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The Colony of Virginia (1585/1607-1776) was the first colony of the Kingdom of England and the start of the British Empire. With its capital initially at Jamestown, the colony expanded against the Powhatan Confederacy and other tribes and took over much of the present-day United States Chesapeake Bay area.


Newport ship

Christopher Newport's ship arriving at Cape Henry in 1607

In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh explored a tract of land north of the Spanish Empire's provinces in the Carolina region, and he established the city of Roanoke. However, the settlement was attacked by the Mandoag tribe and the people joined with the nearby Croatan to survive the storm, and the colony ended. The settlement's disappearance puzzled many, but in 1607 a new expedition under acquitted marooner John Smith was sent back. On board a fleet of ships under Christopher Newport, the settlers explored the coastline and named a small cape "Cape Henry" after the Prince of Wales and began to explore more lands.
Smith 1607

Smith arriving in Virginia with settlers

The people named the land "Virginia" after Raleigh's original name for the colony, which was in honor of the virgin queen Elizabeth I of England. Their new settlement was named after her successor James I of England: Jamestown. The new colony was built in a deep and swampy area, and no gold was found like the people had expected. Instead, they found Powhatan Confederacy natives. The English became hostile with them and in 1607 Powhatan raids led to the "Starving Time", where 60 out of 300 English settlers survived famine in which they had to eat leather or snakes. 

Virginia soldiers

John Smith's soldiers


Jamestown, 1607

In 1608, John Rolfe and more English arrived to continue the colony, but they discovered a ghost town. They rebuilt the town and Rolfe grew tobacco, a captured Spanish good that exploded into a popular drug. The Virginia Colony grew rich as the natives nearby died out from smallpox; John Rolfe married the chief's daughter Pocahontas but she died in London at the age of 22 from tuberculosis. 
Jamestown colonial militia

6th Regiment of Foot, colonial militia

In 1618, Chief Powhatan died and his younger brother Opechancanough became the new chief. He was a cruel man, and the Powhatan Attack in Virginia began in 1622. John Smith trained militia armed with muskets to hold the Indians back, and he was able to capture the town of Weruwocomoco in Maryland to drive the Powhatan back. By 1646, the Powhatan were no longer existent. 

Virginia grew as the Dutch brought African slaves to the colonies in 1619, and a House of Burgesses was formed to govern the colony. The English colonists became Americans, with their own governing body. They were no longer part of an English government, but they governed themselves instead. Virginia's ruling body encouraged English, Swedish, Polish, Germans, and Dutch to come to the colonies, with the non-English given the rights of English citizens if they came. The English also made offers for indentured servants, where a servant would serve seven years before becoming the master of his own land. Also, the Headright System let all immigrants gain 50 acres of land if they came to the New World.

Peace and prosperity were achieved until 1676, when the Doeg people's attacks became intense. Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion of indentured servants against Governor William Berkely and burnt down the city of Jamestown while also massacring Doeg chiefs. In the end, Bacon died of dysentery and the rebellion was crushed. Jamestown was quickly rebuilt, but in 1699 the capital was moved to Williamsburg.

In the 1700s, Virginia's land increased due to British conquests against rival Indian tribes such as the Cherokee Nations, and the colony grew to a large size (it not only included the state of Virginia but also the states of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee and the island-country of Bermuda) over the years. It was a blow to the British in 1775 when Virginia and the Colony of Massachusetts declared independence during the American Revolutionary War, and Virginia became the Commonwealth of Virginia