World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

John Ratcliffe (governor)

John Ratcliffe (1549 – September 1609) was captain of the Discovery, one of three ships that sailed from England on 19 December 1606 to Virginia to found a colony, arriving 26 April 1607. He later became the second president of the colony which later became Jamestown. He was killed by the Pamunkey Native Americans when he was going to trade with them in 1609.


  • Biography 1
  • Documented history by an eyewitness 2
  • In popular culture 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5


Ratcliffe was born in Lancashire. Many people say he used the alias John Sicklemore, but this was never confirmed. He served as a seaman before coming to Virginia, and he may be the Captain Ratcliffe taken prisoner with Sir Henry Cray and Captain Pigott at Mulheim in 1605.

John Ratcliffe commanded the Discovery and became a councillor of the Jamestown Colony. The Discovery was the smallest of all three ships; it only had a crew of 21 men. He became president of the colony upon the deposition of [1]

Ratcliffe worked with John Smith to kick Edward Wingfield out of the president spot because he was hiding food for himself that the colony needed.

Ratcliffe was elected president and asked

Ratcliffe accompanied Christopher Newport when he sailed from Virginia in 1608. He commanded the Diamond, one of the ships in the fleet of Sir Thomas Gates.[1]

In December 1609, Ratcliffe and 14 fellow colonists were invited to a gathering with the a tribe of Powhatan Indians. The Powhatans promised the starving colonists would be given corn, but it was a trap. The colonists were ambushed. Ratcliffe suffered a particular gruesome fate: Ratcliffe was tied to a stake in front of a fire. Women removed the skin from his face with mussel shells and tossed the pieces into the flame as he watched. Finally, he was burned at the stake.

There is documented evidence in Beaufort County, North Carolina of a John Ratcliff owning hundreds of acres of land which are documented to be given out only to the colonists. The colonists from Roanoke and Jamestown were the only English-Europeans in North Carolina in the 17th century. It is believed that every man from Roanoke was killed by the Indians, leaving only the colonists from Jamestown to take ownership over the land.

Although John Ratcliffe was a very popular name during Jamestown's first years, there were only two that arrived. The John Ratcliffe that was not suspected to have been killed can be traced back to the northern Virginia area. This John Ratcliffe that was supposed to have been killed by the Native Americans is the most likely grantee of this land. It is possible that there was some other man by this name who claimed the North Carolina land who was not on the ship records at Jamestown; however, it is not probable.

Documented history by an eyewitness

The story of Captain Ratcliffe was documented in an eyewitness account that is included in The Jamestown Adventure: Accounts of the Virginia Colony, 1605–1614 (Real Voices, Real History), edited by Ed Southern.

...when the sly old King espied a fitting time, cut them all off, only surprised Captain Ratcliffe alive, who he caused to be bound unto a tree naked with a fire before, and by women his flesh was scraped from his bones with mussel shells, and, before his face, thrown into the fire, and so for want of circumspection miserably perished.

In popular culture

Ratcliffe was portrayed in Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, where he plans to dupe King James I into allowing him into sending a large navy armada to initiate a genocide against Powhatans by attempting to sabotage the diplomatic meetings between Pocahontas and the king.

In reality, Ratcliffe stressed the importance of trade and peace with Chief Powhatan's tribe, not ruthlessness and barbarity. This is just one of multiple historical inaccuracies in the film.


  1. ^ a b Tyler, Lyon Gardiner, ed. (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. I, pp. 33–34. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company.


  • Jamestown
  • Beaufort County Court House, 112 W Second St, Washington, NC 27889-1403, Public Records, Log of Transactions
  • Raymond F. Dolle, "Captain John Smith's Satire of Sir Walter Raleigh"
  • David Morenus, "The Real Pocahontas"
  • "Virginia Records Timeline: 1553–1743", United State Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Papers
  • Price, David A., Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation (New York: Knopf, 2003)
  • Property Records from Beaufort County Courthouse, North Carolina
  • The Jamestown Adventure: Accounts of the Virginia Colony, 1605–1614 (Real Voices, Real History) by Ed Southern (Editor) (Winston-Salem NC: Blair, 2004)
Government offices
Preceded by
Edward Maria Wingfield
Colonial Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
Matthew Scrivener
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.