The History of Jamestown: What Happened?

Savvy scholars of early colonial history will know that “Jamestown” exists today only as an archaeological site where travelers can go if they’re in the mood for a quick lecture. Most of the information on this website is devoted to Jamestown, its settlers, and its early history — which is why we’ve received so many questions about what happened to Jamestown. Why isn’t the area still inhabited today?

When the region was settled in 1607, it was considered permanent by those who lived there. But not all “permanent” settlements work out for the best. Perhaps the best example of a permanent colony that didn’t quite work out the way everyone wanted was Roanoke. What went wrong there is still a mystery to this day, although there are dozens of theories — some good and some nonsense.

The beginning of the end for Jamestown occurred in 1676, when the town was burned to the ground during Bacon’s Rebellion.

Bacon’s Rebellion was an uprising designed to overthrow Governor William Berkeley, who chose to keep a man named Nathaniel Bacon far removed from certain business ventures and political insights that would have perhaps prevented the whole mess from ever occurring. The settlement at this time was already under attack by several outside forces. Bacon took advantage of these to plan his own revolt.

One of those outside forces, the “Doeg,” were a constant threat — but Berkeley would not allow traditional retaliation. Bacon went after them anyway, continuing on to slaughter members of the Pamunkey Native American tribe. Afterward, Bacon and his followers returned to Jamestown to depose Berkely and burn it to the ground. The rebellion was ultimately squashed, but not before the damage was done.

Jamestown was rebuilt, and remained the capital for English settlement for another 23 years. In 1699, the powers that be decided to move the entire settlement to Williamsburg. This was the definitive end to Jamestown. Not quite as climactic as you thought? That’s often the way history is!

Were There Any Major Epidemics In The Early Jamestown Settlement?

Historians have responded to the current coronavirus pandemic in a number of ways. For most, the furthest back we look is the Spanish flu, which represented the deadliest pandemic in modern history. It killed as many as 100 million people in a world with a much smaller population than we have today. But what was it like in the early 17th century for the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia?

We already know caucasian settlers colonizing the New World brought back a ton of germs, viruses, and diseases to which the Native Americans had no immunity. Those illnesses killed around 90 percent of the native population. 

While COVID-19 won’t kill 90 percent of us, it does inspire other questions that need answering: what could a disease like this do in an ancient society with little medical knowledge? The ancient planters didn’t have respirators, for example. 

Truth be told, there is little information on record to support the idea that dangerous epidemics wiped out a large percent of the early settler population — although we can infer that they probably did occur and that they probably did kill many, many people.

We can infer this because around 80 percent of the population was wiped out in the early years of Jamestown settlement — from about 1607 to about 1625. They died from disease and starvation during long, brutal winters, but also from Native American attacks and conflict from within. Because so many perished during this timeframe, exact records are difficult to find. They died from disease in large numbers to be sure, but we don’t know how large.

An easier epidemic to nail down occurred between 1679 and 1680. During the long winter that year, smallpox roared through the Jamestown settlement. Another smallpox epidemic occurred in 1696. 

Smallpox was characterized by fever, vomited, and terrible sores around the mouth in addition to a skin rash. What made it so deadly, though, was simply the numbers of people it could infect.

A reproduction rate gives us an idea of a virus’s potential to spread throughout the population. For example, the reproduction rate of the seasonal flu is about 1.3; the Spanish flu, 1.8; and the coronavirus, 2.3. This means that those infected with each ailment are likely to infect 1.3, 1.8, and 2.3 others on average, respectively. By comparison, smallpox had a reproduction rate of 3.5 to 6, making it massively more infectious than most diseases. It could rip through a population and kill very quickly — which is what it did to the Native Americans.

Did The Jamestown Settlers Really See The Native Americans As Nothing More Than Savages?

By now, we’ve properly established that the Native American societies already living in the New World were far more culturally advanced than we ever give them credit for. Some of these civilizations had cities of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. They had complex trade routes and a robust economy. But they were also much different.

For example, Native Americans weren’t writers. Most of their history was passed down through stories and song in a primarily oral tradition. They were artists. 

Perhaps it was because the Native American civilization was simply so much different than the European settlers were used to. They were not as technologically advanced, of course, but they had a deep respect and commitment to nature and all things that stemmed from it. In the next couple of centuries, settlers would continually rape and pillage the very land, pushing Native Americans from their ancestral homes. Who wouldn’t have a problem with that? War was inevitable. 

Those settlers would often hunt buffalo not for meat, but for hide. This kind of activity was considered barbaric — by the Native Americans. They were appalled that anyone could be so disrespectful of nature, which was where their gods were derived from. 

The Native Americans tried to steer clear of the settlers at Jamestown, but eventually everything came to a head in 1622. John Smith wrote in the History of Virginia: Powhatan “came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us.”

But that changed.

Eventually, Opechancanough of the Powhatan Confederacy attacked the settlers in a surprise raid, killing hundreds. They spared no one, including women and children. About a quarter of the entire colony was wiped out during this 1622 attack. But the attack was revenge. A European settler had murdered the chief’s adviser. He responded by attacking at least 31 settlements. 

But Jamestown actually escaped the brunt of the attack because of one of those Native Americans. 

Opechancanough believed that the settlers would decide to leave after he finally withdrew his forces. He believed this because that’s what any Native American tribe would do. When you were defeated, you moved. Instead, they consolidated their settlements to increase defenses and request reinforcements from overseas. And that’s exactly what happened thereafter. The English fought back every chance they could get.

It was likely in part due to the brutality of attacks like these that settlers would describe Native Americans as barbaric and savage. But those settlers were little better. This was as true then as it was throughout the 18th and 19th centuries during campaigns that essentially genocided the Native American populations. 

What To See When Visiting Jamestown: National Historic Site

Interested in learning about the history of some of the earliest European settlers in North America, our friends the ancient planters? The first place you will want to go is the Jamestown National Historic Site in Virginia, which is itself a segment of the larger Colonial National Historic Park. These locations are important because of the events that occurred there — Jamestown is where the first permanent settlement was established. It wasn’t easy.

Jamestown is also an important reminder of early legislative successes and failures. This is where the first legislative body in North America was hosted. It is also where the first Africans set down. 

The Jamestown National Historic Site teaches visitors about historical events that occurred in Old Towne, where an English fort was built in 1607, and New Towne, where the city expanded later that same century, primarily after the 1620s. Each site has a corresponding visitor center where guests can ask the informed mentors questions about what they see or experience while there. The sites also convey what these locations were like before settlers first arrived.

Jamestown Island had been home to dozens of Powhatan tribes for thousands of years. Unlike the European settlers who came later, the Native Americans were able to sustain and live in harmony with the natural environment. When John Smith arrived in 1607, he thought it would make an adequate spot for long-term trading.

Smith was worried about the possibility of additional settlers from Spain, though. Not only that, there were conflicts with the Algonquin Natives nearly upon arrival. That’s why he decided to move slightly inland in order to construct the fort at Old Towne. Park visitors can explore a reconstructed fort for an idea of what it was like. Those early years of settlement and exploration were devastating, and many who arrived perished.

It wasn’t until the 1620s that a man named William Claiborne decided that it would be sensible to expand. He developed the land that would be named New Towne. This became the official port of entry, and began to grow.

Park visitors will find much of the 17th century settlement available for viewing. Archaeologists have found a number of interesting artifacts that American history lovers might like to see, including: “A clay oven, a gun shop, a jail, and warehouses, which give insight into the colonists’ experience on the island. A gunsmith suggests the importance of gun ownership to colonists who used firearms for protection, while warehouses are evidence of expanding trade and the need for more storage space for increasing imports.”

There is a lot to see and do, so make your vacation plans today!

How Dangerous Was The Threat Of Fire In The New World?

Settlers hoping to colonize the New World had a long road ahead of them — from beginning to end, it was a difficult life. Many would not make it through the first years of the Jamestown settlement. Most of us already envision the obstacles to obtaining food or building shelter, especially during the long winter months. But how many of us think about the issues that were relevant only to the time period? 

Residents of 1607 Jamestown had to use the resources that were available, and that meant everything was built from trees they cut down themselves. It also meant that the threat of fire was a constant reality.

Fire was a bigger deal in 1607 than it is today, because there were no fire hydrants that could be tapped to extinguish a blaze. In fact, no one was trained with how to deal with such a threat in the first place. In 1607 the best you had was a group of your fellow residents helping you put out the fire one bucket of water at a time. Because this was the best they could do, most fires completely demolished the buildings where they began.

This was a particularly big problem when the building in question was the fort that helped keep everyone safe.

In 1608 the fort at Jamestown was almost completely lost due to fire. Worse than that, it was winter when the blaze broke out. This left them almost completely defenseless. Thankfully, Native Americans in the area supplied them with food and clothing to help them through the winter — but only in exchange for some of their friends and family members who had been captured by the Jamestown colonists, who they had previously raided. The Native Americans were interested in the new weapons.

The fort would have to be rebuilt or salvaged quickly, because relations with these Native Americans would become more tense over the next few years — especially during the “Starving Time” from 1609 into 1610. It seemed almost every winter brought a new catastrophe, which makes it a wonder that any of the colonists managed to survive long enough to strengthen the community as much as they did.

During the same time period, the Native American chief, Powhatan, moved their capital further inland to better avoid contact. Perhaps this was one of the first examples of European settlers pushing Native Americans from their home territory, even though realistically the Native Americans could have wiped out the colonists if they wanted.

What Type Of Legal Authority Ruled Over Jamestown To Enforce The Law?

Jamestown in 1607 would seem an entirely foreign place if a person from the year 2019 were to visit the newly established colony. This is not only because the residents’ way of life were so different, but because the rule of law was much more strict. It was assumed there was no other choice for it but to be strict: the people who lived there believed that only harsh laws would help maintain the level of order they would require to survive.

Sir Thomas West was the first governor of Jamestown. Sir Thomas Gates was his lieutenant governor, and the job of writing these strict laws was his. He did this in 1610, but Sir Thomas West eventually rewrote them to better reflect his rule. They were later known as the “Laws Divine, Moral and Martial.” 

These newly codified laws were far more than speed limits or moral obligations for the residents who lived there: they also detailed exactly what their jobs were and how they would be fulfilled. For example, those who were assigned an officer were expected to attend church service at least twice a day.

Let’s see how you feel about this one: Anyone who was caught in the midst of blasphemy or heresy, or talking back to a preacher, would be subject to harsh punishment. Church was a part of your life whether you liked it or not — because the law made it so. 

One might ask what kind of laws carried the death penalty. The answer might surprise you. Simply fraternizing with Native Americans might result in hanging. Capital punishment was common, too. Perhaps this was because people were starving in the early days of the settlement, when stealing food or slaughtering a chicken was punishable by death.

The laws were transformed again by authorities from afar in 1618, when the residents of Virginia were set to follow the Great Charter. This document was established to increase investment and immigration to the New World. As a result, Governor-elect Sir George Beardsley had two councils created: a Council of State, and the General Assembly.

These new councils actually reduced the power of the governor because decisions were made only after a vote was cast. The majority ruled. 

Thankfully laws have become much more “just” over time! If you live in the Houston area, then you’ll need to search for a criminal defense law firm to handle your case.

What Were The Religious Practices Of The Ancient Planters?

Although traditional historical understanding of early American settlers is pretty clear that they crossed the sea to escape persecution back home, their beliefs were fairly traditional and had been well established by the Anglican Church (or Church of England) for a long time. It shouldn’t be very surprising; after all, the first settlers would have wanted to seek comfort in familiarity, especially during the cold, harsh winters the New World had to offer.

What might be a bit more surprising are the agnostic bits of Virginia culture. Many residents of Jamestown and other early settlements in Virginia, men especially, were none too happy about the amount of authority that the church held over the direction of society. In order to counteract this centralized power, the settlers were more likely to integrate into vestries and courts to transfer power in another direction.

Church attendance in Jamestown resulted from the need for socialization, and not from a devout belief in God or obligation. The residents may have had a strong faith to lean on during the hard times, but it was a private belief shared with close family members more than anyone else. 

That said, the aristocracy and those on lower social rungs seemed to integrate with a dulled acceptance when enjoying church activities. The ruling elite did, however, establish its own control over matters of religion (perhaps that’s why so many residents kept faith within the family). There was no bishop when the settlement was established, which is why control fell to them.

There were members of other religions living side by side with Jamestown residents, but they were legally restricted in how they could practice. Many members of Protestant sects lived there, and for the most part they were tolerated if not accepted.

The same could not be said of Native American rituals and beliefs. When slaves were eventually brought over from Africa, residents of Jamestown failed to recognize or accept them either. Although attempts were made to assimilate the outsiders into the Anglican Church, they were half-hearted at best and most always resulted in failure. 

The church was protected by law. Conformity was key to living the high life; one could not hold office if one were not Anglican. Laws also determined how much ministers were paid and how new parishes were constructed. Separation of church and state was certainly not a core tenet of Virginia law or Anglican faith.

Finding Movies About Jamestown, Virginia

Jamestown, Virginia has a long and fascinating history behind it. This was the first permanent English settlement in the United States. This settlement was at the center of a number of significant historical events. Because of this, the settlement has been featured in all kinds of films.

Fictional Tales

Historical fiction is a rich genre. There are many fictional movies that use Jamestown as a backdrop. For example, the famous love story To Have and To Hold is set in Jamestown.

In addition to old classics, there are a number of newer movies that take place in Jamestown. The movie The New World, which was released in 2005, was set in Jamestown. There are all kinds of intriguing stories that feature Jamestown in some way.

If you’re in the mood for a good story, and you don’t know what to watch, you should start looking for movies about Jamestown. You’ll find a lot of appealing options.

Children’s Films

If you’re looking for a movie that you can watch with young children, you should definitely consider movies that include the Jamestown settlement. One of the most famous children’s movies that involves Jamestown is Disney’s Pocahontas. There are also other versions of the Pocahontas story that are child-friendly.

You don’t have to wait until after your children have gone to bed to watch a movie about Jamestown. If you want to watch a movie like this, all you have to do is seek out family-friendly films. There are a lot of great movies that you can check out.

Non-Fiction Films

Because Jamestown is an important historical site, there are a number of documentaries about this town. If you’re looking for an educational film to watch, you’ll find no shortage of options.

There are documentaries that focus on different times in Jamestown histories. You’ll be able to find movies that focus on the initial settling of Jamestown, and you’ll be able to find films that show what happened to Jamestown when it was temporarily abandoned.

If there’s something you want to learn about Jamestown, you don’t necessarily have to read a book. There are plenty of educational and interesting documentaries that you can watch.

If you’re looking for movies about Jamestown, Virginia, you’ll find all kinds of films to watch. Start looking for movies that are relevant to you. You should be able to find all kinds of movies that are in line with your tastes and interests.

A Brief History About The Sea Venture

When you think about the settling of the New World you often think about Christopher Columbus, the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria and a criminal defense lawyer. But after Columbus discovered the New World, more and more settlers from Europe came over and began their new life in the New World.

But it wasn’t always easy comings and goings for those looking to start anew. Especially when you think of the people who journeyed on the Sea Venture. which is one of those ships that you may have never heard of before, but it actually has a cool and interesting history.

This ship was the flagship for the London Company and it was specifically utilized for the emigration of the people who would later become known as Ancient Planters. This ship made the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean twice and on its third voyage, the ship was filled with supplies for the Jamestown colony.

During this third trek back to the New World in the year of 1609, The Sea Venture became lost at sea off the coast of Bermuda. Their voyage was during what we would consider Hurricane conditions.  The winds directed to the boat to the eastern shore of Bermuda. Luckily, the crew of 150 people and a dog was able to get off of the boat, none of the harmed.

When the people did get off of the boat they were not really sure how long they would be stranded, but it would take a total of nine months before they would be rescued. As for the ship herself, she would be stripped of all of her useful items by the settlers that were living in the New World, because the survivors of the shipwreck needed them to survive the conditions of Bermuda.

Using natural resources of Bermuda and what was salvageable from the ship, many of the survivors built a new boat. They took whatever supplies and people that they could and set sail for Virginia. From there, they sent word to England to send another relief shit to Bermuda to get the rest of the survivors.

Learning about a ship like the Sea Venture is one that is often overlooked by a lot of people. However, The Tempest by William Shakespeare is reported this story was based on the Sea Venture and several other authors have tackled this story in works of historical fiction.

Who Were the Indentured Servants?

Jamestown, the first colony of the Virginia Company, had only been founded for ten years when the first Indentured Servants began to make an appearance in the Americas.

The idea and probably the practice of indentured servitude sprang from the dire need for cheap laborers to work the land in colonial Americas. The early settlers were quickly met with the need for manpower to work the sprawling acreage available to them.

Passage to the Americas in itself was a considerable cost for anyone but the very rich. The very rich were in the Americas to acquire land and accumulate wealth not do the actual work themselves. They needed a way to attract a considerable workforce to power their enterprise and this was made available with the indentured servant.

The concept was popularized by the dire circumstances for the populations of Europe who were recovering from the destructive Thirty Years War that depleted the major economies. There was also a considerable unemployment problem at the time and Europe was crowded with skilled and unskilled laborers of all types.

It is understandable that the concept of life far away from the dreary depression of Europe was both exciting and inviting. The accommodations and arrangements available to these original “migrant workers” were tough but fair and indentured servitude was a far cry from the harsh realities of slavery.

An indentured servant would work for of a period as long as seven years or as short as four. During this time they would apply their skills or manpower to the service of their employer who would provide a home, food and all other necessary provisions until their contract had expired. The deal was restrictive and an indentured servant could extend their time of service as punishments for running away or becoming pregnant, in the case of female servants.

Those that managed to survive and gain their freedom had a considerably good position in the growing American colonies at the time. Many historians say that the indentured servant had a better opportunity for success than those colonists who came over of their own volition. While some did make it to the elite class in the Americas, it was a modest life in the opportunity rich colonies that attracted many indentured servants from Europe.

In 1619, the first black slaves arrived in the American colonies. At the time, there were no slave labor laws and they were given the same liberties as white indentured servants. By, 1641, all slavery laws had been established and the few rights that applied to blacks were stricken from the law.