by Rod D. Martin
December 21, 2014
Captain Thomas Graves (c. 1580-1635), Rod D. Martin’s eleventh great grandfather, was an original investor (“Adventurer”) in the Virginia Company, one of the earliest settlers (“Planters” or in more recent times “Ancient Planters”) at Jamestown, England’s first permanent colony in what was to become the United States. He was also a founding member of the first freely elected parliament in the New World, the Virginia House of Burgesses.
After the loss of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony in the late 1580s, English plans to colonize the New World were set back for almost a generation. In 1606, investors led by Sir Thomas Smythe organized a new effort, the Virginia Company of London, each share of which sold for 12 pounds 10 shillings (commonly stated to be the equivalent of six month’s wages for an average working man at the time; however, by some calculations, each share may have been worth as much as $750,000 today). The proceeds of this offering were purposed toward ships, supplies, and all of the costs of the colonization of a thoroughly alien land.
Thomas Graves, an English gentlemen like many others approached, purchased two shares in the company. But he took the title of “Adventurer” seriously. Not content with a merely financial investment, in 1608 Graves sailed to the year-old colony on the Mary and Margaret’s Second Supply mission.
He survived the Starving Time. He conducted or participated in several sea voyages on Jamestown’s behalf. He was even captured by Indians while accompanying Captain John Smith on an exploration and surveying expedition, the maps from which remained in use for over a hundred years.
In 1617 Graves with 100 men set out into the wilderness and formed the settlement at Smythe’s Hundred. In early 1618, Governor George Yeardley gave him command of the settlement. The following year, Graves was elected one of the 22 founding members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, meeting at the church on Jamestown Island for the first time on July 30, 1619.
Following the Indian Massacre of 1622, which wiped out a third of the colonists, Smythe’s Hundred was abandoned. After a time, Graves settled on Old Plantation Creek on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, becoming Commander of the new Accomac Plantation and Commissioner and Burgess for Accomac Shire. In January 1635 he was designated “Esquire” and named to the intimate Governor’s Council. At Christmastime that year, he died.
In the course of his life, Graves and his wife Katherine had six children, and became one of the most distinguished families of Virginia. He built many churches, at least one of which, Hungar’s Episcopal Church, continues to this day. A pioneering legislator, colonial explorer, gentleman adventurer and hands-on entrepreneur, Thomas Graves embodied the best of what America would become. It is thanks to him, and to those with whom he served and led, that freedom blossomed as the New World’s native fruit.