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December 19, 2015

19 Dec 1606: Jamestown ships leave England

On this day in 1606, three English ships owned by the Virginia Company of London – Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed – set sail to establish a permanent colony in the new world.

After a stop in Puerto Rico, the settlers landed in Virginia the following April. They called their eventual outpost Jamestown, in honor of King James I, who ruled at the time.

Powhatan massacre at Jamestown, 1622; woodcut by Matthäus Merian (source)

Some more details:

  • John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, had been arrested on board for mutiny; scheduled to be hanged, he was instead freed because sealed orders named him a member of the leadership
  • surprised that the native Powhatan were not present on the site, the settlers soon discovered Jamestown was on marshland; over 100 died of malaria from mosquito bites
  • a 2012 discovery led researchers to believe the settlers resorted to cannibalism in the winter of 1609
  • Pocahontas eventually married John Rolfe, who started the colony’s tobacco industry
  • Nathaniel Bacon and his rebels burned the town to the ground in 1676
  • it served as Virginia’s capital until 1699
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