Jamestown Was Established
May 14, 1607
The Virginia Company of England made a daring proposition:
sail to the new, mysterious land, which they called Virginia
in honor of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and begin a
settlement. They established Jamestown, Virginia, on May 14,
1607, the first permanent British settlement in North America.
Though determined, these settlers did not know what severe
challenges they would face.
of the Jamestown settlers were artisans, craftsmen, soldiers,
and laborers, including a tailor, a barber, and two surgeons
among them. The other half were "gentlemen," men of wealth who
did not have a profession, and who may have underestimated the
rough work necessary to survive in the New World.
After eight months, only 60 of the 214 pioneers were still
alive. Among the survivors was Captain John Smith, adventurer
and explorer. Despite the hardships, he kept the colony going
with his solid leadership those first two years, as Jamestown
grew to 500 with new arrivals from England. After he left in
1609, however, more trouble came.
Weather conditions were
rough and supplies were low. Only 60 of the 500 colonists
survived the harsh winter that followed Smith's departure.
Jamestown, though it possessed a good harbor, was swampy,
infested with mosquitoes, and lacked freshwater sources. The
people fought against disease, famine, and the Algonquian
Indians, whose land the British settlers now claimed.
The Algonquian chief, Powhatan, at first allowed the visitors
to settle, build, and farm in his territory, but as more and
more came, he grew tired of the colonists' expansion on his
land. Some of the tribe attacked settlers working in the
But there were some years of peace and prosperity. Peace came
when Pocahontas, daughter of chief Powhatan, married John
Rolfe, a tobacco farmer in Jamestown. Also, new supplies and
leadership eventually arrived from England.
An event of momentous consequence took place in 1619, when a
Dutch slave trader exchanged a cargo of captive Africans for
food. The Africans became indentured servants, trading
labor for shelter and eventual freedom. They were among the
first African Americans in the colonies. Racial slavery
would not become a common occurrence until 1680. For
all, the struggle for land and survival continued, but
Jamestown was just the beginning. What else do you know about
early settlers in North America?