First Permanent English Settlement - panel two of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network exhibit

“When it shall please God to send you on the coast of Virginia, you shall do your best endeavor to find out a safe port in the entrance of some navigable river, making choice of such a one as runneth furthest into the land.”

- instructions from the Virginia Company of London, 1606

The English Search for a Place to Settle
NPS artist Sydney King illustrates the James River route taken by the English in the spring of 1607, as they attempt to find a good site for the establishment of their settlement.

NPS image

The establishment of James Fort in 1607 by 104 English men and boys marked the first permanent English settlement in North America. After 17 days of exploring the James River, Captain Christopher Newport selected Jamestown as the best place to build their fort. Although the settlers would later learn to their dismay that they were inhabiting an insect-infested, disease-ridden swamp, Newport’s reasons for selecting the site were sensible ones.
Jamestown settlers at ship's rail

NPS image by artist Sydney King

Jamestown is about 40 miles up the James River from the Chesapeake Bay. By locating so far inland, the English hoped to escape detection by the Spanish, who had mapped the bay as early as the 1520’s.

The English, searching for a place to settle, launch their shallop.

NPS image by artist Sydney King

The English also selected a settlement far inland to more easily explore the land they called Virginia. In addition to searching for gold and other riches, they sought the elusive the Northwest Passage to India and China.

English settlers tie their ship to the trees at Jamestown.

NPS image by artist Sydney King

The water was deep where the fort was built; a settler reported that ships were tied to tall trees on the shoreline. Choosing a peninsula (Jamestown would not become a true island until the 18th century), the English could more easily defend themselves against overland invasions.

an encounter between Virginia Indians and English settlers

NPS image by artist Sydney King

By settling in an unoccupied area, the English did not antagonize the native peoples. There is evidence that Chief Powhatan used the Jamestown peninsula as a hunting preserve, but he had no village in what the settlers soon discovered was an extremely unhealthy locale.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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