Jamestown and John Smith

You can't believe everything you read in travel brochures: "Free land lush with hardwood trees! Food and water abundant! Gold for the taking! Fast side-trip to the Orient! Friendly welcoming committee!"

The real trip: 73 passengers will die. There's no gold. Fresh water and food are difficult to obtain. There is no way to sail to the Orient across North America. The land belongs to the natives, who can be hostile, and disease-carrying mosquitoes are omnipresent.

The men and boys who settled Jamestown in 1607 had little idea of what was in store for them. Most who sailed over were intent on finding riches and hadn't given much thought to how they would survive in Virginia. Almost immediately after landing, the colonists were under attack from the Algonquian natives, and in a little over a month the settlers built a wooden fort named for King James.

One man, Captain John Smith, a soldier and adventurer who had fought in Hungary and Transylvania, was familiar with challenges and worked toward the survival of Jamestown. "America's first hero" made contact with the native chief Powhatan, from whom the colonists obtained much of their food, and became leader of the colony. After being captured by Algonquians, he may or may not have been saved by the 11-year-old princess Pocahontas, but was returned to Jamestown.

Finding the colony languishing due to lack of supplies, a drought, laziness, and conflicts, Smith instituted a policy of rigid discipline and strengthened defenses. He encouraged farming with the admonishment: "He who does not work, will not eat." Because of his strong leadership, the settlement survived and grew during the next year. Unfortunately Smith was injured and returned to England for treatment in October 1609, never to set foot in Virginia again.

Nearly 300 years later, Jamestown was acquired by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) and the National Park Service. Early archaeologists concluded that James Fort lay completely under the James River. In 1994, however, in preparation for the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown, APVA initiated its own excavations to search for the original 1607 fort. They uncovered evidence that James Fort had not been washed into the river, as most had believed.

Excavation has since uncovered more than 150,000 artifacts dating to the first half of the 17th century. Nearly half date to the first years of English settlement (1607–10). These objects reflect trade between Europe and the New World, patterns of warfare, day-to-day survival, and status in the early colony. You can view a sampling of these artifacts at Historic Jamestowne, whose mission is "to preserve, protect, and promote the original site of the first permanent English settlement in North America and to tell the story of the role of the three cultures—European, North American, and African—that came together to lay the foundation for a uniquely American form of democratic government, language, free enterprise, and society."

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