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This Day in History–May 24, 1607: Welcome to Jamestown!

On May 24, 1607, about 100 men and boys disembarked their ships and established Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

By Source of picture not given, publisher is J. B. Lippincot Company, Philadelphia and London [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Founders of the Jamestown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, right off the bat we need a couple of explanations. First off, the date of the establishment of Jamestown is a bit confusing because of the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Many sources cite the date as May 14, and this is what the colonists recorded because they were using the Julian calendar. However, today we use the Gregorian calendar, which offsets the date by ten days, making the the date May 24 in today’s terms. (After much searching around online for a definitive answer to this question, it is still murky, with some actually going the other direction, placing the date at May 4. In his writings, George Percy wrote, “The fourteenth day [of May], we landed all our men …”. Since England did not adopt the new calendar until 1752, it makes sense to me that the corrected date is May 24. And, it looks like the Library of Congress agrees. (See note number 1.) Let this be a lesson that history is sometimes messy, and you should get your information from multiple and reliable sources.)

Secondly, you’ll note that I said “permanent” settlement. There were a couple of settlements that predate Jamestown–the most famous being Roanoke–but they failed fairly quickly. So, Jamestown wasn’t the first, but it was the first to endure.

And now, back to our story.

Arriving under the charter of the Virginia Company of London, the colonists’ three ships had spent some time sailing up the James River (which they named after King James I) looking for a suitable location, and they chose a spot on a peninsula that they determined would be defendable against attack. Fortunately, it was not inhabited by natives; unfortunately, the swampy area was a terrible place to grow crops.

Jamestown Fort

Jamestown Fort, from the Jamestown Research Topic page, via ProQuest eLibrary

After building a fort, the colonists began suffering great losses due to disease and food shortages. The Powhatan Indians helped with gifts of food until a supply ship arrived in 1608. The settlement was nearly wiped out again in the 1609-1610 winter’s “starving time,” during which two-thirds of the colonists died from starvation and attacks by the Powhatan, whose relationship with the settlers had turned sour. It was during this period that, archaeologists say, some inhabitants of the fort resorted to cannibalism. Relief finally arrived in May of 1610, when a much-delayed ship brought more provisions. Later that year, the decision was made to give up on Jamestown, but the abandonment was short-lived, as a fleet of ships arrived, bringing more supplies and settlers.

A number of industries were attempted at Jamestown, including glassmaking and wood production, but fortunes improved only after John Rolfe began growing tobacco, which became America’s first cash crop.

Rolfe married the Chief Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, bringing about a period of peace with the Indians. The relationship became strained once again after the deaths of both Pocahontas and her father and the continued encroachment of farms onto native land. Intending to undo the colonists once and for all, the natives attacked and killed more than 300 in what became known as the Indian Massacre of 1622.

In 1624, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter and made Virginia a royal colony. After Jamestown was burned down during Bacon’s Rebellion, the capital of the colony was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg.

Efforts to preserve find and preserve aspects of Jamestown’s history began in the late 1800s, and in 1994 archaeologists began rediscovering the original settlement, which had been thought to have been claimed by the James River.

Follow the links in the text above, do your own searches in eLibrary and browse our massive list of Research Topics to discover more about Jamestown and other pieces of American history.

June 12: Loving Day

Loving v. Virginia Research Topic

Loving v. Virginia (1967) ProQuest Research Topic

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving grew up together as friends in Caroline County Virginia. Friendship turned to love and the couple decided to marry. This would be another love story but for the fact Mildred was black (“colored” according to Virginia) and Richard was white. The year was 1958, and interracial marriage was forbidden by the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia. Not only did Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law ban interracial marriage, but it also banned interracial couples from marrying in other states and then returning to Virginia.

Mildred and Richard Loving were married in June 1958 in Washington, D.C. where interracial marriage was legal. They returned home to Caroline County and in little time were arrested. Their marriage certificate from the District of Columbia was used as evidence against them. Seven months later in January 1959 the Lovings pleaded guilty to violating the Racial Integrity Act. In return, they avoided jail by agreeing not to return to Virginia for 25 years.

The Lovings lived for five years in Washington, DC with their three children all the while longing to be closer to family in Virginia.  As the Civil Rights Act was about to be passed in 1964, Mildred wrote Attorney General Robert Kennedy imploring his help.  He referred the Loving case to the ACLU where Bernard S. Cohen willingly signed on to argue it.  Nine years later on June 12, 1967, the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision vindicated the Lovings and overturned Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act when Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”  With the ruling, the Lovings were free to return to Caroline County where they lived quietly together until Richard’s death in 1975.

Loving Day reminds us of that time when two people could not marry simply because of the color of their skin.  Its impact continues to be felt today.  In a short time, the United States Supreme Court will render its decision on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.  Perhaps history will be made again.

Mildred and Richard Loving did not set out to be trailblazers for marriage rights.  They were just a couple in love who wanted to live freely as a family.  Loving v. Virginia stands as the authority for today’s marriage equality battle.