Henry Fleete: Northern Neck Adventurer
Commentator Thea Marshall catches up with an early Northern Neck adventurer, the first of the Neck's fleet of Fleetes, Henry Fleete.
There are many signs leading to someplace that includes the name of Fleete. Yet I’ve neglected to tell a tale of the fleet of Fleetes that are bound here on the Northern Neck, particularly since I have often run into the mayor of Irvington, Alex Fleet, who is a direct descendant of Henry Fleete, the emigrant, and how could I have neglected Henry Fleete, the emigrant, since he, way back in the 1600’s, may have run into my favorite adventurer of yore, young Henry Spellman, and witnessed his tragic end. Henry Fleete’s story, like thousands of others, is stamped on one of the countless road markers that give us a shorthand version of history. His reads in part, “Fleete, born about 1602 in Kent, England, moved to Jamestown in 1621, was seized by the Anacostan Indians during a trading expedition, held for five years, learned their language and, after his release, became a negotiator for the Virginia and Maryland colonies. Fleete helped establish Maryland and later served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He established the boundaries of Lancaster County. In May 1661 Fleete died and was buried at his home on Fleete’s Island, Lancaster.”
So, let me give you a slightly longer version. Henry Fleete Sr. was one of our earliest explorers. The ships he sailed were filled with supplies for the new colonies, including young women and wives for Virginia’s planters. But, it was on a dreadful trip up the Potomac River that Henry Fleete and his men were attacked and captured by Indians. He made good use of his captivity. He learned their language. The time just before he was ransomed may have been when Fleete’s life became briefly intertwined with that other Henry, known as Harry Spellman, the boy I’ve written about and have called the real live version of that other Harry, the fictional Harry Potter. There seems to be some evidence that Fleete was a witness to the attack that ended the life of Henry Spellman. Spellman, too, had learned at least one of the Indian languages, became an interpreter, went back to England, wrote the first description of the lifestyles of the Northern Neck in his book called Relation of Virginia. He came back here for more adventuring and was the victim at the age of 28 of that massacre that Henry Fleete survived.
After Fleete’s ransom, he went back to England, became a partner and agent for a group of London merchants, and he traded for years with the Indians. After a long life of accomplishments, he came back to the Neck to what became his final home, and at the age of 59, his burial place: Fleet’s Bay in Lancaster County. Alas, there’s nothing to mark the very short life filled with many accomplishments of that other Henry, Henry Spellman.
This is Thea Marshall.