On this day in 1606, three ships – the Susan Constant, the Discovery, and the Godspeed – set sail from England, bound for the new world. On board were 105 men, including 40 soldiers, 35 “gentleman”, and various artisans, craftsman, and laborers. They were bound for the new world, in search of gold and other resources to send back to England.
A harrowing journey
It should go without saying that a trans-Atlantic voyage during the 17th century was no pleasure cruise. Imagine four months at sea, in cramped quarters, with men who haven’t bathed since they boarded ship. Now also imagine that those same men haven’t had anything to eat but sauerkraut and other pickled foods in the same amount of time.
If that’s not bad enough, passengers had to ask for permission to go above deck–and they only got fresh air for about 45 minutes a day. Down below, they took turns sleeping on makeshift mattresses, shared with the other passengers, some dogs, and probably a few pigs.
But it was all worth it for the gold, right?
The new world
Not so fast. The men landed at Cape Henry on April 26, 1607 . . . and there was not a lick of gold to be found. Following orders, they quickly established a settlement that they could defend in case of a Spanish attack–they chose Jamestown Island (which was actually a peninsula back then) as home.
More than half the men died after arriving, but eventually, more settlers arrived from England. The men cleared land for planting crops that the local natives, while initially hostile, seemed to grow friendlier.
The settlers may not have found gold, but they found something else that was just as valuable at the time: tobacco.
Men continued to make up a large part of the Jamestown settlement throughout the 17th century, but by 1620 roughly 100 women had arrived. Around that same time, the colony made two changes that would have a lasting effect: they introduced representative government to English America and the first African American slaves were purchased in the new world.