Jamestown From National Geographic



What was the most important event in U.S. history? Was it the Pilgrims� landing at Plymouth Rock? How about the American Revolution? Or was it the Civil War?

It�s hard to decide. They�re all important. Yet the founding of Jamestown may have been the most important. After that, everything in America changed�even worms.

You�re probably wondering what worms have to do with history. We�ll get to that later. First, we have to learn about Jamestown.

You may think you already know about Jamestown. You may have even seen a movie about it. Well, the real story is very different. So let�s burrow into the history of Jamestown.


On May 14, 1607, three ships full of colonists came to shore along the banks of the James River in what is now Virginia. The people on board had sailed from England to found a new colony. They called it Jamestown.

The colonists couldn�t have chosen a worse place to settle. It was marshy and filled with mosquitoes. There was little drinkable water. Worse yet, the area was in a drought.

They also faced other hardships. They had to protect themselves from two enemies. First, they were fearful that ships from Spain would attack them. England and Spain were fighting each other at that time.

Second, they were afraid that a Native American group, the Powhatan, would attack them. To protect themselves, the colonists built a fort. It was triangle-shaped. Inside the fort, the colonists thought they would be fairly safe. They were wrong.

The new environment threatened the colonists even more than the Native Americans did. Indeed, it nearly wiped them out.


The drought caused many hardships. Water was scarce. Crops wouldn�t grow. Animals couldn�t find plants to eat. The colonists were often hungry and thirsty.

Out of food, the colonists started to eat anything they could find. They wolfed down cats, dogs, horses, and rats. They even boiled starch from some of their clothes to make a thick soup. Still, they starved.

Thirsty, the colonists drank water from the James River. That was bad. The river water was often muddy and salty. It made the colonists very ill. Many died from drinking the water. Others died from starvation. They called this period �the starving time.�

Nearly two years after the colonists founded Jamestown, they decided to head home. Worn out, they loaded a ship and got ready to leave. In the nick of time, supply ships arrived. The colony was saved.

Things now started to get better for the colonists. More colonists moved from England to Jamestown. One of them was a man named John Rolfe.


John Rolfe settled in Jamestown three years after the colony had been founded. Things were finally starting to look up. Soon the drought ended.

Things continued to get better. In 1614, Rolfe married Pocahontas. She was the youngest daughter of Chief Powhatan, the leader of the Powhatan. The marriage brought peace between the colonists and the Powhatan.

Rolfe also got a shipmaster to bring tobacco seeds to Jamestown. Before long, the colonists were growing and selling tobacco. A plant grown to be sold is called a cash crop.

More and more people moved to Jamestown. Many wanted to come. Others were forced. Kidnappers brought people from Africa to Jamestown. There they were forced to work. After a few years, some of these Africans were freed. Others remained slaves.

Slaves worked in the tobacco fields. They built houses for their owners. They did much of the work to build the colony. Yet they were never paid. For them, Jamestown and America did not offer a better life.


The colonists changed the land around Jamestown in many ways. For starters, they cut down forests and grew crops.

The colonists also brought new animals and plants to America. Domestic cattle, chickens, goats, horses, and pigs all made the journey to Jamestown. None of these species lived in the Americas before the colonists brought them.

Some of the smallest alien animals brought by colonists made the biggest changes. Take worms and honeybees, for example.

Before 1607, worms didn�t exist in some parts of America. Nightcrawlers and red earthworms didn�t crawl through the soil.

These tiny worms made big changes. They ate leaves that littered forest floors. Those leaves fertilized and protected the soil. Without the leaves, rainwater washed away nutrients. That made it harder for some native plants to grow.

While worms made it harder for some native plants to grow, bees made it easier for some alien plants to take root. Busy bees helped pollinate watermelon, apple trees, and peach trees. Without bees, these plants would never have survived in America.


The Jamestown colonists weathered some tough times, but they survived. Jamestown was the first English colony to succeed in America. More colonies followed.

The people in these colonies changed the land in many ways. So did the plants and animals they brought. Together, these colonies, plants, and animals helped make America what it is today.

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