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Friday, July 11, 2014


The story of the establishment of the Jamestowne Colony is an interesting one. The Virginia Company of London, a privately owned business, was granted land by King James I of England with the intention of planting a colony near the Chesapeake in Virginia. The purpose was to profit from the wealth of the new world.

Replica of The Discovery
Replica of the Susan Constant
In December of 1606, three small ships departed London bound for Virginia. The largest of the three, The Susan Constant, under the command of Captain Christopher Newport, carried seventy-four passengers and crew, as well as needed supplies. Newport, an experienced mariner and familiar with American waters commanded the fleet. The Godspeed, less than half the size of The Susan Constant carried fifty-two men. The smallest of the three ships, The Discovery, carried only twenty-one men. Nearly one half of the passengers were gentry, some soldiers and privateers. Among the other passengers were some skilled craftsmen and artisans, unskilled labor and common seamen.

The majority of the passengers and crew of the three ships never planned to permanently settle in Virginia. Their intent was to explore the land, find gold or silver, or to seek their fortune in some other way. With little interest in farming, these men only intended to plant and harvest crops for sustenance. The sea voyage got off to a rough start. After poor weather detained the fleet off the coast of England for six weeks, they were once again on their way across the Atlantic via the southern route. However, difficulties arose on the passage when Capt. John Smith criticized those in charge, was alleged to have plotted a take over of the ship, and was accused of insubordination. Part of the problem was that the intended leadership of the colony had not yet been revealed to those on board. The secret was kept in a box not to be opened until they reached their destination. This plan was devised to keep the gentry ignorant of the intended ruling council so they would not lose interest in the venture.
The Route of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery
Toward the end of March the ships reached the Caribbean islands. By late April 1607 they sighted Virginia and entered what is now the Chesapeake Bay. About this time the box with the intended Council Leader’s names was opened. John Smith was one of the seven men appointed to lead. After two weeks of exploring the area, the Council Leaders selected a site on the James River at the southwestern shore of Jamestowne Island.

When two colonists perished after an attack by the Native Americans, a triangular wooden palisade with a bulwark at each corner was built to provide security for the settlers. Inside the fort, construction began on
Typical thatched roof mud and stud building
several thatched roof mud and stud communal buildings, storage houses, a church and several individual homes. Life in the settlement proved difficult initially. The intention had been that the colonists would trade with the Native Americans for food, but the region was experiencing a drought and food was scarce. Additionally, the water in the
James River was salty, making fresh water scarce.

For the first two years, the colonist’s relationship with their Indian neighbors was fairly cordial. But then, during the winter of 1609-1610 the fort was attacked, trapping the colonists inside with little fresh water or food. This came to be known as “the starving time” and only sixty survived. When ships arrived from Bermuda, the colonists, ready to end their colonization, boarded the ships to return to England. However, upon meeting supply ships on the James River headed toward Jamestowne, they were ordered to return to the fort where they were under strict martial law to restore the fort. Finally, conditions improved, resulting in the establishment of the first permanent English American colony.

Tobacco Drying
By the summer of 1610 more men and now, women arrived at Jamestowne from England. The community began to flourish as they increased their agricultural products, and also began experimenting with tobacco cultivation. One of the successful tobacco planters was John Rolfe, probably best known as the husband of Pocahontas.

The profits the investors originally sought from gold and silver ended up being from tobacco. The fort continued to expand and more English women arrived as brides for the colonists. By 1624, the Virginia Company’s charter was revoked by King James, and Virginia became a crown colony.

See my earlier post for the true story of Pocahontas http://colonialquills.blogspot.com/search/label/Pocahontas

See my earlier post on Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne in the 21st Century. http://colonialquills.blogspot.com/search/label/Jamestowne


  1. Janet, thank you for a very informative post! I learned several interesting new things.

    1. Thanks Lisa. I love visiting Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement. Fortunately, I can do that very easily, because I live nearby.

  2. Janet, great post as usual! Would love to get out there sometime again soon! We need to get more of the CQ ladies to come down and join us!

    1. Thanks Carrie. A field trip sounds fun. I never get tired of going there or downtown Williamsburg.


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