Two weeks ago, my family and I visited Virginia on our way to see the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Our first historical visit was to the original Jamestown Settlement.
Jamestown, Virginia was first settled in May of 1607 by English colonists looking for treasure, comparable to Spain’s motivation to colonize the New World. Spain had successfully extracted tons of gold from the New World, and had fleets of treasure ships full of the valuable metal. The English settlers had failed to produce a permanent colony in Roanoke, all of the colonists there having mysteriously disappeared. Jamestown was chosen because there were no Native American tribes nearby, though at first the location seemed very bad. The majority of the colonists died in the next few years, though fortunes changed under the effective leadership of John Smith, who had ironically been charged with mutiny and locked in the hold of his own ship throughout the voyage to America.
A prominent member of the Jamestown crew was my ancestor John Rolfe, who is most famous for his successful tobacco harvesting and his marriage to Pocahontas, the Native American daughter of Chief Powhatan. In 1619, the House of Burgesses was formed, although relations with the Native-Americans deteriorated under Chief Opchanacanough, Powhatan’s brother. In 1622 the Native Americans massacred over 300 colonists in a raid, and the colonists fought back under John Woodson (another ancestor of mine). In 1644, chief Opchanacanough came back in full force and killed Woodson. One of Woodson’s friends, Robert Ligon held off a Native-American attack on the Woodson home with the family’s rifle. The Woodson family rifle is currently on display at the Virginia Museum of History, which I visited. Opchanacanough was killed in 1646, and the Powhatan Confederacy declined while Jamestown grew.
In 1699, Virginia’s capital became Williamsburg, which replaced Jamestown. Although the original settlers of Jamestown (the first permanent colony in America) did not find any gold, they began something amazing, colonizing what would become the Eastern half of the United States of America. Jamestown will not be forgotten: it was a time when surviving wasn’t a game.