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Thomas West, Baron De la Warr Portrait, 1610


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 remained in England, where he helped monitor things from afar and would likely have been influential with policies and charters that would have impacted the colonies. In 1610, De la Warr was appointed Virginia’s Governor and captain-general for life.

The winter of 1609-1610 the Jamestown colony went through the starving time in which food shortages, poor leadership, and a siege by Powhatan Indian warriors decimated James Fort. Efforts to sustain the colony became unsustainable after nine supply ships, including the ill-fated Sea Venture, were shipwrecked after a storm on Bermuda. On June 7, 1610, the leadership at Fort James decided to abandon Jamestown and sail to England. However, as the colonists were leaving Jamestown De la Warr arrived with new supplies and colonists. He insisted that the fleeing colonists return and rebuild Jamestown.

For the remainder of 1610 through early 1611, De la Warr exercised 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 Powhatan Indian to protect the colony which to the first Anglo-Powhatan War. The war did bring about any sort of resolution to the escalating tension within the fort and with the Powhatan Indians.

During his time 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. De la Warr’s decision to leave the colony was not well received among the other members of the Virginia Company and De la Warr had to defend himself via a letter published in June of that year. De la Warr, however, saw his return to England as temporary and set sail for Virginia in 1618, but died during the return voyage.

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

Billings, Warren M. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr (1576–1618)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.


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.