Visiting Jamestown Settlement is as much of an adventure today as it was 400 years ago, when the European settlers established here the first permanent British colony in North America. Together with Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum that tells about the lives of the first colonists, as well as the Indigenous peoples who lived in this region before the British arrived.
- A Brief History of Jamestown – the First British Colony in North America
- Visiting Jamestown Settlement vs. Historic Jamestowne
- Practical Information for Visiting Jamestown Settlement
A Brief History of Jamestown – the First British Colony in North America
In 1607 three ships from England (Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery) carrying around 100 men, landed in the Virginia Peninsula. The settlers picked a site and named it Jamestown after their king, James I. Soon after they came ashore they started building a fort to protect themselves against the local Indians.
Half of the Jamestown settlers were craftsmen, soldiers, and laborers. Among them there was a tailor, a barber, and two surgeons. The other half were wealthy men who probably underestimated how difficult it would be to survive in the New World.
Despite their efforts to adapt to the harsh conditions, the settlers found themselves unable to cope with their new situation. The food they transported from England had spoiled, the water was unfit to drink, and soon after they settled in half of the colony population perished from disease.
Among the survivors was Captain John Smith, an adventurer and explorer who became one of the leaders of the colony. Despite the hardships, he kept the colony going by establishing a trade with the Indian tribe Powhatan.
But peace didn’t last very long and soon Captain Smith was captured by the Indians. They eventually released him at the intervention of Pocahontas, the Indian’s chief’s daughter, who pleaded with her father for the Captain’s life. Pocahontas later married a tobacco planter and eventually moved to England.
Visiting Jamestown Settlement vs. Historic Jamestowne
Jamestown Settlement is the more visual and interactive part of your visit, documenting the beginnings of the first British colony in America. Here you’ll see replicas of the three ships that arrived from England in 1607, as well as a replica of the fort and a Native Indian Village.
Historic Jamestowne on the other hand, is the actual site of the first British colony from 1607. Here is where you’ll walk into the footsteps of Pocahontas and Captain Smith and see the actual remains of James Fort. Also, here you’ll view the archeological site where thousands of artifacts from the first colony have been discovered.
What to Look For When Visiting Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement features a few interesting sites, among which the re-creation of the three ships that brought the English colonists to Virginia in 1607.
You can explore the ships and find out about their four-and-a-half months voyage from England. There are also demonstrations of the 17th century navigation.
Stepping aboard these ships is a very interesting experience. It’s chilling to see the miserable conditions these sailors endured below the decks. It was cold, damp and dark. You can only imagine the smell of the unwashed bodies, the snores , the coughs. Not a good place to be for 135 days!
You can also visit the replica of James Fort on the site. It’s very interesting to see how the settlers lived in the first half of the 17th century. The dwellings and the artifacts will give you an insight into the life of Jamestown during the first half of the 17th century.
Another interesting site to visit in the Jamestown Settlement is the Powhatan Indian Village. The village was designed based on archeological discoveries at an Indian site very close to Jamestown.
Before starting your visit, I suggest watching the introductory film that trace Jamestown Settlement’s beginnings and the first century of the Virginia colony. The movie also describes the Powhatan Indian, English and west central African cultures that merged in early Virginia.
What to Look For WhenVisiting Historic Jamestowne
In the Historic Jamestowne you’ll be taking a walking tour with a park ranger or an archeologist who will show you the remains of the fort as well as the archeological site.
The original fort had a triangular shape with circular watch towers. The construction was very basic, using indigenous trees stripped of branches and bark. Today’s replica reveals just a small part of the original structure.
Next to the fort you’ll see a bronze statue of Captain John Smith, one of the first settlers of Jamestown.
At the archeological site you’ll see carcasses of dogs, cats and horses presumed to have been consumed by the settlers during the “starving time.” Even more, in recent years some human bones have been discovered that seem to tell a far more gruesome story: the cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl.
The archeological site also reveals remnants of the original Church at Jamestown, where Pocahontas was married.
The present day church (known as the Pocahontas Wedding Chapel) is a replica built in 1906 on the foundation of the original chapel. This is actually the fifth reconstruction, as the previous churches have either perished in the fire, or fell into ruin.
There is also an archeological museum at the Visitor Center that you can visit and a Glasshouse, where costumed glassblowers demonstrate Jamestown’s first industry.
Practical Information for Visiting Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement is located at 2110 Jamestown Road, in Williamsburg, VA 23185.
The site is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Outdoor living-history areas open at 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The information below has been updated in 2020 to reflect the latest prices.
Admission Fees and Parking
Tickets for Jamestown Settlement are good for 7 consecutive days and include admission to Yorktown Battlefield. The cost is $27.50 for adults, and $13.50 for children 6-12 years old. You can buy your combo ticket here.
You can also buy a Historic-Triangle Pass for $99.99 (adults) or $46.00 (children 6-15). The pass grants you access to all three sites (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, and Yorktown Battlefield) for seven consecutive days.
Parking for Jamestown Settlement is free.
Time Needed on the Site: You can visit both Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne in half a day. I suggest combining your visit with the next door Yorktown Battlefield, which is included in your ticket.
Where to Eat in Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown is a very small place with very few choices for food. We had lunch at Jamestown Settlement Café where they serve some sandwiches, soups and pizza, but the food is mediocre.
However, if you are not quite starving after visiting Jamestown Settlement, I’d suggest going back to Williamsburg where the food choices are far more numerous and much better. The driving is only 12-15 minutes.
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