Jamestown, Virginia

The Jamestown[lower-alpha 1] settlement in the Colony of Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. It was located on the northeast bank of the James (Powhatan) River about 2.5 mi (4 km) southwest of the center of modern Williamsburg.[1] It was established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 4, 1607 O.S. (May 14, 1607 N.S.),[2] and was considered permanent after a brief abandonment in 1610. It followed several failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke, established in 1585 on Roanoke Island, later part of North Carolina. Jamestown served as the colonial capital from 1616 until 1699. Despite the dispatch of more settlers and supplies, including the 1608 arrival of eight Polish[3][4] and German colonists[5][6][7][8] and the first two European women,[5][6] more than 80 percent of the colonists died in 1609–10, mostly from starvation and disease.[9] In mid-1610, the survivors abandoned Jamestown, though they returned after meeting a resupply convoy in the James River.

Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestowne, Williamsburg
Fort (1607) and Town (1619)
The ruined tower of the 17th century Jamestown Church; the nave was reconstructed in 1907 on the original foundations
Location in eastern Virginia
Location in Virginia
Jamestown (the United States)
Coordinates: 37°12′33″N 76°46′39″W
ColonyColony of Virginia
EstablishedMay 14, 1607
Abandonedbriefly in 1610; again after 1699
Founded byVirginia Company of London
Named forJames I

In August 1619, the first recorded slaves from Africa to British North America arrived in what is now Old Point Comfort near the Jamestown colony, on a British privateer ship flying a Dutch flag. The approximately 20 Africans from present-day Angola had been removed by the British crew from the Portuguese slave ship São João Bautista.[10][11] They most likely worked in the tobacco fields as slaves under a system of race-based indentured servitude.[12] One of their number included Angela, who was purchased by William Peirce.[13] The modern conception of slavery in the British colonies was formalized in 1640 (the John Punch hearing) and was fully entrenched in the Colony of Virginia by 1660.[14]

The London Company's second settlement in Bermuda claims to be the site of the oldest town in the English New World, as St. George's, Bermuda, was officially established in 1612 as New London, whereas James Fort in Virginia was not converted into James Towne until 1619, and further did not survive to the present day.[15]

In 1676, Jamestown was deliberately burned during Bacon's Rebellion, though it was quickly rebuilt. In 1699, the colonial capital was moved to what is today Williamsburg, Virginia; Jamestown ceased to exist as a settlement, and remains today only as an archaeological site, Jamestown Rediscovery.

Today, Jamestown is one of three locations composing the Historic Triangle of Colonial Virginia, along with Williamsburg and Yorktown, with two primary heritage sites. Historic Jamestowne[16] is the archaeological site on Jamestown Island and is a cooperative effort by Jamestown National Historic Site (part of Colonial National Historical Park) and Preservation Virginia. Jamestown Settlement, a living history interpretive site, is operated by the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation, a state agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In May 2022, BBC News reported that Jamestown is threatened by climate change.[17]


Spain, Portugal, and France moved quickly to establish a presence in the New World, while other European countries moved more slowly. The English did not attempt to found colonies until many decades after the explorations of John Cabot, and early efforts were failures—most notably the Roanoke Colony which vanished about 1590.

1607–1609: Arrival and beginning

Map of Jamestown Island, showing the terrain and location of the original 1607 fort. (Modern roads, causeway, and buildings not shown)

Late in 1606, English colonists set sail with a charter from the London Company to establish a colony in the New World. The fleet consisted of the ships Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed, all under the leadership of Captain Christopher Newport. They made a particularly long voyage of four months, including a stop in the Canary Islands,[18][19] in Spain, and subsequently Puerto Rico, and finally departed for the American mainland on April 10, 1607. The expedition made landfall on April 26, 1607, at a place which they named Cape Henry. Under orders to select a more secure location, they set about exploring what is now Hampton Roads and an outlet to the Chesapeake Bay which they named the James River in honor of King James I of England.[20] Captain Edward Maria Wingfield was elected president of the governing council on April 25, 1607. On May 14, he selected a piece of land on a large peninsula some 40 miles (64 km) inland from the Atlantic Ocean as a prime location for a fortified settlement. The river channel was a defensible strategic point due to a curve in the river, and it was close to the land, making it navigable and offering enough land for piers or wharves to be built in the future.[21] Perhaps the most favorable fact about the location was that it was uninhabited because the leaders of the nearby indigenous nations[22] considered the site too poor and remote for agriculture.[23] The island was swampy and isolated, and it offered limited space, was plagued by mosquitoes, and afforded only brackish tidal river water unsuitable for drinking.

The Jamestown settlers arrived in Virginia during a severe drought, according to a research study conducted by the Jamestown Archaeological Assessment (JAA) team in the 1990s. The JAA analyzed information from a study conducted in 1985 by David Stahle and others, who obtained drawings of 800-year-old bald cypress trees along the Nottoway and Blackwater rivers. The lifespan of these trees is up to 1,000 years and their rings offer a good indication of an area's annual amount of rainfall. The borings revealed that the worst drought in 700 years occurred between 1606 and 1612. This severe drought affected the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan tribe's ability to produce food and obtain a safe supply of water.[24]

Salt marshes along Jamestown Island. The ample wetlands on the island proved to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The settlers also arrived too late in the year to get crops planted.[25] Many in the group were either gentlemen or their manservants, both equally unaccustomed to the hard labor demanded by the harsh task of carving out a viable colony.[25] One of these was Robert Hunt, a former vicar of Reculver, England, who celebrated the first known Anglican Eucharist in the territory of the future United States on June 21, 1607.[26]

Detail of the map made by Pedro de Zúñiga y de la Cueva, depicting the fort in about 1608

Two-thirds of the settlers died before ships arrived in 1608 with supplies and German and Polish craftsmen,[27][28][29] who helped to establish the first manufactories in the colony. As a result, glassware became the foremost American products to be exported to Europe at the time. Clapboard had already been sent back to England beginning with the first returning ship.

Names of those on the Second Supply – Page 445 (or Page 72) "The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles", by Capt. John Smith[30]

The delivery of supplies in 1608 on the First and Second Supply missions of Captain Newport had also added to the number of hungry settlers. It seemed certain at that time that the colony at Jamestown would meet the same fate as earlier English attempts to settle in North America, specifically the Roanoke Colony (Lost Colony) and the Popham Colony, unless there was a major relief effort. The Germans who arrived with the Second Supply and a few others defected to the Powhatans, with weapons and equipment.[7][8] The Germans even planned to join a rumored Spanish attack on the colony and urged the Powhatans to join it.[31] The Spanish were driven off by the timely arrival in July 1609 of Captain Samuel Argall in Mary and John, a larger ship than the Spanish reconnaissance ship La Asunción de Cristo.[32] Argall's voyage also prevented the Spanish from gaining knowledge of the weakness of the colony. Don Pedro de Zúñiga, the Spanish ambassador to England, was desperately seeking this (in addition to spies) in order to get Philip III of Spain to authorise an attack on the colony.[33]

The investors of the Virginia Company of London expected to reap rewards from their speculative investments. With the Second Supply, they expressed their frustrations and made demands upon the leaders of Jamestown in written form. They specifically demanded that the colonists send commodities sufficient to pay the cost of the voyage, a lump of gold, assurance that they had found the South Sea, and one member of the lost Roanoke Colony. It fell to the third president of the Council Captain John Smith to deliver a bold and much-needed wake-up call in response to the investors in London, demanding practical laborers and craftsmen who could help make the colony more self-sufficient.[34]

1609–1610: Starving Time and Third Supply

After Smith was forced to return to England due to an explosion which gave him deep burn wounds during a trading expedition,[35] the colony was led by George Percy, who proved incompetent in negotiating with the native tribes. There are indications that those in London comprehended and embraced Smith's message. The Third Supply mission of 1609 was to be by far the largest and best equipped. They also had a new purpose-built flagship, Sea Venture, constructed, and placed in the most experienced of hands, Christopher Newport.

Mass grave at Jamestown discovered by archaeologists, beneath the foundations of one of the later capitol buildings

On June 2, 1609, Sea Venture set sail from Plymouth, England as the flagship of a seven-ship fleet (towing two additional pinnaces) destined for Jamestown, Virginia, as part of the Third Supply, carrying 214 settlers.[36] On July 24, the fleet ran into a strong storm, likely a hurricane, and the ships were separated. Although some of the ships did make it to Jamestown, the leaders, and most of the supplies, had been aboard Sea Venture, which fought the storm for three days before the Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers, deliberately drove it onto the reefs of Bermuda to prevent its foundering. This allowed all aboard to be landed safely.[37]

The survivors (including Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates, Captain Christopher Newport, Sylvester Jordain, Stephen Hopkins, later of Mayflower, and secretary William Strachey) were stranded on Bermuda for approximately nine months. During that time, they built two new ships, the pinnaces Deliverance and Patience. The original plan was to build only one vessel, Deliverance, but it soon became evident that it would not be large enough to carry the settlers and all of the food (salted pork) that was being sourced on the islands.[38]

While the Third Supply was stranded in Bermuda, the colony at Jamestown was in even worse shape. In the "Starving Time" of 1609–1610, the Jamestown settlers faced rampant starvation for want of additional provisions. During this time, lack of food drove people to eat snakes and even boil the leather from shoes for sustenance.[39] Only 60 of the original 214 settlers at Jamestown survived.[36] There is scientific evidence that the settlers at Jamestown had turned to cannibalism during the starving time.[40][41][42]

The ships from Bermuda arrived in Jamestown on May 23, 1610.[43][44][45] Many of the surviving colonists were near death, and Jamestown was judged to be unviable. Everyone was boarded onto Deliverance and Patience, which set sail for England. However, on June 10, 1610, the timely arrival of another relief fleet, bearing Governor Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (who would eventually give his name to the colony of Delaware), which met the two ships as they descended the James River, granted Jamestown a reprieve. The Colonists called this The Day of Providence. The fleet brought not only supplies, but also additional settlers.[46] All the settlers returned to the colony, though there was still a critical shortage of food.

Relations between the colonists and the Powhatans quickly deteriorated after De La Warr's arrival, eventually leading to conflict. The Anglo-Powhatan War lasted until Samuel Argall captured Wahunsenacawh's daughter Matoaka, better known by her nickname Pocahontas, after which the chief accepted a treaty of peace.

1610–1624: Rising fortunes

Due to the aristocratic backgrounds of many of the new colonists, a historic drought and the communal nature of their work load, progress through the first few years was inconsistent at best. By 1613, six years after Jamestown's founding, the organizers and shareholders of the Virginia Company were desperate to increase the efficiency and profitability of the struggling colony. Without stockholder consent the Governor, Sir Thomas Dale, assigned 3-acre (12,000 m2) plots to its "ancient planters" and smaller plots to the settlement's later arrivals. Measurable economic progress was made, and the settlers began expanding their planting to land belonging to local native tribes. That this turnaround coincided with the end of a drought that had begun the year before the English settlers' arrival probably indicates multiple factors were involved besides the colonists' ineptitude.[47]

Among the colonists who survived the Third Supply was John Rolfe, who carried with him a cache of untested new tobacco seeds from Bermuda, which had grown wild there after being planted by shipwrecked Spaniards years before.[48] In 1614, Rolfe began to successfully harvest tobacco.[49] Prosperous and wealthy, he married Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, bringing several years of peace between the English and natives.[50] However, at the end of a public relations trip to England, Pocahontas became sick and died on March 21, 1617.[51] The following year, her father also died. Powhatan's brother, a fierce warrior named Opechancanough, became head of the Powhatan Confederacy. As the English continued to appropriate more land for tobacco farming, relations with the natives worsened.

Due to the high cost of the trans-Atlantic voyage at this time, many English settlers came to Jamestown as indentured servants: in exchange for the passage, room, board, and the promise of land or money, these immigrants would agree to work for three to seven years. Immigrants from continental Europe, mainly Germans, were usually redemptioners—they purchased some portion of their voyage on credit and, upon arrival, borrowed or entered into a work contract to pay the remainder of their voyage costs.[52]

In 1619, the first representative assembly in America, the General Assembly, convened in the Jamestown Church, "to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia" which would provide "just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting." Initially, only men of English origin were permitted to vote. On June 30, 1619, in what was the first recorded strike in Colonial America, the Polish artisans protested and refused to work if not allowed to vote ("No Vote, No Work").[53][4][54] On July 21, 1619, the court granted the Poles equal voting rights.[55] Afterwards, the labor strike (the first "in [North] American history")[4] was ended and the artisans resumed their work.[54][56][57][58] Individual land ownership was also instituted, and the colony was divided into four large "boroughs" or "incorporations" called "citties" by the colonists. Jamestown was located in James Cittie.

Of the first documented African slaves to arrive in English North America, on the frigate White Lion in August 1619,[11] were an African man and woman, later named Antoney and Isabella. Their baby, named William Tucker, would become the first documented African child baptized in British North America. Listed in the 1624 census in Virginia, they became the first African family recorded in Jamestown.[59] Another of the early enslaved Africans to be purchased at the settlement was Angela, who worked for Captain William Peirce.[60]

After several years of strained coexistence, Chief Opechancanough and his Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony once and for all. On the morning of March 22, 1622, they attacked outlying plantations and communities up and down the James River in what became known as the Indian massacre of 1622. More than 300 settlers were killed in the attack, about a third of the colony's English-speaking population.[47] Sir Thomas Dale's development at Henricus, which was to feature a college to educate the natives, and Wolstenholme Towne at Martin's Hundred, were both essentially wiped out. Jamestown was spared only through a timely warning by a Virginia Indian employee. There was not enough time to spread the word to the outposts.

Of the 6,000 people who came to the settlement between 1608 and 1624, only 3,400 survived.[47]

1624–1699: Later years

In 1624, King James revoked the Virginia Company's charter, and Virginia became a royal colony. Despite the setbacks, the colony continued to grow. Ten years later, in 1634, by order of King Charles I, the colony was divided into the original eight shires of Virginia (or counties), in a fashion similar to that practiced in England. Jamestown was now located in James City Shire, soon renamed the "County of James City", better known in modern times as James City County, Virginia, the nation's oldest county.

Another large-scale "Indian attack" occurred in 1644. In 1646, Opechancanough was captured and while in custody an English guard shot him in the back—against orders—and killed him. Subsequently, the Powhatan Confederacy began to decline. Opechancanough's successor signed the first peace treaties between the Powhatan Indians and the English. The treaties required the Powhatan to pay yearly tribute payment to the English and confined them to reservations.[61]

A generation later, during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, Jamestown was burned, eventually to be rebuilt. During its recovery, the Virginia legislature met first at Governor William Berkeley's nearby Green Spring Plantation, and later at Middle Plantation, which had been started in 1632 as a fortified community inland on the Virginia Peninsula, about 8 miles (13 km) distant.[62]

When the statehouse burned again in 1698, this time accidentally, the legislature again temporarily relocated to Middle Plantation, and was able to meet in the new facilities of the College of William and Mary, which had been established after receiving a royal charter in 1693. Rather than rebuilding at Jamestown again, the capital of the colony was moved permanently to Middle Plantation in 1699. The town was soon renamed Williamsburg, to honor the reigning monarch, King William III. A new Capitol building and "Governor's Palace" were erected there in the following years.

Aftermath and preservation

1854 image of the ruins of Jamestown showing the tower of the old Jamestown Church built in the 17th century

Due to the movement of the capital to Williamsburg, the old town of Jamestown began to slowly disappear from view. Those who lived in the general area attended services at Jamestown's church until the 1750s, when it was abandoned. By the mid-18th century, the land was heavily cultivated, primarily by the Travis and Ambler families.

During the American Revolutionary War, although the Battle of Green Spring was fought nearby at the site of former Governor Berkeley's plantation, Jamestown was apparently inconsequential. In 1831, David Bullock purchased Jamestown from the Travis and Ambler families.

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, in 1861, Confederate William Allen, who owned the Jamestown Island, occupied Jamestown with troops he raised at his own expense with the intention of blockading the James River and Richmond from the Union Navy.[63] He was soon joined by Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, who directed the building of batteries and conducted ordnance and armor tests for the first Confederate ironclad warship, CSS Virginia, which was under construction at the Gosport Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth in late 1861 and early 1862.[63] Jamestown had a peak force of 1,200 men.[63]

During the Peninsula Campaign, which began later that spring, Union forces under General George B. McClellan moved up the Peninsula from Fort Monroe in an attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.[63] The Union forces captured Yorktown in April 1862, and the Battle of Williamsburg was fought the following month.[63] With these developments, Jamestown and the lower James River were abandoned by the Confederates.[63] Some of the forces from Jamestown, and the crew of Virginia, relocated to Drewry's Bluff, a fortified and strategic position high above the river about 8 miles (13 km) below Richmond. There, they successfully blocked the Union Navy from reaching the Confederate capital.

Once in Federal hands, Jamestown became a meeting place for runaway slaves, who burned the Ambler house, an eighteenth-century plantation house, which along with the old church was one of the few remaining signs of old Jamestown.[63] When Allen sent men to assess the damage in late 1862, they were killed by the former slaves.[63] Following the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, the oath of allegiance was administered to former Confederate soldiers at Jamestown.[63]

Preservation and early archaeology

Ruins of Jamestown Church at the turn of the 20th century, prior to the Tercentennial in 1907

In the years after the Civil War, Jamestown became quiet and peaceful once again. In 1892, Jamestown was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Barney. The following year, the Barneys donated 22½ acres of land, including the ruined church tower, to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now known as Preservation Virginia).

By this time, erosion from the river had eaten away the island's 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 archaeological remains of the original 1607 fort, which had been protected by the sea wall, were not discovered until 1996.

In 1932, George Craghead Gregory of Richmond was credited with discovering the foundation of the first brick statehouse (capitol) building, circa 1646, at Jamestown on the land owned by Preservation Virginia.[64] Around 1936, Gregory, who was active with the Virginia Historical Society, founded the Jamestowne Society for descendants of stockholders in the Virginia Company of London and the descendants of those who owned land or who had domiciles in Jamestown or on Jamestown Island prior to 1700.[65]

Colonial National Monument was authorized by the U.S. Congress on July 3, 1930 and established on December 30, 1930. In 1934, the National Park Service obtained the remaining 1,500 acres (610 hectares) portion of Jamestown Island which had been under private ownership by the Vermillion family. The National Park Service partnered with Preservation Virginia to preserve the area and present it to visitors in an educational manner. On June 5, 1936, the national monument was re-designated a national historical park, and became known as Colonial National Historical Park.

From 1936 J.C. "Pinky" Harrington worked on the NPS's excavations at Jamestown. In 1954 John L. Cotter took charge of field projects at Jamestown, conducted with the site's 350th anniversary (1957) in mind. Cotter worked with Edward B. Jelks and Harrington to survey the area's colonial sites. In 1957 Cotter and J. Paul Hudson co-authored New Discoveries at Jamestown. Cotter contributed, along with Jelks, Georg Neumann, and Johnny Hack, to the 1958 report Archaeological Excavations at Jamestown.[66]

Present day

In the present time, as part of the Colonial National Historical Park, the Jamestown Island area is home to two heritage tourism sites related to the original fort and town. Nearby, the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry[67] service provides a link across the navigable portion of the James River for vehicles and affords passengers a view of Jamestown Island from the river.

Historic Jamestowne

Historic Jamestowne, located at the original site of Jamestown, is administered by Preservation Virginia and the National Park Service. The central 22½ acres of land, where the archaeological remains of the original James Fort were found, are owned by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities); the remaining 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) are held by the National Park Service and is part of the Colonial National Historical Park.

The site gained renewed importance when in 1996 the Jamestown Rediscovery project began excavations in search of the original James Fort site, originally in preparation for the quadricentennial of Jamestown's founding. The primary goal of the archaeological campaign was to locate archaeological remains of "the first years of settlement at Jamestown, especially of the earliest fortified town; [and the] subsequent growth and development of the town".[68]

Today, visitors to Historic Jamestowne 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 and view many of the close to two million artifacts found by Jamestown Rediscovery. They also may participate in living history ranger tours and Archaeological tours given by the Jamestown Rediscovery staff. Visitors can also often observe archaeologists from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project at work, as archaeological work at the site continues. As of 2014, the archaeological work and studies are ongoing.[69] In addition to their newsletter and website, new discoveries are frequently reported in the local newspaper, the Virginia Gazette based in nearby Williamsburg, and by other news media, often worldwide.[70]

Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement is a living-history park and museum located 1.25 miles (2.01 km) from the original location of the colony and adjacent to Jamestown Island. Initially created for the celebration of the 350th anniversary in 1957, Jamestown Settlement is operated by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, and largely sponsored by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The museum complex features a reconstruction of a Powhatan village, the James Fort as it was c.1610–1614, and seagoing replicas of the three ships that brought the first settlers, Susan Constant, Godspeed, Discovery.


With the national independence of the United States established by the end of the 18th century, Jamestown came to be looked at as a starting point. Its founding in 1607 has been regularly commemorated, with the most notable events being held every fifty years.

200th anniversary (1807)

The bicentennial of Jamestown on May 13–14, 1807, was called the Grand National Jubilee.[71] Over 3,000 people attended the event, many arriving on vessels which anchored in the river off the island.[71]

May 13 was the opening day of the festival, which began with a procession which marched to the graveyard of the old church, where the attending bishop delivered the prayer.[71] The procession then moved to the Travis mansion, where the celebrants dined and danced in the mansion that evening.[71] Also during the festivities, students of the College of William and Mary gave orations. An old barn on the island was used as a temporary theater, where a company of players from Norfolk performed.[71] Attending were many dignitaries, politicians, and historians. The celebration concluded on May 14 with a dinner and toast at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg.[71]

250th anniversary (1857)

In 1857, the Jamestown society organized a celebration marking the 250th anniversary of Jamestown's founding.[71] According to the Richmond Enquirer, the site for the celebration was on 10 acres (40,000 m2) on the spot where some of the colonists' houses were originally built.[71] However, it is also speculated that the celebration was moved further east on the island closer to the Travis grave site, in order to avoid damaging Major William Allen's corn fields.[71]

The attendance was estimated at between 6,000 and 8,000 people.[71] Sixteen large steam ships anchored offshore in the James River and were gaily decorated with streamers.[71] Former US President John Tyler of nearby Sherwood Forest Plantation gave a 2½ hour speech, and there were military displays, a grand ball and fireworks.[71]

300th anniversary (1907): Jamestown Exposition

The Jamestown Tercentenary Monument, erected on Jamestown Island in 1907. It stands 103 feet (31 m) tall.

The 100th anniversary of the Surrender at Yorktown in 1781 had generated a new interest in the historical significance of the colonial sites of the Peninsula. Williamsburg, a sleepy but populated town of shops and homes, was still celebrating Civil War events. However, as the new century dawned, thoughts turned to the upcoming 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now known as Preservation Virginia) started the movement in 1900 by calling for a celebration honoring the establishment of the first permanent English colony in the New World at Jamestown to be held on the 300th anniversary in 1907.[72]

As a celebration was planned, virtually no one thought that the actual isolated and long-abandoned original site of Jamestown would be suitable for a major event because Jamestown Island had no facilities for large crowds. The original fort housing the Jamestown settlers was believed to have been long ago swallowed by the James River. The general area in James City County near Jamestown was also considered unsuitable, as it was not very accessible in the day of rail travel before automobiles were common.

As the tricentennial of the 1607 Founding of the Jamestown neared, around 1904, despite an assumption in some quarters that Richmond would be a logical location, leaders in Norfolk began a campaign to have a celebration held there. The decision was made to locate the international exposition on a mile-long frontage at Sewell's Point near the mouth of Hampton Roads. This was about 30 miles (48 km) downstream from Jamestown in a rural section of Norfolk County. It was a site which could become accessible by both long-distance passenger railroads and local streetcar service, with considerable frontage on the harbor of Hampton Roads. This latter feature proved ideal for the naval delegations which came from points all around the world.

The Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was one of the many world's fairs and expositions that were popular in the early part of the 20th century. Held from April 26, 1907 to December 1, 1907, attendees included US President Theodore Roosevelt, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the Prince of Sweden, Mark Twain, Henry H. Rogers, and dozens of other dignitaries and famous persons. A major naval review featuring the United States' Great White Fleet was a key feature. U.S. Military officials and leaders were impressed by the location, and the Exposition site later formed the first portion of the large U.S. Naval Station Norfolk in 1918 during World War I.[73][72][74]

Jamestown commemorative stamps, issue of 1907
The U.S. Post Office issued a set of stamps, on the 300th anniversary of the founding of the
Jamestown colony.

350th Anniversary (1957): Jamestown Festival

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and her consort Prince Philip inspect the replica of Susan Constant at Jamestown Festival Park in Virginia on October 16, 1957

With America's increased access to automobiles, and with improved roads and transportation, it was feasible for the 350th anniversary celebration to be held at Jamestown itself in 1957. Although erosion had cut off the land bridge between Jamestown Island and the mainland, the isthmus was restored and new access provided by the completion of the National Park Service's Colonial Parkway which led to Williamsburg and Yorktown, the other two portions of Colonial Virginia's Historic Triangle. There were also improvements of state highways. The north landing for the popular Jamestown Ferry and a portion of State Route 31 were relocated.[71]

Major projects such were developed by non-profit, state and federal agencies. Jamestown Festival Park was established by the Commonwealth of Virginia adjacent to the entrance to Jamestown Island. Full-sized replicas of the three ships that brought the colonists, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery were constructed at a shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia and placed on display at a new dock at Jamestown, where the largest, Susan Constant, could be boarded by visitors. On Jamestown Island, the reconstructed Jamestown Glasshouse, the Memorial Cross and the visitors center were completed and dedicated.[71] A loop road was built around the island.

Special events included army and navy reviews, air force fly-overs, ship and aircraft christenings and even an outdoor drama at Cape Henry, site of the first landing of the settlers.[71] This celebration continued from April 1 to November 30 with over a million participants, including dignitaries and politicians such as the British Ambassador and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.[71] The highlight for many of the nearly 25,000 at the Festival Park on October 16, 1957 was the visit and speech of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and her consort, Prince Philip.[71] Queen Elizabeth II loaned a copy of the Magna Carta for the exhibition. It was her first visit to the United States since assuming the throne.

The 1957 Jamestown Festival was so successful that tourists still kept coming long after the official event was completed. Jamestown became a permanent attraction of the Historic Triangle, and has been visited by families, school groups, tours, and thousands of other people continuously ever since.

400th anniversary: Jamestown 2007

Virginia State Quarter (Reverse)
Obverse of the Jamestown 400th Anniversary gold five dollar coin
Coins released in commemoration of the 400th anniversary

Early in the 21st century, new accommodations, transportation facilities and attractions were planned in preparation for the quadricentennial of the founding of Jamestown. Numerous events were promoted under the banner of America's 400th Anniversary and promoted by the Jamestown 2007 Commission. The commemoration included 18 months of statewide, national and international festivities and events, which began in April 2006 with a tour of the new replica Godspeed.

In January 2007, the Virginia General Assembly held a session at Jamestown. On May 4, 2007, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip attended a ceremony commemorating the 400th anniversary of the settlement's arrivals, reprising the honor they paid in 1957.[75]

In addition to the Virginia State Quarter, Jamestown was also the subject of two United States commemorative coins celebrating the 400th anniversary of its settlement. A silver dollar and a gold five dollar coin were issued in 2007.

2019 Commemoration

In 2019 Jamestown, in cooperation with Williamsburg, held a commemoration that marked the 400th anniversary of three landmark events in American history: the first meeting of the General Assembly, the arrival of the first Africans to English North America, and the first Thanksgiving.[76][77]

  • A fictional romantic adventure set at Jamestown, To Have and to Hold, was the bestselling novel in the United States in 1900. The novel was later adapted into two feature films, in 1916 and 1922.
  • A highly fictionalized version of the Jamestown settlement is depicted in the animated Disney film Pocahontas (1995) as well as its direct-to-video sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998). Among other inaccuracies it is shown as being near mountains, when it was actually located on the Tidewater region.
  • A feature-length film, The New World (2005), directed by Terrence Malick, covers the story of Jamestown's colonization. Although the historical details are accurate in most ways, the plot focuses on a dramatized relationship between John Smith, played by Colin Farrell, and Pocahontas, played by Q'orianka Kilcher. It also features John Rolfe, played by Christian Bale. Many scenes were filmed on-location along the James and Chickahominy Rivers and at Henricus Historical Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
  • Another feature-length film, First Landing: The Voyage from England to Jamestown (2007), documents the 1607 landing of English colonists.[78]
  • In 2017, Sky 1 launched a new series based in Jamestown. The series, named after its eponymous setting, revolves around the societal change triggered by the arrival of women to the settlement to marry the male citizens of the area, and is made by the producers of Downton Abbey.[79]
  • The story of Bartholomew Gosnold and the establishment of Jamestown is told in the 2018 musical To Look For America[80] written by Richard Digance and Eric Sedge.
  • In alternate history TV show For All Mankind, United States has its first moon base named Jamestown.


  1. Previously also written variously as James Town, James Towne, Jamestowne, and James City.

See also


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Further reading

  • Christopher M. B. Allison, "Jamestown's Relics: Sacred Presence in the English New World." Essay. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (2016). doi:10.22332/con.ess.2016.2 Jamestown's Relics: Sacred Presence in the English New World
  • Bernard Bailyn, The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675 (Vintage, 2012)
  • Warren M. Billings (Editor), The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606–1700 (University of North Carolina Press, 2007)
  • Warren M. Billings, "A Little Parliament; The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century"; (Richmond, The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Jamestown 2007/Jamestown Yorktown Foundation. 2004)
  • Dorothy Hoobler and Thomas Hoobler, Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of an American Dream (John Wiley and Sons, 2006)
  • James Horn, A Land as God Made It (Perseus Books, 2005)
  • James Horn, "1619; Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy"; (New York, Basic Books, 2018)
  • Margaret Huber, Powhatan Lords of Life and Death: Command and Consent in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (University of Nebraska Press, 2008)
  • William M. Kelso, Jamestown, The Buried Truth (University of Virginia Press, 2006)
  • James M. Lindgren, Preserving the Old Dominion: Historic Preservation and Virginia Traditionalism (University of Virginia, 1993)
  • A. Bryant Nichols Jr., Captain Christopher Newport: Admiral of Virginia (Sea Venture, 2007)
  • David A. Price, Love and Hate in Jamestown (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
  • Helen C. Rountree, The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013)
  • Ed Southern (Editor), Jamestown Adventure, The: Accounts of the Virginia Colony, 1605–1614 (Blair, 2011)
  • Jocelyn R. Wingfield, Virginia's True Founder: Edward Maria Wingfield and His Times (Booksurge, 2007)
  • Benjamin Woolley, Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America (Harper Perennial, 2008)
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