After the establishment of James Fort, the settlers quickly spread eastward into a small area called “New Towne.” Jamestown was the focal point of the Virginia colony and developed into a thriving port town. Thousands of colonists would arrive and depart as tobacco fueled the quickly-expanding population.
In the 1620s, representative government took hold, and the town grew into “James Cittie,” where legislative business demanded infrastructure such as inns and taverns. Surveyor William Claiborne mapped out the area east of the fort, and colonists built more substantial homes and large shoreline warehouses there. Even as the colony grew beyond Jamestown, many of the wealthy plantation owners retained property in the town. Although portions of the town were burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, Jamestown remained the capital until another fire led to its move in 1699 to Middle Plantation, known today as Williamsburg.
The town gradually consolidated into single landholders such as the Ambler family, whose plantation house stood in the center of the town. Houses were pulled town as the island gradually converted to farmland. In 1861 Confederate forces graded more of the town’s remains to build an earthen fort for a cannon battery. Just after the Civil War, the Ambler House burned.
In 1934 the National Park Service acquired most of Jamestown Island, and the New Towne area became the focus of archaeological excavations by J. C. Harrington and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Archaeologists unearthed many of the brick foundations of the town and developed new ways to envision the past. Before Jamestown’s 350th anniversary, NPS archaeologist John Cotter led another dig in New Towne, with large-scale trenching and open area excavations. When finished, he preserved his finds by covering them, and brick walls were built to mark the original foundations.
Today, those walls and the ruins of the Ambler House still stand in New Towne. Visitors can see many of the town sites interpreted with signage explaining the diversity of industry, economy, and people who lived in New Towne in the 1600s.