Thomas Hariot's A Brief and True Report

Coat of Arms of the "Cittie of Ralegh"

(Note: The following text is a modernization of the English language used from the original source, printed in 1590.)

A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia

of the commodities and of the nature and manners of the natural inhabitants. Discovered by the English Colony there seated by Sir Richard Grenvile, Knight in the year 1585. Which remained under the government of twelve months, at the special charge and direction of the Honorable Sir Walter Raleigh, Knight, Lord Warden of the Stanneries who therein had been favored and authorized by her Majesty and her letters patents.

By Thomas Hariot, Servant to the abovenamed Sir Walter, a member of the Colony, and there employed in discovering.

directed to the investors, farmers, and well-wishers
of the project of colonizing and planting there.
Imprinted at London in 1588


ALTHOUGH, Dear Reader, on account of Adam's disobedience man was deprived of those good gifts with which he was endowed at the Creation, yet, as will be seen in the following account of the life of savage tribes, he still retained wit to provide for himself and to make whatever was necessary for his life and health — except in the matter of his soul's health. For although these savages have no knowledge of the true God or of His holy word and are without any learning, yet they surpass us in many things. Their way of eating is far more wise and moderate than ours, and they show the greatest ingenuity in making, without the aid of any metal tool, such fine and delicate articles as could hardly be believed if the Englishmen had not brought back the proofs from their travels in that country.

Admiring, as I did, the paintings made of these people, I wished to offer them to the public. This I have been able to do by the help of Master Richard Hakluyt of Oxford, a minister of God's word, who first encouraged me to publish the work. I copied exactly from the originals themselves, which were made by Master John White, an English painter who was sent to the New World by Her Majesty the Queen especially to make exact drawings of the country and its inhabitants, their way of dressing, their manner of living, and their several habits. This he did under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh, the worthy knight who from 1584 to the end of 1588 spent large sums of money in the discovery and exploration of that country.

At the request of my friends, and because the memory of that recent feat is so fresh, I am publishing first the account of that part of the New World which the English call Virginia. If I were to regard the order of events, the history of Florida (which I already have in hand) should have first been published, since the French discovered and conquered that land in a notable victory long before the discovery of Virginia. However, I hope shortly to publish this work also. I obtained both of them in London and brought them here to Frankfurt, where I and my sons have taken the most earnest pains in engraving them carefully on copper, since the subject is one of great importance. I have had the text of both narratives translated into excellent French and Latin by a very learned friend of mine. In conclusion, I ask most earnestly that if anyone else should be found attempting to pirate this book of mine (for nowadays there are many dishonest people who try to get the benefit of another's work), that no credit should be given to the counterfeit copy, for I have put many secret marks in my drawings which will certainly cause confusion if they are omitted.


GENTLE READER, the truth of the reports contained in this treatise can little be furthered by the testimony of one like myself, judged to be partial, though without desert, because of my affection for the land. Nevertheless, at the request of some of my particular friends, who conceive more rightly of me, I have decided to write freely what I know of it. I do this not only to satisfy them but also for the true information of anyone else who comes without a prejudiced mind to its reading. This much upon my reputation I do affirm, that everything is truly set down in this treatise by its author, a member of the Colony and a man no less commended for his honesty than for his learning. I dare boldly avouch its truth will compare favorably with that of even the most true relations of this age. For my own part, I give my word it is true, assured of its certainty by my own experience, and I make this assertion publicly. Farewell in the Lord.


SINCE Sir Walter Raleigh first undertook the exploration of the country now known as Virginia, many voyages have been made there at different times at his expense. The first was in the year 1584; others followed in 1585 and 1586 and more recently, last year, in 1587. A number of reports about this land, some of them slanderous and shameful, were put in circulation by travellers who returned. These rumors were spread in particular about the voyage of 1 5 8 5, when Sir Richard Grenville established a Colony in the New World. This was the most important of the enterprises, because the Colony stayed in Virginia a whole year, whereas the first settlers remained there only six weeks; all the later trips were made only for purposes of carrying supplies, and on these voyages nothing more was discovered.

These reports about Virginia have done much harm to many people who might otherwise have favored and invested in the project, thus honoring and benefiting the nation, besides making financial profit for themselves. I hope future events will bring shame to these tellers of tales; they will if you, the supporters and friends of the enterprise, increase in number, overcome any doubts you may have had, and renew your interest in the undertaking. I well understand that the various rumors have unsettled the minds of many among you concerning the worthiness of the Virginia enterprise, even of some of those most well disposed toward it.

Since I have been active in the discovery, had much experience in dealing with the native inhabitants and have therefore seen and known more than others, I thought it a good thing to acquaint you publicly with the fruits of our labors that you may see how wrongfully the enterprise has been slandered. I have two reasons for doing so: first, that those of you who are still ignorant or doubtful of conditions in Virginia may know that Sir Walter Raleigh, with the favor of Her Majesty, has seen good cause to proceed with the settlement. Not only has he sent ships there again and replanted the Colony during this last year, but also he is ready to continue further as means afford.

My second reason is that you may get a general idea of what the country is and of how you can profit from supporting it, either by settling there and planting or by furthering it in other ways.

Lest you should doubt the substance of my report, since it will differ from others, I will first say why it is different.

Of our company that returned from Virginia, some were deservedly punished there for dishonesty and bad behavior. In their ill nature they have spoken maliciously not only of their governors but also of the country itself, and they have been borne out in their tales by their companions.

Some of them were ignorant of the country. When they returned to their friends and acquaintances, they pretended to know more than other men, especially when there was no one in the gathering who could disprove them. They made themselves out to have suffered greater hardships than anyone ever suffered before. They put such great value on their reputations that they would have thought themselves disgraced if, after living in Virginia a year, they had not had a great deal to say, true or false. Some of them spun tales of things they never saw. Others shamefully denied happenings which they did not see, but which nevertheless were known to have occurred. Still others made difficulties of simple things because they did not understand them.

The cause of their ignorance was mainly that they never left the island where we had our settlement, at least not to go far from it, during the whole time we were there and therefore had seen little. Or they had lost interest when they did not immediately find gold and silver and spent their time in pampering their bellies. And there were others who had not much understanding, less discretion, and more tongue than was necessary.

Some of them had been nicely brought up, living in cities or towns, and had never seen the world before. Because they could not find in Virginia any English cities, or fine houses, or their accustomed dainty food, or any soft beds of down or feathers the country was to them miserable, and they reported accordingly.

My purpose in these remarks is merely to give a brief explanation of the opinions of these men. I do not mean to trouble you with details of these judgments and their envious, malicious, and slanderous reports; they are trifles not worthy of consideration. But I shall pass to a description of the marketable commodities of the country, which are the subjects of this discussion.

I will divide my treatise on the commodities into three separate parts, so that it may be easily read and understood. In the first I will enumerate commodities already found there, or which could be raised there to serve the ordinary needs of you who will be the planters and inhabitants of that country. A surplus of these can be provided by experienced men for trade and exchange with our own nation of England. It will enrich you, the providers, and those who will deal with you and will greatly profit our own countrymen by supplying them with many things which they have had to procure in the past either from strangers or from our enemies. These commodities, for distinction's sake, I call marketable.

In the second, I will set down all the goods that we know grow naturally there for food and sustenance of life, such as were commonlv eaten by the inhabitants of the country as well as by us while we were in Virginia.

In the last part I will list such other general commodities as I am able to remember. Here I shall also give a brief description of the nature and manners of its inhabitants.

Go to The First Part of the report
Go to The Second Part of the report
Go to The Third Part of the report

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Last updated: April 14, 2015

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