|After establishing the Jamestown settlement in the British colony of Virginia in 1607, Captain John Smith soon realized that it had little chance of success as long as it solely relied on English adventure seekers and treasure hunters as its residents. While such folks paid handsomely for passage to his fledging Virginia Company, they contributed little else to its viability and success. So, back in London for additional supplies in 1608, Smith hired a group of foreign tradesmen to help secure the survival of Jamestown. Smith recruited and hired the following Poles:|
|Jor (Jan) Mata - a glassmaker as a soapmaker
Jan Bogdan - a shipbuilder from Gdansk as a soapmaker
Stach Sadowski - a housebuilder from Radon as a lumber specialist
Zbigniew Stefanski - a glassmaker as a glassmaker
Michal Lowicki - a poor Polish nobleman born in England as leader
Dr. Lawrence Bohun - a physician born in England of parents from Bialystok
|When this group arrived at Jamestown on 1 October 1608 they found a squalid assemblage of huts in deplorable shape. In their first four days at Jamestown, the Poles rolled up their sleeves and dug a well, securing a reliable source of safe drinking water, something that the English settlers had failed to do. Shaking their heads in disbelief, they then began to build liveable shelters for the hapless English colonists. Shortly thereafter, they began making various glass objects so that that their English hosts would look less barbaric when it was time to eat or drink something. The entire settlement was on the verge of starvation. The four German mercenaries hired as guards for the colonists instead traded their rifles and ammunition to the natives for food. One German completely gave up and went to live with the Indians, teaching them the use of firearms in exchange for his sustenance. The Poles however quickly discovered that the native women coveted the small glass droplets that were scattered around the floor of their glassmaking hut. In a moment of inspiration, they began making glass beads to exchange for food from the Indian girls who used the beads to ornament their clothing. Captain John Smith was so delighted that somebody was actually being productive in his Virginia Company that he hired additional Poles, who arrived in October 1609.|
|Jan Bogdan and Zbigniew Stefanski, in the meantime, returned to Europe to reunite with and marry their sweethearts. In 1610, Jan and Anna Bogdan and Zbigniew and Berta Stefanski returned to Jamestown which now appeared much more likely to be successful.
Despite the importance of the Polish craftsmen to the success of the Jamestown settlement, British bigotry nearly destroyed the relationship between the English and Polish pioneers on several occassions. The exclusion of the Poles from citizenship and voting rights in the Virginia Colony resulted in the first organized labor strike in what is now the United States when the Polish craftsmen laid down their tools and the commercial life of the colony came to a standstill. The English colonists stubbornly refused to yield and Captain John Smith sent a hasty appeal to the British Crown for help. A royal decree was issued overturning the prejudiced law of the Virginia legislative assembly.
The relationship was further strained in 1619 with the arrival of a Dutch ship carrying 20 Africans to be sold at Jamestown as slaves.
|The Polish pioneers at Jamestown were witnesses to or participants in many firsts in America's history, some good (like the first Thanksgiving in 1619 and the first bourbon whiskey in 1621) and some bad. While Jan and Anna Bogdan and other Poles remained in the Virginia colony, Zig and Berta Stefanski returned to Berta's family home in Holland in 1622. It is from his firsthand account of the events in London and Jamestown that this correction to the traditional tale of the founding of Jamestown is based.|
|Dennis Benarz, Chicagoland USA 2003|
|So, when someone snobbishly remarks that their Pilgrim ancestors landed with the Mayflower in 1620, smile and respond that your Polish kinfolk had always wondered who it was exactly that was getting off that boat.|
Albert (Wojciech) Malaszko