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Jamestown Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson will talk about Jamestown, the first English colony in North America. Find out what happened when the settlers tried to start a new community in a faraway land where everything was very different from England.

What is Jamestown?

Ever wonder what it would be like just to set sail for an uncharted land? It's more difficult than you think, but that is exactly what 104 settlers did in England in 1606. So where do we start… well at the beginning of course.

Jamestown is an island in Virginia. And until the early 1600s, the only people living there were Native Americans. These Native American tribes, known as Powhatan, were ruled by Chief Powhatan.

All the way across the Atlantic Ocean, King James I of England sent people to North America to start a settlement, or new community. In December of 1606, 104 people and three ships left London to travel to a whole new world, that they knew very little about.

The settlers landed on May 14, 1607 and called the land 'James Cittie.' One of the first things they did was build a wooden fort. Their goals were to settle the land, bring back gold, and look for a way to get to the Pacific Ocean. Little did they know, two out of three wouldn't happen. The only one that would (settling the land) would be incredibly difficult.

Map of Virginia, 1609
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Try and Try Again

Life in Jamestown was very, very hard. The settlers did not get along with the Powhatan, there was not enough food, and a lot of people got sick. Within the first six months, half the group died. New settlers and shipments of supplies would be sent in every so often, but the settlers struggled. To survive, everyone had to pitch in and do their part in order to get food.

After John Smith, one of the presidents, returned to England, the Powhatan attacked, leading to the terrible 'starving time.' Only 60 out of 300 made it through the winter from 1609-1610. After this, the settlers decided to give up on Jamestown. Can you blame them? But they were met by a new group and supplies, went back, and tried again.

Statue of Captain John Smith near the Jamestown Church
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Powhatan

The settlers' relationship with the Powhatan was not easy. Just twelve days after arriving at 'James Cittie,' the Powhatan attacked. However, the settlers and Powhatan were able to be get along at times. The settlers would trade glass beads, iron tools, and copper for food.

Things got better for the settlers when Chief Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, married a tobacco farmer named John Rolfe in 1614. Pocahontas and Rolfe had a son and traveled to England, but Pocahontas died on the trip home. With her death and her father's death, war broke out among the settlers and the Powhatan. Many settlers died but this didn't stop the growth of the settlement. This was mainly due to the success of tobacco.

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