On May 14, 1607, a group of roughly 100 members of a joint venture called the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America on the banks of the James River. Famine, disease and conflict with local Native American tribes in the first two years brought Jamestown to the brink of failure before the arrival of a new group of settlers and supplies in 1610. Tobacco became Virginia's first profitable export, and a period of peace followed the marriage of colonist John Rolfe to Pocahontas, the daughter of an Algonquian chief. During the 1620s, Jamestown expanded from the area around the original James Fort into a New Town built to the east; it remained the capital of the Virginia colony until 1699.
More to Explore
Her friendship with John Smith and marriage to John Rolfe helped save the Jamestown colony.
John Rolfe developed the Virginia colony's first profitable export and married Pocahontas, the daughter of a Native American chieftain.
The first permanent European settlement in New England, Plymouth was founded by a group of religious separatists who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620.
Long before Columbus, another group of people discovered America: the nomadic ancestors of modern Native Americans.
Did You Know?
Jamestown Island housed military posts during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In the 20th century, preservationists undertook a major restoration of the area; the National Park Service now administers it as part of the Colonial National Historical Park.
English Settlement in the New World
After Christopher Columbus' historic voyage in 1492, Spain dominated the race to establish colonies in the Americas, while English efforts, such as the "lost colony" of Roanoke (1587), met with failure. In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a new venture, the Virginia Company, to form a settlement in North America. At the time, Virginia was the English name for the entire eastern coast of North America north of Florida; they had named it for Elizabeth I, the "virgin queen." The Virginia Company planned to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.
Roughly 100 colonists left England in late December 1606 on three ships (the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery) and reached Chesapeake Bay late the next April. After forming a governing council—including Christopher Newport, commander of the sea voyage, and John Smith, a former mercenary who had been accused of insubordination aboard ship by several other company members—the group searched for a suitable settlement site. On May 14, 1607, they landed on a narrow peninsula–virtually an island–in the James River, where they would begin their lives in the New World.
Surviving the First Years
Known variously as James Forte, James Towne and James Cittie, the new settlement initially consisted of a wooden fort built in a triangle around a storehouse for weapons and other supplies, a church and a number of houses. By the summer of 1607, Newport went back to England with two ships and 40 crewmembers to give a report to the king and to gather more supplies and colonists. The settlers left behind suffered greatly from hunger and illness, as well as the constant threat of attack by members of local Algonquian tribes, most of which were organized into a kind of empire under Chief Powhatan.
An understanding reached between Powhatan and John Smith led the settlers to establish much-needed trade with Powhatan's tribe by early 1608. Though skirmishes still broke out between the two groups, the Native Americans traded corn for beads, metal tools and other objects (including some weapons) from the English, who would depend on this trade for sustenance in the colony's early years. After Smith returned to England in late 1609, the inhabitants of Jamestown suffered through a long, harsh winter, during which more than 100 of them died. In the spring of 1610, just as the remaining colonists were set to abandon Jamestown, two ships arrived bearing at least 150 new settlers, a cache of supplies and the new English governor of the colony, Lord De La Warr.
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Classroom Study Guides
Jamestown Teachers Guide (PDF)
Curriculum companion to the program about the first permanent British settlement in North America.