Jamestown: The First English Settlement in America

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More than a hundred years after Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage in 1492, a team of roughly one hundred colonists left England in late December 1606 on three ships, and reached Chesapeake Bay by late April the following year. A month later, on May 14, 1607, they established the first English colony on American soil on a narrow peninsula in the James River, located near present-day Williamsburg, Virginia. They named the settlement Jamestown, after their King James I, who granted a charter to the private venture whose goal was to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as chart a route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.

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Jamestown as it appeared in the 17th century.

Soon after arrival the colonists built a fort to protect themselves from Indian tribes and from a potential attack from Spanish settlements in Florida. The first few years were very hard on the settlers. Lack of local food and replenishment of supplies from England, and inability to cope with disease killed nearly 90 percent of the original colonists. But fresh supplies of new colonists from England prevented the settlement from dying off entirely. Over the next several decades, the colony enlarged significantly in size and by numbers, and it became the center of government for the English colonists. At its peak, it had a population of some 500.

In the 1600s, there were frequent disagreements and clashes with the natives. In the so called Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, most of Jamestown was burned down. The town burned several more times after which it was relocated to higher ground at Middle Plantation in 1699, and then renamed Williamsburg. Soon, Jamestown began a period of rapid decline.

Late in the 19th century, Jamestown became the focus of new historical interest, and the site’s then owner donated 22.5 acres of land, including the 17th-century tower of the Jamestown Church, for preservation.

Today, Jamestown Island is a National Historic site where visitors can view the site of the original 1607 James Fort, the 17th-century church tower and the site of the 17th-century town, as well as tour an archaeological museum called the Archaearium.

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The Jamesfort

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Remains of the 1639 Jamestown Church tower. Photo credit: Tony Fischer/Wikimedia

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The reconstructed town. Photo credit: Bart/Flickr

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Replica ships in Jamestown Settlement today. Photo credit: Tom Simpson/Flickr

Sources: History.com / NPS / Wikipedia

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2 comments:

  1. Hurray for Jamestown. Just remember that The Vikings set up a successful colony in Greenland that lasted for 518 years (982-1500). They spent a good portion of that time sending expeditions down south to try to settle what they called Vineland -- which historians now believe was the East Coast of North America - as far south as modern day North Carolina. After spending a couple decades sneaking ashore to raid Vineland of its ample wood pulp, they settled North America in 1005 with livestock, supplies and between 100 and 300 settlers, creating the first successful European American colony.

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  2. According to the legend Erik the Red was the first Scandinavian viking who saw the shores of Vineland (North America) when he came of course, and once home in Scandinavia he told his son Leif about it. A few years later Leif Eriksson set sail and headed across the sea, and he was the first european who sat his foot on american soil. 500 years before Columbus.

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