May 13

This Day in History

General Interest

May 13, 1607:

Jamestown founded

Some 100 English colonists arrive along the west bank of the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Dispatched from England by the London Company, the colonists had sailed across the Atlantic aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.

Upon landing at Jamestown, the first colonial council was held by seven settlers whose names had been chosen and placed in a sealed box by King James I. The council, which included Captain John Smith, an English adventurer, chose Edward Wingfield as its first president. After only two weeks, Jamestown came under attack from warriors from the local Algonquian Native American confederacy, but the Indians were repulsed by the armed settlers. In December of the same year, John Smith and two other colonists were captured by Algonquians while searching for provisions in the Virginia wilderness. His companions were killed, but he was spared, according to a later account by Smith, because of the intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan's daughter.

During the next two years, disease, starvation, and more Native American attacks wiped out most of the colony, but the London Company continually sent more settlers and supplies. The severe winter of 1609 to 1610, which the colonists referred to as the "starving time," killed most of the Jamestown colonists, leading the survivors to plan a return to England in the spring. However, on June 10, Thomas West De La Warr, the newly appointed governor of Virginia, arrived with supplies and convinced the settlers to remain at Jamestown. In 1612, John Rolfe cultivated the first tobacco at Jamestown, introducing a successful source of livelihood. On April 5, 1614, Rolfe married Pocahontas, thus assuring a temporary peace with Chief Powhatan.

The death of Powhatan in 1618 brought about a resumption of conflict with the Algonquians, including an attack led by Chief Opechancanough in 1622 that nearly wiped out the settlement. The English engaged in violent reprisals against the Algonquians, but there was no further large-scale fighting until 1644, when Opechancanough led his last uprising and was captured and executed at Jamestown. In 1646, the Algonquian Confederacy agreed to give up much of its territory to the rapidly expanding colony, and, beginning in 1665, its chiefs were appointed by the governor of Virginia.

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