was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
explorer, author, and early Colonial Governor of Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...
George Percy was born in England, the youngest son of Henry Percy, 2nd/8th Earl of Northumberland and Lady Catherine Neville. He was sickly for much of his life, possibly suffering from epilepsy or severe asthma. He graduated from Oxford University
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...
in 1597. While at university, he gained admission to Gloucester Hall and the Middle Temple.
Percy's vocation was the military. His first service came in the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain in the early 1600s
The Dutch Revolt or the Revolt of the Netherlands This article adopts 1568 as the starting date of the war, as this was the year of the first battles between armies. However, since there is a long period of Protestant vs...
. He also served in Ireland.
Life in Virginia
Percy was part of the first group of 105 English colonists to settle the Jamestown Colony. He departed England in December 1606 and kept a journal of his voyage. He arrived in Virginia in April 1607 and recorded the struggles of the colonists to cope with the American environment, disease, and the Powhatan
The Powhatan is the name of a Virginia Indian confederation of tribes. It is estimated that there were about 14,000–21,000 of these native Powhatan people in eastern Virginia when the English settled Jamestown in 1607...
Indians. "Thus we lived for the space of five months in this miserable distress," he wrote in his journal, "not having five able men to man our bulwarks upon any occasion."
Although Percy had a higher social rank than all of the other first colonists, he was initially denied a seat on the Virginia Council. Nevertheless he took the lead in the early life of the colony, taking part in the expedition to the James River
The James River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is long, extending to if one includes the Jackson River, the longer of its two source tributaries. The James River drains a catchment comprising . The watershed includes about 4% open water and an area with a population of 2.5 million...
falls in May and June 1607. In autumn 1607, he sided with the President of the colony, Edward Maria Wingfield
Sir Edward Maria Wingfield, sometimes hyphenated as Edward-Maria Wingfield, was a soldier, Member of Parliament, and English colonist in America...
, who was subsequently deposed by John Ratcliffe, Gabriel Archer, and John Smith
Captain John Smith Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He was knighted for his services to Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania and friend Mózes Székely...
. From late 1607 until autumn 1609, Percy had little power in Jamestown but served as Smith's subordinate.
When Smith left the colony in September 1609, Percy assumed the presidency of the colony. However, his persistent illness kept him from executing his office, leaving the duties of the presidency to Ratcliffe, Archer, and John Martin
Capt. John Martin was a Councilman of the Jamestown Colony in 1607. He was the proprietor of Martin's Brandon Plantation on the south bank of the James River...
. It was during Percy's tenure that the colony suffered through the "Starving Time" in the winter of 1609-10. "Now all of us at James Town beginning to feel that sharp prick of hunger, which no man truly describe but he which hath tasted the bitterness thereof," he recounted later. Percy accomplished little while President, other than to order to construction of Fort Algernon
Fort Algernon was established in the fall of 1609 at the mouth of Hampton Roads at Point Comfort in the Virginia Colony. A strategic point for guarding the shipping channel leading from the Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe was built there beginning in the 1830s. The area is now known as Old Point Comfort...
at Old Point Comfort
Old Point Comfort is a point of land located in the independent city of Hampton. It lies at the extreme tip of the Virginia Peninsula at the mouth of Hampton Roads in the United States....
. When Sir Thomas Gates arrived in May 1610, Percy happily surrendered control of the colony to him.
In June 1610, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr
Thomas West, 3rd and 12th Baron De La Warr was the Englishman after whom the bay, the river, and, consequently, an American Indian people and U.S. state, all later called "Delaware", were named....
arrived in Jamestown and with a commission to serve as the colony's governor. De la Warr appointed Percy to the council and named him captain of the Jamestown fort. In August 1610, De la Warre sent Percy and seventy men to attack the Paspahegh
The Paspahegh tribe were tributaries to the Powhatan paramount chiefdom. The Paspahegh Indian tribe lived in present-day Charles City and James City counties, Virginia...
and Chickahominy Indians. The force ravaged the Indians' settlements, burning their buildings, decimating their crops, and indiscriminately killing men, women, and children. Percy also led the successful defence of the Jamestown fort against an Indian attack and earned the praise of De La Warr. When the Governor returned to England in March 1611, he appointed Percy to lead the colony in his absence. "But the winds not favoring them, they were enforced to shape their course directly for England--my lord having left and appointed me deputy governor in his absence, to execute martial law or any other power and authority as absolute as himself." Percy's term as Governor lasted until April 22, 1612, when he departed for England.
After his service as Virginia colony governor, Percy returned to England but remained interested in colonization schemes. In 1615, he proposed an expedition to Guiana but found no supporters. In 1620, he sold his four shares in the Virginia Company and returned to military service. Percy returned to the Netherlands in 1621 when war between Spain and the Dutch resumed. He was the commander of a company in the Low Countries in 1627. It is uncertain whether he died in England or in the service abroad.
Percy apparently never married and fathered no children. It is uncertain what his relation was to Anne Floyd (1593-1618) who bore Lady Anne Clairborne Percy in 1608.
- Jeffrey D. Groves, "George Percy," in American National Biography, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 17:318-19.
- John W. Shirley, "George Percy at Jamestown, 1607-1612," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 57 (1949): 227-43.
- Philip L. Barbour, "The Honorable George Percy, Premier Chronicler of the First Virginia Voyage," Early American Literature 6 (1971): 7-17.