Captain John Smith's Adventures on the James
— www.johnsmithtrail.org —
John Smith recalled visiting the Arrohateck Indian capital during a May 1607 expedition led by Christopher Newport. The town was located on the northern shore of the James River opposite of here and was noted on John Smith's 1612 Map of Virginia.
The Arrohateck leader and those living with him—Smith estimated 30 men and their families—greeted the English warmly. "We found here a wer-o-wance, for so they call their Kings, who sat upon a mat of reeds, with his people about him," wrote Smith's contemporary Gabriel Archer. "He caused one to be laid for Captain Newport [and] gave us a deer roasted, which according to their custom they seethed again. His people gave us mulberries, sod wheat, and beans; and he caused his women to make cakes for us. He gave our Captain his crown, which was of deer's hair, dyed red. Certifying him our intention [to proceed] up the river, he was wiling to send guides with us."
Capt. John Smith's Trail
John Smith knew the James River by its Algonquian name: Powhatan, the same as the region's paramount chief. Smith traveled the river many times between 1607 and 1609, trading with Virginia Indians to ensure survival at Jamestown. What he saw of Virginia's verdant woodlands and pristine waters inspired him to explore the greater Chesapeake Bay, chronicling its natural wonders.
Drewry's Bluff and the Confederate fort here dominated the James River and the adjacent landscape during the Civil War. One mile farther south, across the river at Chaffin's Bluff, other fortifications also guarded the approaches to Richmond.
Directly opposite the fort, extensive farm fields stretched into Henrico County. Two military bridges spanned the river just upstream, providing important access to both sides of the river for the Confederate army.
On a typical day during the war, the troops here could observe much activity in the river. The schoolship for the Confederate States Naval Academy lay anchored a few yards to the north. Ships steamed up and down the river bringing prisoners of war to the neutral "point of exchange" south of here. Warships of the James River Squadron often lay in the river below the bluff. One small ship made daily roundtrips between Drewry's Bluff and Richmond, carrying military traffic, sightseers and picnickers.
The force at Drewry's Bluff rarely exceeded 500 men and fluctuated depending on the number of marines and naval cadets who were present for instruction and education.