Jamestown Colony, English settlement, Achievements
13 Colonies History

Early Jamestown Colony

The Virginia Society, a cooperative enterprise made up of about 100 people, established the first permanent English settlement in the United States on May 14 along the shores of the James River.

Before a new batch of residents and resources arrived in 1610, Jamestown had been brought to the verge of disaster by famine, disease, and battle with nearby Native American groups in the first two years. Following the union of colonist John Rolfe with Pocahontas, the daughter of an Algonquian chief, there was a period of calm, and tobacco became Virginia’s first lucrative export. Jamestown grew during the 1620s, moving from the vicinity of the original James Fort to a New Town established to the east. Up until 1699, it served as the colony’s capital.

English Settlement in the New World

Spain dominated the race to create colonies throughout the Americas after Christopher Columbus‘ famous trip in 1492, while English efforts, like the “lost colony” of Roanoke, failed. The Virginia Firm received a charter from King James I in 1606 to establish a settlement in North America.

In memory of Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen,” Virginia was the name given at the time to the entire eastern coast of North America north of Florida. In order to develop trading with the Orient, the Virginia Company intended to look for precious metals reserves in the New World as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean.

On three ships (the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, as well as the Expedition), about 100 colonists sailed from England in late December 1606 and arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in late April of the previous year. The group started looking for an appropriate colony site after establishing a governing council that also included Captain John Smith, a former soldier who had been suspected of being an obnoxious crew member, and Christopher Newport, the ship’s commander. They arrived on a little peninsula on the James River on May 13, 1607, where they would start their lives in the New World.

Surviving the First Years

The new group, which went by the names James Forte, James Towne, and James Cittie, at first consisted of a hardwood castle constructed in the shape of a triangle surrounding a warehouse for goods and armaments, a church, and a number of residences. Newport returned to England in the summer of 1607 with two ships and 40 crew members to deliver a report to the king and to gather more supplies and settlers.

The colonists who remained behind endured severe hunger and diseases like cholera and dysentery brought on by consuming tainted water from a nearby wetland. A persistent threat of attack from local Algonquian tribesmen, the majority of which were unified under Chief Powhatan to form a sort of empire, also remained for settlers.

Even by the start of 1608, the settlers had developed a far trade with Powhatan’s clan thanks to an agreement signed between Powhatan and John Smith. Skirmishes between the two groups continued, but the Native Americans traded grain for the English’s beads, iron tools, and other items (including some swords), who would rely on this commerce for survival in the early years of the colony.

The people of Jamestown endured a long, severe winter called “The Starving Time” when Smith left for England in the late 1609s, during which time more than 100 of them were killed. People in need have reportedly eaten animals and shoe leather, according to firsthand reports. Some of the colonists in Jamestown even engaged in cannibalism.

Growth of the Colony

De La Warr quickly fell ill and returned home, but Sir Thomas Gates, De La Warr’s successor, and Sir Thomas Dale, Gates’ second-in-command, assumed full control of the colony and published a set of new rules that, among other things, severely restricted relations between settlers and Algonquians. They adopted a strict stance toward the Powhatan tribe and carried out raids against Algonquian villages, killing locals and setting crops and buildings on fire.

By the fall of 1611, the English had managed to harvest a respectable crop of maize themselves and had started to construct further castles and towns up and down the James River. They also acquired other useful skills from the Algonquians, such as how to use tree bark to protect their houses from storms, and they enlarged Jamestown into a New Town to the east of the original fort.

Following the union of the colonist and tobacco planter John Rolfe with Pocahontas, the chief Powhatan’s daughter who was taken by the colonists and converted to Christianity in April 1614, there was a brief period of relative peace. (According to John Smith, when she was just a young girl and he was her father’s captive in 1607, Pocahontas had protected him from murder.) Jamestown’s economy started to flourish largely as a result of Rolfe’s introduction of a brand-new variety of tobacco produced from seeds acquired from the West Indies.

Jamestown Abandoned

Jamestown’s principal state capitol was destroyed by fire in 1698, and Middle Plantation, which is now Williamsburg, took its place as the colony’s seat of government the following year. Although there were still some residents and farmers there, Jamestown was all but deserted.

Military outposts were located on Jamestown Island during both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Preservationists carried out a significant repair of the region in the 20th century. It is presently controlled by the National Park Service as a section of the Colonial National Historical Park known as “Historic Jamestowne.” Beginning in 1994, the Jamestown Renaissance archaeological project looks at objects found at the settlement to learn more about everyday life in the first established English colony in the New World.