A Brief History of Jamestown, Virginia


A Brief History of Jamestown, Virginia

A Brief History of Jamestown, Virginia


1612: JOHN ROLFE TRIES A TOBACCO CROP TO HELP SAVE THE DESPERATELY STRUGGLING JAMESTOWN SETTLEMENT.

I may not forget the gentleman worthie of much commendations, which first tooke the pains to make triall thereof, his name Mr. John Rolfe, Anno Domini 1612, partly for the love he hath a long time borne unto it, and partly to raise commodity to the adventurers...
--Ralph Hamor, then Secretary of Virginia

Few realize that this seminal event in American history may well be why the lower half of the United States speaks English instead of Spanish today.


A Brief History of Jamestown


By the dawn of the 17th century, despite several disastrous attempts, England still lacked a viable claim to some part of the New World.

In 1606, King James I tried once more to fruitfully impregnate the mythically rich, virgin land. He established 2 companies made up of merchant-adventurers eager to plumb the tantalizing riches of North America--these were the London Company and the Plymouth Company.

The first to embark was the London Company, which sent forth three ships in December of 1606. James gave them three objectives: find gold, find a route to the South Seas, and find the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Adverse winds held their ship near England for 6 weeks, and seriously depleted their food reserves. Forty-five died on the voyage, but 101 men and 4 boys finally landed on a semi-island in May, 1607. A record log tells us that within a month they were able to complete the building of a large triangular fort on the banks of a river the Indians knew as "Powhatan's River," or "Powhatan's Flu." The settlers named it the James, after their King.

At first the climate seemed mild, the Indians friendly. As John Smith wrote, "heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man's habitations."

Then came blistering heat, swarms of insects spawned in the nearby wetlands, unfit water supplies, typhus, starvation, fierce winters, Indian attacks, shiploads of inappropriately-prepared "Colonists" (sent from a changing England that had no other place for them), and even a period of tyrannical martial law when missing church 3 times was a capital offense.

The troubles were exacerbated by the colonists themselves. Many of them we could call gentlemen-adventurers, "whose breeding," a contemporary said, "never knew what a day's labour meant." These were men, often lesser scions of nobility, with no future in overpopulated England, who were lured by the Virginia Company with promises of land and wealth--much as people were lured to California during the Gold Rush. But there was no gold in Virginia, and these "prospectors" didn't know how to farm, didn't know how to hunt, and--possibly feeling betrayed by the Virginia Company's promises, and lacking any land of their own--were not known for their spirit of cooperation either among themselves, nor with the local Indians of the Powhatan confederacy.

In 1609, a fleet of 9 ships from England had been caught in a tremendous hurricane, and the lead ship, the Sea Venture, had been wrecked off Bermuda, its passengers--including many of the proposed new leaders of the colony--stranded for months. The rest of the ships had limped into Jamestown in August of 1609, their passengers mostly sick or hurt--one ship was said to carry the plague--and provided nothing but extra mouths to feed--400, in fact.

Apparently the only man who had been able to keep a modicum of peace, both in the colony and with the Indians, was John Smith. Even so, by 1609, the settlers had suffered one horror after another. Hundreds had died, but the worst was yet to come. Smith, injured in a gunpowder explosion, was shipped back to England, and with other leaders stranded on Bermuda, the colony of as many as 600 fell into chaos.

Then another river-freezing, icicled winter hit, and with it a period so bad it was later called the Starving Time. Arms and valuable worktools were traded for a pittance in food. The fields lay fallow. Housing was used as firewood. The weak settlers were easy pickings for the contemptuous Indians. Trapped within their walls by Powhatan's renewed enmity, the Jamestown residents ate their way through their livestock, their pets, mice, rats--and each other. Many turned to cannibalism, sneaking out at night--braving Indian ambush--to dig up the graves of both English and Indian dead. One contemporary wrote of a man who secretly killed his wife and ate her, until only the head was left. The author wrote --in a tasteless joke that has spanned centuries--"Now, whether she was better roasted, boiled or carbonadoed (grilled), I know not, but of such a dish as powdered (salted) wife I never heard of."

Meanwhile in the relative paradise of Bermuda, the hurricane survivors--including one passenger named John Rolfe, who had learned to smoke tobacco in London--built two ships from the wreckage of the Sea Venture, and finally resumed their journey.

On May 24, 1610, approaching Jamestown, they came upon only 60 gaunt survivors of the "Starving Time"--nearly 90% of the colony had died during the winter.

The ships from Bermuda brought only more mouths, and few reserves of food. There were no crops, no tools, no housing, no hope. It was the end. Survivors and rescuers packed what they could on the ships, and headed back down the James River. Jamestown was abandoned..

But the ships were not 10 miles down-river when they were met with a boat whose occupants told them Lord De La Warr, newly appointed Governor of Virginia, was on his way with three ships filled with supplies and 150 new colonists. They were ordered to return to await the Governor.

Jamestown had been given a dramatic reprieve. Yet life remained onerous, and Jamestown had yet to find a crop, or a mineral, or an industry that would make the colony economically viable. The Virginia Company continued to pour people and resources into a venture with virtually no return of investment.

It was in 1612 that John Rolfe began growing tobacco. But Rolfe shunned the harsh product grown by the local Indians, Nicotiana Rustica. It would never sell in London. Somehow he obtained seeds from the coveted Nicotiana Tabacum strain then being grown in Trinidad and South America--though Spain had declared a penalty of death to anyone selling such seeds to a non-Spaniard.

Then Pocahontas entered Rolfes' life. Bad relations with the Indians had continued to plague the settlers. Once, when the Indians held several English captive, the colonists captured and held hostage the chief's beloved young daughter, Pocahontas. John Smith's later writings tell us that a few years earlier at the age of 12, Pocahontas had dramatically saved Smith from her father, the Powhatan's, wrath. This incident could more likely have been a ceremonial "saving," or even nonexistent, but it is verifiably established that in the early days she did indeed often help the colony--with food or with warnings of attack.

But it was four years later now, and Pocahontas was far from the naked child who with her friends used to turn cartwheels through the streets of a nascent Jamestown. Now she was a young woman, and being held by the English. During this period, in his Virginia tobacco fields, Rolfe began to woo--and win--Pocahontas.

How much did Pocahontas know about tobacco? It is true that Powhatan women grew the food, while in a completely separate sector, a sort of back area of the village, men grew the tobacco. Pocahontas, however, had a seemingly insatiable curiosity, and tended to roam where she wanted. (Her birth name was Matoaka; we know her by Pocahontas, a sort of Indian nickname which meant "Frisky," "Mischievous" or "Playful One"). It is likely she either knew a great deal about tobacco cultivation, or knew how to find answers if they were needed. The dramatic success of Jamestown's tobacco crop is credited not only to Rolfes' importation of the Spanish strain, but to his finding better ways of growing and curing it. We may only surmise how much he was guided in cultivation and curing techniques by Pocahontas.

During captivity, Pocahontas received daily bible lessons, and eventually converted to Christianity, changing her name to "Rebecca." Rolfe married her in April of 1614, with Powhatan's approval. This act is credited with bringing 8 years of peace with the Indians, a period when the energies of the colonists could be devoted to the growing of its new cash crop--which indeed was soon to become the New World's currency.

For in 1614, in what has been called by at least one historian the most momentous event of the 17th century, the first shipment of Virginia tobacco was sold in London.

Two years later, in June, 1616, Rolfe and other leaders of the colony arrived in London to discuss the newly successful crop. Rolfe brought Rebecca with him, where her exotic looks and regal bearing made her a popular rage, and she was presented to the court of Queen Anne as a true princess (King James had actually crowned Powhatan "King of Virginia.") At the same time, the spectacle of a "savage" princess married to a tobacco farmer may have given rise to exceptionally cutting Elizabethan barbs.

But Rolfes' trip was very much about the colony's major export--tobacco. Despite James I's disapproval of the colony's dependence on a crop he despised, the very survival of his namesake colony could be at stake. And, of course, James could not ignore the enormous import duties Rolfes' Virginia tobacco, "Orinoco", brought to the royal treasury--Londoners and others around the world liked its taste and began demanding it. Since all sales had to be made through London, the English treasury grew with every transaction. Rolfes' trip was a success..

Tobacco became the rage, tobacco and nothing else. We have reports of it being grown in the very streets of Jamestown. Laws had to be passed forcing farmers to devote a percentage of their efforts to growing food.

By 1619 Jamestown had exported 10 tons of tobacco to Europe and was a boomtown. The export business was going so well the colonists were able to afford two imports which would greatly contribute to their productivity and quality of life: 20 Blacks from Africa and 90 women from England. The Africans were paid for in food; each woman cost 120 pounds of tobacco.

By 1639 Jamestown had exported 750 tons of tobacco. Tobacco was the American colonies' chief export. The Jamestown colonists had not found gold, nor a route to the South Seas, nor the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. But they had found tobacco. Tobacco had brought the settlement from wretched failure to giddying success. Tobacco had created the need for labor at any price (even institutionalized slavery), and--since it wore out the soil every 4-7 years--the mad rush for land all through the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay--or, as the entire area soon became known, "Tobacco Coast."

Tobacco can well be credited with making Jamestown the first permanent English colony in the New World.


Jamestown Economics and Politics


  • It's often forgotten that the first two successful settlements in America were commercial ventures, licensed by the King. A part of the problem in the early days of Jamestown was its population of inexperienced, unqualified men seduced with a promise of riches by the ever-recruiting companies.

    England soon recognized this, and is credited for implementing what was then a radical idea--it insisted that a permanent settlement had to have women. Thus the English were successful in creating a permanent presence in the New World, unlike the more adventuring and wide-ranging French and Spanish.

  • The London company (Jamestown) never made any money and was dissolved in the 1620s.

  • The prohibition against direct sales of tobacco to other countries (all such sales had to be made through London, where hefty excise taxes were levied) was one of the main aggravations leading to the American Revolution.


    The People of Jamestown


    "Rebecca" never returned to America. She had taken ill, and had barely begun the voyage back when her illness became so severe that the ship had to stop in Gravesend. It was there she died--some say of influenza, some say of pneumonia, some say of smallpox--in 1617 at the age of 22. The filth and squalor of London that had so shocked her Powattan retinue had claimed their Princess. She was interred somewhere in the nave of St. George's Church, which burned down in 1727. The church was rebuilt in 1731, but where exactly Pocahontas' remains lie is unknown today.

    John Rolfe returned to Virginia in 1617, and married Joane, the daughter of William Pierce, who had come to Jamestown in 1609. Rolfe made out his will in 1622, confessing to being "sick and weak in body." Most believe Rolfe died at the age of 37 in the Indian Massacre of 1622 (though his name does not appear on the list of the Massacre dead, his farm at Bermuda Hundred had been destroyed.)

    The Rolfes' son, Thomas, was sickly, and was left to be raised in England. John Rolfe never saw his son again. In 1635, at the age of 20, Thomas returned to Virginia to reclaim his birthrights--both English ("Varina," the plantation--named for a variety of tobacco--on which he was born) and Indian, as his grandfather Powhatan had left him thousands of acres all around Jamestown. Thomas married an Englishwoman, Jane Poythress, and began a family. Many Virginians (the Blairs, Bollings, Lewises, Randolphs)--and many British--today are understandably proud to trace their lineage back to the remarkable, storybook union of the Indian princess Pocahontas and the tobacco farmer John Rolfe.

    Shortly after Rolfe notified Powhatan of his daughter's death, Powhatan resigned his leadership, entrusting it to his brother Opitchapan, and moved to a site as far as possible from the English settlements. Just a year later, in 1618, he died. Opitchapan's successor, the warlike Opechancanough, instigated the Indian Massacre of 1622. Powhatan's confederacy, decimated by disease and a futile war against a never-ending wave of immigrants, was completely subjugated by 1644. In 1651 the country's first Indian Reservation was established in Virginia--for the remnants of Pocahontas' people.


    The Physical Site


    Jamestown was picked for its military advantages. It had a deep-water mooring for the ships, it was far enough up the James to be out of sight of the fearsome Spanish, and it was a semi-island--protected on three sides by the river and marshes.

    But it was a swamp, and a phenomenally unhealthy location. Fresh water was a major problem, and often the colonists were reduced to drinking the brackish river water. Malaria and dysentery periodically raged through the community. It suffered disastrous fires and explosions in the early days, and even as a city it was burned down twice. Bacon burned it during his Rebellion, and a few years later it burned down again by accident. When the fourth State House burned in 1698, the site was abandoned, and the capitol moved to Williamsburg. Jamestown, out of the mainstream of the bustling colony now, gradually fell into ruins.


    The Present


    Preparations are now underway for a grand festival in 2007 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Archeological efforts are attempting to establish more accurately the original location of the triangular wooden fort completed on June 15, 1607. A 19th Century paddlewheel boat churned up the earth under the original site, and it caved in early in the 20th century. It has been thought the original site of the fort was out in the James, but there is speculation that churches would never move from hallowed ground, and that the site of the ruins of the brick church may well be situated at a corner of the fort still on land.

    Many artifacts were lost when the site was a ferry landing, and travelers simply picked them up for souvenirs.

    See Jamestown Rediscovery Findings at the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) site.


    Jamestown, 1995

    The Landing Site


    PItch-and-Tar Swamp


    Kids Learning about Tobacco


    Statue of John Smith Overlooking the James


    A Sign on the Road Tour of Jamestown Island

    Pictures to come:

    • The Isthmus, Site of the Great Road
    • An Indian Village
    • The Susan Constant

    FOOTNOTES


  • At least one reference lays the blame for the explosion that sent John Smith back to England to a careless pipe-smoker.
  • The story of the gale and the survival of the ships' passengers on a tropical island much caught the fancy of Londoners; it is thought that Shakespeare based his last play, "The Tempest" (1613) on this very event.


    A Counterblaste to Tobacco

  • King James I of England wrote what many consider the first anti-smoking tract, "De abusu tobacci" ("A Counterblaste to Tobacco"), in 1603.


  • Rolfe was castigated by King James for marrying Pocahontas without consulting him first. James was upset not because Rolfe had married someone outside his race, but because he, a mere commoner, had married very much outside his class. In a travesty of a ceremony a few years earlier, James had actually had a reluctant Powhatan crowned "King of Virginia." Therefore Pocahontas was indeed a true Princess. James was outraged that should Powhatan die, Rolfe could conceivably succeed Powatan as King, and thus suddenly become an equal in the brotherhood of royalty.


  • Pocahontas also met John Smith once again in London, but as she was royalty and he but a commoner, Pocahontas reportedly had a difficult time rekindling their old relationship.

    According to Ivor Hume in The Virginia Adventure, "John Smith died at the age of fifty-one in London in 1631, leaving as his legacy his books, his maps, and his controversial personality, which together will keep his memory flamboyantly alive as long as there is a Virginia."
  • Rolfe named his brand of tobacco "Orinoco" undoubtedly to evoke the mystery and exotic adventure of tobacco-popularizer Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions in the 1580s up the Orinoco river in Guiana in search of the legendary City of Gold, El Dorado.


  • Raleigh was on difficult terms with James; a favorite of Elizabeth I, he had tried 3 times in the 1580s to establish a permanent English settlement in Virginia (the last had been the especially ill-fated "Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island), and had named the state itself for the Virgin Queen.


  • James held Raleigh prisoner in the Tower of London for 13 years (where he grew his own tobacco). Raleigh must have followed the Jamestown developments avidly from his cell, and even wrote a letter to Queen Anne in 1610, begging to be allowed to lend his services in person to the colony. But he was never again to land in the Virginia that once was his--though in 1618, he sailed close by its coast, after a brief but disastrous mission back to the Orinoco. Later that year, in England, Raleigh was beheaded for treason. It is said that even to the very end he kept his pipe.


  • The Blacks were bought as indentured servants from a passing Dutch ship low on food. They had been rescued from an island in the Caribbean; crucially, they had been baptized, and thus, as Christians, could not be enslaved.
  • The women were supplied by a private English company. Those who married the women had to pay their passage-- with 120 pounds of tobacco.


    Jamestown Timeline


    Prelude

  • c. 800 A.D.: Native-American introduction of domesticated plants in Virginia area
  • c. 1200: Permanent Native-American villages established in Virginia area
  • 1584: Sir Walter Raleigh's sends out an exploration party to the New World, heading for Florida. They land on Roanoke Island. Raleigh names what is now the South-East United States "Virginia" after his benefactor Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
  • 1585: Sir Walter Raleigh's 2nd expedition consists of seven vessels, which reach Roanoke Island in June. Expedition member John White makes remarkable watercolors and drawings of the Indians and flora of the country. The colonists antagonize the local Indians, members of Powhatan's confederacy, over the perceived theft of a silver cup.
  • June 19, 1586: Sir Francis Drake carries back to England the beleagured colonists. They arrive in England six weeks later, carrying 2 unique items indigenous to the Americas: the white potato, and tobacco. Unable to feed about 500 black and Indian prisoners liberated from his attack on Santo Domingo, Drake leaves them all on Roanoke I. Their survival extremely doubtful, they are never heard from again. Although some English sailors, most notably those under Sir John Hawkins' command, used tobacco throughout the 16th century, this event is considered by some the first formal introduction of tobacco to England.
  • July 22, 1587: Raleigh's 3rd expedition to Virginia, consisting of three ships carrying about 115 settlers, lands on Roanoke Island. John White, the artist, is governor. After a few months, 1/3 of the settlers are dead from famine and disease.
  • August 18, 1587: Virginia Dare, John White's grandchild, is born in Roanoke--the first English child to be born in America. John White is sent off to England in the sole remaining ship for help. He leaves behind his daughter and her new-born child, Virginia Dare--the first English child to be born in the Americas. But back home, Spain is assembling an Armada to crush England, and no ship may be spared for the return voyage.
  • 1590: John White is finally able to return to Roanoke Island. The fort is deserted, with only one word scrawled on a doorpost left as a clue to where the missing colonists may be: "Croatoan," a nearby island with friendly Iindians. But before the party can investigate, fierce storms force the ship's captain to return to England. Though England sends several expeditions to search for them, the fate of the "Lost Colony" remains a mystery today.
  • 1606+: America and advertising begin to grow together. One of the first products heavily marketed is America itself. Richard Hofstadter called the Virginia Company's recruitment effort for its new colony, "one of the first concerted and sustained advertising campaigns in the history of the modern world." The out-of-place, out-of-work "gentlemen" in an overpopulated England were sold quite a bill of goods about the bountiful land and riches to be had in the New World. Daniel J. Boorstin has mused whether "there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising."
  • 1606: ENGLAND: Sir Walter Raleigh is imprisoned in the Tower
  • 1606-12: ENGLAND: Admiral Christopher Newport takes the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery out of London, bound for Virginia with 140 Colonists. During the voyage, Newport places John Smith under arrest for mutiny. Smith is scheduled to be hanged. "A pair of gallowes was made, but Captain Smith, for whome they were intended, could not be persuaded to use them," Smith's journal reads.
  • 1607-05-13: FIRST permanent English settlement in the New World begins.

    105 men and boys land at Jamestown. Secret orders opened upon landing name John Smith as one of the Councillors.

  • 1607-05-26: Paspahegh Indians attack settlers, killing two, wounding ten.
  • 1607-06-15: The triangular James Fort is completed
  • 1607-06-22: Chistopher Newport sets sail back for London, loaded with "treasure"--fool's gold and dirt.
  • 1607-08: Disease is rampant. The sixt of August there died John Asbie of the bloudie Fluxe. The ninth day died George Flowre of the swelling. The tenth day died William Bruster Gentleman, of a wound given by the Savages.--George Percy
  • 1607-09-10: Councillor George Kendall is accused of sowing discord and placed under arrest on the Discovery.
  • 1607-09-12: President Edward M. Wingfield is found guilty of libel; he is deposed as first president of colony. John Ratcliffe takes his place.
  • 1607-09: Kendall is convicted of conspiracy and is shot. At the trial, Kendall claimed that President Ratcliffe was using an assumed name, and that his real name was John Sicklemore.
  • 1607-12-10: Smith Captured By Indians.
      Smith leads a food-gathering expedition up the Chickahominy. His men killed by Indians, he ties his Indian guide to his arm as a shield. Smith becomes stuck in an icy swamp and is captured. He shows Powhatan's half-brother Opechancanough the wonders of his compass, which apparently saves his life.
  • 1607-12-29: Smith Saved By Pocahontas.
      John Smith is brought before Powhatan, where the Pocahontas incident is said to have taken place. The event--possibly a ritualized acceptance into the tribe--grants him Powhatan's acceptance.
  • 1608-01-02: A Momentous Day.
    • Smith returns from Powhatan's camp accompanied by 2 Indians to take back 2 guns Smith had promised Powhatan. Smith offers the 2-ton demiculverins, immovable by the Indians, and in demonstration loads the cannon with rocks and blasts an icicle-filled tree--much to the Indians' shock.
    • As evidenced by the tree episode, it is bitter cold, and the situation at the fort is desperate. Only 38 of the original 105 colonists remain. Some are about to leave for home on the tiny Discovery, but Smith aims one of the fort's cannons at the ship and threatens to blow it out of the water.
    • Smith is accused of causing the deaths of his men; is deposed from his position, tried, and condemned to hang. Some accounts hold the noose is about his neck when
    • The First Supply arrives--Captain Newport on the John and Francis, carrying fresh supplies, along with 60 new settlers. He puts a stop to Smith's execution.

  • 1608-01-07: FIRE.
      Hope turns to desperation. Almost the whole town of thatch/wattle houses goes up in flames; everyone's clothes are burned, leaving colonists little protection during one of the century's most frigid winters.
  • 1608-01: Pocahontas proves invaluable, periodically visiting the fort with her friends and bringing food.
  • 1608-02: FIRST OFFICIAL MEETING BETWEEN ENGLISH AND POWHATAN
      Smith brings his "father" (Christopher Newport) up the York to meet Powhatan. Newport almost botches the trading session by acceding unqualifiedly to Powhatan's proposal of a "deal"; Smith salvages the situation by trading "rare" blue beads for substantial provisions. "Sons" are traded--young Thomas Savage is sent to live with the Indians; Namontack is sent to live with the English. These and others similarly traded will serve as interpreters and communications links between the two peoples.
  • 1608-05: Pocahontas, as emissary for Powhatan, negotiates with Smith for the release of 7 Indians captured during a Powhatan campaign to seize English swords by any means possible. Smith releases the captives to her, and there follows one of early Jamestown's few periods of peace with the Indians. Pocahontas visits regularly, bringing provisions and messages from Powhatan. Contemporary records record that Pocahontas and other maids would turn cartwheels naked through the streets of Jamestown during this time. By August, however, Pocahontas was beginning to reach an age when Powhatan girls are "shamefaced to be seen bare." She begins wearing a small apron-skirt of fringed buckskin.
  • 1608-09-08: Smith is elected president of the Jamestown council.
  • 1608-09: Christopher Newport arrives with the Second Supply, the Mary and Margaret. On board--besides an Elizabethan bed as a present for Powhatan and a 5-piece supposedly-portable barge with which to explore past the Richmond falls--are two women--"Mistresse Forest and Anne Buras her maide." Forest came over with her husband; Buras was unmarried. In the annals of Jamestown, we hear no more about Mrs. Forest, but Anne Buras enjoys the remarkable good fortune to be one of the very few settlers to live through both the Starving Time and the Indian Massacre of 1622. We last hear of her in 1625.
  • 1608-11: Jamestown's first wedding of two English people--Anne Buras marries John Laydon, a carpenter. She had 4 daughters.
  • 1609-07-24: ATLANTIC OCEAN: A fleet of 9 ships led by the Sea Venture--carrying all the leaders--strikes the edge of a massive hurricane in the West Indies.
  • 1609-07-28: BERMUDA: Tossed for four days, the Sea Venture finally becomes wedged on a reef off Bermuda. Safe are all 150 on board, and the supplies. The colonists begin building two boats from the wreckage.
  • 1609-09: John Smith, injured in a gunpowder accident; is sent back to London
  • 1609-09: Now-President Ratcliffe sails up the Pamunkey to bargain with Powhatan for food. He fails to keep his guard up: the English party is attacked. Most escape, but Ratcliffe is caught and tortured to death by the Indian women.
  • 1609-09 to 1610-05: The "Starving Time"

    Over this disastrous winter, cold, starvation, disease and attacks by Indians shrink the colony from 500 people to 60.
  • 1610: ENGLAND: Sir Walter Raleigh, eager to return to Jamestown, writes to King James, "I long since presumed to offer your Majestie my service in Virginia, with a short repetitio of the commoditie, honor, and safetye which the King's Majestie might reape by that Planattion, if it were followed to effect."
  • 1610-05-23: BERMUDA: The Deliverance and the Patience, the boats built in Bermuda out of the wreckage of the Sea Venture, arrive to find Jamestown in ruins. They are met by 60 gaunt survivors out of the previous fall's 500-600.
  • 1610-05-24: Lieutenant Governor Sir Thomas Gates implements martial law. The code is set down in Gates' "Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiail" (1612), which will remain in effect until 1619.

    1610-06-07: Jamestown is abandoned

  • 1610-06-08: Lord de La Warr's ships arrive; he orders the colonists to return to Jamestown

  • 1611: Puritan Rev. Alexander Whitaker arrives at Jamestown to establish the First Presbyterian congregation in Virginia. He will instruct Pocahontas in Christianity, and convert her in 1613.
  • 1613: ENGLAND: Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest is written. It is popularly thought to be based on William Strachey's account of the Sea Venture's shipwreck on Bermuda. However, see The Tempest and the Bermuda Shipwreck of 1609
  • 1613-04-13: Pocahontas is brought to Jamestown as a hostage by Capt. Argall.
  • 1614-06-28: John Rolfe ships his first cargo of Virginia tobacco to England..
  • 1614: ENGLAND: FIRST sale of Virginia tobacco

  • 1614-04-24(?): John Rolfe and Pocahontas (Rebecca) are married
  • 1616-06-03: ENGLAND: John Rolfe and Pocahontas arrive in London

  • 1616: ENGLAND: Sir Walter Raleigh is paroled. Makes another expedition to the Orinoco
  • 1617-03-17: ENGLAND: Pocahontas dies in Gravesend
  • 1618-23: "THE GREAT MIGRATION:" Jamestown grows from 400 to 4,500.
  • 1618: Sir Walter Raleigh, with four ships limping home from a disastrous Orinoco expedition, passes the North Carolina and Virginia coast, but does not stop..
  • 1618-04: Powhatan dies..
  • 1618-10-29: ENGLAND: Sir Walter Raleigh executed for treason. He smokes a pipe of tobacco just before. When he lays his head on the block, he is facing West, toward the New World. Someone suggests he turn his head to the East, toward Calvary. Raleigh replies, "What matter how the head lie, so the heart be right." He died never having set foot in Virginia.
  • 1619: 90 "Young maids to make wives for so many of the former Tenants" arrive. The Virginia Company dictates they are to be priced at not less than "one hundredth and fiftie [pounds] of the best leafe Tobacco."
  • 1619-07-30: FIRST representative legislative assembly is held.

    The General Assembly meets in the choir of the Jamestown church from July 30-August 4. The first law passed: tobacco shall not be sold for under 3 shillings per pound.

    1619-08: FIRST 20 blacks are purchased as indentured servants from a passing Dutch ship.

    The colonists desperately need workers for the tobacco crop. John Rolfe writes in his diary, About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty negars.
  • 1620: FIRST Public Library established at Heunco, VA.
  • 1621: FIRST windmill in America built in VA.
  • 1622-03: "Jack of the Feathers" is killed. This is thought to be the final straw leading to the Indian Massacre.
  • 1622: The Indian Massacre of 1622.

    350 colonists at plantations are killed in a surprise uprising in Opechancanough's attempt at ethnic cleansing; Jamestown itself is spared by a warning from the Indian boy, Chanco. The colony goes from 1,400 to 1050.
  • 1622-12-20: The Abigail arrives, not only bringing no food to replenish the losses from the massacre, but infecting the colony with a shipload of diseased survivors poisoned by one Jeffrey Dupper's contaminated, "stinking beere." The resulting plague and starvation reduce the colony to 500, as survivors desperately await the Abigail's companion-ship, Seaflower. It will never arrive. . .
  • 1623-03-18: BERMUDA: During a celebration of the Seaflower's safe arrival in Bermuda, the Captain's son went down to the gun room, and through "drinckeinge Tobaco by neclygense of ther fyer Blue uppe the Shyppe."
  • 1623-04: Henry Spelman and over 20 others are killed in a botched trading expedition; Indians capture men, armor and guns.
  • 1623-05: Tucker & Potts Poison a Village.

    Captain Willam Tucker concludes peace negotiations with a Powhatan village by proposing a toast. The drink has been laced with poison by Dr. John Potts. 200 Powhatans die instantly. 50 more are slaughtered.
  • 1624-05: The Virginia Company loses its charter; Virginia becomes a royal province..
  • 1624> 1,033 Early Virginia Pioneers Indexed by last name, first name from 1624 records
  • 1631: ENGLAND: John Smith dies at the age of 51.
  • 1631: ENGLAND: George Percy dies.
  • 1638: First slave markets in English America are being run.
  • 1639-01-11: King Charles I grants colonists the right to call their General Assembly. Charles' ruling sets precedent of semi-self-rule for all British colonies.

  • 1639-44: Jamestown's brick church is built
  • 1642-02: Sir William Berkeley begins his Governorship. Puritans are persecuted for next 6 years.
  • 1644-04-18: Powhatan's reputed half-brother, Opechancanough, orders a second Massacre throughout Virginia/Maryland region. Over 500 English are killed..
  • 1644-10: The captive Opechancanough is shot in the back by a resident in Jamestown..
  • 1651: FIRST Indian Reservation created near Richmond, VA for the remnants of Pocahontas' people.

  • 1652: Parliamentary fleet lies off Jamestown; Berkeley surrenders Virginia. The colony government is dominated by Burgesses until 1660.
  • 1660-03-03: Virginia Assembly elects Berkeley to Governorship.
  • 1661: Virginia Assembly begins institutionalizing slavery, making it de jure.
  • 1662: Jamestown loses its status as the mandatory port of entry for Virginia.
  • 1665: Tobacco overproduction has led to a price of a penny per pound.

    1676-09-19: Bacon's Rebellion. In retaliation for an attack by Berkeley, Bacon burns down Jamestown..

  • 1698-10-21: Jamestown's fourth statehouse burns down.
  • 1699: Capitol of Virginia moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg. As a city, Jamestown dies.
  • 1807: As Jamestown Island has been given over to two large plantations, the Ambler and the Travis, that year's bicentennial's focus is the mansion of the Travis plantation.
  • 1895: The Association for the Preservation of Virginia's Antiquities (APVA) is formed.
  • 1899: Only two ruins--the brick church and Ambler House--are left to indicate the history of Jamestown Island..
  • 1899: 22 1/2 acres on Jamestown Island is given to APVA by Mr. and Mrs. Edward E. Barney.
  • 1907: Tercentennial Celebration of Jamestown held.
  • 1924: The Pocahontas Exception: Virginia passes "An Act to Preserve Racial Integrity," outlawing miscegenation and denying certain rights to anyone not 100 percent white. Realizing that this would include many influential families [In Virginia, Pocahontas is considered "The Mother of Us All." Her progeny through Thomas Rolfe includes many aristocratic Virginia families, most notably the Bollings and Randolphs], legislators then declare that citizens with one sixteenth Indian blood were henceforth classified white. . . If the Indian maiden who saved the Virginia colony had lived in the 20th century, she would have been sent to prison for marrying John Rolfe.
  • 1957: Jamestown Exposition celebrates the 350th anniversary
  • 1992: BERMUDA: The Sea Venture's contents are recovered off Bermuda and fully documented.

    2007: Celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America to be held at Jamestown.


    Jamestown Resources


  • 13 Originals Has a great selection of early Virginia resources. (Not to mention North and South Carolina, and Georgia.]
  • SEE the great Virtual Jamestown Site Original documents: Maps and Images, Court Records, Labor Contracts, Public Records, First Hand Accounts and Letters, Newspapers and more.
      Support comes from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Research Project, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy. Virtual Jamestown is a product of collaboration between Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.

  • James Fort FOUND! Check out the remarkable Jamestown Rediscovery Findings at the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) site.

  • There are more Jamestown resources at the Jamestown website directory from Yahoo
  • Virginia Historical Society

      428 North Boulevard
      Richmond, VA 23220
      Telephone: (804) 358-4901
      Fax: (804) 355-2399
      Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. to 5p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5p.m (Museum Galleries only).
    • The Story of Virginia
        A comprehensive, long-term exhibit on the history of the commonwealth, The Story of Virginia, an American Experience covers more than 10,000 square feet and contains more than 1,000 objects.
        Contact and Conflict focuses on the settlement of colonial Virginia and the complex interactions between its English, Native American, and African inhabitants. Tobacco saved the English colony but resulted in the Indians being driven from their lands and enslaved Africans being brought here to work the tobacco fields. The only known likeness of Pocahontas from life is shown with gold buttons from a hat she wore when visiting England. An original dugout canoe made with European tools illustrates the interaction of the English and American Indians.
  • 01/08/19 EDITORIAL: Jamestown Unsettled Roanoke Times
      Today, as Virginia approaches the 400th anniversary of that seminal event, there are two Jamestowns. And of course they are feuding. Jamestown Island, the site of the original settlement, is run by the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Jamestown Settlement, a nearby living history museum, is run by a state agency, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. The Virginia General Assembly named the foundation to coordinate the state's multimillion-dollar birthday bash. The island folks complain the settlement folks are not playing fair with all that money, and have failed to cooperate on fund-raising, marketing and joint ticket sales. The disgruntled islanders, in fact, suggest the foundation has gone so far as to cultivate confusion about which is the original site in order to lure more tourists to the museum. The foundation insists it has acted with complete honor. We should hope so. It must ask itself: WWFFVD? What Would the First Families of Virginia Do?

    This document's URL is: http://www.tobacco.org/History/Jamestown.html


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  • ©1998 Gene Borio, Tobacco BBS (212-982-4645). WebPage: http://www.tobacco.org).Original Tobacco BBS material may be reprinted in any non-commercial venue if accompanied by this credit

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