History Timeline 1600s

Picture above: Pocahontas, Source: World Noted Women, D. Appleton and Company, 1883, Wikipedia Commons. Right: Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith, New England Chromo. Lithograph Company, 1870. Courtesy Library of Congress.


Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s


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  • 1607 Detail

    April 26, 1607 - After five months at sea, three ships led by Captain Christopher Newport reach Cape Henry on the Virginia coast. The Susan Constant, the Discovery, and the Godspeed, later move up the James River for forty miles till they stop on Jamestown Island.

    Jamestown Colony

    The previous English settlements at Roanoke in the previous century and Cuttyhunk Island in 1602, had failed. But King James I was determined that England would colonize America, as the Spanish had done, and the French were attempting. Bartholomew Gosnold, leader at Cuttyhunk, had not given up either, and petitioned those in England for the right to attempt another colony, including Edward Maria Wingfield, Captain John Smith, and the crown. King James I gave a royal charter to the Virginia Company on April 10, 1606 for a two part competition within that company for the north and south sectors of what they considered their territory. The Spanish disagreed, but if a colony could be estabished, it would be more difficult for the Spanish to uphold that claim. The Virginia Company of Plymouth had failed in their first attempt in 1606, captured by the Spanish and enslaved. The Virginia Company of London, in charge of the southern half of the competition, wanted to make certain that they beat the Virginia Company of Plymouth, who was preparing a second attempt, this time staying north of the Spanish in what would become the Popham Colony. They were only several months behind.

    On December 6, 1606 (other sources list December 19-20), Captain Christopher Newport steered the Susan Constant (Sarah Constant), a one hundred and sixteen foot, one hundred and ton vessel, plus two smaller ships, the Discovery and Godspeed, toward a new settlement in the southern sector, between 34-41 degrees N, Cape Fear to Long Island Sound. Accompanying Newport on the Susan Constant were seventy-one colonists, including John Smith. On the other vessels were seventy-three additional colonists and crew. The Discovery, the smallest ship, was captained by John Ratcliffe and held twenty-one passengers; the Godspeed, a forty ton vessel, held fifty-two colonists and sailors, and was manned by Bartholomew Gosnold.

    Despite the fact that the first attempt by the Virginia Company of Plymouth had ended up with capture and slavery for the colonists by the Spanish when they drifted into Spanish territory in Florida, the Newport flotilla made a similar mistake. Instead of a voyage of two months, the Jamestown expedition sailed first to the Canary Islands, then into Spanish territory in Puerto Rico. They landed there on April 6, 1607, and garnered provisions. They avoided the Spanish, unlike their Plymouth predecessors, and met with the natives before sailing north toward Virginia.

    Arriving in the Chesapeake

    It was late April when Newport sailed the Susan Constant into the Cheseapeake Bay. He landed on Cape Henry on April 26, 1607, erected a cross, had chaplain John Hunt say a prayer, and debated the right location for their settlement after exploring the area and engaging in a small conflict with the Powhatan Confederacy. They opened their orders; it stated two main points. They should seek an inland site that would be easier to defend, and that John Smith, currently in prison on the ship and scheduled to be hanged, would be their leader. They sailed up the Chesapeake Bay, then James River (Powhatan to the natives) for the inland location of the colony, and freed John Smith. By mid-May, Jamestown Island was chosen as the colony settlement site. The site had a deep port, was not occupied by any of the Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy, and seemed easy to defend. It would be run by a council with members Bartholomew Gosnold, Christopher Newport, George Kendall, John Martin, George Percy, John Ratcliffe, John Smith, and Edward Maria Wingfield. Wingfield would be the first council President.

    Over the next ninety years, the story of Jamestown as the capitol of the Virginia colony included conflict with the Paspahegh Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy, the first only two weeks after arriving and before the first one acre fort could be completed by June 15. It would include famous stories such as the rescue of John Smith and marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas, the establishment of the first democratic tenants in the New World, and the arrival of the first African slaves. The selection of the small peninsula as the colonial settlement was problematic. Its swampy nature was ripe for disease, with more than one hundred and thirty-five colonists perishing from malaria, dysentary, and saltwater poisoning. The small original area on the island, one thousand five hundred and sixty-one acres, caused a lack of game after the initial hunting season and small area for planting.

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    Portion of "A True Relation," Letter by John Smith, 1608

    Kinde Sir, commendations remembred, &c. You shall understand that after many crosses in the downes by tempests, wee arrived safely uppon the Southwest part of the great Canaries; within foure or five daies after we set saile for Dominica, the 26. of Aprill: the first land we made, wee fell with Cape Henry, the verie mouth of the Bay of Chissiapiacke, which at that present we little expected, having by a cruell storme bene put to the Northward. Anchoring in this Bay twentie or thirtie went a shore with the Captain, and in comming aboard, they were assalted with certaine Indians which charged them within Pistoll shot: in which conflict, Captaine Archer and Mathew Morton were shot: wherupon Captaine Newport seconding them, made a shot at them, which the Indians little respected, but having spent their arrows retyred without harme. And in that place was the Box opened, wherin the Counsell for Virginia was nominated: and arriving at the place where wee are now seated, the Counsel was sworn, and the President elected, which for that yeare was Maister Edm. Maria Wingfield, where was made choice for our scituation, a verie fit place for the erecting of a great cittie, about which some contention passed betwixt Captaine Wingfield and Captaine Gosnold: notwithstanding, all our provision was brought a shore, and with as much speede as might bee wee went about our fortification.

    The two and twenty day of Aprill (Note: this date is likely a mistake, more accurately stated as May 21) Captain Newport and my selfe with divers others, to the number of twenty two persons, set forward to discover the River, some fiftie or sixtie miles, finding it in some places broader, and in some narrower, the Countrie (for the moste part) on each side plaine high ground, with many fresh Springes, the people in all places kindely intreating us, daunsing and feasting us with strawberries Mulberies, Bread, Fish, and other their Countrie provisions whereof we had plenty: for which Captaine Newport kindely requited their least favours with Bels, Pinnes, Needles, beades, or Glasses, which so contented them that his liberallitie made them follow us from place to place, and ever kindely to respect us. In the midway staying to refresh our selves in a little Ile foure or five savages came unto us which described unto us the course of the River, and after in our journey, they often met us, trading with us for such provision as wee had, and ariving at Arsatecke, hee whom we supposed to bee the chiefe King of all the rest, moste kindely entertained us, giving us in a guide to go with us up the River of Powhatan, of which place their great Emporer taketh his name, where he that they honored our King used us kindely. But to finish this discoverie, we passed on further, where within an ile we were intercepted with great craggy stones in the midst of the river, where the water falleth so rudely, and with such a violence, as not any boat can possibly passe, and so broad disperseth the streame, as there is not past five or sixe Foote at a low water, and to the shore scarce passage with a barge, the water floweth foure foote, and the freshes by reason of the Rockes have left markes on the inundations 8. or 9. foote: The South side is plaine low ground, and the north side is high mountaines the rockes being of a gravelly nature, interlaced with many vains of glistring spangles. That night we returned to Powhatan: the next day (being Whitsunday after dinner) we returned to the fals, leaving a mariner in pawn with the Indians for a guide of theirs; hee that they honoured for King followed us by the river. That afternoone we trifled in looking upon the Rockes and river (further he would not goe) so there we erected a crosse, and that night taking our man at Powhatan, Captaine Newport congratulated his kindness with a Gown and a Hatchet: returning to Arseteche, and stayed there the next day to observe the height therof, and so with many signes of love we departed. The next day the Queene of Agamatack kindely intreated us, her people being no lesse contented then the rest, and from thence we went to another place (the name whereof I do not remember) where the people shewed us the manner of their diving for Mussels, in which they find Pearles.

    That night passing by Weanock some twentie miles from our Fort, they according to their former churlish condition, seemed little to affect us, but as wee departed and lodged at the point of Weanocke, the people the next morning seemed kindely to content us, yet we might perceive many signes of a more Jealousie in them than before, and also the Hinde that the King of Arseteck had given us, altered his resolution in going to our Fort, and with many kinde circumstances left us there. This gave us some occasion to doubt some mischief at the Fort, yet Capt. Newport intended to have visited Paspahegh and Tappahanocke, but the instant change of the winde being faire for our return we repaired to the fort with all speed where the first we heard was that 400. Indians the day before had assalted the fort, and surprised it, had not God (beyond al their expectations) by meanes of the shippes, at whome they shot with their Ordinances and Muskets, caused them to retire, they had entred the fort with our own men, which were then busied in setting Corne, their Armes beeing then in driefats and few ready but certain Gentlemen of their own, in which conflict, most of the Counsel was hurt, a boy slaine in the Pinnas, and thirteene or fourteene more hurt. With all speede we pallisadoes our Fort: (each other day) for six or seaven daies we had alarums by ambuscadoes, and four or five cruelly wounded by being abroad: the Indians losse wee know not, but as they report three were slain and divers hurt.

    Image above: Montage of the Susan Constant ship replica at Jamestown (left), 2007, Warfieldian; and Statue of Christopher Newport (right) at Christpher Newport University, 2007. Sculpture by Jon D. Hair. Photos courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Building foundations of the Jamestown settlement in the New Towne section. Courtesy National Park Service. Info source: National Park Service; Library of Congress; "The Complete Works of John Smith," 1986; "Captain John Smith, 1904, Tudor Jenks; "A True Relation," John Smith, 1608; virtualjamestown.org; americanjourneys.org, Wisconsin Historical Society; Wikipedia.

    Jamestown Colony

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