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the first permanent English settlement in America
In June of 1606 King James I of England granted a charter to the Virginia Company to establish the first permanent English settlement in America. On April 26, 1607, three ships -- Susan Constant, Godspeed, Discovery -- carrying 103 men commanded by Captain Christopher Newport arrived at present-day Cape Henry, at the southern entrance to Chesapeake Bay. After a brief exploration of the area, the small fleet sailed another 60 miles up the James River and, on May 14, established Jamestown.
map showing relative position of
close-up map of Jamestown location
About two-thirds of Jamestown's original settlers died of malnutrition, malaria, dysentery, and from attacks by Native Americans within the first few months and the colony was on the verge of collapse when Captain John Smith became its leader in 1608. Smith required that every man work and established trading relations with some of the neighboring Indian tribes, and his efforts helped the colony survive its second winter. By 1610 Jamestown was once again on the verge of collapse, but the arrival of Governor Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, along with a shipload of supplies and new settlers, rejuvenated the colony. The introduction of tobacco by John Rolfe in 1612 gave Jamestown its first cash crop, and the 1614 marriage of Rolfe to Pocahontas, the daughter of chief Powhatan, brought peace between Jamestown and Native Americans.
The first representative assembly, the House of Burgesses, met in Jamestown on July 30, 1619. The first African slaves were brought into Jamestown by a Dutch ship that same year, and with them came renewed prosperity. Peace was broken in 1622 when outlying settlements were attacked by Indians. Although Jamestown itself managed to protect itself, the attack led King James to revoke the Virginia Company's charter and make Jamestown a crown colony in 1624. Outlying settlements were attacked again in 1644, and once again Jamestown managed to protect itself from the attacks. In 1676, planter Nathaniel Bacon staged a revolt against the colonial government, during which Jamestown was burned to the ground. The town was rebuilt following Bacon's Rebellion, but was again destroyed by fire in 1698. This second fire forced the colonial government to move the capital to Williamsburg, and the site of Jamestown was in private hands by the mid-1700's.
The site of Jamestown is now part of Colonial National Historic Park, which also includes the sites of colonial Williamsburg and the Battle of Yorktown.
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This page was last updated on June 25, 2017.