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Jamestown 400th Anniversary


  • Journey Up The James
    Jamestown 2007 Committee, 4/25/2007
  • Deputy Ambassador Alan Charlton on the Jamestown 400th Anniversary at the Rule of Law Conference
    British Embassy, Washington D.C., 4/13/2007
  • Rare Tortoiseshll Jewel Casket to go on Display at Colonial Williamsburg's Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum
    Colonial Williamsburg, VA, 3/22/2007
  • HM The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh Announce Dates of State Visit to United States for Jamestown 400th Anniversary
    British Embassy, Washington D.C., 3/22/2007
  • An Historic Adventure, Three Ships Set Sail for New World
    British Embassy, Washington D.C., 12/19/2006

  • Click here for more Jamestown 400th Anniversary news ...

    On May 14, 1607, members of the Powhatan tribe of Virginia Indians saw the amazing sight of three English sailing ships approaching land. The 105 Englishmen on board the "Susan Constant", the "Discovery" and the "Godspeed" had departed from London 5 months previously and would establish on the banks of the James River, what would become America's first permanent English settlement - 13 years before the Pilgrim Fathers founded Plymouth in Massachusetts.

    These early settlers came from London and the Eastern counties of England - Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent. With so many historical connections with Virginia, our regions of England are joining with Jamestown to commemorate America's 400th anniversary.

    The Founding of a New World
    In June of 1606, King James I granted a charter to a group of London entrepreneurs, the Virginia Company, to establish a satellite English settlement in the Chesapeake region of North America. By December, 108 settlers sailed from London instructed to settle Virginia, find gold and a water route to the Orient. Some traditional scholars of early Jamestown history believe that those pioneers could not have been more ill-suited for the task. Because Captain John Smith identified about half of the group as "gentlemen", it was logical, indeed, for historians to assume that these gentry knew nothing of or thought it beneath their station to tame a wilderness. Recent historical and archaeological research at the site of Jamestown suggest that at least some of the gentlemen and certainly many of the artisans, craftsmen, and laborers that accompanied them all made every effort to make the colony succeed.

    On May 14, 1607, the Virginia Company explorers landed on Jamestown Island, to establish the Virginia English colony on the banks of the James River - 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. By one account, they landed there because the deep water channel let their ships ride close to shore; close enough, to moor them to the trees. Recent discovery of the exact location of the first settlement and its fort indicates that the actual settlement site was in a more secure place, away from the channel, where Spanish ships, could not fire point blank into the Fort.

    Almost immediately after landing, the colonists were under attack from what amounted to the on-again, off-again enemy, the Algonquian natives. As a result, in a little over a months' time, the newcomers managed to "beare and plant palisadoes" enough to build a wooden fort. Three contemporary accounts and a sketch of the fort agree that its wooden palisade walls formed a triangle around a storehouse, church, and a number of houses. While disease, famine and continuing attacks of neighboring Algonquians took a tremendous toll on the population, there were times when the Powhatan Indian trade revived the colony with food for copper and iron implements.

    It appears that the structured leadership of Captain John Smith kept the colony from dissolving. The "starving time" winter followed Smith's departure in 1609 during which only 60 of the original 214 settlers at Jamestown survived. That June, the survivors decided to bury cannon and armor and abandon the town. It was only the arrival of the new governor, Lord De La Ware (Delaware), and his supply ships that brought the colonists back to the fort and the colony back on its feet. Although the suffering did not totally end at Jamestown for decades, some years of peace and prosperity followed the wedding of Pocahontas,  the favored daughter of the Algonquian chief Powhatan, to tobacco entrepreneur John Rolfe.

    The first representative assembly in the New World convened in the Jamestown church on July 30, 1619. The General Assembly met in response to orders from the Virginia Company "to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia" which would provide "just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting." The other crucial event that would play a role in the development of America was the arrival of Africans to Jamestown. A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years labor in exchange for passage to America. The popular conception of a race-based slave system did not fully develop until the 1680s.

    The Algonquians eventually became disenchanted and, in 1622, attacked the out plantations killing more than 300 of the settlers. Even though a last minute warning spared Jamestown, the attack on the colony and mismanagement of the Virginia Company at home convinced King James I that he should revoke the Virginia Company Charter. Virginia became a crown colony in 1624. The fort seems to have existed into the middle of the 1620s, but as Jamestown grew into a "New Town" to the east, written reference to the original fort disappear. Jamestown remained the capital of Virginia until its major statehouse burned in 1698. The capital was moved to Williamsburg that year and Jamestown began to slowly disappear above ground. By the 1750s the land was owned and heavily cultivated primarily by the Travis and Ambler families.
    A military post was located on the island during the American Revolution, and American and British prisoners were exchanged there. In 1861 the island was occupied by Confederate soldiers who built an earth fort near the church as part of the defense system to block the Union advance up the James River. Little further attention was paid to Jamestown until preservation was undertaken in the 20th century.

    In 1893 Jamestown was owned by Mr. And Mrs. Edward Barney. By this time James River erosion had eaten away the island's western shore; visitors began to conclude that the site of James Fort lay completely underwater. With federal assistance, a sea wall was constructed in 1900 to protect the area from further erosion. The remaining acreage on the island was acquired by the National Park Service in 1934 as part of the Colonial National Historical Park. Today, Jamestown is jointly operated by the APVA Preservation Virginia and NPS.

    Celebrating the Beginning of America
    Jamestown was somewhat forgotten and isolated after the 17th century, as the capital moved to Williamsburg. In the early 20th century, the 300th anniversary was celebrated at Sewell's Point on Hampton Roads due to the ease of transportation access. The Jamestown Exposition held there in 1907 attracted visitors from around the world.

    However, 50 years later, roads and highways had improved greatly from 1907, and the celebration came back to Jamestown itself. Jamestown Festival Park was established at Jamestown itself by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1957 to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding. Full-sized replicas of the three ships that brought the colonists, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery were constructed at a shipyard in Portsmouth, Va, and docked at Jamestown.

    At the same time at the National Park Service site nearby, the reconstructed Glasshouse, the Memorial Cross and the visitors' center were completed and dedicated.
    Events for the 350th anniversary included army and navy reviews, air force flyovers, ship and aircraft christenings and even an outdoor drama at Cape Henry, site of the first landing of the settlers. This celebration continued from April 1 to November 30 with more than a million participants, including dignitaries and politicians such as the British Ambassador and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon. The highlight for many of the nearly 25,000 at the Festival Park on October 16, was the visit and speech of Queen Elizabeth II and her consort, Prince Philip. Queen Elizabeth II loaned a copy of the Magna Carta for the exhibition.

    Although the 1957 celebration is long past, many of the attractions remained and some have been enhanced in the years since and are now known as Jamestown Settlement, the former Jamestown Festival Park features a new indoor museum as well as a working reconstruction of the settlement. The original replicas of the three ships that brought the colonists are still very popular with tourists, especially school groups.

    The historical name name "Jamestown Settlement" is reused by this key piece of the attractions for the Jamestown 2007 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in May 1607.

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