the story of how our country
began with the first permanent English settlement on
our shores in the year 1607.
It is the story of the interaction among three cultures
– the Powhatans, the English
and the Africans - each of
whom had their own unique
way of life. The ancestors of
the Powhatans had lived in
eastern Virginia for thousands of years and had formed a hierarchical political structure and complex trade relationships. The English had begun to explore westward, looking for new lands and resources partly due to economic events. In 1619 Africans had been transported to Virginia against their will. In Africa, they had been part of a highly developed culture in what is present-day Angola. The story of Jamestown is the meeting and interaction of these three distinct cultures. It is also the story of an environment or natural surroundings, which provided challenges for all three groups as they interacted with the land, water and other natural resources around Jamestown. Before beginning with these stories, however, it is important to understand what had occurred in Europe and other parts of the world that made it possible for Jamestown to begin.
Why did Europeans explore?
The fifteenth century was an exciting time in Europe. People became more interested in the world around them. The invention of movable type helped spread information and new ideas. Artists and writers flourished. At the same time, nations saw trade as a way of increasing their wealth.
Merchants dreamed of new sources for goods such as gold and spices. For centuries, Arab traders had controlled existing trade routes to Africa and Asia, which meant European merchants were forced to buy from Italian traders at high prices. They wanted to trade directly with Africa and Asia, but this meant that they had to find a new sea route. The stakes were high. Whoever succeeded in establishing trade relationships would in all likelihood become rich...