Jamestown, the Virginia Colony

May 14, 1607

Location

    • The original 1606 instructions to the colony, written by investors in London before anyone understood the local geography, prioritized safety over convenience for travel between England-Virginia.

    • Jamestown was located far north of the Spanish base at St. Augustine and was placed further inland because of the ongoing threats.

    • The constant international conflicts between European nations were a key factor in determining the location and the defenses of the new English colony.

Why settle here?

    • The Virginia Company was in search of economic opportunity.

    • Expected to profit from mineral wealth such as gold and iron ore, timber and wood products and other natural resources.

    • They also hoped to find a Northwest Passage or sailing route to Asia for trade.

    • Other motives were to prevent the spread of Spanish colonies, to spread Protestant Christianity, and to convert the Virginia Indians.

    • The Company also issued instructions that the settlers search for the Roanoke colonists, who had disappeared some 17 years earlier.

History

  • Jamestown was the first part of the country permanently settled by English and was established on banks of the James river in 1607. The colony was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, a group of investors who hoped to profit from the venture. Chartered in 1606 by King James I, the company also supported English national goals of counterbalancing the expansion of other European nations abroad.
  • The Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, carrying 105 passengers, departed from England in December 1606 and reached the Virginia coast in late April 1607. The expedition was led by Captain Christopher Newport.
  • The colony was located in the center of a chiefdom of about 14,000 Indians ruled by the powerful leader Powhatan. Relations with the Powhatan Indians were questionable, although trading opportunities were established.
  • An unfamiliar climate, as well as a salty water supply and lack of food, and a prolonged drought led to disease and death.
  • Captain John Smith became the colony’s leader in September 1608 and established a “no work, no food” policy. Smith had been instrumental in trading with the Powhatan Indians for food. Smith’s departure was followed by the “starving time,” a period of warfare between the colonists and Indians and the deaths of many English men and women from starvation and disease.
  • In order to make a profit for the Virginia Company, settlers tried a number of small industries, including glass-making, wood production, and pitch and tar and potash manufacture.
  • However, until the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop about 1613 by colonist John Rolfe, none of the colonists’ efforts to establish profitable enterprises were successful. Tobacco cultivation required large amounts of land and labor and stimulated the rapid growth of the Virginia colony.
  • Settlers moved onto the lands occupied by the Powhatan Indians, and increased numbers of indentured servants came to Virginia.
  • The first representative government in British America began at Jamestown in 1619 with the convening of a general assembly, at the request of settlers who wanted input in the laws governing them.
  • Jamestown continued as the center of Virginia’s political and social life until 1699 when the seat of government moved to Williamsburg. Although Jamestown ceased to exist as a town by the mid 1700s, its legacies are embodied in today’s United States.

Competition

    • International rivalries with Spain and France shaped the location of Jamestown and the settlement of Virginia. The shape of the channel in the James River was also a factor.

    • The English were not the first people to arrive in Virginia, just as Columbus was not the first person to realize the earth was round. Asian hunter-gatherers got here first, about 15,000 years earlier. The Spanish explored the Chesapeake Bay before the English. In 1570, the Spanish even sent Catholic missionaries to convert the natives in Virginia and to expand the power of Spain north from Cuba.

    • In 1565 the Spanish established the first permanent European settlement in North America, St. Augustine in Florida. That settlement never developed beyond its role as a fort. Its primary role was to prevent pirates or other nations from establishing a base for capturing Spanish ships carrying gold and silver home from the New World. St. Augustine also protected Catholic missionaries.

Governmnet and Religion

    • Four carpenters, two bricklayers, a mason, and a blacksmith were the first tradesman, arriving with the first settlers in 1607.These were the trades needed to build houses and other structures.

    • Later tradesmen had skills that the Virginia Company hoped would help earn a profit-a jeweler, refiners, goldsmiths, and a perfumer. Other early trades included apothecaries and a cooper.

    • Reverend Robert Hunt held the first Anglican Communion in Jamestown under a sail used for protection on June 21, 1607.

    • The first representative government in British America began at Jamestown in 1619 with the convening of a general assembly, at the request of settlers who wanted input in the laws governing them.

    • The first representative assembly in English America met July 30-August 2, 1619 in the church at Jamestown.