This 1622 letter from Jamestown colonist Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, a Dutch merchant living in London, provides a snapshot of the colony in flux. Brandt, who likely arrived in 1619 in a wave of 1,200 immigrants, writes of his wife’s and brother’s deaths the previous year almost in passing. He mentions that, due to his own illness, he “was not able to travell up and downe the hills and dales of these countries but doo nowe intend every daye to walke up and down the hills for good Mineralls here is both golde silver and copper.”
Most of Brandt’s letter is devoted to its real purpose: putting in orders for cheese, vinegar, tools, spices, and other assorted goods from the London Company that were not available in Virginia. Interestingly, he promises to pay in tobacco and furs—not in the gold and copper he’s looking for. We know little about Brandt. He does not appear in any known existing official records, and historians presume he died not long after writing this letter. The glimpse he offers into early Jamestown serves as a tantalizing example of the challenges and thrills of studying colonial American history. — Gilderlehrman Co.