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In June of 1606, King James I granted a charter to a group of London entrepreneurs, the Virginia Company, to establish a English settlement in the Chesapeake region of North America. By December, 104 male settlers sailed from London instructed to settle Virginia, and find gold and a water route to the Orient. According to a list published by Captain John Smith, Gentlemen made up about half of the group, whose gentle birth suggests they knew nothing of or thought it their personal duty to tame a wilderness. The rest were artisans, artisans, and laborers. On May 13, 1607, the Virginia Company explorers chose to settle on Jamestown Island, along the James River 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
By one account, they landed there because the deep water channel let their ships ride close to shore; close enough, to tie them to the trees. Almost immediately the colonists were under attack from the Algonquian natives. In a little over a months time, the newcomers managed to build a wooden fort. Three contemporary accounts and a sketch of the fort agree that its wooden palisade walls formed a triangle around a storehouse, church, and a number of houses. While disease, famine and continuing attacks of neighboring Algonquians took a tremendous toll on the population, the eventual structured leadership of Captain John Smith kept the colony from dissolving. The starving time winter followed Smiths departure in 1609 during which only 60 of the original 500 settlers survived.
That June, the survivors decided to bury cannon and armor and abandon the town. It was only the arrival of the new governor, Lord De La Ware, and his supply ships that brought the colonists back to the fort and the colony back on its feet. Then when Pocahontas, the favored daughter of the Algonquian chief Powhatan, married tobacco entrepreneur John Rolfe, some years of peace followed. The first representative assembly in the New World convened in the Jamestown church on July 30, 1619.
The other crucial event that would play a role in the development of America was the arrival of Africans to Jamestown. A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became servants. The Algonquians eventually became unhappy again, and in 1622, attacked the out plantations killing over 300 of the settlers. Even though a last minute warning spared Jamestown, the attack on the colony and mismanagement of the Virginia Company at home convinced the King that he should revoke the Virginia Company Charter.
Virginia became a crown colony in 1624. The fort seems to have existed into the middle of the 1620 s, but as Jamestown grew into a New Town to the East, written reference to the original fort disappear. Jamestown remained the capital of Virginia until its major statehouse, located on the western end of the APVA property, burned in 1698. The capital was moved to Williamsburg that year and Jamestown began to slowly disappear above ground. In 1893 Jamestown was owned by Mr.
And Mrs. Edward Barney. The Barneys gave 22 + acres of land, including the 1639 church tower, to the APVA. By this time James River erosion had eaten away the islands western shore; visitors began to conclude that the site of James Fort lay completely underwater. With federal assistance, a sea wall was constructed in 1900 to protect the area from further erosion. The remaining acreage on the island was acquired by the National Park Service in 1934 as part of the Colonial National Historical Park.
Today, Jamestown is jointly operated by the APVA and NPS.
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