Facts about Jamestown

We found 32 facts about Jamestown

The first permanent British colony in New World

Although it has not been the first attempt to establish a colony in North America, Jamestown is the first permanent British settlement in the present day U.S. It was far from successful, however, facing various troubles in the first three years, but in the end, it achieved its purpose. To most people, Jamestown is known thanks to Disney’s animated movie, Pocahontas.

The idea of establishing an overseas British colony came from the Virginia Company of London, with the blessing of King James I.
King James I charted the Virginia Company of London in 1606 with the sole goal of colonizing the eastern coast of North America, while its investors started planning a colony six years prior.

King James VI and I (James I of England and James VI of Scotland) was the longest reigning monarch of Scotland (57 years), while it was a sovereign state, ascending to the throne at the age of 13 months (Queen Elizabeth II reigned for over 70 years, however, over the United Kingdom as a whole).
A group of 104 settlers set on three ships–Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery–in December 1606.
They aimed to establish a permanent colony in North America. There have been previous attempts, however, no colony survived. Historians claim that all previous attempts to establish a permanent settlement failed, most likely due to colonists choosing to live with indigenous inhabitants of North America.
The settlement of Jamestown in the Virginia colony was established on May 14th, 1607.
It was named in honor of King James I.
There were no female settlers.
All colonists were either men or young boys. There are suggestions that women were reluctant to immigrate overseas with the initial group of colonists, and thus first female settlers arrived in 1608.
The colonists were divided into three groups.
The first group was tasked with the construction of various buildings, including houses, fortifications, and a storehouse. The second group was to focus on agriculture, and the third was supposed to survey the area.
Historians state that the settlement was built on a swampy peninsula, with no close proximity to fresh water.
The nearest fresh water depot, James River, was located 94 kilometers away from the settlement.
The settlement site was chosen by the Virginia Company of London.
It was far inland, with three sides surrounded by water, to minimize the threat of an attack from Spanish colonists. One of the main factors was the fact that the terrain was not inhabited by Natives, so the British would not provoke them with their arrival.
The first elected president of Jamestown was Edward Maria Wingfield.
Winfield was a founding member of the Virginia Company of London. He arrived in North America with initial settlers and was appointed the president of Jamestown. Because of frequent clashes with Captain John Smith and other colleagues, he was sent back to England in 1608 after being demoted.
Soon after the arrival of the British, they engaged in a crossfire with the local Indian tribe, the Powhatan.
The Powhatan Indians inhabited eastern Virginia. During the British colonization of 1607, there were approximately 14,000-21,000 Powhatans living in the region surrounding Jamestown, the Tsenacommacah.

The construction of fortifications was not yet completed, so the settlers used naval gunfire from the ships docked nearby. That prevented Jamestown from being overwhelmed by hundreds of Natives storming the settlement.
A month after settling in North America, Jamestown was well fortified and safe from any potential attacks from the Powhatan.
When the fortifications were completed, Captain Christopher Newport sailed back to England to gather more supplies for colonists.
The relationship between the inhabitants of Jamestown and Powhatans was mixed from the beginning.
During the first crucial months, Chief Wahunsenacawh, commonly referred to as Chief Powhatan, supported the colony with food offerings. However, over time, the settlers started growing bolder toward Powhatans, demanding more supplies, especially during the drought in 1609.
By January 1608, only 38 of the initial Jamestown inhabitants were accounted for.
The settlers drank salty water, most likely contaminated with arsenic. They contracted various diseases, such as dysentery, and did not possess sufficient hunting abilities. Food offerings from the Powhatans were not enough to supply the whole colony, and soon it succumbed to famine.
According to historians, the fate of Jamestown could have been sealed at the turn of 1609 and 1610.
A new group of settlers arrived in Jamestown in 1609. However, ships carrying enough supplies for the colony had run aground in Bermuda. The winter of 1609 and 1610 is referred to as “Starving Time.” Because of the increasing hostilities with the Powhatans, who decided to lay siege to Jamestown, many settlers refused to leave the fort in fear of being kidnapped or killed by the Natives and thus were forced to consume whatever was available, including various animals, such as horses, dogs, and rats, and leather from their belts or shoes. The settlers also exhibited cannibalistic tendencies, consuming deceased colleagues.
The Powhatans lifted the siege in the spring of 1610 when the famine and diseases decimated the colony.
The number of colonists dropped by more than half. Historians state that the Powhatans allowed the remaining settlers to plant crops and rebuild what was lost.
There are several theories why the colony needed so many years to start running the settlement with success.
The initial governing party demanded that the settlers focus on agriculture, but it is suspected that people were not keen on working together. They were more interested in hunting, despite lacking the skill, and were unsuccessful. If not for the food offerings from the Natives, the settlement may have been deserted like all the previously established by the British, i.e. Roanoke.
Newcomers that arrived in Jamestown in 1610, helped preserve the colony.
New colonists consisted of skilled carpenters, farmers, laborers, and shipwrights. Moreover, the number of supplies brought from England allowed Jamestown settlers to survive and expand.
The history of Jamestown was romanticized over the years and led to the production of Walt Disney’s animated movie Pocahontas.
It tells the love story of Captain John Smith and the daughter of the Chief of Powhatan Indians. The story looked different in real life, however, and stories about Pocahontas told by John Smith have been contested.

For instance, the movie claim Pocahontas saved Smith’s life, but there is no evidence backing this theory. Historians claim there may have been a situation when Smith, while visiting the Powhatans to gather more food supplies for the colony, was offered to undergo an initiation into the tribe. If that was the case, and it had involved him being tied up, Pocahontas, as a daughter of the Chief would most definitely know Smith’s life was not in any danger.
John Smith probably arrived in North America in shackles.
It was a result of mutiny aboard the ship. Since his name was among those chosen to govern the settlement, it saved his life from being hanged. He was elected president of Jamestown in September 1608.
Pocahontas was a nickname given to an Indian girl named Matoaka by her parents in childhood.
It means a “playful one.” Matoaka was the daughter of the leader of Powhatans living nearby Jamestown. She was approximately 11 years old in 1607 and got engaged in aiding the settlers by delivering food to Jamestown. She was prone to dialogue with newcomers, contrary to her father, who lost patience with greedy settlers in late 1609. However, during the 1613 armed conflict between Jamestown and the Powhatans, she was captured, baptized, and converted to Christianity.
Pocahontas married a successful tobacco planter, John Rolfe, in 1614.
Soon after, she gave birth to a boy named Thomas Rolfe and left for England in 1617 with her husband and their child. She became something of a celebrity, an example of a “civilized savage”. She was even introduced to King James I. Pocahontas died in 1618 at the age of 20 or 21, probably of the black death.
The statue of Princess Pocahontas was placed on Jamestown Island in 1922.
It is the most iconic and famous landmark of Jamestown.
John Rolfe’s tobacco plantation is the reason the colony survived.
Upon Rolfe’s arrival in Jamestown in 1610, he started a plantation with South American tobacco seeds he probably gathered in Bermuda or Trinidad. It brought great financial support to the colony. It could have, however, cause conflict between the British and Spanish colonists, since any smuggled South American tobacco would have been the property of the Spanish.
Despite Spain and Britain being at war, once Spanish colonists discovered the British settlement, instead of engaging in conflict, they focused on eradicating the Natives and expanding their territories and influence.
There have been cases of planting Spanish spies among the residents of Jamestown, and there is historical evidence of the British executing at least one of them—the councilman Captain George Kendall, whose execution was carried out in 1609.
Until the end of the 20th century, tobacco was the number-one export product of Virginia.
South American tobacco was much sweeter and quickly gained popularity in England.
In 1619, the first Africans were forcibly shipped to work in tobacco fields in Virginia.
Those were not the first enslaved Africans brought to North America, however. The Spanish shipped them to their colony, San Agustin, established on September 8th, 1565.
On July 30th, 1619, the representatives of the Virginia colony formed the first legislative assembly, called the General Assembly.
It was the first step in creating the body of government that developed into the present-day United States of America. It developed into the House of Burgesses in 1642, and since 1643, it had been the colony’s law-making body.

One of the most memorable members of the House of Burgesses was the Founding Fathers of the United States - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.
Pocahontas and John Rolfe's marriage brought temporary peace between the settlers and the Powhatans.
It lasted until 1622 when Chief Opechancanough coordinated an attack on the settlement. Out of 1,200, approximately 400 settlers were killed. The death toll would be higher if not for the Powhatan boy living with the English, who warned the settlers of the planned attack, allowing most of them to flee.
The war lasted for the next ten years.
It is known as the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. As usual, the Powhatans withdrew after several months, giving the newcomers a chance to either leave or learn their lesson. However, with the aid gathered from England, the settlers retaliated and fought the Natives until both groups reached peace in 1632.
By the 1630s, Jamestown settlement was dominating the region of the eastern Virginia Peninsula.
Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676-1677 was the most serious conflict between the colonists and royal authority.
The governor had constantly refused military aid to a planter named Nathaniel Bacon to expel the Natives from their lands surrounding the British colony. Once he dealt with the Indians himself, he was joined by poor farmers who opposed the governor because of high taxes. Bacon pointed their anger toward the governor and the settlement of Jamestown. As a result, the governor was driven out, and the settlement was set aflame.
Jamestown was the capital city of the Virginia Colony until 1699.
As a result of Bacon’s Rebellion, which led to the final, although not only one, burnings of the settlement, the seat of the government had moved to Williamsburg.
Since 2022, Jamestown has been listed as one of the country’s most endangered historic places in the U.S.
Frequent flooding, caused by rising sea levels, and the general location of the settlement, affects this still active dig site, and its treasures.
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