History of the First Colony Area on the James
Our Community is located in a very historic area. Before the arrival of the first English settlers at Jamestown in 1607, our area belonged to the Pasbehegh Indians, a tribe of the powerful Powhatan Confederacy. Actually, the Pasbehegh had their villages west of the Chickahominy River and used our area for hunting and fishing as they considered our soil too poor for cultivation.
After the English settled at Jamestown Island, hunting parties frequently came over to “The Maine” (Mainland). In 1617 Governor Samual Argall established Argall Towne, one of the first colonies in the James River valley. During the 1622 Indian Massacre, the settlers took refuge in Jamestown. The 1625 census lists 43 inhabitants. After Governor Yeardley’s arrival in 1619, he laid out 3,000 acres extending from Glass House Point to the Chickahominy, as “Governor’s Land”. Henceforth, settlers had to pay “petty rente” to the Governor. This gradually discouraged further settlement of the area, although the area was inhabited for about 200 years.
On July 6, 1781, in a preliminary to the siege of Yorktown, American Forces commanded by General “mad Anthony” Wayne, attacked the rear of a British column, commanded by General Cornwallis, which was moving east along Green Spring Road (now Route 614), but was forced to retire in the face of superior numbers. This engagement became known as the “Battle of Green Spring”.
Early in the 19th century, our area reverted to timberland, which was periodically logged. A timber-loading pier was constructed out into the James River just upstream from today's beach.
In 1955, the 18-lot Shellbank Subdivision was laid out along the river, extending downstream from Shellbank Creek to the beach. Shellbank, incidentally, is a geologist’s term for a Talbot terrace made up of marine deposits, including shells. The shell terraces were deposited before the last Ice Age. Presently, the James River is below that terrace level.
In 1962, the First Colony subdivision was laid out by the First Land Corporation of Newport News. It has 276 lots, of which 108 are around Lake Pasbehegh, which was formed by damming a swamp. In 1978, the Shellbank Woods subdivision, containing 92 lots spread over 111 acres, was started on the land lying between First Colony and Shellbank Marsh.
In 1986, the Heritage Landing subdivision was started on the land lying north of Shellbank Woods; it now contains 93 lots spread over 70 acres. The same year, Chestnut Hills was started off John Rolfe Lane. The population of our area has steadily grown; 57 houses in 1975, 192 in 1980, 242 in 1985 and 453 built and occupied in September 1991. There are currently 510 homeowners living in our community.
The First Colony Civic Association was incorporated in the State of Virginia on January 31, 1967. In 1978, it acquired title from the First Land Corporation to the approximately 50 acres of recreational property including the beach and boat basin, Lake Pasbehegh and the Park. In 1988 it was renamed the Greater First Colony Area Civic Association to encompass all five subdivisions in our area.
The Civic Association is now responsible for the development and maintenance of the physical facilities of First Colony, including the recreational areas, roadways and night lights at the beach and park. The Association also promotes the social atmosphere of First Colony with picnics, dances, children’s parties and athletic events. It also is the formal contact with local government and other community groups.
Robert L. Clifford