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Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures
Explore their Stories in the National Park System
Jamestown National Historic Site
Jamestown National Historic Site, part of Colonial National Historical Park, is the location of the first permanent English settlement in North America. Jamestown also hosted the first legislative assembly of the future colonies as well as the first Africans in English North America.
The park interprets the story of early America in two locations: Old Towne is the site of the initial years of the colony within the fort that that the English built in 1607, and New Towne documents the expansion of the city from the 1620s until 1699. A visitor center or museum at each site tells the story of this early settlement through interpretation and artifacts. Today, visitors can explore the history of Jamestown, from its earliest beginnings as a campsite for American Indians to the later English settlement period.
The English were not the first settlers on Jamestown Island. More than 30 Powhatan Indian tribes had lived in the area for thousands of years and sustained the lush landscape. In 1607, John Smith sailed to North America with a crew of entrepreneurs. They chose
In 1609, John Rolfe sailed from England to the settlement in Virginia. Under the direction of the Virginia Company, he and other settlers began industrial pursuits they hoped would bring profits to the company, such as manufacturing silk, glass, lumber, sassafras, pitch and tar, and soap ashes. Rolfe was the first to plant tobacco seeds in Virginia, and under his leadership, the export of tobacco grew dramatically.
In the 1620s, William Claiborne began surveying land east of the fort, and this area developed and prospered as New Towne until the colonial capital moved to Williamsburg in 1699. During these years, this official government port city bustled with prominent officials and merchants, as people traveled there to attend the courts; serve on the House of Burgesses; or have their tobacco graded, weighed, and taxed. Prominent officials and merchants built grand residences; and taverns, warehouses, and wharves served Jamestown’s visitors.
At New Towne, visitors can explore the large, complex settlement that was the site of the English experiment in colonization at Jamestown. In the mid-1620s, streets and brick homes appeared in New Towne. One street in particular, the Backstreet, was the site of the homes of prominent Virginians. Well into the 1700s, the Backstreet remained a fashionable address. The archeological remains of Richard Ambler’s mansion and the Chiles family home are a feature on the tour route of New Towne.
Archaeologists continue to uncover objects, such as a clay oven, a gun shop, a jail, and warehouses, which give insight into the colonists’ experience on the island. A gunsmith suggests the importance of gun ownership to colonists who used firearms for protection, while warehouses are evidence of expanding trade and the need for more storage space for increasing imports. The Greate Road also reveals the colony’s connection to other settlements for trade purposes. Visitors can walk, bike, or drive the Island Loop Drive through New Towne, which highlights the variety of the settlers’ industrial endeavors. This three or five-mile loop also gives visitors fabulous views of the James River, the regenerating forest, and marshlands.