Monday, April 8, 2013

James River: Jamestown's New Towne


New Towne waterfront on the James River
 As the Virginia colony grew and matured, Jamestown Island began a transition from frontier military post to a capital city. The first two women arrived with the Second Supply of 1608, followed by others. To facilitate an established residence of permanent settlers, the Virginia company began sending young women to Virginia as potential brides for the men in 1620. The settlement was no longer just a military-industrial outpost. It was becoming a home.

As population grew, settlement spread up the James River to higher, healthier ground more suitable for agriculture and with better water, but Jamestown remained the political, shipping, and industrial center. Residences, shops, taverns, warehouses, and government buildings sprang up along the waterfront east of the fort.
A rectangle of approximately forty acres between the church on the west, Orchard Run on the east, the James River on the south, and the Pitch and Tar Swamp to the north was traversed by two parallel roads cleverly named Front Street (along the shore) and Back Street. As early as 1614, the area could be described as an actual town of "two faire rowes of howses, all of framed Timber, two stories, and an upper Garret, or Corne loft high, besides three large, and substantial Storehowses”. Wood soon gave way to brick construction with a move toward fire prevention.

A census and a muster in 1625 reveal that “James Citty” had a population of 124 with an additional 51 elsewhere on the island for a total of 175. 122 were male, 53 female. Jamestown boasted a church, guardhouse, three stores, a merchant’s store, and 33 houses. There were at Jamestown 183 cows, 265 hogs, 126 goats, and the only horse in the colony. Military equipment was listed as four pieces of ordnance, pistols, 70 swords, 35 complete suits of armor, coats of mail, and supplies of powder, shot, and lead.


Virginia was made a royal colony in 1624, and much new growth was promoted at government expense. City lots for a house and garden were offered to everyone who would build on them within two years. Other programs encouraged residential and industrial development, but it was never enough to boost Jamestown beyond the size of a large village.

Much of Jamestown was torched during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, with some of the rebels burning their own houses. The capital was temporarily moved to Green Spring until Jamestown could be rebuilt. After the new statehouse was burned in another fire in 1698, the capital was permanently moved to Middle Plantation, which became Williamsburg.


With the loss of its primary purpose, Jamestown declined rapidly. By the American Revolution, it had ceased to function as a town. By that time, ownership of the island had been consolidated into the Travis and Sherwood/Jaquelin/Ambler plantations.


The National Park Service acquired the site of Jamestown in 1934. After archaeologists excavated numerous brick foundations in the New Town area, they were left open for visitors to view, but the fragile materials suffered from exposure to the elements. To protect them, they were reburied and covered in concrete. Using old brick dug up during the excavation, footprints of the buildings were laid out to illustrate the sites.

For a map and description of some of the New Town sites, see
http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/historic-jamestowne-new-towne-map-and-links.htm



Front Street

Front Street

Front Street waterfront
Front Street


Front Street




Artist's depiction of a row house


Row house

Row house


Row house

Row house

Row house

Row house


Row house


Row house



Rear of row house



Rear of row house

Through marriage, much of Jamestown Island passed from the Sherwood to the Jaquelin family, then to the Ambler family when Elizabeth Jaquelin married Richard Ambler in 1724. The Ambler descendents would hold important social, political, and economic roles in Virginia history, and would marry into many of the prominent families.
Built around 1750 on Back Street, the Ambler residence was an early Georgian brick house with two stories, each with two rooms on either side of a central hall. The grounds boasted elaborate garden walkways. The house burned and was rebuilt during both the Revolution and the Civil War. After it burned a third time in 1895, but was not rebuilt.

A photograph of the house before the 1895 fire is at http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/chiles-family-structures-timeline.htm. The photograph is at the bottom of the page.



Ambler house from Front Street


Ambler house on Back Street
Returning to church & fort area from Back Street




 
 

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