A Short History of Jamestown
On December 6, 1606, the journey to Virginia began on three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. In 1607, 104 English men and boys arrived in North America to start a settlement. On May 13 they picked Jamestown, Virginia for their settlement, which was named after their King, James I. The settlement became the first permanent English settlement in North America.
By June 15, the fort was completed. It was triangle shaped with a bulwark at each corner, holding four or five pieces of artillery. The settlers were now protected against any attacks that might occur from the local Powhatan Indians, whose hunting land they were living on. Relations had already been mixed between the newcomers and the Powhatan Indians. On June 22, Captain Newport left for England to get more supplies for the new settlement.
In May 1610, shipwrecked settlers who had been stranded in Bermuda finally arrived at Jamestown. Part of a fleet sent the previous fall, the survivors used two boats built on Bermuda to get to Jamestown. Sir Thomas Gates, the newly named governor, found Jamestown in shambles with the palisades of the fort torn down, gates off their hinges, and food stores running low. The decision was made to abandon the settlement. Less than a day after leaving, however, Gates and those with him, including the survivors of the "Starving Time," were met by news of an incoming fleet. The fleet was bringing the new governor for life, Lord Delaware. Gates and his party returned to Jamestown.
In 1612, John Rolfe, one of many shipwrecked on Bermuda, helped turn the settlement into a profitable venture. He introduced a new strain of tobacco from seeds he brought from elsewhere. Tobacco became the long awaited cash crop for the Virginia Company, who wanted to make money off their investment in Jamestown.
On July 30, 1619, newly appointed Governor Yeardley called for the first representative legislative assembly. This was the beginning of representative government in what is now the United States of America. In that same year, the first documented Africans were brought to Virginia. They added needed human resources for the labor-intensive tobacco. Also in 1619, the Virginia Company recruited and shipped over about 90 women to become wives and start families in Virginia, something needed to establish a permanent colony. Over one hundred women, who brought or started families, had arrived in prior years, but 1619 was when establishing families became a primary focus.
Peace between the Powhatan Indians and the English, brought about by the conversion and marriage of Pocahontas (kidnapped by the English in 1613) and John Rolfe in 1614, ended in 1622. In March of that year the paramount chief, then Opechancanough, planned a coordinated attack against the English settlements. He was tired of the English encroachment on Powhatan lands. Jamestown escaped being attacked, due to a warning from a Powhatan boy living with the English. During the attack 350-400 of the 1,200 settlers were killed. After the attack, the Powhatan Indians withdrew, as was their way, and waited for the English to learn their lesson or pack up and leave. Once the English regrouped they retaliated and there was fighting between the two peoples for ten years, until a tenuous peace was reached in 1632.
Bacon's Rebellion, in 1676, saw more struggles in Jamestown. The settlers were unhappy about their tobacco being sold only to English merchants due to the Navigation Acts, high taxes, and attacks on outlying plantations by American Indians on the frontiers. Nathaniel Bacon got about 1,000 settlers to join him and take care of the "Indian Problem." Bacon forced Governor Berkeley to give him an official commission to attack the American Indians to blame. Bacon and his followers, however, did not differentiate between those tribes responsible for the attacks and those who were loyal to the English. Governor Berkeley declared Bacon a rebel and civil war erupted in the colony. In September, Bacon and his followers set fire to Jamestown, destroying 16 to 18 houses, the church and the statehouse. Not long after, in October, the Rebellion began its end with the death of Nathaniel Bacon of the "bloody flux." Eventually, many of the rebels were captured and 23 were hanged by Governor Berkeley.
In 1698, fire struck Jamestown again. The fire was evidently started by a prisoner awaiting execution in the nearby prison. The fire destroyed the prison and the statehouse, though many of the public records were saved. In 1699, the government and capital were moved from Jamestown to Middle Plantation, renamed Williamsburg. People continued to live on Jamestown Island and owned farm lands, but it ceased to be a town.
Did You Know?
English settlers were encouraged to plant mulberry trees to help their silk production attempts. (Silkworms eat mulberry leaves.) Red mulberry is native to North America but the silkworms preferred the white mulberries of the Orient. Today Jamestown has both red and white mulberry trees.