Hundred where seventy eight colonist were killed and Bennett’s plantation on the south side of the James River, where some fifty plus colonist perished. With the conditions of the colony and the inner fighting of the Virginia Company of London, the Crown revokes the companies patent and Virginia becomes an English Colony under the crown of King James I.
By 1634 the four original corporations were split to permit the creation of Warwick River (Warwick), Warrosquyoake (Isle of Wight) and Charles River (York), making a total of seven shires in the vicinity of the James River’s estuary. Accawmack was added as an eighth shire encompassing the population of the Eastern Shore. Most of these people lived near riverbanks because travel in most cases was limited to the boats, skiffs or ships in the rivers, the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.
When beginning your work, you must recognize which counties were formed from or carved from which shire, parish or county, depending on your local. Most colonial records are scarce due to the fires which burned in Richmond during the American Civil War, so in the 1950s the Virginia Colonial Records Project was established by the Virginia Historical Society, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the University of Virginia Library, and Library of Virginia to reconstruct the archives of Virginia’s colonial history, making any of these a great place to begin.