It takes mere hours for my Journey from Greenwich CT, to the family’s ancestral home, in North Nibley, Gloucestershire. That is why it is so easy to forget that at the time Nibley House was built for John Smyth it required patience, courage and luck just to make the trip to the New World unscathed.
Though it is tucked away in the Cotswolds, in truth, Nibley House stands at the intersection of the Old and New worlds. John’s work was the Founding of the First Successful Virginia Settlement. Historic documents tell the story.
“Sir Walter Raleigh’s two attempts to establish a settlement in Virginia, the first in 1585, and again in 1587, were not successful: the support of such a settlement was found to be beyond the means of any one individual, however well-off or well-connected. Yet interest in such a project remained high and a few years later, early in the next century, the Virginia Company of London was formed to exploit the immense resources of the country. Soon afterward, in 1618, appreciating the possibilities for financial return of such an enterprise, a group of local Gloucestershire merchants and gentlemen came together to form The Berkeley Company.
The principal backers of the enterprise: John Smyth of Nibley, agent to, and historian of, the Berkeleys, Richard Berkeley, George Thorpe of Wanswell Court, Sir William Throckmorton, and Sir George Yeardley, Governor of the new territory, negotiated a grant of land on the James River in Virginia, some 8000 acres, on which to form a private colony to be named the Berkeley Hundred. Accordingly, at eight o’clock in the morning of 16th September 1619, 38 voyagers, under Captain John Woodleaf set sail in a barque called The Margrett, of “Bristow” (47 tons), to cross the Atlantic and establish the new settlement. On the 4th December the settlers arrived in America and celebrated what has become recognised as the first Thanksgiving.“
Known also as Smyth of Nibley, John documented the experiences of the Settlers in The Smythe of Nibley Papers, 1613-1674.
If you are familiar with the natural topography of the Cotswolds and of what is now Central Virginia, you can’t help but see the similarities. It is little wonder that Cotswold people would have found the environs inviting.
Today tourists can live in Nibley House, the oft enlarged and rebuilt home of a Prime Mover of that Virginia Settlement. If you get the oppotunity to do so, don’t miss it.
It can enhance your stay if, in advance, you locate the authoritative historical resource of this man, the World he came from, and the World he helped to build. It is entitled,
The Berkeley MSS: the Lives of the Berkeleys, lords of the honour, castle and manor of Berkeley in the county of Gloucester from 1066 to 1618, with a description of the hundred of Berkeley and its inhabitants by John Smyth of Nibley –edited by Sir John Maclean. Gloucester. Printed by John Bellows for the subscribers 1883.
No matter where your family might have come from, soaking up the history of Smyth of Nibley, all Americans can recognize that this is their ancestral home too.