Driving Tour: Early Settlement in Virginia
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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This tour takes visitors to the home of the last descendants of the great Powhatan Confederacy, then to the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

A Native American Enclave
Pamunkey Indian Reservation, King William, VA.

Pamunkey Indian Reservation Jamestown Island When Captain John Smith sailed up the James River in 1607, he found one of America’s most powerful Native American communities. The Tidewater’s Powhatan Confederacy numbered in the thousands. The largest of its tribes was the Pamunkey. They have lived along the Pamunkey River for about 10,000 years, and have been recognized as a tribe by the Virginia government since colonial times. Today, about 75 tribal residents live on what’s left of the Pamunkey homeland. Only about 26 miles from Richmond, the reservation remains a remote place. You can stand among the shadbush on the river’s edge and imagine the community of 1,000 that once thrived here. The tribe documents its history, before and after English contact, in a museum here. Its shad hatchery is one of the oldest in the nation, and its tradition of making pottery from the local clay continues in the tribe’s Potter’s Guild.

Cradle of the Nation
Jamestown Island, Jamestown, VA.

Captain John Smith set foot in the New World near what is now called First Landing State Park, at the southern mouth of the Chesapeake. But he chose a low swatch of island up the James River as the site for a settlement. James Fort in 1607 became the first permanent English settlement in the New World. By 1619, the first representative government in America was established here. The Powhatan princess Pocahontas and Englishman John Rolfe were married in the second church built here in 1608. Jamestown Island, about an hour’s drive from the Pamunkey Reservation, has guarded its secrets for nearly 400 years. Only recently did archaeologists discover part of the original fort’s footprint. Within its walls they’ve found evidence that Native Americans and settlers may have lived and worked cooperatively for years. Today this is one of the premiere archaeological sites in the country.

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