Creating a Life of Plenty

Surviving America: Jamestown Settlement


Will and I recently took our vacation to Virginia. I am an American history nut, particularly when it comes to gardening and I wanted to see how the early settlers managed to survive, along with much help from the Native Americans, in the early ages of exploration and colonization.


Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is located near the site of Jamestown, the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America, founded on May 14, 1607 and is celebrating its 409th anniversary. Jamestown was the first settlement of the Virginia Colony, founded in 1607, and served as capital of Virginia until 1699, when the seat of government was moved to Williamsburg.

Jamestown arial

The colonists chose Jamestown Island for their settlement largely because the Virginia Company advised them to select a location that could be easily defended from attacks by other European states that were also establishing New World colonies and were periodically at war with England, notably the Dutch Republic, France, and Spain.


The island fit the criteria as it had excellent visibility up and down the James River, and it was far enough inland to minimize the potential of contact and conflict with enemy ships. The water immediately adjacent to the land was deep enough to permit the colonists to anchor their ships, yet have an easy and quick departure if necessary. An additional benefit of the site was that the land was not occupied by the Virginia Indians, most of who were affiliated with the Powhatan Confederacy. Largely cut off from the mainland, the shallow harbor afforded the earliest settlers docking of their ships. This was its greatest attraction, but it also created a number of challenging problems for the settlers.


For more historical information or to plan your visit, please go to

Jamestown composite 1

First we toured a reconstructed Powhatan Indian Village, the indigenous tribe of the area. This was fascinating as the Native Americans knew how to glean what they needed to survive from the surrounding area and living in relative harmony with the natural world. They employed interesting techniques to create their canoes, clothing, functional and ceremonial tools as well as cooking materials. Their houses were wood framed with woven reed mats stretched over the frame to create a water resistant house with a central fire, sleeping areas and storage. One of the most interesting things we learned was how the Powhatan tribes made their fishing boats. The colonists looked down on the boat building technique, thinking it primitive until their larger, bulky ships couldn’t navigate the waters of the river and tributaries to fish and hunt. The Indians would fell a tree and then begin the process of burning and scraping the log to hollow it out, then flatten and carve the boat to suit.

Jamestown composite 2

Next we toured the reconstructed settlement fort and gardens. These are a far cry from the gardens at Williamsburg we toured the day before and certainly not the grand gardens of the founding fathers of our country. These gardens were intended to feed and medicate the settlers and help them survive the climate and the harsh winters

Jamestown composite 3

Jamestown composite 4

The crude fort and simple gardens helped these pioneers create an anchor on this continent that led to large scale English colonization and eventually to the formation of our country. Regardless of the consequences of these actions, these are the foundation stones of our nation as it stands today. We must remember both the good parts and the bad to have a balanced view of our history.


Happy Gardening!

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