History Timeline

explore the history of jamestown’s early years

The Fort Period at Jamestown lasted from 1607, when the first colonists arrived, to circa 1624. By then, the settlement was expanding and James Fort had mostly fallen out of use. To explore key events from this period and the years leading up to it, click on a year in red below. Events shown in gold pertain directly to Jamestown, while events in green took place elsewhere in Virginia and events shown in white provide context or background information. Linked names, topics, and images lead to more information elsewhere on the website.

You can also explore our map of the fort site to learn more about what the archaeology at Jamestown has revealed.

1585-1590

English settlers make two unsuccessful attempts to establish a colony on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. The second group of settlers, later known as the Lost Colony, disappear during a long period without contact with England. Their fate is unknown.

late 1500s

Wahunsenacawh, later known to the English as Chief Powhatan, inherits leadership of several Virginia Indian groups and gradually brings more under his control. By the early 17th century, the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom is made up of about 30 Algonquian tribes spread across a region called Tsenacomoco, now eastern Virginia.

1600

1601

may–june 1602

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, Captain Bartholomew Gilbert, Captain Gabriel Archer, and others explore the New England coast with the intention of starting a colony, but occupy Cuttyhunk Island for only a few weeks before returning to England.

march 24, 1603

King James I

After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland ascends the English throne and becomes James I of England.

july 1603

Captain Bartholomew Gilbert voyages to the Chesapeake Bay. He and four others go ashore, likely on the Eastern Shore, and are killed by Native Americans.

1604

1605

1606

Eastern Virginia enters its worst drought in nearly 800 years. We know this from dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, which are affected by changes in the environment.

april 10, 1606

the Virginia Company seal

James I grants land in North America to two competing branches of the Virginia Company, the Virginia Company of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth. At this time, “Virginia” referred to most of the North American coast, from what is now North Carolina to northern New England.

november 1606

The Virginia Company of London issues instructions for its colonists. Among other things, they are directed to find a safe port 100 miles up a navigable river, from which they can search for the Northwest Passage, and to “have Great Care not to Offend the naturals,” meaning Native Americans.

december 19 or 20, 1606

a sailing ship

104 settlers set sail from London on three ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. They are captained by Christopher Newport, Bartholomew Gosnold, and John Ratcliffe.

february 13, 1607

En route to Virginia, Captain John Smith is arrested and accused of plotting mutiny.

march 28, 1607

The ships stop in the West Indies, where Captain Newport intends to execute Smith. Captain Gosnold and the Reverend Robert Hunt intervene, and Smith is spared.

april 26, 1607

The three ships arrive in the Chesapeake Bay.

late april 1607

The settlers open their sealed orders from the Virginia Company, which include the names of the men appointed to the colony’s governing council. Captain Smith is named and is released from imprisonment, but is not permitted to take his place on the council. Edward Maria Wingfield is appointed president.

april 29, 1607

The settlers erect a cross at Cape Henry, claiming the land for King James I.

may 13–14, 1607

reenactment of the colonists landing at Jamestown

The colonists choose a location for their settlement—a marshy peninsula 50 miles up the James River—which will be easily defensible if the Spanish attack. “James Cittie,” the first permanent English settlement in North America, is established.

may 1607

Captain Christopher Newport, Captain John Smith, and others spend six days exploring the James River up to the falls near what is now the city of Richmond. Along the way, they encounter numerous Virginia Indian peoples belonging to the chiefdom led by Chief Powhatan.

may 26, 1607

reconstructed fort palisade

200 Virginia Indians attack Jamestown, killing at least one settler and wounding 11. Several Powhatan are also killed. In response, the settlers soon begin building a more substantial fort.

Click the image to learn more about the archaeology of James Fort.

june 10, 1607

John Smith

Captain John Smith is finally sworn in as a member of the colony’s governing council.

june 15, 1607

the Zuniga map

James Fort is completed in a triangle shape with three bulwarks sporting artillery. Settlers also plant crops in two areas.

Click the image to learn more about the Zuniga map of James Fort.

june 21, 1607

detail of Hunt Shrine

The Reverend Robert Hunt holds the first Anglican communion service at Jamestown.

Click the image to learn more about the monument to Reverend Hunt.

june 22, 1607

a sailing ship

Captain Newport sails back to England with the Susan Constant and the Godspeed, taking with him mineral samples that the colonists hope will indicate the presence of gold in Virginia.

august 22, 1607

facial reconstruction of Bartholomew Gosnold

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold dies and is buried just outside James Fort, where his grave is discovered by archaeologists nearly 400 years later.

august 1607–april 1608

The Virginia Company of Plymouth establishes a short-lived colony, led by George Popham, in what is now Maine, but abandons it the following year.

september 10, 1607

living history interpreter

Council President Edward Maria Wingfield is deposed and replaced by John Ratcliffe.

summer & early fall 1607

burial markers inside James Fort

Half the original settlers die during this period, mostly from disease.

Click the image to learn more about the archaeology.

early december 1607

pocket sundial

Captain Smith and two other men travel up the Chickahominy River in search of food. Smith is captured by Opechancanough, brother of Chief Powhatan. The other members of his party are killed.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact and its significance.

december 29, 1607

Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco

Smith is brought before Chief Powhatan at his capital, Werowocomoco. He later claims that the chief’s young daughter, Pocahontas, saves him from execution, but most historians now believe the incident was a mock execution, if it took place at all.

by the end of 1607

The number of English settlers in Virginia falls to 38.

early january 1608

Captain John Smith returns to Jamestown, where he is blamed for the deaths of his companions and sentenced to hang. However, when Captain Christopher Newport returns with the First Supply, bringing food and about 100 new settlers, he spares Smith’s life again. He also releases Edward Maria Wingfield.

january 7, 1608

book latch

Fire severely damages James Fort: “such a fire growing rapidly it consumed all the buildings of the fort and the storehouse of ammunition and provision, so that there remained only three” (Francis Perkins, 1608). The settlers soon begin rebuilding the fort, including the construction of a church.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact and its connection to the fire of 1608.

february 1608

detail of Smith map showing Werowocomoco

Captain Newport and Captain Smith visit Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco, give him gifts, and trade for corn. They then travel upriver to visit Opechancanough. An English boy, Thomas Savage, is left behind with Powhatan to learn the Indians’ language and customs, and a Native man named Namontack joins the colonists for the same purpose.

Click the image of Smith’s map of Virginia to expand it.

between january & april 1608

grave markers in 1608 chancel

The Reverend Robert Hunt, Jamestown’s first Anglican minister, dies and is buried in the chancel of the newly-constructed church.

april 10, 1608

Captain Newport, Captain Gabriel Archer, and Edward Maria Wingfield return to England, taking Namontack with them.

june–september 1608

Potomac Creek pot

Captain Smith and others make two trips to explore the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that feed it, encountering numerous Indian towns along the way.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

september 1608

Captain Newport returns to Jamestown with the Second Supply. 70 new immigrants arrive, including 8 “glasse-men” of either German or Polish origin as well as the first two women, Mrs. Thomas Forrest and her maid, Anne Burras. Mistress Forest is not mentioned again in historical records, suggesting she dies soon after her arrival.

september 1608

19th-century engraving of Chief Powhatan receiving a crown

Aiming to improve relations with Chief Powhatan, Captain Newport presents him with a ceremonial crown meant to symbolize subordination to the English king. Powhatan, reminding him that he is also a king, refuses to come to Jamestown, then refuses to kneel during the ceremony at Werowocomoco. The relationship between the English and the Powhatan deteriorates.

september 10, 1608

hoe blade

Captain John Smith is elected president of the council and begins strengthening the fort’s defenses. Soon after, he issues the edict that “he that will not work shall not eat.”

fall 1608

James Fort is expanded from a triangle shape to a 5-sided one.

november 1608

gimmel rings

In Jamestown’s first English wedding, Anne Burras marries carpenter John Laydon.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

december 1608

Nueva Cadiz beads

The settlers attempt to trade with local Native settlements for food, but Chief Powhatan has instructed them to refuse.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

december 1608

crucible

Captain Newport returns to England once more, carrying with him “tryals of Pitch, Tarre, Glasse, Frankincense, Sope Ashes…” as part of the colony’s ongoing efforts to find profitable resources to exploit in Virginia (John Smith, 1624).

Click the image to learn more.

january 1609

Captain John Smith meets with Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco. Smith violates custom by refusing to disarm in Powhatan’s presence, and Powhatan unsuccessfully attempts to have Smith killed. Throughout the year, the colonists and the Native tribes continue to raid and ambush one another.

march 1609

The Virginia Company of London invites the lord mayor of London and the city’s aldermen and trade guilds to invest in the company, arguing that sending people to the Virginia colony is a way to help control England’s population growth.

may 23, 1609

King James I issues the second charter to the Virginia Company, which extends the colony’s boundaries and replaces the governing council with a governor who has absolute control.

june 2, 1609

Sir Thomas Gates

The Third Supply, consisting of 9 ships and 500-600 immigrants along with livestock and a year’s worth of provisions, leaves England headed by Sir Thomas Gates, the colony’s new deputy governor.

july 25, 1609

writing slate

The Third Supply fleet is struck by a hurricane and scattered. One ship is lost. The flagship Sea Venture is damaged, but manages to reach Bermuda with all 150 of its passengers, including Sir Thomas Gates, Admiral Sir George Somers, Captain Christopher Newport, William Strachey, George Yeardley, and John Rolfe.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact and its possible connection to the Sea Venture.

summer 1609

oyster shells

Captain Smith sends several groups of settlers away from James Fort in search of food. George Percy and 20 men go downriver to Point Comfort to fish, another 20 led by Francis West go upriver to the fall line, and a third, larger group is also sent downriver to live on oysters.

august 1609

child's shoe

The Third Supply ships that survived the hurricane arrive at Jamestown with about 300 men, women, and children. They have few remaining provisions.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

september 1609

Captain John Martin, George Percy, and 60 other men go downriver to Nansemond territory, where they attempt to purchase an island from the Nansemond Indians. The island is sacred to the tribe and the encounter quickly goes wrong: the Nansemond chief’s son is wounded, two English messengers are killed, and the remaining colonists burn the Nansemonds’ town and crops and ransack their temple.

september 1609

Captain Francis West is sent to the falls of the James River with 120 men to establish a settlement there. This group and Captain Martin’s group downriver will continue to clash with local Virginia Indian groups.

september 1609

scrap copper

Captain Smith attempts to buy the fortified town of Powhatan from Chief Powhatan, but the negotiation fails.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

september 1609

George Percy

In the absence of deputy governor Sir Thomas Gates and the new instructions to the colony, George Percy is elected president.

by fall 1609

Chief Powhatan moves his capital west to Orapax on the Chickahominy River, farther from the English settlement.

october 1609

Samuel Argall, who captained one of the Third Supply ships, returns to England to report the loss of the Sea Venture and the lack of supplies at Jamestown. Captain Smith also returns to England after being badly injured in a suspicious gunpowder explosion.

october 1609

detail of Smith map showing Point Comfort

Jamestown settlers led by Captain John Ratcliffe establish Fort Algernon at Point Comfort (now Hampton, Virginia), in the territory of the Kecoughtan tribe.

Click the image of Smith’s map of Virginia to expand it.

november 1609

The Powhatan lay siege to James Fort, trapping about 300 settlers inside with few provisions.

december 1609

The Virginia Company of London, responding to the perceived loss of the Sea Venture, publishes a defense of its colony.

late 1609

A party of colonists led by Captain Ratcliffe is invited to Orapax. Chief Powhatan promises them corn for the starving settlers, but instead they are ambushed and killed.

winter 1609–1610

facial reconstruction of Jane

During what becomes known as the Starving Time, the besieged colonists in James Fort resort to eating horses, snakes, rats, cats, dogs, and shoe leather. Some even resort to survival cannibalism, as evidenced by the remains of a 14-year-old girl, now nicknamed “Jane,” who must have arrived on the Third Supply and died within a few months.

by spring 1610

silver reliquary

More than 75% of the fort’s population succumbs to starvation and disease during the Starving Time winter. Among them is Captain Gabriel Archer, one of Jamestown’s early leaders, who is buried in the chancel of the church.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

april 1, 1610

Lord De La Warr

Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, whom King James has appointed as the Virginia Colony’s new leader, sails from England with another resupply.

early may 1610

The Powhatan siege is lifted. Only 60 survivors remain within the fort.

may 1610

cahow bones

The survivors of the Sea Venture shipwreck arrive at Jamestown in two ships built during their 10 months on Bermuda, the Deliverance and the Patience.

Click the image to learn more about the artifacts.

may 24, 1610

Sir Thomas Gates implements martial law and issues “The Laws Divine, Moral, and Martial,” introducing strict codes of behavior and severe punishments for transgressions.

june 7, 1610

Gates decides to abandon Jamestown due to the lack of supplies.

june 8, 1610

halberd

Coming down the James River, the departing colonists meet the resupply led by Lord De La Warr, who demands a return to Jamestown.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact and its connection to Lord De La Warr.

june 10, 1610

Lord De La Warr arrives at Jamestown and orders the settlers to clean up and reestablish James Fort. The church is repaired and new buildings constructed.

july 9, 1610

an arrowhead and a musket ball

After a settler is killed by Virginia Indians near Point Comfort, Sir Thomas Gates and his forces attack the town of Kecoughtan in retaliation, killing some inhabitants and driving off the rest.

july 1610

Sir Thomas Gates sends messengers to Chief Powhatan with an ultimatum: return all English captives and stolen weapons, or the settlers will take them back by force. Powhatan responds with his own ultimatum, telling the colonists to either stay in James Fort or leave Virginia.

july 1610

Sir Thomas Gates returns to England, taking with him two Virginia Indian prisoners, a weroance (chief) named Sasenticum and his son, Kainta.

august 9, 1610

helmet

George Percy leads an attack on the Paspahegh town. The English burn the Paspahegh’s houses, cut down the cornfields, and kidnap the queen and her children, who are later executed.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

1611

tobacco seed

John Rolfe experiments with growing tobacco seeds, Nicotiana tabacum, that he probably obtained in Bermuda; native Virginia tobacco, used by the Powhatan, was Nicotiana rustica, and the English disliked its bitter taste.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

march 28, 1611

spatulum mundani

Lord De La Warr and Sir Thomas Gates leave for England, leaving George Percy in charge as deputy governor. Only about 150 settlers remain due to continuing problems with disease.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

may 1611

breastplate

Sir Thomas Dale, the new deputy governor, arrives at Jamestown with 300 men as well as armor and provisions.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

june 1611

Sir Thomas Dale leads a campaign against the Nansemond Indians, burning houses, cutting down cornfields, and taking captives.

june 1611

living history interpreter

The English at Point Comfort capture three men from a Spanish expedition: Don Diego de Molina, Marco Perez, and Francisco Lembry, an English turncoat. They are held prisoner in Virginia for several years. An Englishman named John Clarke is captured by the Spanish at the same time. The Spanish ultimately decide an attack on the Virginia colony is not worthwhile.

august 2, 1611

Lieutenant Governor Thomas Gates returns to Virginia with 280 new settlers.

september 1611

felling axe

Sir Thomas Dale leads 350 men to establish the settlement of Henricus, or Henrico, near the falls of the James River, as an alternative to the swampy and dangerous Jamestown. They skirmish with the local tribes.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

march 12, 1612

King James I renews the charter for the Virginia Company and gives it more self-governance. He also authorizes lotteries to raise money for the venture and extends the colony’s boundaries to include Bermuda.

april 22, 1612

George Percy returns to England.

1612

tobacco pipe

John Rolfe exports his first crop of improved tobacco. Tobacco soon becomes Virginia’s most important cash crop.

Click the image to learn more about tobacco and tobacco-related artifacts.

april 1613

shell beads

Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s daughter, is kidnapped from a Patawomeck village by Captain Samuel Argall and brought to Jamestown to be held for ransom. Powhatan releases several captives and offers corn, but the English demand the return of weapons and tools stolen from the fort. Pocahontas is later taken upriver to Henrico.

february 1614

Sir Thomas Gates departs Virginia for England, leaving Sir Thomas Dale as deputy governor.

march 1614

Chief Powhatan still has not responded to the demand for Pocahontas’s ransom, so Sir Thomas Dale leads 150 men into Powhatan territory, where they are attacked and retaliate by burning houses and killing several men.

april 5, 1614

reenactment of Pocahontas's wedding

Pocahontas marries John Rolfe at Jamestown, effectively ending the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Prior to the marriage, Pocahontas is baptized and christened “Rebecca.”

january 30, 1615

toy horses

Pocahontas gives birth to a son, Thomas Rolfe.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

1616

John Rolfe writes that there are now 6 English settlements in Virginia, and 351 settlers.

may 1616

Rolfe, Pocahontas, their son, and several other Virginia Indians leave for England with Sir Thomas Dale, who hopes their visit will help create publicity for the Virginia Company. George Yeardley becomes deputy governor upon Dale’s departure.

march 17, 1617

Pocahontas

Pocahontas dies in Gravesend, England, just after beginning the return trip to Virginia with her husband and son. John Rolfe returns to Virginia, but leaves Thomas behind to be raised in England.

may 15, 1617

Samuel Argall returns to Jamestown as the new deputy governor.

1617

virtual 1617 church

Samuel Argall orders the construction of a new church “50 foot long and twenty foot broad” just east of the first church building at Jamestown.

Click the image to learn more about the Virtual 1617 Church, part of the Virtual Fort Project.

1618

Chief Powhatan dies and is succeeded by his brother, Opitchapam. However, Opechancanough soon proves to be the more powerful leader.

june 7, 1618

Governor Lord De La Warr dies at sea en route to Virginia.

november 1618

living history interpreter as George Yeardley

George Yeardley is appointed the new governor of Virginia and knighted by King James on November 24.

november 18, 1618

The Virginia Company issues new instructions, nicknamed the Great Charter, lifting martial law and authorizing a General Assembly in which white men of property are able to choose representatives to make laws for themselves.

november 18, 1618

The Great Charter also lays out the “headright” system, giving 50 acres of land to anyone who pays for their own passage to Virginia and 50 additional acres for each person brought with him, who often work as indentured servants to pay off the debt. (“Ancient Planters” who had arrived in the colony before 1616 were given 100 acres.) This system encourages further settlement by gentlemen and lays the economic foundation for what will eventually become a system of legal slavery.

april 18, 1619

Prince of Orange medallion

The colony’s new governor, Sir George Yeardley, arrives at Jamestown.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

july 30–august 4, 1619

reenactment of the First Assembly meeting

The General Assembly, composed of elected representatives from each settlement along with the appointed Governor’s Council, meets for the first time in the church at Jamestown. Its first law requires tobacco to be sold for at least three shillings per pound.

august 1619

living history interpreter

The first known Africans in Virginia arrive in Jamestown. They are traded off of an English ship at Point Comfort after being stolen from a Portuguese slave ship. Some of them may obtain their legal freedom after working for several years, as there are not yet laws governing slavery in English America. Others, like Angela, most likely remain enslaved.

November 3, 1619

Fearing that the gender imbalance in English Virginia threatens the colony’s long-term survival, the Virginia Company determines that “a fit hundreth… of women, Maides young and uncorrupt” should be sent to marry male settlers and stabilize the colony with families.

April 1620

A census of the English settlements in Virginia counts 1,194 European colonists and 32 Africans. Of these 1,226 people: 898 are men, 141 are women, and 192 are children. There are also 4 Virginia Indians living among the settlers, about whom details are not recorded.

May 27, 1620

silver bodkin

90 young women recruited by the Virginia Company arrive in Virginia to marry planters. In most cases, their husbands will be expected to reimburse the company for their passage and other expenses. Despite the risks faced by new settlers, the prospect of better financial opportunity and greater legal freedom in Virginia is attractive to some English women, especially those from families of limited means.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact.

december 1620

The Virginia Company of Plymouth is revived as the Council for New England, which grants a land patent to the Pilgrims to establish a colony in what is now Massachusetts.

1621

Governor Sir George Yeardley resigns and is replaced by Sir Francis Wyatt.

August–September 1621

4 ships bring a total of 57 more women recruited to marry planters in Virginia. The cost to be paid by their future husbands is first set at “120 weight [pounds] of the best leafe Tobbacco for each of them,” then raised to 150 pounds when the price of tobacco drops.

march 22, 1622

military bill

A massive surprise attack planned by Opechancanough kills 347 colonists along the James River—about a quarter of the total number in Virginia—and destroys several settlements, including Henricus. The residents of Jamestown are warned at the last minute and as a result are spared. This event begins the Second Anglo-Powhatan War, which lasts a decade.

Click the image to learn more about the artifact and its connection to this event.

1622

John Rolfe dies.

winter 1622–1623

James Fort in the snow

A second “starving time,” disease, and war with the Virginia Indians kill hundreds of settlers.

september 1623

Surveyor William Claiborne lays out the streets of New Towne, a suburb east of James Fort.

may 24, 1624

The Virginia Company loses its charter due to mismanagement, and Virginia becomes a royal colony. King James orders a census of the colony’s households.

Early 1625

The “Muster of 1624-25” lists 952 men and boys and 280 women and girls living in English Virginia. 23 of the inhabitants are of African descent.

march 27, 1625

King Charles I

King James I dies. His son and successor, Charles I, allows Virginians to keep their General Assembly.