Frequently Asked Questions

QUESTION: Why choose Jamestown?

ANSWER: The Virginia Company, who funded everything, sent a list of criteria to use when picking a spot for the settlement and Jamestown met most of them. Jamestown was surrounded by water on three sides (it was not fully an island yet) and was far inland; both meant it was easily defensible against possible Spanish attacks. The water was also deep enough that the English could tie their ships at the shoreline - good parking! The site was also not inhabited by the local Powhatan Indians. For more information on why they chose Jamestown go here.


QUESTION: Why didn't the English fish during the "Starving Time?"

ANSWER: There are several possible reasons: if the local Powhatan Indians had helped them build fishing weirs to catch fish the English were unable to repair them, plus were afraid to leave the protection of the fort at all for fear of being killed by the Powhatan Indians; the changing nature of the James River meant different types of fish were around at different times of the year; the long, severe drought impacted the number and type of fish in the river; and it could be the fact that so many were sick, they were simply too weak to do any fishing.


QUESTION: When did the first women arrive?

ANSWER: The first two women arrived at Jamestown on the second resupply in 1608; Mistress Forrest and her maid servant Anne Burras. After that, more women arrived, as parts of families, but the first significant influx of women did not occur until much later. In 1619, the Virginia Company realized women were needed to establish a more permanent settlement. The company recruited and sent over 90 single women to become wives and start families. For more on the role of women at Jamestown go here.


QUESTION: Wasn't Plymouth, Massachusetts the first permanent English settlement?

ANSWER: No. Jamestown, Virginia was founded in 1607 whereas Plymouth was founded in 1620. Jamestown was the capital until 1699, when it moved to what is now Williamsburg. Two possible reasons for the confusion: 1. When Jamestown was founded the Virginia Company, who funded everything, wanted a return on their investment - they wanted to make money, whereas Plymouth was founded for "religious freedom" - more specifically to escape persecution they felt for their religious beliefs in Europe; 2. The North won the Civil War, so the fact that Plymouth is in the North and Jamestown in the South makes a difference. For more on the differences between Jamestown and Plymouth look here.


QUESTION: Wasn't Jamestown abandoned?

ANSWER: The short answer is no. Jamestown was almost abandoned in the spring of 1610. When survivors from the ship wrecked on Bermuda arrived, and saw the devastation after the "starving time," the decision was made to leave. However, after less than a day the ships turned around and headed back to Jamestown - after hearing news of an incoming fleet with the new Governor for life, Lord Delaware, aboard. Jamestown remained the capital until 1699, when it was moved to Williamsburg. After that several families owned and lived on Jamestown Island. Although a historic site today, there is still a private residence on the island. For more about Jamestown's history go here.


QUESTION: Which Powhatan Indian Tribe lived closest to Jamestown?

ANSWER: At the time, the Paspahegh Tribe lived closest to Jamestown - their nearest town was only 4 miles away. They had used Jamestown as hunting ground, until the English came in and claimed it as theirs. Of the tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia today, the Chickahominy Tribe lives closest to Jamestown Island. More information on the Powhatan Indians can be found here.


QUESTION: When did the first Africans arrive at Jamestown?

ANSWER: The first documented Africans, "20 and Odd", arrived in Virginia in 1619. The question as to whether these people were enslaved or indentured servants has been studied for many years, with various answers. For more information on the Africans in Jamestown check out the documents here and here.


QUESTION: Why is it called the Pitch and Tar Swamp?

ANSWER: Pitch and tar can be found in pine trees. The English attempted to extract the pitch and tar from the pine trees found in swampy Jamestown, hence the name "Pitch and Tar Swamp." They used the pitch, tar, and the pine trees themselves to build ships.


QUESTION: Why do you fly the Union Jack flag?

ANSWER: The flag you see is not the Union Jack of present day Great Britain; it is a predecessor to it. See our "History of the British Flag" here for more information on the transformation of the flag over the years.


QUESTION: My ancestor lived in Jamestown, do you have resources I could look at to help me find more information?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, we do not do genealogical research at Historic Jamestowne and have very little resources on site. Our genealogical fact sheet here could help in your search.

Last updated: September 18, 2015

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