May 13, 1607: English colonists arrive in Jamestown
On May 13, 1607, nearly 100 English colonists arrived along the west bank of the James River in Virginia, where they decided to found North America’s first permanent English settlement. This would become known as Jamestown, Virginia. While we have heard stories about this settlement, what actually occurred during those pivotal early years of American history?
Different than the Disney movie
The English colonists arrived in North America, having sailed across the Atlantic aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. Once they landed at Jamestown, the first colonial council was held by seven settlers, including the famous Captain John Smith. The council had to discuss their future plans with the settlement. Once the local Algonquian Native American tribe members learned of the English settlers, they chose to attack. In December 1607, John Smith and two other colonists were captured by Algonquians. Smith’s companions were murdered, but he was spared because of the intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s daughter. The 1995 Walt Disney animated film, Pocahontas, depicted John Smith and Pocahontas fell in love, but that never happened. We’re sorry to disappoint you.
Facing disease and starvation
The next two years in Jamestown were harsh realities for the English colonists. They soon learned what they were getting themselves into in their new, unfamiliar territory. The settlers faced disease, starvation, and more attacks by local Native American tribes. The winter of 1609 and 1610, described as the “starving time,” killed most of the Jamestown colonists, leading everyone to assume the best option was to return to England. But on June 10, 1610, Thomas West De La Warr, appointed governor of Virginia, arrived with new supplies to sustain colonization. They had to stay in Jamestown, but everyone was convinced they couldn’t live there.
In 1612, settler John Rolfe successfully cultivated tobacco for the first time. This would become the main source of livelihood for the Jamestown settlers. Rolfe was presented as a hero, but that’s not all he would do for the Jamestown colonists. In 1614, Rolfe married Pocahontas. She was converted to Christianity and even given a Christian name— Rebecca. This marriage established a temporary peace with her father, Chief Powhatan, who gave the newlyweds property. Chief Powhatan promised his tribe would not interfere with the Jamestown settlers, and he kept this promise until his death in 1618. The rest is history.