A triangular wooden palisade

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Surrounding Jamestown Fort was a triangular wooden palisade (a fence or wall made from wooden stakes or tree trunks and used as a defensive structure) and insider were wattle-and-daub structures topped with thatch roofs, an Anglican church, a court of guard, a storehouse, a merchant’s office and a governor’s house. (Wattle and daub is a building material used for making walls, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dungand straw. Wattle and daub has been used for at least 6000 years and is still an important construction material in many parts of the world.)

In the photos, historical interpreters forge and repair metal objects in a blacksmith’s forge and show how matchlock muskets are fired.  These colonists also produce wood products using 17th-century-style tools, engage in domestic activities such as sewing and meal preparation and, outside the fort, cultivate food and tobacco crops.

The muskets were so heavy that they required the setting up of a fork-rest for shooting. These shot accurately for 70 yards. In the time it took to load this gun and fire it, a Native American man could release five arrows. The English also used pistols that were good for quick firing, but they took two hands to load them.

The colonists played games of quoits (ring-toss) and ninepins (bowling). 


Fit for the highest ranking official in the Virginia colony, the newest and grandest dwelling in Jamestown Settlement’s re-created 1610-14 fort is open to visitors. Based on archaeological and documentary research, the Jamestown Settlement building is furnished and interpreted as the colonial governor’s house.row house _web.jpg

The 66- by 18-foot, two-and-a-half-story building has a cobblestone foundation, walls of wattle and daub, wood plank floors, and a thatch roof.

Entering through one of six doors, two on opposite sides that open into small “lobbies,” visitors can explore all four rooms on the first floor of the new building. The second story, not accessible for public viewing, is likely to have served in the original building as sleeping space for servants and for storage. The first-floor hall, or main public room, has a table with a distinctive armchair at its head for the governor. The adjacent parlor, interpreted as a space where the governor may have entertained guests, features a smaller table and chairs, clothes press and cupboard.  On opposite ends of the house are bedchambers – one for the governor, the other for members of his household, which might include his physician and secretary. Two chimneys with back-to-back fireplaces provide a hearth in each of the four rooms.

 row house-governor_web.jpg

He is dressed in a green silk day suit, made for periodic display. Another more formal suit of burgundy silk is accessorized with neck and wrist ruffs of handmade lace. 

Elaborately carved wood furniture and Turkish carpets covering tabletops indicate the high rank of the people living in the house.

The new governor’s house is patterned after one of two large “row houses” uncovered by Preservation Virginia’s Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological project at Historic Jamestowne. The cobblestone foundations of the two row houses at Historic Jamestowne are located within the original James Fort site, paralleling the western wall of the palisade. Based on their location in the fort, the buildings probably were constructed between 1610 and 1614, and the one re-created at Jamestown Settlement may have served as the colonial governor’s house.  

According to Ralph Hamor’s account of Virginia during 1610-14, Jamestown had “two faire rowes of howses, all of framed Timber, two stories, and an upper Garret, or Corne loft.” The 1618 records of the Virginia Company cite a “Governors house in James town first built by Sir Thomas Gates Knight.” Gates served as lieutenant governor of Virginia from 1611 to 1614.


The Susan ConstantGodspeed and Discovery are the three ships that brought English colonists to Virginia in 1607. This voyage took four and a half months from England! visitors help interpreter raise sails on jamestown settlement\'s reconstructed ship.

The sailors sailed with a whipstaff ( a device used in 16th- and 17th-century Europe to control the movement of a large sailing ship) or tiller. Rapid movement of the tiller results in an increase that will result in braking or slowing the boat. In steering a boat, the tiller is always moved in the direction opposite of which the bow of the boat is to move.

Starboard side means to the right and port side means to the left of the ship. The bow is the front of the ship while the stern is the back.


  • The Jamestown colonists came to the Chesapeake to find treasures of gold and silver and to discover a water passage across North America.

  • Everyone had to follow the rules which included daily prayer and attend church every Sunday.

  • The English did not believe in bathing or washing their clothing very often. Because of this, the English colonists attracted fleas and lice. The Indians had them, too, but took daily baths to keep them away.

  • The English did not want to dig up and eat the Tuckahoe (arrow arum) like the Indians.

  • Back in England, there was a serious shortage of firewood and timber for ship building due to all of the agricultural fields and pastures for animals. Imagine how surprised the colonists were to find so many forests!



illustration of chief powhatan from john smith\'s map of virginia, 1612. 
From John Smith's Map of Virginia,
published in 1612. 

At the time English colonists arrived in the spring of 1607, coastal Virginia was inhabited by the Powhatan Indians, an Algonquian-speaking people. The Powhatans were comprised of 30-some tribal groups, with a total population of about 14,000, under the control of Wahunsonacock, sometimes called “Powhatan.” 

The Powhatans lived in villages with houses built of sapling frames covered by reed mats or bark. Villages within the same area belonged to one tribe. Each tribe had its own “werowance” or chief, who was subject to Wahunsonacock. Although the chiefs were usually men, they inherited their positions of power through the female side of the family. 

Agricultural products – corn, beans and squash – contributed about half of the Powhatan diet. Men hunted deer and fished, while women farmed and gathered wild plant foods. Women prepared foods and made clothes from deerskins. Tools and equipment were made from stone, bone and wood.

The Powhatans participated in an extensive trade network with Indian groups within and outside the chiefdom. With the English, the Powhatans traded foodstuffs and furs in exchange for metal tools, European copper, European glass beads, and trinkets.  

In a ranked society of rulers, great warriors, priests and commoners, status was determined by achievement, often in warfare, and by the inheritance of luxury goods like copper, shell beads and furs. Those of higher status had larger homes, more wives and elaborate dress. The Powhatans worshipped a hierarchy of gods and spirits. They offered gifts to Oke to prevent him from sending them harm. Ahone was the creator and giver of good things.  

As English settlement spread in Virginia during the 1600s, the Powhatans were forced to move inland away from the fertile river valleys that had long been their home. As their territory dwindled, so did the Indian population, falling victim to English diseases, food shortages and warfare. The Powhatan people persisted, however, adopting new lifestyles while maintaining their cultural pride and leaving a legacy for today, through their descendants still living in Virginia.


modern painting based on 17th-century engraving of pocahontas.
This modern painting is based on a 17th-
century engraving of Pocahontas attired in
English clothing.

The renowned Indian maiden who befriended English colonists in Virginia in the early 1600s has been immortalized in art, song and story.

Born about 1596, Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, chief of over 30 tribes in coastal Virginia. Pocahontas was a nickname meaning “playful one.” Her formal names were Amonute and Matoaka.  Pocahontas was Powhatan’s “most deare and wel-beloved daughter,” according to Captain John Smith, an English colonial leader who wrote extensively about his experiences in Virginia. Powhatan had numerous wives, and Pocahontas had many half-brothers and half-sisters. Her mother’s name is not mentioned by any 17th-century writers.

As a child, Pocahontas probably helped her mother with daily chores, learning what was expected of her as a woman in Powhatan society. Even the daughter of a chief would be required to work when she reached maturity.

In late 1607 Pocahontas, then about age 11, met John Smith in an event he described years later. Smith wrote that he had been captured by Indians and brought before Powhatan at Werewocomoco, the chief's capital town on the York River. After the Indians gave Smith a feast, they laid his head on two stones as if to “beate out his braines,” when Pocahontas “got his head in her armes, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.”

Some scholars today believe the incident was a ritual in which Powhatan sought to assert his sovereignty over Smith and the English in Virginia. In 1608 Pocahontas assisted in taking food to the English settlement at Jamestown to persuade Smith to free some Indian prisoners. The following year, according to Smith, she warned him of an Indian plot to take his life.

 abduction of pocahontas.jpg
A 17th-century engraving depicting the 
abduction of Pocahontas.

Smith left Virginia in 1609, and Pocahontas was told by other colonists that he was dead. Sometime later, she married an Indian named Kocoum. In 1613, while searching for corn to feed hungry colonists, Samuel Argall found her in the village of the Patawomekes in the northern part of the Powhatan chiefdom and kidnapped her for ransom. Powhatan waited three months after learning of his daughter’s capture to return seven English prisoners and some stolen guns. He refused other demands, however, and relinquished his daughter to the English, agreeing to a tenuous peace.

Thereafter, Pocahontas lived among the settlers. The Reverend Alexander Whitaker, living up the James River near Henrico (Henricus), taught her Christian principles, and she learned to act and dress like an English woman. In 1614 she was baptized and given the name Rebecca. Soon after her conversion, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, a planter who had introduced tobacco as a cash crop in the Virginia colony.

In 1616 the Rolfes and their young son Thomas traveled to England to help recruit new settlers for Virginia. While there, Pocahontas had a brief meeting with John Smith, whom she had not known was alive, and told him that she would be “for ever and ever your Countrieman.” As the Rolfes began their return trip to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill and died at Gravesend, England, in March 1617. John Rolfe sailed for Virginia, where he had been appointed secretary of the colony, but left Thomas in England with relatives. Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in the 1630s. By that time, Powhatan and John Rolfe were dead, and peace with the Indians had been broken in 1622 by a bloody uprising led by Pocahontas’s uncle, Opechancanough.

Although Pocahontas was one of Powhatan’s favorite children, she probably had little influence over her father’s actions toward the English colonists. However, after she married and traveled to England, she was able to bring the Virginia colony to the attention of prominent English men and women.

Significant Events in Jamestown's History


Spanish Jesuits set up a mission on the York River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Within six months, the Spaniards were killed by local Indians.


Three separate voyages sent English explorers and settlers to the coast of what is now North Carolina, then known as Virginia. John White, who was governor of a colony on Roanoke Island and had gone back to England for supplies, returned in 1590 and found no trace of the settlers.


On May 13, nearly five months after departing from England, an expedition of 104 colonists arrived at a site on the James River selected for settlement. The group was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, whose investors hoped to make a profit from the resources of the New World. The group named their settlement for King James I.


Captain Christopher Newport, commander of the 1607 Jamestown expedition who had sailed back to England, returned to Virginia in January with settlers and goods. It was the first of a series of regular arrivals in the colony. John Smith was elected president of the governing council in the fall. Smith left for England the next fall (1609) to recover from a wound caused by a gunpowder explosion and never returned to Virginia.


Elizabeth City and Henrico were established, marking the beginning of expansion beyond Jamestown.


Pocahontas, a daughter of Powhatan, powerful leader of 30-some Indian tribes in coastal Virginia, was kidnapped by the English. 


The first sample of tobacco cultivated by John Rolfe was shipped to England by this time. Tobacco was the “golden weed” that ensured the economic survival of the colony. Pocahontas married John Rolfe after being baptized in the Anglican Church, and an eight-year period of peace between the English colonists and Powhatan Indians ensued.


Pocahontas died in England.


The first representative legislative assembly in British America met at Jamestown on July 30. The first documented people of African origin in Virginia arrived in late summer aboard an English ship flying Dutch colors.


The Plymouth colony was established in Massachusetts.


King James revoked the charter of the Virginia Company, and Virginia became a royal colony.


The capital of Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg.

FACT SHEET # 5 A Brief History of Jamestown

The founding of Jamestown, America’s first permanent English colony, in Virginia in 1607 – 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in Massachusetts – sparked a series of cultural encounters that helped shape the nation and the world.  The government, language, customs, beliefs and aspirations of these early Virginians are all part of the United States’ heritage today.

The colony was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, a group of investors who hoped to profit from the venture.  Chartered in 1606 by King James I, the company also supported English national goals of counterbalancing the expansion of other European nations abroad, seeking a northwest passage to the Orient, and converting the Virginia Indians to the Anglican religion. 

The Susan ConstantGodspeed and Discovery, carrying 105 passengers, one of whom died during the voyage, departed from England in December 1606 and reached the Virginia coast in late April 1607.  The expedition was led by Captain Christopher Newport.  On May 13, after two weeks of exploration, the ships arrived at a site on the James River selected for its deep water anchorage and good defensive position. The passengers came ashore the next day, and work began on the settlement.  Initially, the colony was governed by a council of seven, with one member serving as president.

Serious problems soon emerged in the small English outpost, which was located in the midst of a chiefdom of about 14,000 Algonquian-speaking Indians ruled by the powerful leader Powhatan.  Relations with the Powhatan Indians were tenuous, although trading opportunities were established.  An unfamiliar climate, as well as a brackish water supply and lack of food, conditions possibly aggravated by a drought, led to disease and death.  Many of the original colonists were upper-class Englishmen, and the colony lacked sufficient laborers and skilled farmers.

The first two English women arrived at Jamestown in 1608, and more came in subsequent years.  Men outnumbered women, however, for most of the 17th century.

Captain John Smith became the colony’s leader in September 1608 – the fourth in a succession of council presidents – and established a “no work, no food” policy.  Smith had been instrumental in trading with the Powhatan Indians for food.  However, in the fall of 1609 he was injured by burning gunpowder and left for England.  Smith never returned to Virginia, but promoted colonization of North America until his death in 1631 and published numerous accounts of the Virginia colony, providing invaluable material for historians.

Smith’s departure was followed by the “starving time,” a period of warfare between the colonists and Indians and the deaths of many English men and women from starvation and disease.  Just when the colonists decided to abandon Jamestown in Spring 1610, settlers with supplies arrived from England, eager to find wealth in Virginia.  This group of new settlers arrived under the second charter issued by King James I.  This charter provided for stronger leadership under a governor who served with a group of advisors, and the introduction of a period of military law that carried harsh punishments for those who did not obey.   

In order to make a profit for the Virginia Company, settlers tried a number of small industries, including glassmaking, wood production, and pitch and tar and potash manufacture.  However, until the introduction of tobacco as a cash crop about 1613 by colonist John Rolfe, who later married Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, none of the colonists’ efforts to establish profitable enterprises were successful.  Tobacco cultivation required large amounts of land and labor and stimulated the rapid growth of the Virginia colony.  Settlers moved onto the lands occupied by the Powhatan Indians, and increased numbers of indentured servants came to Virginia. 

The first documented Africans in Virginia arrived in 1619.  They were from the kingdom of Ndongo in Angola, West Central Africa, and had been captured during war with the Portuguese.  While these first Africans may have been treated as indentured servants, the customary practice of owning Africans as slaves for life appeared by mid-century.  The number of African slaves increased significantly in the second half of the 17th century, replacing indentured servants as the primary source of labor. 

The first representative government in British America began at Jamestown in 1619 with the convening of a general assembly, at the request of settlers who wanted input in the laws governing them.  After a series of events, including a 1622 war with the Powhatan Indians and misconduct among some of the Virginia Company leaders in England, the Virginia Company was dissolved by the king in 1624, and Virginia became a royal colony.  Jamestown continued as the center of Virginia’s political and social life until 1699 when the seat of government moved to Williamsburg.  Although Jamestown ceased to exist as a town by the mid 1700s, its legacies are embodied in today’s United States.

 Agricultural Fields & Gardens at

jamestown settlement powhatan indian village 

Corn, a food staple of the Powhatan Indians that English colonists adapted to their diet, is planted in early spring at the Powhatan village and fort, as well as at the 1780s farm. At Jamestown Settlement, beans and squash are later planted around the emerging corn stalks, a Powhatan practice also adopted by English colonists.

Tobacco, Virginia’s premier cash crop during the colonial period with seedlings planted in mid-spring. Nicotiana rustica, a native variety, grows in the Powhatan village, and Nicotiana tabacum, a type brought to Virginia in the early 17th century, is cultivated outside the Jamestown Settlement.  Grain crops like barley and wheat are planted in the cooler seasons at Jamestown Settlement.

 yorktown victory center tending crops

Dozens of varieties of vegetables and herbs used in the 17th and 18th centuries for food, medicine, fabric dye and insect repellant are cultivated year-round in the gardens. Peas, carrots, lettuce, chard, onions and radishes are among vegetables planted in the spring. Some items have two growing seasons and others, like kale, cabbage and parsnips, thrive in cool weather. Feverfew, wormwood, savory, rosemary, yarrow, coriander, sage, thyme, dill, oregano, chamomile and lemon balm are among the herbs grown here.

Sunflowers, a food source native to the Americas, are grown here as well as at the Powhatan village. 

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