May In Jamestown

PocahontasOn May 2, 1607, Captain John Smith first landed at the site of Jamestown, Virginia. He founded the colony, which was to become the first permanent English settlement, on May 14 of that year. The Roanoke Colony, known as the "Lost Colony," had disappeared in 1587. From the very beginning, the settlement had problems with the Indians, who first attacked them on May 26 of that same year.

Smith was an English soldier, author, and explorer who left home when he was 16 and volunteered in the French military, helping them fight for Dutch independence from Spain. He then joined the Austrians in their fight against the Turks in the "Long War." He was promoted to Captain before he was 21.

While in Transylvania, he was wounded, captured and sold as a slave to a Turk, who sent Captain Smith to his girlfriend in Istanbul as a gift. Accounts of what happened next vary, and being that Captain Smith had a very large ego and was not always constrained by the truth when retelling stories of his life, it is only known that one way or another, he escaped slavery and returned to England in the winter of 1604-05.

Smith is remembered not only for his founding of the settlement, but also for his brief association with the daughter of Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas. In December 1607, he and his party were ambushed by some Powhatan Indians who were hunting deer. They killed his companions and brought Smith back to Chief Powhatan. According to Smith, the chief was impressed with the self-confidence he displayed, and was fascinated by the ivory and glass pocket compass the Captain carried with him.

His written account of the meeting described his participation in some ritual he did not understand which he thought might be some sort of trial. Pocahontas, who was 11 years old at the time, took part in the ceremony, and Captain Smith became convinced that she had saved his life, though he never understood how. After the ritual, he was made a subordinate chief in the Powhatan tribe.

About four weeks after his capture, he was released, and he returned to Jamestown with the help and guidance of some of the Indians.

In his absence, there had arisen much dissent, with many of the settlers becoming lazy, and supplies dwindling. In January of that year, a supply ship brought 100 new settlers and found that only 38 of the original settlers were alive. Fire had destroyed every house in the fort.

Although he had numerous personal conflicts with most of the settlement's leaders, he was elected president of the local council in 1608. As president, he strengthened the settlement's defenses, established strict discipline, and encouraged farming with this declaration: "He who does not work will not eat."

The settlement flourished under his rule, and the first women joined the settlement. Three more forts were built, and there were a total of between forty and fifty houses in the settlement. But in September of 1609, he was injured when his gunpowder pouch, carried on his hip, ignited, and he was badly burned. He returned to England to get the burns treated, and while there, wrote his memoirs.

The winter that followed his departure, the colony went through what they themselves called the "Starving Time." Only 60 of the original 214 settlers lived through that winter. The colonists decided on June 7 to abandon Jamestown, so they buried their cannon and other weapons and boarded ships to go home. The very next day, June 8, 1610, they met the new governor, Lord De La Ware, and his ships at Mulberry Island. De La Ware's ships, carrying more colonists as well as supplies, kept the settlement from disappearing altogether. Times were still difficult for the settlers, until Pocahontas and settler John Rolfe were married, and there was relative peace between them and the Powhatans.

Captain Smith died 22 years after his departure, having never returned to Virginia.

Jamestown became the capital of Virginia until 1698 when the statehouse burned and the capital was moved to Williamsburg. An army post was situated there during the Revolutionary War, and it was there that British and American prisoners were exchanged. It was used in the Civil War for a time as a Confederate fort which was built as part of the defense system meant to block the Union Army from going up the James River.

Additional References and Resources for May 2010:

  • Colonial Williamsburg: Captain John Smith - Journal entry detailing the accounts of John Smith's voyage to America, his encounter with Native American Indians, and subsequent return to Europe.
  • History of Jamestown - Brief history of one of America's earliest English settlements.
  • Famous May Events 2010 - List and brief summary of events for the month of May 2010.
  • The Kentucky Derby - Official site of the "Run for the Roses."  An annual Thoroughbred horseracing event which is the first jewel in the Triple Crown.
  • Mother's Day Celebration - Contains articles, recipes, poems, books, and gift ideas for celebrating Mother's Day.