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.
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.
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.
Jamestown Essays, Timelines & Images
Choose essays, timelines & images from our large selection of Jamestown-related topics below.
- Pocahontas – Who was the real Pocahontas? Learn about her life with the Powhatan and the English.
- Angela – Who was Angela of Ndongo? Find out what her life was like before she began her Jamestown story.
- Henry Spelman – Young Henry left his home in England to live in Virginia. Imagine his surprise when he is soon left to live with the Powhatan!
- John Smith – Get to know this famous adventurer and find out why he was so important to the Jamestown colony.
- The Life of John Smith – Find out what experiences made this brassy adventurer so successful at Jamestown and learn what became of John Smith after his Virginia adventure.
- Young Pocahontas – Learn what was life was like for Pocahontas as a girl and what happened when she met the English settlers.
Government and Leadership
- Life at Jamestown – Discover what life was like for the English settlers as they tried to make their way in their new Virginia home.
- Werowocomoco – Explore the Powhatan center of power and its significance to American Indian history.
- Company Charters and Challenges – Early charters outlined goals for the Jamestown colony. Explore the many obstacles to meeting these goals in Virginia.
- Expansion of Settlement in Early Virginia – Discover how quickly settlement in Virginia spread outside of the fort at Jamestown.
- The “Great Charter” and the First General Assembly – Explore how Virginia Company leaders wrote a charter to more effectively govern the people living in Virginia.
- Powhatan’s Challenge and Opechancanough’s Action – How did Powhatan leaders react to the arrival of English men in Virginia? Find out how these two Powhatan brothers responded.
- The Virginia Company of London – England’s first permanent colony in Virginia was not established by the government, but by a private business venture. Learn about how the Virginia Company of London financed the Jamestown colony.
- Roanoke’s Achievement – Explore the importance of this unsuccessful English colony to England’s colonization efforts.
Economy and Technology
- Tobacco and Labor – Tobacco was the cash crop that saved Jamestown, but it came with a price. Explore the labor systems established to support the growing tobacco industry at Jamestown.
- Early Industries in Virginia – What’s a colony to do without the discovery of gold and silver deposits? Discover the many industries attempted at Jamestown and learn why they failed.
- The Story of the Sea Venture – Find out how the voyage of the Sea Venture and its fleet of ships changed the history of Jamestown.
- Jamestown Timeline – This timeline details important events in the establishment of the first permanent English settlement in America: Jamestown, Virginia.
- Jamestown Questions and Answers – What you’ve always wanted to know about Jamestown, in a nutshell!