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Portrait of Thomas West, Baron De la Warr


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


Thomas West (1576–1618), the twelfth Baron De La Warr, was appointed by King James I in 1606 to be part of the royal council that oversaw the Virginia Company of London. He monitored the situation in the Virginia colony from England and may have helped draft a new charter in 1609. With his noble rank and previous military experience, De La Warr was appointed Virginia’s governor and captain-general in 1610.

He left England with a fleet of supplies and colonists, and in June 1610 he encountered the survivors of the Starving Time of the winter of 1609-1610 leaving Jamestown. He insisted that the fleeing colonists return and rebuild Jamestown, saving it from becoming a failed venture like the Roanoke colony. De La Warr implemented a military regime that helped stabilize the chaotic colony but did not endear him to its occupants. He participated in several bloody attacks against the nearby Indigenous tribes to protect the colony, but the ongoing Anglo-Powhatan War did not bring about a resolution to the escalating tensions between the English and the Powhatan Indians.

While in Virginia, De La Warr contracted dysentery and scurvy, which aggravated his already poor health and forced him to return to England in March 1611. His decision to leave the colony was not well received among the other members of the Virginia Company and he published a pamphlet defending his actions. De la Warr attempted to return to Virginia in 1618, having never relinquished his title of governor, but he died during the return voyage. The Delaware River was named for him.

This portrait is a copy painted in 1877 by Virginia artist William Ludwell Sheppard, from a 17th century original at Buckhurst Park, Sussex, England, by an unidentified English artist.

Citation: Sheppard, William Ludwell, (1833–1912). Portrait of Thomas West, Baron De la Warr, 1877. State Artwork Collection, Library of Virginia.

Learn more about Governor De La Warr in his Dictionary of Virginia Biogaphy entry at Encyclopedia Virginia.


History: VS.1, VS.3, VS.4, USI.1, USI.5, VUS.1, VUS.3

English: 4.7, 5.7

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at It: Look at the image of Thomas West. Based on your observations, what can you infer about his status and position within English society?

Post Activities

Analyze: Do you think that a military regime was the best option for the colony? If not, what do you think would have worked better? Why?

Another Perspective: Pretend to be one of the colonists and write a letter to a family member in England, describing the events during De la Warr’s time in Virginia.

Political Plans: Imagine that you are a member of the leadership at Fort James and are opposed to De la Warr’s approach to the Powhatan Indians. How would you have handled the situation differently? Write a letter to De la Warr or another member of the leadership council expressing your ideas.