The first fort at Jamestown was built soon after the English landed at Jamestown Island in May 1607. Because Jamestown Island (actually a penisula) was bordered on three sides by water and had a deep anchorage, it was chosen for the settlement. As it turned out, they couldn't have picked a much worse spot. The land was swampy, the drinking water was bad, and the summers were hot and humid and the winters cold. It was triangular, facing the river and had raised areas in each corner to support cannon. After the palisade was built, the colonists were instructed to build the "public buildings" first, such as the storehouse, church, and guardhouse. During the first few months the colonists lived in tents or makeshift houses. These houses were "wattle and daub" with thatched roofs. Each house probably served to house 6-8 men. The original fort burnt down in January of 1608 and when rebuilt, the shape was changed to a "five square plan", perhaps a pentagonal shape. In 1610, repairs were made to the fort, again making it triangular shape, built of "planckes and strong posts". It had three streets along the palisades,with a marketplace, and three public buildings.
Activities in and about James Fort from 1607 to 1614 centered upon survival, and the demands placed by new settlers constantly arriving. Military drills became a requirement for all men after 1609. Each man was trained daily in the use of the musket, sword, and the wearing of armor. Imagine wearing armor in 90 degree heat and under that a woolen suit! The Englishmen didn't consider baths very healthy either. The colonists were trying desperately to make the colony profitable and also tried to transfer their social customs and beliefs to their new colony.
Life was difficult for the colonists in the early years. About one-third died in the fall of 1607 from dysentery and typhoid fever. The colony depended heavily upon tools and equipment from England. Supply ships from England came erratically and not always when needed.
Soldiers worked, received their rations, and cooked their meals. A common meal was pottage which was a thick soup containing beans, some meat, and herbs, cooked in one pot. Soldiers were expected to help slaughter and butcher a hog, and salt down the meat to preserve it. The tastiness of a meal depended on who was cooking and what food was available for the pot.
Back to James Fort