StMU Research Scholars

The Birth of Jamestown

Death, illness, and rebellion: these are a few of the effects that came about during the early years of settlement at Jamestown. It began in the year 1607. Many Englishmen were looking for a fresh start, others wanted to escape the evils of English government.1 This was the founding of the colony of Jamestown, a village created by a variety of people.  With over one hundred people to begin with, the people quickly created a system. John Smith, one of the first English settlers in 1608, stood up and took the responsibility of leading the colonists in the new world.

The colonists arrived on land, destined to begin a life of freedom. This land had no government or laws to begin with. This created a standard that was set in the town.  Either you were a farmer in the land, or a gold digger. Controversy struck because those who were gold diggers had a far smaller food supply than the farmers.  As a result, many people died of starvation; the ones who had a sufficient food supply, prospered.  The colony of Jamestown was one filled with diversity; not only did the people that inhabited it possess individualistic traits, but also their ambitions were far and wide.

The Birth of Jamestown provided by The National Park Service.
The Birth of Jamestown | Courtesy of The National Park Service.

Farming resources were few, due the amount of farmers per person in the village being vastly different. Each day brought new death counts; most days, this number ranged from ten to twenty per day.2 This not only scared the colonists who were present in Jamestown, but also destroyed the newcomers’ dreams. Though these deaths were early in the process in the creation of Jamestown, it was certain that the colony was struggling at the beginning.  By leaving a country full of resources, wealth, and culture for a doomed colony, it became clear that this was a suicide mission. This mentality did not last long though. As farmers began to branch out and find new crops and faster ways to farm, the society of Jamestown began to become more enriched and luring for people looking to find a new start on the east coast of America.

Jamestown Settler Dying of Disease Infested Wate | Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Jamestown Settler Dying of Disease Infested Water | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Suddenly, a door opened and the proclaimed leader of the colonists, John Smith, began to create a system that would bring life back to Jamestown. The colonists found a new resource that would be demanded heavily back in England: tobacco.3 Tobacco had been introduced into the European world by Columbus, and it had since taken off. But instead of creating a system that aided Jamestown as a whole, many people took up their own practice in growing it and set the town apart from others.4 This was good for Jamestown, with a steady income from tobacco, food, and money with trade, the colony of Jamestown was the first English settlement to survive in the New World.  This colony would change the views of many Europeans and Englishmen looking to find a new life, and if you were going to move anywhere it might possibly be to Jamestown.

  1. Alvin Rabushka, “Constitutional Government and Politics in England, 1607–1688,” in Taxation in Colonial America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 71.
  2. Virginia Bernhard, “Men, Women and Children at Jamestown: Population and Gender in Early Virginia, 1607-1610,” The Journal of Southern History 58, no. 4 (1992): 603.
  3. Natalie Zacek, “Kupperman, The Jamestown Project; and Kelso, Jamestown: The Burried Truth,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 64, no. 3 (2007): 656.
  4. Virginia Bernhard, “Men, Women and Children at Jamestown: Population and Gender in Early Virginia, 1607-1610,” The Journal of Southern History 58, no. 4 (1992): 604.

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36 Responses

  1. This article’s treatment of Jamestown’s history caught my attention. In history studies, I had already learned about the establishment of Jamestown. The most successful European colony in the New World was not Jamestown. The settlement’s original site did not yield enough crops. Tobacco was the only crop that could be effectively grown in the community. In general, this piece was well-written and instructive.

  2. This article was very interesting and well done and did a good job of covering the founding of Jamestown and the many events that occurred. In my opinion, the story of Jamestown is relatively well know from what we are taught at school, but there is still so much that we may never know regarding the events that occurred. This article was a nice refresher into the story of Jamestown.

  3. It was nice to finally get a more in-depth understanding of England’s first settlement and see how it connected to problems later on in history. I’m curious on Jamestown relations with Native Americans, since the only real mainstream story on that subject in through Disney’s Pocahontas. This article does provide a deeper insight into the colonies ways of innovation and survival strategies that come as a surprise to me personally

  4. Interesting article, I have heard about the Jamestown colony and its struggles before in United States history and was nice to read about it again. It seems as if there were many problems in early Jamestown, with the limited supply of food being one of the larger issues. It was interesting to hear about how the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop made the colony profitable again.

  5. This was a very intriguing article and I really enjoyed the way it was articulated. It really interested me to see the beginning of the American colonies. I always thought that it was so crazy to see how through years we have progressed so much. The first American colonies were also so innovated and have brought us a long way.

  6. This is very interesting to see how one of the first American colonies got its start. It was neat to see how they did not get off to a great start, but over time grew and began its own economic activity. Finding out that the selling of tobacco started all the way back then and to see how far it has come in todays society. What all started with a colony struggling to survive, became a multi-billion dollar industry.

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