In April of 1607 a small flotilla, comprising three ships, dropped anchor in Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the James River. Harwich born Christopher Newport was overall captain of the vessels, which were the 20-ton Discovery, 40-ton Godspeed and Newport's flagship, the 120-ton Susan Constant.
Previous expeditions had taken place during the preceding century by maritime luminaries such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. In 1585 a fleet of seven ships set sail for Virginia. On board were hundreds of passengers including soldiers and potential colonists. Landing at Roanoke Island, they failed in their efforts to establish a permanent settlement due to disease, deteriorating relations with local Indians and eventual starvation.
The failure of previous attempts had temporarily dampened enthusiasm for further efforts, but the lure of the New World was too strong to be suppressed for long and by the early 17th century other companies were ready to pick up where Raleigh and Gilbert had left off. Also, there was the prospect of finding the legendary Northwest Passage to the Orient and bringing religion to the New World Indians.
The newcomers arrived at Chesapeake Bay on 26th April 1607. They stayed briefly at Cape Henry before sailing up the James River to look for a suitable settlement site which the Virginia Company had previously instructed, was to be on a navigable waterway. On 23 May, 1607 a site was found on the north bank which had the required deep-water anchorage and could be easily defended. They named their new settlement Jamestown, in honour of their King. Following orders laid down by their London patentees; the fledgling colony was governed by a Royal Council of seven, with one member serving as president. These were Captain Christopher Newport, John Ratcliff, John Martin, Captain John Smith, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, George Kendall and Edward Maria Wingfield, who was chosen as the first colony's first president.
Work on building what was to become Fort James began immediately. However, the Englishmen were not prepared for that first humid summer, nor the low, swampy ground which soon proved to be infested with mosquitoes and deficient in clean water supplies. Perhaps the main problem with the Jamestown settlers was that very few of them had come to settle permanently. Most hoped to make a fortune from the gold and silver they had been told was there for the taking.
On 22 June 1607, Captain Newport left the colony bound for London. Without the presence of Captain Newport, conditions deteriorated in the settlement. Most of the newcomers did not possess the necessary skill or knowledge to support themselves. Many of the colonists were upper-class English gentlemen and the colony lacked sufficient farmers and labourers who could produce enough food. Within a short time, disease, malnutrition and disagreement was rife in the new community and the death toll was high.
The following two years became known as the ‘starving time' brought about by a severe drought which parched the land. What crops they had hoped to harvest, withered and died. Winter in this New World was a particularly hard time for the colonists. Forced to stay within their palisaded fort by hostile Indians who sensed their vulnerability, the survivors, still weak from the previous year's hardships, were dying by the dozen.
In the spring of 1611 Christopher Newport left London bound for Virginia with a fleet of three ships. On board were Sir Thomas Dale, and experienced soldier and leader, with 300 men and ample provisions and livestock. It was Newport's fifth and last voyage to Jamestown. In 1612 he entered the service of the East India Company (which had started in 1600) and died at Bantam, Java, in August 1617 aged 57.