Virginia DescriptionPrior to England's assertive attempts to colonize North America, land that extended from South Carolina all the way north to the Canadian Maritimes was named "Virginia," in honor of England's "Virgin Queen," Queen Elizabeth I.
In the middle of the 16th century the Spanish were the first outsiders to actually explore Virginia; all of their attempts to settle the area eventually failed due to Indian reprisals and inadequate supplies.
Sir Walter Raleigh, the fabled English explorer, and friends, sponsored (paid for) two attempts to establish a colony on Roanoke island - now part of North Carolina. The first colony quickly failed, and the second one, now referred to as the "Lost Colony" completely disappeared without a trace after critical supplies from England arrived three years late. Their fate is yet unknown.
King James I assumed England's throne in 1603, and in an effort to raise funds, granted a charter (for financial considerations) to the Virginia Company in 1606, a group of London based entrepreneurs. That company planned to successfully colonize this New World; find a water route to the Orient, and discover untold riches in gold. Well, in the end, there proved to be no gold in Virginia.
Regardless, in December of 1606 - with little preparation - a group of colonists (in three ships) left England bound for this New World. First coming ashore at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay; after some initial exploration of the landscape, they would later settle 40 miles inland on an island they named Jamestown in May of 1607.
The Jamestown settlement soon struggled to survive. At first, short on food and unable to grow their own crops, the colonists, with the help of Captain John Smith, were able to secure small amounts of food and an uneasy peace with the Native Americans.
For the next few years human suffering and tragedy were the order of the day; supply ships failed to arrive in a timely manner, disease and starvation killed many, and most of the remaining colonists were ready to abandon Jamestown, when Smith, seriously injured by a gunpowder burn, returned to England for treatment in Oct. 1609.
Then in 1610, Sir Thomas West (Baron De Lar Warr) arrived from England in an effort to salvage the colony. He brought 150 men, and much-needed food, tools and additional supplies. On his ship was a businessman named John Rolfe; he would later kidnap and marry Pocahontas, the daughter of a powerful Indian chief.
To that time, efforts to introduce profitable industries into the Virginia colony had all failed until (John Rolfe) introduced his new tobacco blend. The crop succeeded and the first shipments of this cash crop were exported to England in 1612; the colony survived and economic prosperity was now a possibility.
Settlements and plantation farms soon spread beyond Jamestown; in 1619, 90 women arrived from England, all destined to help populate those settlements as wives for the male colonists. That same year a few African servants arrived; they were put to work in the tobacco fields, thus marking the beginning of America's slavery years.
Upset with this expansion, the Powhatan Indians wanted their ancestral lands back. On "Good Friday," March 22, 1622, they suddenly began coordinated (surprise) attacks on all of the settlements; almost 400 colonists (men, women and children) were killed in an event now remembered as the Indian Massacre of 1622.
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This page was last modified on September 29, 2015.