There are a number of “truths” taught when I was in public school that aren’t necessarily the complete story. For instance, I was told Jamestown VA was the first British settlement in North America. However there was at least one other preceding Jamestown. What is known as the Lost Colony of Roanoke VA was established in 1587, fully 20 years before Jamestown VA was settled. The unfortunate settlers disappeared however, and little is known of them today.
Jamestown History, Famine and Mosquitos
A later British expedition established a colony on an island of the Powhatan River (later renamed the James River) in 1607. The site was chosen for defense against local Indian tribes, Spanish warships, and it’s good ship mooring. It was actually a very poor location. The island was a mosquito-infested marsh and the area was in a period of drought. “James Cittie” (later called Jamestown VA) lost 46 of its original 104 settlers to fever, starvation and Indian attack. Only 38 people remained by January 1608 when a British supply ship arrived. It’s not surprising the colonists searched for more hospitable places to live, and selected Middle Plantation (later Williamsburg VA) in later years.
More information can be found in a Smithsonian article on Jamestown.. Surprisingly the Weather Channel has a Mosquito Activity Forecast for Williamsburg VA ! A curious discussion of the insect residents of Williamsburg can be found here, including the “musketa”, house fly and “cacarootch”. Also an creative presentation of Jamestown history can be found here, which applies modern computer story telling with history.
When visiting Jamestown today, you are actually offered two different sites to explore. Historic Jamestown is a part of the Colonial National Historical Park operated jointly by the National Park Service and the State of Virginia. The Jamestown Settlement is an independent organization located a few miles away that recreates what Jamestown may have looked like.
When you enter Historic Jamestown, it is clear the land is swampy and difficult, as seen in these photos.
A tall obelisk marks the Jamestown site with an appropriate inscription.
The walls of James Fort seem flimsy compared to later-day forts.
Of course there was a prominent church in the settlement. However it has a rather unfortunate history, having been burned down or demolished multiple times. What you see today is the fifth version of the church, complete with dedicatory plaques and the British heraldic emblem on the back wall.
Property lines were demarcated by ditches and mounds in Jamestown. A prominent street in “New Town” was Backstreete, the remains of which are shown here.
Little else remains of Jamestown today. There are a very few ruins, a museum, and walking paths around the island.