This week in history: setting sail for Jamestown

The settlers embarked on three ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery

The US town of Plymouth, established by the Mayflower pilgrims, is traditionally seen as the birthplace of colonial America. However, the first successful English settlement was founded 13 years earlier, in modern-day Virginia.

Unlike the Mayflower passengers, who were religiously motivated, the Jamestown colonists were financed by the Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company that aimed to profit from trade.

The colonists set sail on 20 December 1606. By summer 1607 they had arrived and established a settlement. But a second wave of colonists, along with a dry summer, depleted their water supplies, and led to starvation. They were also attacked by native tribes, and in 1610 decided to return home. But as they were leaving, they met a relief ship, with supplies and a third wave of colonists, which encouraged them to stay.

In 1611 colonist John Rolfe managed to cultivate tobacco. Despite royal disapproval, the new crop became very popular, causing plantations to spread across the region. The eventual defeat of the native tribes also ensured the settlement did not go the way of the ill-fated Roanoke, established in 1587.

However, shareholders in the Virginia Company made little profit. Due to overexpansion and its early setbacks, the firm was only able to pay occasional dividends. By 1624 it was stripped of its power over the area by the Crown.

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