Following the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, English settlers moved west along the James River, settling homesteads along its banks. By 1619, settlement had reached the Rice Center property, for which a royal land patent for 8,000 acres had been granted for the formation of the Berkeley Company the previous year.
A carefully selected group of 38 colonists that included tenants, indentured servants and a small number of gentlemen, reached their settlement site on Dec. 3, 1619. While their purpose was to find a profitable resource — tobacco being the most likely candidate — their backers encouraged them to settle their stock of cattle and hogs and to make “gardens and general planting the basis of the new Hundred.”
As such, fortifications built by the settlers were constructed in order to keep animals out of crop fields rather than the local Indians out of the settlement — a sign that the Virginia Colony wasn’t feeling threatened by local native communities.
Causey and Irby
In 1620, King James I presented the property as part of a private land grant to Nathaniel Causey, who began to develop the land grant into a private plantation. The property was purchased by William Irby in 1791.
The portion of the property that is now the Rice Center lay along Berkeley’s western edge. After English settlement, the Rice Center land may have been used for agricultural or domestic purposes. Its proximity to Kimages Creek and the James River would have made it an attractive settlement site and a likely location for acquisition of resources. It’s likely that once the English began inhabiting the area, they quickly began using the property for planting crops and herding animals. As far as the documentary record indicates, a similar pattern continued at the Rice Center throughout the 18th century as the property was used primarily for agricultural purposes.