Location of Jamestown Island
"A verie fit place for the erecting of a great cittie"
Captain John Smith
Jamestown President, 1608
The Virginia Company of London provided the colonists with the following instructions to find the best location to settle:
"When it shall please God to Send you on the Coast of Virginia you shall Do your best Endeavor to find out a Safe port in the Entrance of Some navigable River."
On May 13, 1607, after two weeks of exploring the James River, Captain Christopher Newport weighed anchor off an island 36 miles upriver from the Chesapeake Bay. Here the settlers would establish Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Although instructed by the Virginia Company to settle at least a hundred miles upriver, this site offered great advantages. A deepwater channel close to the island enabled the colonists to moor their ships to the trees. It was a sound strategic choice since the island was hidden from view by Hog Island three miles downriver. Should enemy ships make it up to the island, they would be forced within artillery range by the narrow channel. Jamestown Island was also connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus that was easy to defend against attacks from the Powhatan. The Powhatan was one of several eastern tribes speaking an Algonquian dialect.
That May the settlers thought they had found a safe haven with abundant fruits, timber, and wildlife. The weather was temperate with warm days and cool nights. The colonists, however, were ill-prepared for the hot, humid summers that stifled their efforts and the cold, icy winters that blew harsh winds across the river, marshlands, and barren fields.
Within the first few months the colonists were plagued by typhoid and dysentery, spawned by the contaminated water near Jamestown. Water quality was also affected by the presence of saltwater from the James River estuary.