Jamestown, Virginia

The Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. William Kelso says Jamestown "is where the British Empire began ... this was the first colony in the British Empire." Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 4, 1607 (O.S., May 14, 1607 N.S.), and considered permanent after brief abandonment in 1610, it followed several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Jamestown served as the capital of the colony for 83 years, from 1616 until 1699.

The settlement was located within the country of Tsenacommacah, which was administered by the Powhatan Confederacy, and specifically in that of the Paspahegh tribe. The natives initially welcomed and provided crucial provisions and support for the colonists, who were not agriculturally inclined. Relations with the newcomers soured fairly early on, leading to the total annihilation of the Paspahegh in warfare within 3 years. Mortality at Jamestown itself was very high due to disease and starvation, with over 80% of the colonists perishing in 1609-1610 in what became known as the "Starving Time".

In 1608, in the Second Supply, the Virginia Company brought eight Polish and German colonists, of whom some built a small glass factory, although the Germans and a few others soon defected to the Powhatans with weapons and supplies from the settlement. The Second Supply also brought the first two European women to the settlement. In 1619, the first documented Africans -- about 50 men, women and children -- came to Jamestown aboard a Portuguese slave ship that had been captured in the West Indies and brought to the Jamestown region. They most likely worked in the tobacco fields as indentured servants initially. The modern conception of slavery in the future United States was formalized in 1640 (the John Punch hearing) and was fully entrenched in Virginia by 1660.

The London Company's second settlement, Bermuda, claims to be the site of the oldest town in the English New World, as St. George's, Bermuda was officially established (as New London) in 1612, whereas James Fort, in Virginia, was not to be converted into James Towne until 1619, and further did not survive into the present day. In 1676, the town was deliberately burned during Bacon's Rebellion, though it was quickly rebuilt. In 1699, the capital was relocated from Jamestown to what is today Williamsburg, after which Jamestown ceased to exist as a settlement, existing today only as an archaeological site.

Today, Jamestown is one of three locations comprising the Historic Triangle of Colonial Virginia, along with Williamsburg and Yorktown, with two primary heritage sites. Historic Jamestowne, the archaeological site on Jamestown Island, 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 in conjunction with the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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