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5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Jamestown

On September 10th, 1608, John Smith was elected president of the Jamestown, Virginia–the first permanent English settlement in North America.  Here are five things you didn't know about Jamestown...

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Pocahontas Was a Nickname # Photo credit: By Tony Fischer - Worship at Jamestowne, 1639 (and brief history), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31384631. Pocahontas is the name most people associate with the young Native American who visited Jamestown and eventually brought peace. However, that was just a nickname. It meant "playful one," and her real name was Matoaka (she was also given the English name Rebecka when she later married English settler John Rolfe). Her story is also not as cute as the one told in many movies; she was actually kidnapped when she visited Jamestown.

Jamestown Became the Site of the First Meeting of the Virginia General Assembly # Photo credit: By Amadeust - The original uploader was Amadeust at Wikimedia Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14976. The Virginia General Assembly is the state's legislative body; it's the Commonwealth's version of a state senate and house. And it's the oldest legal body that's still active in the Western Hemisphere. The Assembly was founded in 1619 in an attempt to create better laws (after years of martial law and in-fighting) and has continued to meet in Richmond.

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Jamestown Wasn't Founded With the Greatest of Care Real estate agents have it right when they talk about location. No matter how good the house, if the location stinks, the house will stink. And did Jamestown's location kind of stink. It was not coastal, so colonists had to travel several miles down a river to reach a port, and it was also on swampy ground that was basically bug central. The investors supporting Jamestown had ordered them not to take land occupied by Native Americans, and that left the colonists with little choice. Despite the land being unoccupied, the colonists still had to contend with attacks, too.

The Cannibalism Rumors Turned out to Be True The first few years of the colony were marked by starvation, attacks, and awful rumors about cannibalism. No one really knew if those were true until archaeologists found human bones mixed in with animal bones—and the human bones showed knife marks that indicated the body had been stripped of flesh for food. The skull had been opened, too, to allow for removal of brain tissue. The victim appears to have been a 14-year-old girl brought over from England. Archaeologists are careful to say that they don't think she was killed for food. It's possible she died from other causes and was then just the only potential food source for survivors.

The Colony Was Also Key to the Slave Trade Jamestown also ended up being the place where the first African slaves were brought to the country. They had been on a Portuguese ship that was attacked by the Dutch, and the Dutch brought the slaves to Jamestown in 1619 as part of the tobacco industry.