In 1606, King James I of England granted a charter to the Virginia Company. About 100 men were charged to go to the New World and start a colony in Virginia. Their purpose was to bring back wealth to the King. He thought there would be gold and other valuable products in Virginia. The members of the Virginia Company wanted to look for a water route to the Pacific Ocean also.
In May 1607, this group of men founded Jamestown in Virginia on an island in the James River near the Chesapeake Bay. Life was very hard there because of swampy lands which didn't provide pure water and because of disease. They also were constantly threatened by the Algonquian Indians. In July 1619, the first legislature in the colonies was established. It was called the House of Burgesses. The governor sent from England and elected representatives or burgesses from the area plantation met to make the laws for the colony.
Other ships brought more settlers, but in 1622, the Native Americans under chief Powhatan led a major attack on the settlements in the area. His tribes killed one quarter of the residents, about 350-400 people. King James I made Virginia an official colony in 1624 and made Jamestown the capital. A new town called Middle Plantation was founded in 1638. It was on higher ground. It became the temporary capital, due to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. Nathaniel Bacon brought armed force against the governor for not trying to provide for the safety of the residents along the western frontier. The town of Jamestown was totally burned.
Some rebuilding went on, but in 1698, the new statehouse in Jamestown burned down, and the capital of the colony moved to Middle Plantation. This area was quite wooded and in the territory called the Powhatan Confederacy. It was between the James and York Rivers. The name was changed to Williamsburg in honor of King William III. The city of Williamsburg was a planned city with its streets running in straight lines and space made for a capital building, church, market square and courthouse. The colony was still run by a governor appointed by the British king and was considered a possession of England.
In 1775, the colonists were feeling the desire to break away from the rule of England. Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, took the gunpowder which was stored in the magazine at Williamsburg and put it on a ship. Patrick Henry and a small group of soldiers demanded that the governor return it. He did, but he soon left Virginia.
Williamsburg was an important city during the Revolutionary War. It held the Virginia Conventions. It was where George Washington gathered his troops for the siege of the town of Yorktown which led to the final surrender of the British.
The College of William and Mary was founded in Williamsburg in 1694. It is the second oldest college in the United States after Harvard. After the Jamestown fire of 1698, students from the college made a presentation to the House of Burgesses which convinced the legislature to move the capital permanently to Middle Plantation. Many famous patriots and early leaders attended the College of William and Mary. In 1771, the first canal in the United States was built in Williamsburg. In 1773, the first hospital for mental illness was founded in Williamsburg.
After the Revolutionary War began, the capital of the colony moved to Richmond in 1780.
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