Virginia Colony

The ruined tower of the 17th century Jamestown Church; the nave was reconstructed in 1907 on the original foundations
Tony Fischer/Getty Images/CC By 2.0

In 1607, Jamestown became Great Britain's first settlement in North America. The settlement was established by the Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company chartered by King James I. The location of Jamestown was chosen due to it being easily defended since it was surrounded by water on three sides. In addition, the water was deep enough for the colonists' ships. Finally, Native Americans did not inhabit the land. The first winter for the pilgrims who settled at Jamestown was extremely hazardous. It took many years before the colony became profitable with the introduction of tobacco by John Rolfe.

Jamestown had a high mortality rate due to disease, colonial mismanagement, and raids from Native Americans. In 1624, King James I revoked the Virginia Company of London's charter, and Virginia (which included the area of Jamestown) became a royal colony.

Founded By

The Virginia Company of London founded the Virginia colony during the reign of King James I (1566-1625).

Motivation for Founding

Jamestown was originally founded from a desire to gain wealth and to a lesser extent to convert the natives to Christianity. Virginia became a royal colony in 1624 when King James I revoked the charter of the bankrupt Virginia Company. He felt threatened by the representative assembly known as the House of Burgesses. His timely death in 1625 ended his plans of disbanding the assembly. The colony's original name was the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. 

Virginia and the American Revolution

Virginia was involved in fighting against what they saw as British tyranny from the end of the French and Indian War. The Virginia General Assembly fought against the Sugar Act which had been passed in 1764. They argued that it was taxation without representation. In addition, Patrick Henry was a Virginian who used his powers of rhetoric to argue against the Stamp Act of 1765 and legislation was passed opposing the act. A Committee of Correspondence was created in Virginia by key figures including Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Patrick Henry. This was a method by which the different colonies communicated with each other about the growing anger against the British. 

Open resistance started in Virginia the day after Lexington and Concord occurred, on April 20, 1775. Other than the Battle of Great Bridge in December 1775, little fighting happened in Virginia though they sent soldiers to help in the war effort. Virginia was one of the earliest to adopt independence, and its hallowed son, Thomas Jefferson, penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776. 

Significance

  • First permanent English settlement in the New World at Jamestown.
  • It provided a source of fertile land and great wealth to England in the form of the cash crop, tobacco.
  • With the House of Burgesses, America saw the first institutional instance of representative self-government.

Important People

  • Captain John Smith
  • Pocahontas
  • Chief Powhatan
  • John Rolfe
  • Nathaniel Bacon