1619 Jamestown Polish craftsmen strike

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The Jamestown Polish craftsmen's strike of 1619 occurred in the settlement of Jamestown in the Virginia colony, and was the first strike in the recorded history of North America.[1][2][3] Polish craftsmen had been brought to the colony by colonial leader John Smith to make glassware, pitch, and tar.[4] When the colony held its first election in 1619, the Polish craftsmen were not allowed to vote, and they went on strike on July 30, 1619.[1][3][5][6] Due to the economic importance of these craftsmen in the young colony, colonial leaders bowed to the pressure and gave full voting rights to the Poles.[1]


John Smith first encountered and was impressed with the talents of Polish craftsmen when he traveled through Poland in 1602,[4] fleeing the Turks who had imprisoned him. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was then the largest kingdom of Europe, covering the present territory of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia and parts of Russia.

Early in Jamestown's history, Smith and the Virginia Company began recruiting workers from that region to come to their new colony,[4] the first of these workers arrived among the second group of colonists to arrive in the colony in 1608; two of the workers would later save Smith's life in an attack by Native Americans[2][3][4][7][8] (also noted in "Smith's own journals").[1][5] Although most historical accounts refer to the group of craftsmen as Polish, some accounts refer to other nationalities that may have been part of the group of non-English craftsmen in Jamestown, including Germans,[2][9] Slovaks,[5][10][11][12] and Armenians.[9]

The Polish workers began producing glassware, pitch, and potash soon after their arrival in 1608, these goods were used in the colony, but were also important as they were the first goods exported from the colony to Europe.[2] Later arrivals produced tar, resin, turpentine,[2] clapboard, and frankincense as well.[9]

Despite their economic value, when the first elections in the colony were held in 1619, the colony's Governor forbade the Polish workers from voting, his justification in doing so was purely ethnic. The craftsmen in response, refused to work unless they were given the right to vote.[1][5][6] Under this pressure, the General Assembly of Virginia reversed the decision to disenfranchise the craftsmen, and simultaneously struck an agreement with the craftsmen to apprentice young men from the colony,[1][2] the colonial leaders feared not only the loss of income and labor, but that the colony might gain a reputation for not being welcoming to further non-English settlers, especially skilled craftsmen.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Pula, James S. (2008). "Fact vs. Fiction: What Do We Really Know About The Polish Presence In Early Jamestown?". The Polish Review. 53 (4): 477–493. JSTOR 25779776. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Grizzard, Jr., Frank E.; Smith, Boyd D. (2007). Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. ABC-CLIO. p. 171. ISBN 1-85109-637-X. 
  3. ^ a b c Holshouser, Joshua D.; Brylinsk-Padnbey, Lucyna; Kielbasa, Katarzyna (July 2007). "Jamestown: The Birth of American Polonia 1608-2008 (The Role and Accomplishments of Polish Pioneers in the Jamestown Colony)". Polish American Congress. Retrieved October 3, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Barbour, Philip L. (January 1964). "The Identity of the First Poles in America". The William and Mary Quarterly. 21 (1): 77–92. JSTOR 1923357. 
  5. ^ a b c d Odrowaz-Sypniewska, Margaret (Jun 29, 2007). "Poles and Powhatans in Jamestown, Virginia (1606-1617)". Retrieved October 3, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Badaczewski, Dennis (February 28, 2002). Poles in Michigan. Michigan State University Press. ISBN 978-0870136184. 
  7. ^ Staff (September 28, 1958). "Jamestown Pioneers From Poland". Polish American Congress. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  8. ^ Ogredowski, Melvin R. (1975). The First hundred years, 1875-1975. Toldeo, Ohio: St. Hedwig Parish. p. 60. ASIN B007RQ3E76. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d Perlmutter, Philip (1999). Legacy of Hate: A Short History of Ethnic, Religious, and Racial Prejudice in America. M.E. Sharpe. p. 16. ISBN 0-7656-0406-X. 
  10. ^ Congressional Record (July 5, 1956). "Congressional Record - 1956". Congressional Record. pp. 11905–11906. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  11. ^ Biega, Bill (2007). "Polish immigrants contribute to America". Syrena Press. Retrieved October 3, 2014. 
  12. ^ Smith, John (1624). "VII". The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles-The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations. 1. American Memory. pp. 150–184. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 

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