1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jamestown (Virginia)
JAMESTOWN, a former village in what is now James City county, Virginia, U.S.A., on Jamestown Island, in the James River, about 40 m. above Norfolk. It was here that the first permanent English settlement in America was founded on the 13th of May 1607, that representative government was inaugurated on the American Continent in 1619, and that negro servitude was introduced into the original thirteen colonies, also in 1619. In Jamestown was the first Anglican church built in America. The settlement was in a low marshy district which proved to be unhealthy; it was accidentally burned in January 1608, was almost completely destroyed by Nathaniel Bacon in September 1676, the state house and other buildings were again burned in 1698, and after the removal of the seat of government of Virginia from Jamestown to the Middle Plantations (now Williamsburg) in 1699 the village fell rapidly into decay. Its population had never been large: it was about 490 in 1609, and 183 in 1623; the mortality was always very heavy. By the middle of the 19th century the peninsula on which Jamestown had been situated had become an island, and by 1900 the James River had worn away the shore but had hardly touched the territory of the “New Towne” (1619), immediately E. of the first settlement; almost the only visible remains, however, were the tower of the brick church and a few gravestones. In 1900 the association for the preservation of Virginia antiquities, to which the site was deeded in 1893, induced the United States government to build a wall to prevent the further encroachment of the river; the foundations of several of the old buildings have since been uncovered, many interesting relics have been found, and in 1907 there were erected a brick church (which is as far as possible a reproduction of the fourth one built in 1639-1647), a marble shaft marking the site of the first settlement, another shaft commemorating the first house of burgesses, a bronze monument to the memory of Captain John Smith, and another monument to the memory of Pocahontas. At the head of Jamestown peninsula Cornwallis, in July 1781, attempted to trick the Americans under Lafayette and General Anthony Wayne by displaying a few men on the peninsula and concealing the principal part of his army on the mainland; but when Wayne discovered the trap he made first a vigorous charge, and then a retreat to Lafayette’s line. Early in the Civil War the Confederates regarded the site (then an island) as of such strategic importance that (near the brick church tower and probably near the site of the first fortifications by the original settlers) they erected heavy earthworks upon it for defence. (For additional details concerning the early history of Jamestown, see Virginia: History.)
The founding at Jamestown of the first permanent English-speaking settlement in America was celebrated in 1907 by the Jamestown tercentennial exposition, held on grounds at Sewell’s Point on the shore of Hampton Roads. About twenty foreign nations, the federal government, and most of the states of the union took part in the exposition.
See L. G. Tyler, The Cradle of the Republic: Jamestown and James River (Richmond, 2nd ed., 1906); Mrs R. A. Pryor, The Birth of the Nation: Jamestown, 1607 (New York, 1907); and particularly S. H. Yonge, The Site of Old “James Towne,” 1607–1698 (Richmond, 1904), embodying the results of the topographical investigations of the engineer in charge of the river-wall built in 1900–1901.