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What is Jamestown?

Jamestown in Virginia is one of America's oldest cities.
Ships that included the Susan Constant and Discovery were among those that brought the first settlers to the Jamestown colony.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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Jamestown is a historic site located in the American state of Virginia. It is believed to be the site of the first permanent English settlement in the area now known as the United States, and it as a result it has special historic importance in the eyes of many Americans. Jamestown is managed by the National Parks Service, in cooperation with several organizations which work to preserve American history.

This settlement was established in 1607 by representatives of the Virginia Company of London, a group of gentlemen adventurers who were granted a charter by ruler James I, the namesake of the settlement. It is located on Jamestown Island, a location which would have been easy for the settlers to protect and fortify.

From the start, Jamestown was plagued with problems. The settlers were unfamiliar with the hostile climate and the native people, who understandably did not appreciate being displaced. Many of the settlers were unable to fend for themselves, being unfamiliar with farming and livestock management, and the settlers did not have many skills which would have been crucial. The Jamestown settlers also struggled amongst themselves.

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However, the fortunes of the Jamestown settlement experienced a dramatic turn when the colonists started growing tobacco, and by 1619, it was the capital of Virginia, and a thriving site. However, at the end of the century, the capital was moved to Williamsburg, and Jametown's fortunes began to ebb. The Civil War caused heavy damage, leading some people to believe that Jamestown might vanish altogether; so in the late 1800s, sections of Jamestown were acquired by private organizations as well as the government, and preservation began.

In 1934, the National Parks Service completed acquisition of Jamestown, and started a number of digs at the site to uncover artifacts, and to restore it. Visitors today can see original structures from the Jamestown settlement, and they can also see a wide number of artifacts uncovered at Jamestown. Many people who visit Jamestown also like to see Colonial Williamsburg, a meticulously historically accurate community which allows people to see what daily life would have been like in the colonial era.

In 2007, Jamestown hosted its quadricentennial, attracting visitors from all over the world, including Elizabeth II of England. The event was designed to draw attention to the rich history of Jamestown, previously viewed as a largely failed settlement, and to acknowledge the diversity of the settlement's history and culture.

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