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William Kelso
William Kelso
Locator map
1994 to present

Jamestown, VA

Number of artifacts found:
More than 350,000

Previous excavations by others:
1897, 1901, 1903, 1934-37, 1955

Original colonists:
107 males arrived in 1607

Conventional Wisdom:
The fort disappeared into the river in the 18th century.

Reason for Kelso’s success:
“It was probably more hope and luck than anything else. We said, ‘We’re going to find the fort,’ and it happened.”

Learn More

History of Jamestown
Learn more about how the Virginia Company’s explorers established the first permanent English settlement on the banks of the James River in the midst of disease, famine, and conflict.

Virtual Jamestown
This interactive map highlights the 1608 voyages of John Smith in which he explored and mapped the Chesapeake Bay.

Colonial National Historical Park
Get in-depth information on some of 17th-century Jamestown’s most important personalities and discover the role that women and African Americans played in the success of the settlement.


Barbour, Philip L. Pocahontas and Her World. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970.

Bridenbaugh, Carl. Jamestown: 1544-1699. Oxford University Press, 1980.

Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W. W. Norton & Company, 1975.


Field Dispatch - Virginia

Tought Times at Jamestown
Photographs by Ira Block E-mail this page to a friend


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This Week’s Questions. Click on a question for a full response.

1.   Were women among the first? 4.   Did Pocahontas save Smith’s life?
2.   When did Africans’ arrive? 5.   How did they decide who would be in charge?
3.   What happened to John Smith?

Question 1:

Were women among the first colonists who arrived in 1607?


No. The first two women did not arrive at James Fort until the fall of 1608. The Virginia Company probably did not send any women initially because its first priority was to explore the area for potential riches, not to colonize it. As the colony survived, the number of women sent by the London-based company increased. In 1620 it sent 90 women in hopes of providing wives for the bachelors of the group.

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Question 2:

When did Africans first arrive in Jamestown?


About 20 Africans arrived in Jamestown in 1619 on a Dutch ship and were sold or traded into servitude for supplies. Slavery was not an established practice in Virginia in 1619, but historical documents show that while some Africans were able to maintain their indentured servant status, which eventually ledto freedom, others were forced into a lifetime of service.

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Question 3:

What happened to John Smith? Did he remain at James Fort for the rest of his life?


John Smith became president of the Jamestown colony in 1608 but returned to England in October 1609 for medical treatment after he was injured by a fire in his gunpowder bag. In 1614 he sailed to the area he named New England and mapped the coast from Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod. The following year he was captured by pirates and held for three months until he escaped and headed back to England, never seeing North America again. He died in England in 1631 at age 52.

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Question 4:

Did Pocahontas save John Smith’s life?


Probably not. In December 1607 John Smith and several other colonists were attacked by Algonquian while exploring the Chickahominy River. Smith, the only survivor, was taken by his captors to their chief, Powhatan, to decide his fate. According to Smith he was welcomed by the chief and then abruptly forced to stretch out on two large stones. Other Algonquian stood over him with clubs, looking as if they were going to kill him. At that moment the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas, rushed in and placed herself between Smith and the other men. Although this ceremony was a tradition among the Algonquian, Smith was convinced that Pocahontas had saved his life. After four weeks of captivity he was allowed to return to Jamestown.

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Question 5:

How did the first colonists decide who among them would be in charge? Did the Virginia Company appoint the leaders?


The colonists had no idea who would be in charge when they set sail from England. When they arrived in Virginia, they opened a sealed box that listed the seven members of the council appointed by the King and the Virginia Company. The council then elected Edward Maria Wingfield as president of James Fort.

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