Jamestown: North America’s First English Colony

When visiting nearby Colonial Williamsburg, take a break from the crowds and plan a day trip to this historic settlement.


In 1607, 104 Englishmen settled at the tip of a small peninsula just off the James River in Virginia, and together created the first successful English colony in North America. Jamestown is 10 scenic miles from Colonial Williamsburg, and although there is much less to see here (make this a day trip—five or six hours is all you’ll need to explore), it’s well worth the effort. The settlement celebrated its 400th anniversary last year with a big bash and new permanent exhibits.

There are two distinct sites in Jamestown, located near each other; each requires separate admission fees. Expect crowds in the summer and during spring break, although the attractions are generally much less congested than the more popular Colonial Williamsburg.

Historic Jamestowne

Historic Jamestowne is the original site of Jamestown Colony. Here visitors can walk among the foundations and ruins of colonial America’s earliest buildings. There are ongoing excavations of the original James Fort, and curious children can get a close look at this careful work. Archeological finds from Jamestown include tobacco pipes, cooking vessels, agricultural tools, weapons, coins and parts of armor, many of which are on display at the Dale House, home of the governor of Virginia in the early 1600s and now an exhibition gallery. Also on the island is a popular bronze statue of Pocahontas, Captain John Smith’s Native American guide to the new world. Her hands are worn shiny from kids grasping them as they have their photographs taken alongside.


A highlight of the historic area is the Glasshouse, where guests can watch costumed interpreters blow red-hot glass into bottles, vases and bowls much the way colonists did. The current building was constructed near the site of the original Jamestown Glassworks, the first industrial site in English America. Although the sponsoring London Company brought German, Italian and Polish glassmaking artisans to Jamestown to set up the fledgling industry in the 1600s, it was never financially successful. The onsite gift shop does a brisk business these days, however, and visitors can buy beautiful reproduction pieces for modest prices.

Wilderness Loop

My family likes to explore the island via the wilderness loop of Jamestown, which is accessible by car, bicycle or even by foot. The loop—which may be taken for five miles or a shortened route of three miles—passes through swamps and tideland forests, and is a good place to spot wildlife like deer and rabbits, especially early in the morning. Interpretive signs along the way illustrate early industries in the colony.

Admission is $10 for adults; children 15 and younger are free. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding major holidays. Tel. 757-229-1733.

Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement offers a re-created version of the early colony, with elaborate reconstructions and costumed interpreters. Begin exploring at the Jamestown Settlement visitor’s center and gallery, which offers a film on the founding of Jamestown and myriad exhibits on colonial artifacts, such as early toys, tools and weapons.

Powhatan Indian Village

Once outside the visitor’s center, wander through a Powhatan Indian Village, with several houses fashioned out of saplings and covered with reed mats. My daughter especially enjoys walking inside these structures (even though they are a little musty). Visitors get a real sense of how Native Americans lived in the colonial days by seeing the close quarters, hand-made cooking utensils and piles of animal skins displayed inside. Throughout the day (depending on the season) there are hands-on opportunities for children to harvest vegetables and grind corn, much as Pocahontas would have done as a child.

James Fort

The James Fort is a representation of the colonial settlement between the years of 1610 to 1614. Inside tall, protective walls are several homes—crafted beautifully from wood, mud, and straw; a storehouse; the governor’s house; and a blacksmithing forge. Historical interpreters engage in military training exercises, teach handicrafts like rope making and sewing, and demonstrate meal preparation.

Riverfront Discovery Area

My family’s favorite section of Jamestown Settlement is the Riverfront Discovery Area, where reproductions of the three (small) ships that brought the early settlers across the Atlantic are docked. Guests can walk on board each vessel, and friendly interpreters will explain early navigation principles and answer questions about colonial cruising. My daughter was able to take the helm on board the (moored) Susan Constant, learning quickly that sea travel in the 17th century took physical strength, cunning and an incredible desire to survive.

Admission is $13.50 for adults; $6.25 for children 6-12. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding major holidays. Tel. 888-593-4682.


Destinations: Williamsburg

Themes: Family Travel, Historical Vacations

Activities: Sightseeing

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