How Far Into Virginia Did Jamestown Settlers Explore?

The original Jamestown settlers were all men and boys — and they didn’t bring much with them. Only the basics like food and water. For everything else, they had to search when they arrived in what would eventually be named Virginia. It wasn’t an easy task. Every additional step into the great wilderness of the New World meant increased risk from natural obstacles, hunger, dehydration, and Native Americans. And certainly, they could only explore during the warmer months of the year.

Actually, much of the exploring occurred before the men and boys actually landed their ships in Jamestown. They spent a week or two trying to find the right spot. Jamestown might have been their best shot to set up and long lasting settlement — but that doesn’t mean it was ideal. Far from it, in fact. The location was somewhat shielded by natural barriers, but water sources were far from adequate and created problems for the new settlement.

The settlers might have had better luck farther south and more inland. Jamestown is located along the Atlantic Coast, due southeast of Richmond, which is about midway between Maryland and North Carolina. The first winters would devastate the new colony.

Additional shipments of goods were scheduled over the next few years, and they might have benefitted from continuing to explore along the coast. They had problems of their own, however, and many ships were lost along the way. This was especially true in 1609, when the flagship Sea Venture led six other ships and two pinnacles as part of the Third Supply. They were enveloped in hurricane winds, lost a few ships, and were forced to land along the reefs of Bermuda lest the entire fleet be destroyed.

Interestingly, these new settlers probably had it easiest — because the original Jamestown settlement was enduring the Starving Time, during which two-thirds of the population perished from starvation, disease, and freezing temperatures.

But because of the misfortunes of the Third Supply, they were able to explore farther south (although Bermuda was already mapped at the time). These settlers arrived in Jamestown in late spring, 1610. Another fleet arrived barely more than a month later, replenishing the settlement’s supplies — and people.

North Virginia was more difficult to explore during this time, both because of Native Americans and settlers from other European countries. The Native Americans posed less of a problem because so many were wiped out by the diseases and illnesses brought by the Europeans. But fighting between settlements was also to be avoided at all costs, because the population was already so small. 

Eventually, it was the economy that drove further exploration into the New World. The main staple, tobacco, was so desired in the New World that trade allowed the settlers to expand supply lines well beyond what was initially available. This mostly occurred decades after the ancient planters first arrived — but they did eventually succeed in making the most of their adventure into the New World.