On this day May 14, 1607

An expedition led by Edward Maria Wingfield, Christopher Newport, and John Smith established the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America.

Recreated Powhatan village

Late in 1606, English entrepreneurs set sail with a charter from the Virginia Company of London to establish a colony in the New World.

After a particularly long voyage of five months duration, the three ships, named Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed, under Captain Christopher Newport, made landfall in May 1607 at a place they named Cape Henry.

Under the first settlement orders to select a more secure location, they set about exploring what is now Hampton Roads and a Chesapeake Bay outlet they named the James River in honor of their king, James I of England.

On April 26, 1607, Captain Edward Maria Wingfield, elected president of the governing council the day before, selected Jamestown Island on the James River, some 40 miles (67 kilometers) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, as a prime location for a fortified settlement.

The island was surrounded by deep water, making it a navigable and defensible strategic point. However, the island was swampy, isolated, offered limited space and was plagued by mosquitoes and brackish tidal river water unsuitable for drinking. In addition to the malarial swamp the settlers arrived too late in the year to get crops planted.

Many in the group were gentlemen unused to work, or their manservants, equally unaccustomed to the hard labor demanded by the harsh task of carving out a viable colony. In a few months, fifty-one of the party were dead; some of the survivors were deserting to the Indians whose land they had invaded.

In the “starving time” of 1609 – 1610,the Jamestown settlers were in even worse straits. Only 61 of the 500 colonists survived the period. Perhaps the best thing about it from an English point of view was that it was not inhabited by nearby Virginia Indian tribes, who regarded the site as too poor and remote for agriculture.

While no Virginia Indians inhabited the area of the settlement, there were an estimated 14,000 people in the surrounding Chesapeake area who spoke an Algonquian language sub-group. They came to be known as the Powhatan Confederacy, after the name the colonists called their powerful chief, Wahunsenacawh, and lived in several dozen self-governing communities.

Wahunsenacawh initially welcomed the settlers and attempted to form an alliance with them to take over some of the surrounding communities which he did not yet control, and to obtain new supplies of metal tools and weapons. However, relations quickly deteriorated and led to conflict. The resulting war lasted until the English captured his daughter Matoaka, later nicknamed Pocahontas, after which the chief accepted a treaty of peace.

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