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!