In June of 1606, King James granted a charter to a group of London entrepreneurs, the Virginia Company, to establish an English settlement in North America. By December, the settlers sailed from London instructed to settle Virginia, find gold and a water route to the Orient.
The resumes of those pioneers could not have been more ill suited for the task. According to a list published by Captain John Smith, gentlemen made up about half of the group, suggesting that they knew nothing of or thought it their personal duty to tame a wilderness. The rest were artisans, craftsmen, and laborers. 1
On May 13, 1607, the Virginia Company explorers chose to settle on Jamestown Island, along the James River (60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay).
By one account, they landed there because of the deep water. This let their ships ride close to shore. 2
Almost immediately the colonists were under attack from the Algonquian natives. As a result, in a little over a months’ time, the newcomers managed to build a wooden fort.
While disease, famine and continuing attacks of neighboring Algonquians took a tremendous toll on the population, the eventual structured leadership of Captain John Smith kept the colony from dissolving. Following Smith’s departure in 1609, a hard winter hit the new settlement. During that time only 60 (of the original 500) settlers survived. In June of that year the survivors decided to abandon the town.
It was only the arrival of the new governor, Lord De La Ware, and his supply ships that brought the colonists back to the fort and the colony back on its feet. Then when Pocahontas, the favored daughter of the Algonquian chief Powhatan, married tobacco entrepreneur John Rolfe, some years of peace and prosperity followed. The first representative assembly in the New World convened in the Jamestown church on July 30, 1619. The General Assembly met in response to orders from the Virginia Company to establish a uniform government.
The other crucial event that would play a role in the development of America was the arrival of Africans to Jamestown. 4
A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years of labor (usually 4-7 years) in exchange for passage to America. The popular conception of a racial-based slave system did not develop until the 1680’s.
The Algonquians eventually became disenchanted and, in 1622, attacked plantations killing over 300 of the settlers. Even though a last minute warning spared Jamestown, the attack on the colony and mismanagement of the Virginia Company at home convinced the King that he should revoke the Virginia Company Charter. Virginia became a crown colony in 1624. 6
Jamestown suffered many hardships.
Next to the winter of 1609, the closest Jamestown came to destruction was in 1676. Dissatisfied with the government of Sir William Berkeley and its neglect of frontier defense, a man named Nathaniel Bacon led a popular uprising. He was able to drive Berkeley from Jamestown and set half of the city on fire. 7
Jamestown. The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Third Edition 1994. Columbia University Press.
Jamestown Timeline. Anne Vietmeyer. Gunston Elementary School. 1996.
Williamsburg Online. 1994. www.williamsburg.
4. Jamestown. Washburn Public Schools. Illinois.
5. Jamestown Colony.
College of Humanities. Cornell University. 1997. www.history.ohio-state.edu/people/cornell.14/wk2lec2/index.htm