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Jamestown, Virginia

Jamestown, located on Jamestown Island in the Virginia Colony, was founded on May 14, 1607. It is commonly regarded as the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts. It was founded by the Virginia Company, headquartered in London. Located in James City County when it was formed in 1634 as one of the original eight shires of Virginia, Jamestown was the capital of the Colony for 83 years, from 1616 until 1698. At that time, the capital was relocated to Middle Plantation, about distant. (That small community, which had also become home to the new College of William and Mary in 1693, was renamed Williamsburg in 1699).

Jamestown is one of three locations comprising the Historic Triangle of Colonial Virginia: Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. Jamestown offers two areas to visit. Historic Jamestowne, on Jamestown Island, is a cooperative effort by Jamestown National Historic Site, a part of Colonial National Historical Park, which is a unit of the National Park Service, and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The other attraction is known as Jamestown Settlement, and located from the historic location of the colony. It is a Living History interpretive site operated by the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation in conjunction with the Commonwealth of Virginia and was established for the 350th anniversary celebrations of Jamestown in 1957.

Nearby, the Jamestown Ferry service provides a link across the navigable portion of the James River for vehicles and offers passengers a view of Jamestown Island from the river, which is perhaps not greatly different from what the first colonists saw 400 years earlier. Traveling East down the National Park Service's scenic Colonial Parkway visitors can tour Colonial Williamsburg operated by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, site of the second capitol of Virginia. Continuing another East down the Colonial Parkway brings visitors to Yorktown, with another two areas to visit. Yorktown Battlefield also a part of Colonial National Historical Park, is operated by the National Park Service and is the site of the actual Battle of Yorktown. Located approximately from the battlefield, the Yorktown Victory Center is another living history interpretive site operated by the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation.

Historical overview 1607-1705

During the 16th and 17th centuries, various European countries competed to establish colonies in the portion of the "New World" we presently know as North America. One of the English attempts, a competitive effort by two proprietary arms of the Virginia Company, resulted in the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1607.

For more information about other settlements in North America by England and other countries, both successful and failed, and maps showing lands originally considered to be part of "Virginia" by the English, see article Colony and Dominion of Virginia.

Jamestown (originally also called "James Towne" or "Jamestowne") is located on the James River in what is currently James City County in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The site is about 40 miles (62 km) inland from the Atlantic Ocean and the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and about 45 miles (70 km) downstream and southeast of the current state capital city of Richmond. Both the river and the settlement were named for King James I of England, who was on the throne at the time, granted the private proprietorship to the Virginia Company of London's enterprise.

The location at Jamestown Island was selected primarily because it offered a favorable strategic defensive position against other European forces which might approach by water. However, the colonists soon discovered that the swampy and isolated site was plagued by mosquitoes and tidal river water unsuitable for drinking, and offered limited opportunities for hunting and little space for farming. The area was also inhabited by Native Americans (American Indians).

Despite inspired leadership of John Smith, chaplain Robert Hunt and others, starvation, hostile relations with the Indians, and lack of profitable exports all threatened the survival of the Colony in the early years as the settlers and the Virginia Company of London each struggled. However, colonist John Rolfe introduced a strain of tobacco which was successfully exported in 1612, and the financial outlook for the colony became more favorable. Two years later, Rolfe married the young Indian woman Pocahontas, daughter of Wahunsunacock, Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, and a period of relative peace with the Natives followed. In 1616, the Rolfes made a public relations trip to England, where Pocahontas was received as visiting royalty. Changes by the Virginia Company which became effective in 1619 attracted additional investments, also sowing the first seeds of democracy in the process with a locally-elected body which became the House of Burgesses, the first such representative legislative body in the New World. Throughout the 17th century, Jamestown was the capital of the Virginia Colony. Several times during emergencies, the seat of government for the colony was shifted temporarily to nearby Middle Plantation, a fortified location on the high ridge approximately equidistant from the James and York Rivers on the Virginia Peninsula. Shortly after the Colony was finally granted a long-desired Charter of Virginia, 1606 and established the new College of William and Mary at Middle Plantation, the capital of the Colony was permanently relocated nearby. In 1699, the new capital town was renamed Williamsburg, in honor of the current British king, William III.

After the capital was relocated, Jamestown began a gradual loss of prominence and eventually reverted to a few large farms. It again became a significant point for control of the James River during the American Civil War (1861–1865), and then slid back into seeming oblivion. Even the Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was held elsewhere, at a more accessible location at Sewell's Point, on Hampton Roads near Norfolk.

Beginning in 1893, of the Jamestown site were acquired by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. A crucial sea wall was built in 1900 to protect the shoreline near the site of James Fort from further erosion. In the 1930s, the Colonial National Historical Park was established to protect and administer Jamestown, which was designated a National Historic Site. The U.S. National Park Service acquired the remaining of Jamestown Island through eminent domain in 1934.

For the 350th anniversary in 1957, Jamestown itself was the site of renewed interest and a huge celebration. The National Park Service provided new access with the completion of the Colonial Parkway which led to Williamsburg, home of the restored capital of Colonial Williamsburg, and then on to Yorktown, the other two portions of Colonial Virginia's Historic Triangle. Major projects such as the Jamestown Festival Park were developed by non-profit, state and federal agencies. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Prince Philip attended. The 1957 event was a great success. Tourism became continuous with attractions regularly updated and enhanced.

The two major attractions at Jamestown are separate, but complementary to each other. The state-sponsored Jamestown Settlement near the entrance to Jamestown Island includes a recreated English Fort and Native American Village, extensive indoor and outdoor displays, and features the three popular replica ships. On Jamestown Island itself, the National Park Service operates Historic Jamestowne. Over a million artifacts have been recovered by the Jamestown Rediscovery project with ongoing archaeological work, including a number of exciting recent discoveries.

Early in the 21st century, in preparation for the Jamestown 2007 event commemorating America's 400th Anniversary, new accommodations, transportation facilities and attractions were planned. The celebration began in the Spring of 2006 with the sailing of a new replica Godspeed to six major East Coast U.S. cities, where several hundred thousand people viewed it. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip joined America's festivities on an official state visit to Jamestown in May 2007.

History of the Jamestown Settlement 1607-1699

First landing

In December 1606, the Virginia Company of London sent an expedition to establish a settlement in the Virginia Colony, which became Jamestown. After an unusually lengthy trip sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from England, the three ships, the Susan Constant (sometimes known as the Sarah Constant), the Godspeed, and the Discovery (smallest of the three) reached the New World at the southern edge of the mouth of what is now known as the Chesapeake Bay. The ships left Blackwall, now part of London, with 104 men and boys; 39 of which were the ships' crew . The voyage was uncommonly long; one of the passengers was found dead in the Caribbean . After 144 days, it is recorded that 103 of them finally arrived in the New World; there were no women on the first ships.

Led by Captain Christopher Newport, they made landfall on April 26, 1607 and named the location Cape Henry, in honor of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King James. Upon landing, Chaplain Robert Hunt offered a prayer and they set up a cross near the site of the current Cape Henry Memorial. This site came to be known as the "first landing." A party of the men explored the area and had a minor conflict with some Native Americans.

Exploration, seeking a site

Sealed Orders from the Virginia Company were opened which named Captain John Smith as a member of the governing Council. Smith had been arrested for mutiny on the voyage over by Christopher Newport and was incarcerated aboard one of the ships and had been scheduled to be hanged upon arrival, but was later freed by Captain Newport after the opening of the orders. The same orders also directed them to seek an inland site for their settlement which would afford protection from enemy ships.

Therefore, the group re-boarded their three ships and proceeded into the Chesapeake Bay landing again at what is now called Old Point Comfort in the City of Hampton. In the following days, the ships ventured inland upstream along the James River seeking a suitable location for their settlement as defined in their orders. The James River and the initial settlement they sought to establish, (originally called "James His Towne") were named in honor of King James I.

Selecting Jamestown

Arriving on May 14, 1607, the colonists chose Jamestown Island for their settlement largely because the Virginia Company advised them to select a location that could be easily defended from ocean-going navies of the other European states that were also establishing New World colonies and were periodically at war with England, notably the Dutch Republic, France and especially Spain. The island fit the criteria as it had excellent visibility up and down what is today called the James River and it was far enough inland to minimize the potential of contact and conflict with enemy ships. The water immediately adjacent to the land was deep enough to permit the colonists to anchor their ships yet have an easy and quick departure if necessary. An additional benefit of the site was that the land was not occupied by Native Americans, most of whom in the area were affiliated with the Powhatan Confederacy.

The settlers came ashore, and quickly set about constructing their initial fort. Within a month, James Fort covered an acre on Jamestown Island, although it burned down the following year. The wooden palisaded walls formed a triangle around a storehouse, church, and a number of houses.

Explanation: Island vs Peninsula

Jamestown is often referred to as an island. During periods of the past 400 years, it has been joined by a narrow land bridge (or "isthmus") to the mainland; at other times, the flow and fluctuations of the James River severed and recreated the connection, thus perhaps the confusion in definition.

Although it is technically a peninsula when thus connected, functionally, in many ways, Jamestown throughout the past 400 years has been an island. Largely cut off from the mainland's typical game and wildlife by natural forces, the shallow harbor afforded the earliest settlers docking of their ships. This was its great attraction, one which came at the price of other far less favorable conditions.

Challenges of the location

It soon became apparent why the Native Americans did not occupy the site, and the inhospitable conditions severely challenged the settlers. Jamestown Island is a swampy area, and furthermore, it was isolated from most potential hunting game such as deer and bears which like to forage over much larger areas. The settlers quickly hunted and killed off all the large and smaller game that was to be found on the tiny peninsula. The low, marshy area was infested with mosquitoes, other airborne pests and the brackish water of the tidal James River was not a good source of water.

The settlers who came over on the initial three ships were not well-equipped for the life they found in Jamestown. In addition to the "gentlemen", who were not accustomed to manual or skilled labor, they consisted mainly of English farmers and "Eight Dutchmen and Poles" hired in Royal Prussia. Many suffered from saltwater poisoning which led to infection, fevers and dysentery. As a result of these conditions, most of the early settlers died of disease and starvation.

Despite the immediate area of Jamestown being uninhabited, the settlers were attacked, less than a fortnight after their arrival on May 14, by Paspahegh Indians who succeeded in killing one of the settlers and wounding eleven more. By June 15, the settlers finished the initial triangle James Fort. A week later, Newport sailed back for London on the Susan Constant with a load of pyrite ("fools' gold") and other supposedly precious minerals, leaving the tiny Discovery behind for the use of the colonists. Newport returned twice from England with additional supplies in the following 18 months, leading what were termed the First and Second Supply missions.

Original Council, notables of Jamestown in 1607

King James I had outlined the members of the Council to govern the settlement in the sealed orders which left London with the colonists in 1606.

Those named for the initial Council were (alphabetically):

The Council received additional members from the First and Second Supply missions brought by Captain Newport. These were:

Also notable among the first settlers was:

Chaplain Hunt gave the first prayer at Cape Henry on April 26, 1607, and held open-air services at Jamestown until shelter and a more appropriate church were built there.

First and Second Supply missions to Jamestown

A week after the initial Fort at Jamestown was completed, Newport sailed back for London in June 1607 on the Susan Constant with a load of pyrite ("fools' gold") and other supposedly precious minerals, leaving behind 104 colonists, and the tiny Discovery for the use of the colonists.

Newport returned twice from England with additional supplies in the following 18 months, leading what was termed the First and Second Supply missions.

The "First Supply" arrived on January 2, 1608. Again, it contained insufficient provisions and 70 new colonists. Likewise, Newport's "Second Supply" brought 70 more settlers, including some craftsmen, but added little to the welfare of the colony.

Despite original intentions to grow food and trade with the Native Americans, the barely surviving colonists became dependent upon the supply missions.

First non-English settlers

On October 1, 1608, a company of settlers arrived aboard the English vessel Mary and Margaret with the Second Supply. The journey took roughly three months. The company recruited these as skilled craftsmen and industry specialists: soap-ash, glass, lumber milling (wainscot, clapboard, and ‘deal’ — planks, especially soft wood planks) and naval stores (pitch, turpentine, and tar). Among these additional settlers were eight "Dutch-men" (consisting of unnamed craftsmen and three who were probably the wood-mill-men — Adam, Franz and Samuel) "Dutch-men" probably meaning German or German-speakers), and Polish craftsmen, who had been hired by the Virginia Company of London's leaders to help develop manufacture profitable export products. There has been debate about the nationality of the specific craftsmen, and both the Germans and Poles claim the glassmaker for one of their own, but the evidence is insufficient. Ethnicity is further complicated by the fact that the German minority in Royal Prussia lived under Polish control during this period.

William Volday/Wilhelm Waldi, a Swiss German mineral prospector, was also among those who arrived in 1608. His mission was seeking a silver reservoir that was believed to be within the proximity of Jamestown. Some of the settlers were artisans who built a glass furnace which became the first factory in America. Additional craftsmen produced soap, pitch, and wood building supplies. Among all of these were the first made-in-America products to be exported to Europe. However, despite all these efforts, profits from exports were not sufficient to meet the expenses and expectations of the investors back in England, and no silver or gold had been discovered, as earlier hoped.

Virginia Company of London's unrealistic expectations

The investors of the Virginia Company of London expected to reap rewards from their speculative investments. With the Second Supply, they expressed their frustrations and made demands upon the leaders of Jamestown in written form. They specifically demanded that the colonists send commodities sufficient to pay the cost of the voyage, a lump of gold, assurance that they had found the South Sea, and one member of the lost Roanoke Colony.

It fell to the third president of the Council to deliver a reply. By this time, Wingfield and Ratcliffe had been replaced by John Smith. Ever bold, Smith delivered what must have been a wake-up call to the investors in London. In what has been termed "Smith's Rude Answer", he composed a letter, writing (in part):

"When you send againe I entreat you rather send but thirty Carpenters, husbandmen, gardiners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers up of trees, roots, well provided; than a thousand of such awe have: for except wee be able both to lodge them and feed them, the most will consume with want of necessaries before they can be made good for anything."

Smith did begin his letter with something of an apology, saying "I humbly intreat your Pardons if I offend you with my rude Answer..." , although it should be noted that at the time, the word 'rude' was acknowledged to mean 'unfinished' or 'rural', in the same way modern English uses 'rustic'.

There are strong indications that those in London comprehended and embraced Smith's message. Their Third Supply mission was by far the largest and best equipped. They even had a new purpose-built flagship constructed, the Sea Venture, placed in the most experienced of hands, Christopher Newport. With a fleet of no fewer than eight ships, the Third Supply, led by the Sea Venture, left Plymouth in June, 1609.

On the subject of the Virginia Company, it is notable that, throughout its existence, Sir Edwin Sandys, was a leading force. He, of course, also hoped for profits, but also his goals included a permanent colony which would enlarge English territory, relieve the nation's overpopulation, and expand the market for English goods. He is closely identified with a faction of the company led by Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Although profits proved elusive for their investors, the visions for the Colony of Sir Edwin Sandys and the Earl of Southampton were eventually accomplished.

Jamestown under John Smith's leadership

While president of the colony, Smith did considerable exploration up the Chesapeake Bay and along the various rivers. He is credited by legend with naming Stingray Point (near present-day Deltaville in Middlesex County for an incident there).

Smith was also seeking a supply of food for the colonists, and he successfully traded for food with the Native American Nansemonds, who were located along the Nansemond River in the modern-day City of Suffolk. However, when he later led another food-gathering expedition, this time up the Chickahominy River west of Jamestown, his men were set upon by Powhatan Indians. As his party was being slaughtered around him, Smith strapped his Indian guide in front of him as a shield and escaped with his life but was captured by Opechancanough, the Powhatan chief's half-brother. Smith gave him a compass which pleased the warrior and made him decide to let Smith live.

Smith was taken before Wahunsunacock, who was commonly referred to as Chief Powhatan, at the Powhatan Confederacy's seat of government at Werowocomoco on the York River. However, when the chief decided to execute him, this course of action was (as related by Smith) stopped by the pleas of Chief Powhatan's young daughter, Pocahontas, who was originally named Matoaka but whose nickname meant "Playful One."

After returning to his duties in Jamestown, Smith was wounded in an accident. He was walking with his gun in the river, and the powder was in a pouch on his belt. His powder bag exploded. In the fall of 1609, he was sent back to England for medical treatment.

While back in England, Smith wrote A True Relation and The Proceedings of the English Colony of Virginia about his experiences in Jamestown. These books, whose accuracy has been questioned by some historians due to some extent by Smith's boastful prose, were to generate public interest and new investment for the colony.


Although the life of Chief Powhatan's young daughter, Pocahontas, would be largely tied to the English after legend credits her with saving Smith's life after his capture by Opechancanough, her contacts with Smith himself were minimal. However, records indicate that she became something of an emissary to the colonists at Jamestown Island. During their first winter, following an almost complete destruction of their fort by a fire in January 1608, Pocahontas brought food and clothing to the colonists. She later negotiated with Smith for the release of Native Americans who had been captured by the colonists during a raid to gain English weaponry.

During the next several years, the relationship between the Native Americans and the colonists became more strained, never more so than during the period of poor crops for both the natives and colonists which became known as the Starving Time in late 1609 and early 1610. Chief Powhatan relocated his principal capital from Werowocomoco, which was relatively close to Jamestown along the north shore of the York River, to a point more inland and secure along the upper reaches of the Chickahominy River.

In March, 1613, Pocahontas was residing at Passapatanzy, a village of the Patawomecks, a Native American tribe which did some trading with Powhatans. They lived in present-day Stafford County on the Potomac River near Fredericksburg, about from Werowocomoco. She was kidnapped by English colonists, and transported about south to the English settlement at Henricus on the James River. There, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and took the name "Rebecca" under the tutelage of Reverend Alexander Whitaker who had arrived in Jamestown in 1611. She married prominent planter John Rolfe, who had lost his first wife and child in the journey from England several years earlier, which served to greatly improve relations between the Native Americans and the colonists for several years. However, when she and John Rolfe took their young son Thomas Rolfe on a public relations trip to England to help raise more investment money for the Virginia Company, she caught smallpox and died just as they were leaving to return to Virginia.

The Starving Time

What became known as the "Starving Time" in the Virginia Colony occurred during the winter of 1609–10. Only 60 of 214 English colonists survived.

The colonists, the first group of whom had originally arrived at Jamestown on May 14, 1607, had never planned to grow all of their own food. Instead, their plans also depended upon trade with the local Native Americans to supply them with enough food between the arrival of periodic supply ships from England, upon which they also relied.

This period of extreme hardship for the colonists began in 1609 with a drought which caused their already limited farming activities to produce even fewer crops than usual. Then, there were problems with both of their other sources for food.

An unexpected delay occurred during the Virginia Company of London's Third Supply mission from England due to a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. A large portion of the food and supplies had been aboard the new flagship of the Virginia Company, the Sea Venture which became shipwrecked at Bermuda and separated from the other ships, seven of which arrived at the colony with even more new colonists to feed, and few supplies, most of which had been aboard the larger flagship.

The impending hardship was further compounded by the loss of their most skillful leader in dealing with the Powhatan Confederacy in trading for food: Captain John Smith. He became injured in August of 1609 in a gunpowder accident, and was forced to return to England for medical attention in October 1609. After Smith left, Chief Powhatan severely curtailed trading with the colonists for food. Neither the missing Sea Venture nor any other supply ship arrived as winter set upon the inhabitants of the young colony in late 1609.

When the survivors of the shipwreck of the Third Supply mission's flagship Sea Venture finally arrived at Jamestown the following May 23 in two makeshift ships they had constructed while stranded on Bermuda for nine months, they found fewer than 100 colonists still alive, and many of those were sick. Worse yet, the Bermuda survivors had brought few supplies and only a small amount of food with them, expecting to find a thriving colony at Jamestown.

Thus, even with the arrival of the two small ships from Bermuda under Captain Christopher Newport, they were faced with abandoning Jamestown and returning to England. On June 7, 1610, both groups of survivors (from Jamestown and Bermuda) boarded ships, and they all set sail down the James River toward the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Shortly after they had abandoned Jamestown, they came upon a fleet of three supply ships arriving from England, commanded by a new governor, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. The two groups met on the James River on June 9, 1610 near Mulberry Island (adjacent to present-day Fort Eustis in Newport News).

With the new supply mission, Governor West, known in modern times as "Lord Delaware", brought additional colonists, a doctor, food, and much-needed supplies. He also was of a strong determination that Jamestown and the colony were not to be abandoned. He turned the departing ships around and brought the entire group back to Jamestown. This was certainly not a popular decision at the time with at least some of the group, but Lord Delaware was to prove a new kind of leader for Virginia.

Included in those returning to Jamestown was a colonist whose wife and child had died during the shipwreck of the Sea Venture and the time at Bermuda. A businessman, he had with him some seeds for a new strain of tobacco and also some untried marketing ideas. That colonist was John Rolfe. Despite his misfortune to that point, history records that he would change the future of the colony as much as Lord Delaware's timely arrival had.

Third Supply: Fateful voyage of the Sea Venture

The Sea Venture was the new flagship of the Virginia Company. Leaving England in 1609, and leading this Third Supply to Jamestown as "Vice Admiral" and commanding the Sea Venture, Christopher Newport was in charge of a nine-vessel fleet. Aboard the flagship Sea Venture was the Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers, Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates, William Strachey and other notable personages in the early history of English colonization in North America.

While at sea, the fleet encountered a strong storm , perhaps a hurricane, which lasted for three days. The Sea Venture and one other ship were separated from the seven other vessels of the fleet. The Sea Venture was deliberately driven onto the reefs of Bermuda to prevent her sinking. The 150 passengers and crew members were all landed safely but the ship was now permanently damaged.

The Sea Venture's longboat was fitted with a mast and sent to find Virginia but it and its crew were never seen again. The remaining survivors spent nine months on Bermuda building two smaller ships, the Deliverance and Patience from Bermuda cedar and materials salvaged from the Sea Venture.

Leaving two men at Bermuda to maintain England's claim to the archipelago, the remainder sailed to Jamestown, finally arriving on May 23, 1610. They found the Virginia Colony in ruins and practically abandoned. Of 500 settlers who had preceded them to Jamestown, they found fewer than 100 survivors, with many of those sick or dying. It was decided to abandon the colony and on June 7, everyone was placed aboard the ships to return to England.

Renewed interest, Lord De La Ware and more supplies

During the same period that the Sea Venture suffered its misfortune and its survivors were struggling in Bermuda to continue on to Virginia, back in England, the publication of Captain John Smith's books of his adventures in Virginia sparked a resurgence in interest in the colony. This helped lead to the dispatch in early 1610 of additional colonists, a doctor, supplies, and a new governor, Thomas West, Baron De La Warr.

On June 9, 1610, Lord De La Warr and his party arrived on the James River shortly after the Deliverance and Patience had abandoned Jamestown. Intercepting them about downstream from Jamestown near Mulberry Island, the new governor forced the remaining 90 settlers to return, thwarting their plans to abandon the colony. Deliverance and Patience turned back, and all the settlers were landed again at Jamestown.

Then, Sir George Somers returned to Bermuda with the Patience to obtain more food supplies, but he died on the island that summer. His nephew, Matthew Somers, Captain of the Patience, took the ship back to Lyme Regis, England instead of Virginia (leaving a third man behind). The Third Charter of the Virginia Company was then extended far enough across the Atlantic to include Bermuda in 1612. (Although a separate company, the Somers Isles Company, would be spun-off to administer Bermuda from 1615, the first two successful English colonies would retain close ties for many more generations, as was demonstrated when Virginian general George Washington called upon the people of Bermuda for aid during the American War of Independence). In 1613, Sir Thomas Dale founded the settlement of Bermuda Hundred on the James River, which, a year later, became the first incorporated town in Virginia.

Growth and development

By 1611, a majority of the colonists who had arrived at the Jamestown settlement had died and its economic value was negligible with no active exports to England and very little internal economic activity. Only financial incentives including a promise of more land to the west from King James I to investors financing the new colony kept the project afloat.

An export cash crop: tobacco

In 1610, John Rolfe, whose wife and a child had died in Bermuda during passage to Virginia, was just one of the settlers who had arrived in Jamestown following the shipwreck of the Sea Venture. However, his major contribution is that he was the first man to successfully raise export tobacco in the Colony (although the colonists had begun to make glass artifacts to export immediately after their arrival). The native tobacco raised in Virginia prior to that time, Nicotiana rustica, was not to the liking of the Europeans but Rolfe had brought some seed for Nicotiana tabacum with him from Bermuda.

Although most people "wouldn't touch" the crop, Rolfe was able to make his fortune farming it, successfully exporting beginning in 1612. Soon he was both a wealthy and prominent man. He married the young Native American woman Pocahontas on April 24, 1614. They lived first across the river from Jamestown, and later at his Varina Farms plantation near Henricus. Their son, Thomas Rolfe, was born in 1615.

Sir Thomas Dale, Dale's Code

In 1611, the Virginia Company of London sent Sir Thomas Dale to act as deputy-governor or as high marshall for the Virginia Colony under the authority of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (Lord Delaware). He arrived at Jamestown on May 19 with three ships, additional men, cattle, and provisions. Finding the conditions unhealthy and greatly in need of improvement, he immediately called for a meeting of the Jamestown Council, and established crews to rebuild Jamestown.

He served as Governor for 3 months in 1611, and again for a two year period between 1614 and 1616. It was during his administration that the first code of laws of Virginia, nominally in force from 1611 to 1619, was effectively tested. This code, entitled "Articles, Lawes, and Orders Divine, Politique, and Martiall" (popularly known as Dale's Code), was notable for its pitiless severity, and seems to have been prepared in large part by Dale himself.

Upstream: a better environment than Jamestown

Seeking a better site than Jamestown with the thought of possibly relocating the capital, Thomas Dale sailed up the James River (also named after King James) to the area now known as Chesterfield County. He was apparently impressed with the possibilities of the general area where the Appomattox River joins the James River, until then occupied by the Appomattoc Indians, and there are published references to the name "New Bermudas" although it apparently was never formalized. (Far from the mainland of North America, the archipelago of Bermuda had been established as part of the Virginia Colony in 1612 following the shipwreck of the Sea Venture in 1609).

A short distance further up the James, in 1611, he began the construction of a progressive development at Henricus on and about what was later known as Farrars Island. Henricus was envisioned as possible replacement capital for Jamestown, and was to have the first college in Virginia. (The ill-fated Henricus was destroyed during the Indian Massacre of 1622, during which a third of the colonists were killed). In addition to creating the new settlement at Henricus, Dale also established the port town of Bermuda Hundred and "Bermuda Cittie" (sic). He began the excavation work at Dutch Gap, using methods he had learned while serving in Holland.

An investor relations trip to England

In 1616, Governor Dale joined John Rolfe and Pocahontas and their young son Thomas as they left their Varina Farms plantation for a public relations mission to England, where Pocahontas was received and treated as a form of visiting royalty by Queen Anne. This stimulated more interest in investments in the Virginia Company, the desired effect. However, as the couple prepared to return to Virginia, Pocahontas died of an illness at Gravesend on March 17, 1617, where she was buried. John Rolfe returned to Virginia alone once again, leaving their son Thomas Rolfe, then a small child, in England to obtain an education.

Once back in Virginia, Rolfe married Jane Pierce and continued to improve the quality of his tobacco with the result that by the time of his death in 1622, the Colony was thriving as a producer of tobacco.

Orphaned by the age of 8, young Thomas later returned to Virginia, and settled across the James River not far from his parents' farm at Varina, where he married Jane Poythress and they had one daughter, Jane Rolfe, who was born in 1650. Many of the First Families of Virginia trace their lineage through Thomas Rolfe to both Pocahontas and John Rolfe, joining English and Native American heritage.

The "Hundreds"

Once tobacco had been established as an export cash crop, investors became more interested and groups of them united to create and largely self-sufficient "hundreds." The term "hundred" is a traditional English name for an administrative division of a shire (or county) to define an area which would support one hundred heads of household. In the colonial era in Virginia, the "hundreds" were large developments of many acres, necessary to support land hungry tobacco crops. The "hundreds" were required to be at least several miles from any existing community. Soon, these patented tracts of land sprung up along the rivers. The investors sent shiploads of settlers and supplies to Virginia to establish the new developments. The administrative centers of Virginia's hundreds were essentially small towns or villages, and were often palisaded for defense.

An example was Martin's Hundred, located downstream from Jamestown on the north bank of the James River. It was sponsored by the Martin's Hundred Society, a group of investors in London. It was settled in 1618, and Wolstenholme Towne was its administrative center, named for Sir John Wolstenholme, one of the investors. In 1976, the long-lost site of Wolstenholme Towne at Martin's Hundred was discovered on the grounds of Carter's Grove Plantation near the Grove Community in southeastern James City County and has been the location of important archaeological work.

Bermuda Hundred (now in Chesterfield County) and Flowerdew Hundred (now in Prince George County) are other names which have survived over centuries. Others included Berkeley Hundred, Bermuda Nether Hundred, Bermuda Upper Hundred, Digges Hundred, West Hundred and Shirley Hundred (and, in Bermuda, Harrington Hundreds).

Including the creation of the "hundreds", the various incentives to investors in the Virginia Colony finally paid off by 1617. By this time, the colonists were exporting 50,000 pounds of tobacco to England a year and were beginning to generate enough profit to ensure the economic survival of the colony.

1619: First African-Americans

Virginia's population grew rapidly from 1618 until 1622, rising from a few hundred to nearly 1,400 people. Wheat was also grown in Virginia starting in 1618. The labor intensive tobacco plantations led to the importation of the colony's first black "indentured servants". In August 1619, 20 black men were purchased from a passing [Dutch] slave ship bound from Luanda, Angola, to Vera Cruz, Mexico. However, these may not have been the first; 32 Africans were noted five months earlier in a Virginia census of 1619.

1619: First Single Women

Also arriving that same year were 90 single women from England, intended as wives for the single settlers. Married women had arrived earlier with family groups. Also previously, Anne Burras came on the Second Supply in 1608 as one of the first two white females in Jamestown. She was the 14 year old maid of Mistress Forest. Mistress Forest died very soon after arriving at Jamestown. Anne was married in the next month to John Leydon, a carpenter. She was the first white woman married in the new colony and the occasion was celebrated with much festivity in spite of the bleak conditions. Anne gave birth during the Starving Time to the first surviving child of English descent in the New World, a daughter Virginia. It is known that Anne and her baby daughter, Virginia did survive. Anne and John had three more surviving children, all daughters. They moved to Elizabeth City and thus escaped the Indian Massacre. Anne was known to still be living in 1625 and John a decade later.

1619: First democratic assembly

On July 30, 1619, the House of Burgesses, the first legislature of elected representatives in America, met in the Jamestown Church. Their first law was to set a minimum price for the sale of tobacco and set forth plans for the creation of the first ironworks of the colony. This legislative group was the predecessor of the modern Virginia General Assembly.

1620: More craftsmen from Germany and Italy arrive

By 1620, more German settlers from Hamburg, Germany, who were recruited by the Virginia Company set up and operated one of the first sawmills in the region. Among the Germans were several other skilled craftsmen carpenters, and pitch/tar/soap-ash makers, who produced some of the colony's first exports of these products. The Italians included a team of glass makers.

Native American relations

As the English expanded out from Jamestown, encroachment of the new arrivals and their ever-growing numbers on what had been Indian lands resulted in conflicts with the Native Americans which became almost continuous for the next 37 years. Chief Wahunsunacock of the Powhatan Confederacy had been forced to move west from his original capital at Werowocomoco (only about from Jamestown) to Orapakes in 1609 for security reasons. However, Orapakes was just a temporary capital. It was in a swamp at the head of the Chickahominy River, near the modern-day interchange of Interstate 64 and Interstate 295. It was also too close to other hostile native groups, such as the Monacans.

Sometime between 1611 and 1614, he moved the capital of the Confederacy again, this time further north. Ultimately, Wahunsonacock settled at the headwaters of the Pamunkey River, on the north bank at Matchut. When Wahunsonacock moved to Matchut, his younger brother Opechancanough lived across the Pamunkey River at Youghtanund.

The relations with the Natives took a turn for the worse after the death of Pocahontas in England and the return of John Rolfe and other colonial leaders in May 1617. Disease, poor harvests and the growing demand for tobacco lands caused hostilities to escalate.

After Wahunsunacock's death in 1618, his younger brother, Opitchapam, briefly became chief. However, he was soon succeeded by his own younger brother, Opechancanough.

There is speculation, but no confirmation, that Opechancanough may be the same individual known as Don Luis, a supposed native-convert to Christianity who had been involved with the ill-fated Ajacan Mission of the Spanish missionaries about 50 years earlier.

Opechancanough vs the colonists

Whether or not there was a connection between the native-convert Don Luis and Opechancanough, there is no doubt that the new Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy was violently opposed to the European settlements. He had been long known as a fierce warrior, and most recently, had been a local weroance in the area now occupied by the Town of West Point, where the Pamunkey River joins the Mattaponi River to form the York River.

Opechancanough was not interested in attempting peaceful coexistence with the English settlers. Instead, he was determined to eradicate the colonists from what he considered to be Indian lands.

Indian Massacre of 1622

Chief Opechancanough organized and led a well-coordinated series of surprise attacks on multiple English settlements along both sides of a long stretch of the James River which took place early on the morning of March 22, 1622, a Good Friday. This event came to be known as the Indian Massacre of 1622, and resulted in the deaths of 347 colonists (including men, women, and children) and the abduction of many others.

The Massacre caught most of the Virginia Colony by surprise and virtually wiped out several entire communities, including Henricus and Wolstenholme Towne at Martin's Hundred.

However, Jamestown was spared from destruction due to a Native American boy named Chanco who, after learning of the planned attacks from his brother, gave warning to colonist Richard Pace with whom he lived. Pace, after securing himself and his neighbors on the south side of the James River, took a canoe across river to warn Jamestown which narrowly escaped destruction, although there was no time to warn the other settlements. Apparently, Opechancanough subsequently was unaware of Chanco's actions, as the young man continued to serve as his courier for some time after.

Colonists respond: retaliation and defense

The reaction to the Powhatan uprising was retaliation, and the English set to with a vengeance. A year later, Captain William Tucker and Dr. John Potts worked out a supposed-truce with the Powhatans and proposed a toast using liquor laced with poison. 200 Native Americans were killed by the poison and 50 more were slaughtered by the colonists. For over a decade, the English settlers killed Powhatan men and women, captured children and systematically razed villages, seizing or destroying crops.

A letter by Richard Frethorne, written in 1623, reports, "we live in fear of the enemy every hour.

The palisade, Middle Plantation

By 1634, a palisade (or stockade) was completed across the Virginia Peninsula, which was about wide at that point between Queen's Creek which fed into the York River and Archer's Hope Creek, (since renamed College Creek) which fed into the James River. The new palisade provided some security from attacks by the Native Americans for colonists farming and fishing lower on the Peninsula from that point.

Anchored at its center by Middle Plantation on land patented by Dr. Potts, the palisade is partially described in the following extract from a letter written in 1634, from Jamestown, by Captain Thomas Yonge:

"a strong palisade ... upon a streight between both rivers and ... a sufficient force of men to defence of the same, whereby all the lower part of Virginia have a range for their cattle, near fortie miles in length and in most places twelve miles (19 km) broade. The pallisades is very neare six miles (10 km) long, bounded in by two large Creekes. ... in this manner to take also in all the grounde between those two Rivers, and so utterly excluded the Indians from thence; which work is conceived to be of extraordinary benefit to the country ..."

1644: Second Indian Massacre

On April 18, 1644, Opechancanough again tried to force the colonists to abandon the region with another series of coordinated attacks, killing almost 500 colonists. However, this was a much less devastating portion of the growing population than had been the case in the 1622 attacks.

Furthermore, the forces of Royal Governor of Virginia William Berkeley captured the old warrior, variously thought to be between 90 and 100 years old. In October, while a prisoner, Opechancanough was killed by a soldier (shot in the back) assigned to guard him.

1646: Peace established with the Natives

Opechancanough was succeeded as Weroance (Chief) by Nectowance and then by Totopotomoi and later by his daughter Cockacoeske.

More peaceful relations between the Natives and the colonists resulted. In 1646, the first Indian reservations in America would be established in King William County for the surviving Powhatans. (In modern times, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes each maintain reservations there).

Royal Colony, Bacon's Rebellion

Some historians have noted that, as the settlers of the Virginia Colony were allowed some representative government, and as they prospered, King James I was reluctant to lose either power or future financial potential. In any case, in 1624, the Virginia Company lost its charter and Virginia became a crown colony.

In 1634, the English Crown created eight shires (i.e. counties) in the colony of Virginia which had a total population of approximately 5,000 inhabitants. James City Shire was established and included Jamestown. Around 1642-43, the name of the James City Shire was changed to James City County.

In the 1670s, the governor of Virginia was Sir William Berkeley, a scholar and playwright, serving his second term in that office. Berkeley, now in his seventies, had previously been governor in the 1640s and had experimented with new export crops at his Green Spring Plantation near Jamestown. In the mid 1670s, a young cousin through marriage, Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., arrived in Virginia sent by his father in the hope that he would "mature" under the tutelage of the governor. Although lazy, Bacon was intelligent and Berkeley provided him with a land grant and a seat on the Virginia Colony council. However, the two became at odds over relationships with the Native Americans, which were most strained at the outer frontier points of the colony.

In July 1675, Doeg Indians raided the plantation of Thomas Mathews in the northern portion of the colony along what became the Potomac River in order to gain payment for several items Mathews had obtained from the tribe. Several Doegs were killed in the raid and the colonists then raided the Susquehanaugs (a different tribe) in "retaliation" which led to large-scale Indian raids. Governor Berkeley tried to calm the situation but many of the colonists, particularly the frontiersmen, refused to listen to him and Bacon disregarded a direct order and captured some Appomattox Indians, who were located many miles south of the site of the initial incident, and almost certainly not involved.

Following the establishment of the Long Assembly in 1676, war was declared on "all hostile Indians" and trade with Indian tribes became regulated, often seen by the colonists to favor those friends of Berkeley. Bacon opposed Berkeley and led a group in opposition to the governor. Bacon and his troops set themselves up at Henrico until Berkeley arrived which sent Bacon and his men fleeing upon which Berkeley declared them in rebellion and offered a pardon to any who returned to Jamestown peaceably.

Bacon led numerous raids on Indians friendly to the colonists in an attempt to bring down Berkeley. The governor offered him amnesty but the House of Burgesses refused; insisting that Bacon must acknowledge his mistakes. At about the same time, Bacon was actually elected to the House of Burgesses and attended the June 1676 assembly where he was captured, forced to apologize and was then pardoned by Berkeley.

Bacon then demanded a military commission but Berkeley refused. Bacon and his supporters surrounded the statehouse and threatened to start shooting the Burgesses if Berkeley did not acknowledge Bacon as "General of all forces against the Indians". Berkeley eventually acceded, and then left Jamestown. He attempted a coup a month later but was unsuccessful. In September, however, Berkeley was successful and Bacon dug in for a siege which resulted in his burning Jamestown to the ground on September 19, 1676. Bacon died of the flux and lice on October 26, 1676 and his body is believed to have been burned.

Berkeley returned, and hanged William Drummond and the other major leaders of the rebellion (23 in total) at Middle Plantation. With Jamestown unusable due to the burning by Bacon, the Governor convened a session of the General Assembly at his Green Spring Plantation in February, 1677, and another was later held at Middle Plantation. However, upon leaning of his actions, King Charles II was reportedly displeased at the degree of retaliation and number of executions, and recalled Berkeley to England. He returned to London where he died in July, 1677.

Slavery in Virginia

Indentured servants

In 1650, there were only about 300 "Africans" living in Virginia, about 1% of an estimated 30,000 population. They were not slaves, any more than were the approximately 4000 white indentured servants working out their loans for passage money to Virginia. Many had earned their freedom, and they were each granted 50 acres of land when freed from their indentures, so they could raise their own tobacco or other crops. Although they were at a disadvantage in that they had to pay to have their newly acquired land surveyed in order to patent it, white indentured servants found themselves in the same predicament. Some black indentured servants, however, went on to patent and buy land. Anthony Johnson, who settled on the Eastern Shore following the end of his indenture, even bought African slaves of his own.

The strange case of John Casor

Although slavery had long been practiced in Spanish colonies to the south, the first recorded instance of slavery in the Virginia Colony was established in 1654. In a lawsuit, Anthony Johnson of Northampton County on Virginia's Eastern Shore convinced a court that he was entitled to the lifetime services of John Casor, a black man.

Anthony Johnson was also a black man. He had been one of 20 black men brought to Jamestown in 1619 as indentured servants. By 1623, he had achieved his freedom and by 1651 was prosperous enough to import five "servants" of his own, for which he was granted as "headrights".

John Casor alleged that he had come to Virginia as an indentured servant, and attempted to transfer his obligation to a white farmer named Robert Parker. However, Anthony Johnson claimed that "hee had ye Negro for his life".

In the lawsuit of Johnson vs. Parker, the court in Northampton County ruled that "seriously consideringe and maturely weighing the premisses, doe fynde that the saide Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepeth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master....It is therefore the Judgement of the Court and ordered That the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of the said master Anthony Johnson, And that mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charges in the suit." Casor was thus returned to Johnson. This was the first known judicial approval of life servitude in Virginia, except as punishment for a crime. Casor remained with Anthony Johnson and his wife for the rest of his life, moving with them to Maryland a short time later.

Slavery becomes an institution

Increasingly toward the end of the 17th century, large numbers of slaves from Africa were brought by Dutch and English ships to the Virginia Colony, as well as Maryland and other southern colonies. On the large tobacco plantations, as chattel (owned property), they replaced indentured servants (who were only obligated to work for an agreed period of time) as field labor, as well as serving as household and skilled workers. As slaves, they were not working by mutual agreement, nor for a limited period of time. In time the practice of slavery became an economic factor for the labor-intensive tobacco and cotton plantations of the South.

Even the offspring of slaves also were born into a lifetime of slavery, as in 1661, Virginia passed a law that made the status of the mother determine slave or free status of the child.

Freedom for some slaves

Almost as soon as the practice of slavery was established in Virginia, some individual slaves began obtaining their freedom. This was usually accomplished by escape, through their own enterprise, or through benevolence of their "owners", as family-type ties grew between some of them. Escaped slaves normally traveled to non-slave Colonies (and later states) to the North, often via the Underground Railroad. However, many of the black men and women who had legally gained their freedom chose to stay in the South. Known as freedmen, they lived at various locations throughout the area.


At the time of the American Revolutionary War, what was later called the "peculiar institution" of slavery was an unresolved issue between the 13 Colonies. However, the fundamental basis for its demise was laid by the country's founding fathers in both the Declaration of Independence and the new U.S. Constitution. Slavery was to become a growing conflict between the states as the new United States grew, until the mass emancipation of all of the remaining slaves took place during the years of the American Civil War (1861-1865) and immediately thereafter.

The capital moves from Jamestown to high ground

On October 20, 1698, the statehouse (capitol building) in Jamestown burned for the fourth time. Once again removing itself to a familiar alternate location, the legislature met at Middle Plantation, this time in the new College Building at the College of William and Mary, which had begun meeting there in temporary quarters in 1694.

While meeting there, a group of five students from the College submitted a well-presented and logical proposal to the legislators outlining a plan and good reasons to move the capital permanently to Middle Plantation.

Despite the periodic need to relocate the legislature from Jamestown due to contingencies such as fires, (usually to Middle Plantation), throughout the seventeenth century, Virginians had been reluctant to permanently move the capital from its "ancient and accustomed place." After all, Jamestown had always been Virginia's capital. It had a state house (except when it periodically burned) and a church, and it offered easy access to ships that came up the James River bringing goods from England and taking on tobacco bound for market. However, Jamestown's status had been in some decline. In 1662, Jamestown's status as mandatory port of entry for Virginia had been ended.

The students argued that the change to the high ground at Middle Plantation would escape the dreaded malaria and mosquitoes that had always plagued the swampy, low-lying Jamestown site. The students pointed out that, while not located immediately upon a river, Middle Plantation offered nearby access to not one, but two rivers, via two deep water (6-7' depth) creeks, Queen's Creek leading to the York River, and College Creek (formerly known as Archer's Hope) which led to the James River. Other advocates of the move included the Reverend Dr. James Blair and the Governor, Sir Francis Nicholson.

Several prominent individuals like John Page, Thomas Ludwell, Philip Ludwell, and Otho Thorpe had built fine brick homes and created a substantial town at Middle Plantation. And, there was of course, the new College of William and Mary with its fine new brick building. The proposal to move the capital of Virginia to higher ground (about 12 miles (20 km) away) at Middle Plantation was received favorably by the House of Burgesses. In 1699, the capital of the Virginia Colony was officially relocated there. Soon, the town was renamed Williamsburg, in honor of King William III. Thus, the first phase of Jamestown's history ended.

18th century

Due to the movement of the capital to Williamsburg, the old town of Jamestown began to slowly disappear from view. Those who lived in the general area attended services at Jamestown's church until the 1750s, when it was abandoned. By the mid-18th century, the land was heavily cultivated, primarily by the Travis and Ambler families. During the American Revolutionary War, although the Battle of Green Spring was fought nearby at the site of former Governor Berkeley's plantation, Jamestown was apparently inconsequential.

19th century

1807: Bicentennial

The bicentennial of Jamestown on May 13-14, 1807 is said to have been a dignified celebration, and was most commonly called the Grand National Jubilee. Over 3,000 people attended the event, many arriving on vessels which anchored in the river near the island.

Students of the College of William and Mary gave orations. An old barn on the island was used as a temporary theater, with a company of players from Norfolk performed. Attending were many dignitaries, politicians, and historians.

May 13 was the opening day of the festival, which began with a procession which marched to the graveyard of the old church, where the attending bishop delivered the prayer. The procession then moved to the Travis mansion, where the celebrants dined and danced in the mansion that evening. The Bicentennial celebration concluded on May 14 with a dinner and toast at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg.

In 1831, David Bullock purchased Jamestown from Travis and Ambler families.

1857: 250th Anniversary

In 1857, the Jamestown Society organized a celebration marking the 250th anniversary of Jamestown's founding. According to the Richmond Enquirer, the site for the celebration was on ten acres on the spot where some of the colonists' houses were originally built. However, it is also speculated that the celebration was moved further east on the island closer to the Travis grave site, in order to avoid damaging Major William Allen's corn fields.

The attendance was estimated at between 6 and 8 thousand people. Sixteen large steam ships anchored offshore in the James River and were gaily decorated with streamers. Former US President John Tyler of nearby Sherwood Forest Plantation gave a 2 1/2 hour speech, and there were military displays, a grand ball and fireworks.

1861-1865: American Civil War

During the American Civil War, in 1861, Confederate William Allen, who owned the Jamestown Island, occupied Jamestown with troops he raised at his own expense with the intention of blockading the James River and Richmond from the Union Navy. He was soon joined by Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones who directed the building of batteries and conducted ordinance and armor tests for the first Confederate ironclad warship CSS Virginia which was under construction at the Gosport Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth in late 1861 and early 1862. Jamestown had a force of 1200 men which was augmented in early 1862 by an artillery battalion.

During the Peninsula Campaign which began later that spring, Union forces under General George B. McClellan moved up the Peninsula from Fort Monroe to attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Union forces captured Yorktown in April 1862, and the Battle of Williamsburg was fought the following month. With these developments, Jamestown and the lower James River were abandoned by the Confederates, and the Virginia was blown up off Craney Island on Hampton Roads to avoid capture. Some of the forces from Jamestown and the crew of the Virginia shifted to Drewry's Bluff, a fortified and strategic position located high above the river about below Richmond. There, they successfully blocked the Union Navy from reaching the Confederate capital.

Once in Federal hands, Jamestown became a meeting place for runaway slaves who burned the Ambler house, an eighteenth century plantation which along with the old church were the few remaining signs of Jamestown. When Allen sent men to assess damage in late 1862, they were killed by the former slaves. Following the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, the oath of allegiance was administered to former Confederate soldiers at Jamestown.


In the years after the Civil War, Jamestown became quiet and peaceful once again. In 1892, Jamestown was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Barney. The following year, the Barneys donated 22½ acres of land, including the 1639 church tower, to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now APVA Preservation Virginia). By this time, erosion from the river had eaten away the island's western shore; visitors began to conclude that the site of James Fort lay completely underwater. With federal assistance, a sea wall was constructed in 1900 to protect the area from further erosion. The archaeological remains of the original 1607 fort, which had been protected by the sea wall, were discovered in 1994. (See Jamestown Rediscovery section below)

20th century

The 100th anniversary of the Surrender at Yorktown in 1881 had generated a new interest in the historical significance of the colonial sites of the Peninsula. Williamsburg, a sleepy but populated town of shops and homes, was still celebrating Civil War events. However, as the new century dawned, thoughts turned to the upcoming 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) started the movement in 1900 by calling for a celebration honoring the establishment of the first permanent English colony in the New World at Jamestown to be held on the 300th anniversary in 1907.

1907: Jamestown Exposition

As a celebration was planned, virtually no one thought that the actual isolated and long-abandoned original site of Jamestown would be suitable for a major event because Jamestown Island had no facilities for large crowds. The original fort housing the Jamestown settlers was believed to have been long-ago swallowed by the James River.

Also, the general area in James City County near Jamestown was also considered unsuitable, as it was not very accessible in the day of rail travel before automobiles were common.

As the tercentennial of the 1607 Founding of the Jamestown neared, around 1904, despite an assumption in some quarters that Richmond would be a logical location, leaders in Norfolk, Virginia began a campaign to have a celebration held there. The decision was made to locate the international exposition on a mile-long frontage at Sewell's Point near the mouth of Hampton Roads. This was about downstream from Jamestown in a rural section of Norfolk County. It was a site which could become accessible by both long-distance passenger railroads and local streetcar service, with considerable frontage on the harbor of Hampton Roads. This latter feature proved ideal for the naval delegations which came from points all around the world.

The Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was one of the many world's fairs and expositions that were popular in the early part of the 20th century. It was from April 26, 1907 to December 1, 1907. Attendees included US President Theodore Roosevelt, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the Prince of Sweden, Mark Twain, Henry H. Rogers, and dozens of other dignitaries and famous persons. A major naval review featuring the United State's Great White Fleet was a key feature. U.S. Military officials and leaders were impressed by the location, and the Exposition site later formed the first portion of the large U.S. Naval Station Norfolk in 1918 during World War I.

See also article Jamestown Exposition

1932: Statehouse ruins, Jamestowne Society

In 1932, George Craghead Gregory of Richmond is credited with discovering the foundation of the first brick statehouse (capitol) building circa 1646 at Jamestown on the land owned by the APVA.

About four years later, Gregory, who was active with the Virginia Historical Society, founded the Jamestowne Society for descendants of stockholders in the Virginia Company of London and the descendants of those who owned land or who had domiciles in Jamestown or on Jamestown Island prior to the year 1700. Since its founding, the Society has helped with genealogical records and expanded into dozens of branches, called "Companies." (In the Jamestowne Society, "Companies" are similar to chapters in most lineage societies). Membership in Companies is elective, while membership in the national Society is acquired at the time a member joins. In 1958, the Jamestowns Society was formally organized as a non-profit corporation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (1954, as amended). It frequently holds meetings and events.

1934: National Park Service acquires the rest of Jamestown Island

Colonial National Monument was authorized by the U.S. Congress on July 3, 1930. It was established on December 30, 1930. On on June 5, 1936, it was re-designated a national historical park, and became known as Colonial National Historical Park.

In 1934, the National Park Service obtained the remaining 1500 acre (6.1 km²) portion of Jamestown Island which had been under private ownership by the Vermillion family. The National Park Service partnered with the APVA to preserve the area and present it to visitors in an educational manner.

1957: Jamestown's 350th anniversary

With America's increased access to automobiles, and with improved roads and transportation, it was feasible for the 350th anniversary celebration to be held at Jamestown itself in 1957.

Although erosion had cut off the land bridge between Jamestown Island and the mainland, the isthmus was restored and new access provided by the completion of the National Park Service's Colonial Parkway which led to Williamsburg and Yorktown, the other two portions of Colonial Virginia's Historic Triangle. There were also improvements of state highways. The north landing for the popular Jamestown Ferry and a portion of State Route 31 were relocated.

Major projects such were developed by non-profit, state and federal agencies. Jamestown Festival Park was established by the Commonwealth of Virginia adjacent to the entrance to Jamestown Island. Full-sized replicas of the three ships that brought the colonists, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery were constructed at a shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia and placed on display at a new dock at Jamestown, where the largest, the Susan Constant, could be boarded by visitors.

On Jamestown Island, the reconstructed Jamestown Glasshouse, the Memorial Cross and the visitors center were completed and dedicated. A loop road was built around the island.

Special events included army and navy reviews, air force fly-overs, ship and aircraft christenings and even an outdoor drama at Cape Henry, site of the first landing of the settlers. This celebration continued from April 1 to November 30 with over a million participants, including dignitaries and politicians such as the British Ambassador and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.

The highlight for many of the nearly 25,000 at the Festival Park on October 16, 1957 was the visit and speech of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and her consort, Prince Philip. Queen Elizabeth II loaned a copy of the Magna Carta for the exhibition. It was her first visit to the United States since assuming the throne.

The 1957 Jamestown Festival was so successful that tourists still kept coming long after the official event was completed. Jamestown became a permanent attraction of the Historic Triangle, and has been visited by families, school groups, tours, and thousands of other people continuously ever since.

1994: Jamestown Rediscovery

Starting in 1994, a major archaeological campaign at Jamestown known as the Jamestown Rediscovery project has been conducted by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now APVA Preservation Virginia) in preparation for the quadricentennial of Jamestown's founding. The original goal of the archaeological campaign was to locate archaeological remains of "the first years of settlement at Jamestown, especially of the earliest fortified town; [and the] the subsequent growth and development of the town".

Early on, the project discovered early colonial artifacts. This was something of a surprise to some historians as it had been widely thought that the original site had been entirely lost due to erosion by the James River. Many others suspected that at least portions of the fort site remained and subsequent excavations have shown that only one corner of the first triangular fort (which contained the original settlement) turned out to have been destroyed. The sea wall built in 1900 to limit the erosion turned out to be a rich investment in the past and the future.

Since it began, the extended archaeological campaign has made many more discoveries including retrieving hundreds of thousands of artifacts, a large fraction of them from the first few years of the settlement's history. In addition, it has uncovered much of the fort, the remains of several houses and wells, a palisade wall line attached to the fort and the graves of several of the early settlers.

21st century

Historic Jamestown

Historic Jamestown, located at the original site of Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, is jointly administered by APVA Preservation Virginia and the National Park Service. The central 22 1/2 acres of land were donated to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now APVA Preservation Virginia) in 1893 and the remaining were acquired by the National Park Service in 1934 and are now part of the Colonial National Historical Park. The two organizations have worked together since 1941 to preserve the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America and to interpret its history for visitors.

Today, visitors to Historic Jamestowne can view the site of the original 1607 James Fort, the 17th century church tower and the site of the 17th century town, as well as tour an archaeological museum called the Archaearium and view many of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by Jamestown Rediscovery. They also may participate in living history and ranger tours.

Visitors can also often observe archaeologists from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project at work, as archaeological work at the site continues and is greatly expanding knowledge of what happened at Jamestown in its earliest days.

Among the discoveries, a grave site with indications of an important figure was located. Some theorize the remains to be that of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold though others have claimed it to be the remains of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. It had long been thought that Baron De La Warr, who died en route back to the colony from England on his second trip, had been buried elsewhere but some recent research concluded that his body was in fact brought to Jamestown for burial.

The archaeological work and studies are ongoing as of 2007, New discoveries are frequently reported in the local newspaper, the Virginia Gazette based in nearby Williamsburg, and by other news media, often worldwide.

Jamestown Settlement

Although the 1957 celebration is long past, many of the attractions adjacent to the APVA-NPS site were created as part of the what was known as Jamestown Festival Park, largely sponsored by the Commonwealth.

In 1987 John Otho Marsh, Jr., the Secretary of the Army of the United States of America planted an oak tree at Runnymede England commemorating and linking the bicentenary of the Constitution with the establishment of the Jamestown settlement.

Jamestown 2007

Jamestown 2007 is the name of an event commemorating the 400th anniversary (quadricentennial) of the founding of Jamestown.

A variety of events are being promoted under the banner of America's 400th Anniversary and promoted by the Jamestown 2007 Commission. America's 400th Anniversary is commemorating the quadricentennial of the founding of the Jamestown Settlement with 18 months of statewide, national and international festivities and events which began in April 2006 with a tour of the new replica Godspeed.

In January, 2007, the Virginia General Assembly held a session at Jamestown, where a speech was given by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Virginia's current Governor Tim Kaine delivered the "State of the Commonwealth" speech.

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip attended the main ceremonies in May, 2007.

Some members of Native American tribes in Virginia have not attended the festivities, out of concern over what they perceive the settlement to represent for their people.

Jamestown in film

A feature length film, The New World, covers the story of Jamestown's colonization. Although historically accurate in many ways, the plot focuses on a dramatized relationship between John Smith, played by Colin Farrell, and Pocahontas. Released in January 2006, many scenes were filmed on-location nearby along the James and Chickahominy Rivers and at Henricus Historical Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia. However the film fails to mention the German, Dutch, Polish and Italian settlers along with the services of black slaves in Jamestown.

Another feature length film, "First Landing" documents the 1607 landing of English colonists.

Jamestown was also incorrectly depicted in the Disney film Pocahontas (1995 film) as being near mountains while it is actually located on a coastal plain.

Further reading

  • Jocelyn R. Wingfield, Virginia's True Founder: Edward Maria Wingfield and His Times (Booksurge, 2007) ISBN 1419660322
  • William M. Kelso, Jamestown, The Buried Truth (University of Virginia Press, 2006)
  • William M. Kelso, Jamestown Rediscovery II (APVA, 1996)
  • William M. Kelso, Nicholas M. Luccketti, Beverly A. Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery III (APVA, 1997)
  • William M. Kelso, Nicholas M. Luccketti, Beverly A. Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery IV (APVA, 1998)
  • William M. Kelso, Nicholas M. Luccketti, Beverly A. Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery V (APVA, 1999)
  • William Kelso, Beverly Straube, Jamestown Rediscovery VI (APVA, 2000)
  • David A. Price, Love and Hate in Jamestown (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
  • Ernie Gross, "The American Years" (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999)
  • James Horn, A Land as God Made It (Perseus Books, 2005) ISBN 0465030947
  • Chesapeake, a novel (1978) by author James A. Michener


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