Sir John James Ratcliffe

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Sir John James Ratcliffe (Rattclyffe)

Birthdate: (60)
Birthplace: Lancashire, England
Death: 1609 (55-63)
Immediate Family:

Son of John Ratclyffe and Alyce Rattclyffe
Husband of Joane Ratclyffe
Father of John Ratclyffe; Edward Ratcliffe and Richard Richard Ratcliff, Sr.
Brother of Lettys Rattclyffe; Edward Rattclyffe; Robert Rattclyffe; Alis Rattclyffe and Elyn Rattclyffe

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About Sir John James Ratcliffe

John Ratcliffe (died in December 1609) was captain of the Discovery, one of three ships that sailed from England on December 19, 1606, to Virginia, to found a colony, arriving May 13, 1607. He later became the second president of the colony which later became Jamestown. He was killed by the Powhatan Indians.


John Ratcliffe commanded the Discovery and became a councillor of the Jamestown Colony. He became president of the colony upon the deposition of Edward Maria Wingfield on September 10, 1607. Ratcliffe himself was removed in July 1608, and was succeeded by Matthew Scrivener.

Ratcliffe was elected president and asked John Smith to organize work details and expeditions to trade with Native Americans. By January 1608, only 40 colonists were alive and Ratcliffe and the Council planned to return to England on the Discovery. Ratcliffe's overgenerous trading provoked Smith to complain that they would soon run out of items to trade.

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.

During the governorship of George Percy, in August 1609, Ratcliffe was sent to build a fort at Old Point Comfort.

In September 1609, he traveled off with his 15 fellow men to trade with the Native Americans for food. It is said that he was led into an ambush and killed, along with 14 of his men, at Werowocomoco on the York River.

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 off 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 very 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 very 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 Disney's Pocahontas as Governor Ratcliffe, a greedy corrupt man who was the main antagonist. Here, he was voiced by Disney Legend David Ogden Stiers. In this adaptation, he is accompanied by the dog Percy (this name derived from George Percy) and by his servant Wiggins. He also appeared in the straight-to-video sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.

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Sir John James Ratcliffe's Timeline

Lancashire, England
Age 21
Age 31
Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
Age 36
Rossendale, Lancaster, England
Age 60