On May 14, 1607, English settlers arriving under the authority of the Virginia Company of London chartered by King James I established the first permanent English settlement in North America at a place they named Jamestown, Virginia.1 “We landed all our men,” George Percy wrote in his account of the event, “which were set to worke about [i.e., on] the fortification, and others some to watch and ward as it was convenient.”2 The land was already inhabited by Native peoples, as it had been for some 15,000 years.

Virginia…[detail showing Jamestown]. William Hole, engraver; [London: 1624]. Discovery and Exploration. Geography & Map Division

The Jamestown colonists struggled with leadership and survival from the beginning. Captain John Smith spent his first months in Virginia exploring in the Chesapeake region, then undergoing capture by Powhatan, paramount chief of the area’s allied Algonquian-speaking peoples, with whom he subsequently developed a mutually wary and respectful relationship. In 1608 Smith was chosen to be president of Jamestown’s governing council and proved to be an able leader. Yet Smith returned to England in 1609, and only 60 of the 214 colonists survived the Starving TimeExternal of the ensuing harsh winter. The arrival of fresh supplies from England in the spring fortified the colony and enabled it to endure.

Virginia…[detail showing Powhatan chief]. William Hole, engraver; [London, 1624]. Discovery and Exploration. Geography & Map Division

On July 30, 1619, under the provisions of the Virginia Company Charter, the General Assembly met in Jamestown “to establish …one uniform government over all Virginia,” thereby becoming the first representative legislative assembly of European Americans in the Western Hemisphere. (Tradition dates the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy of five Indian tribes in upper New York state between 1570 and 1600.) Jamestown was also the site of the Americas’ first Anglican church.3

Another event of momentous consequence took place in August 1619 when a Dutch ship exchanged a cargo of some twenty captive Africans for food. Although the Africans’ legal status in these early years was probably more fluid than under the full-fledged slavery that hardened in Virginia by the end of the century, this event represented both the founding African presence and the foundation of slavery in English North America.

Despite the stability represented by the colony’s survival and political organization, relations with the Powhatan chiefdom were volatile and at times violent. In March 1622, alliance warriors killed more than three hundred colonists just outside Jamestown — and more than twice that number died in an epidemic the next December. Following these events, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter in 1624. In 1625 his son King Charles I made Virginia a royal colony.

Old Church, Jamestown, Va. William Henry Jackson, photographer, c1902. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division.

This 1639 church tower was one of the few remnants of the Jamestown Settlement visible in the 1890s, when the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities began excavating the site.

  1. It should be noted that because of the then-ten-day difference between the “Old Style” (Julian) calendar used by Englishmen until 1752, and the “New Style” (Gregorian) calendar in use since 1752, the date when settlement began was actually May 24 in modern terms.(Return to text)
  2. The words of George Percy are quoted in a timelineExternal about the Jamestown settlement in the Encyclopedia Virginia External. The timeline is part of an essay on the early Jamestown settlementExternal.(Return to text)
  3. Church of England in VirginiaExternal, in the Encyclopedia VirginiaExternal.(Return to text)

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Anniston Bus Burning

On Mother’s Day, May 14, 1961, an interracial group of Freedom Riders riding buses through the South was attacked and firebombed by an angry white mob outside of Anniston, Alabama.

“Freedom Riders,” sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, Gather Outside Burning Bus in Anniston, Ala. Joe Postiglione, photographer, 1961. United Press International telephoto, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

It all began when C.O.R.E.External (Congress of Racial Equality) started a bus journey, “Freedom Ride”, from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to challenge the current laws following the Supreme Court’s 1960 decision in Boynton v. Virginia, that made segregation in interstate travel facilities unconstitutional. The Freedom Riders traveled by Greyhound and Trailways buses throughout the South. Passengers on the Greyhound bus that stopped in Anniston were Freedom Riders Genevieve Hughes, Al Bigelow, Hank Thomas, Jimmy McDonald, Mae Frances Moultrie, Joe Perkins, and Ed Blankenheim; journalists Charlotte Devree and Moses Newson; and two undercover officers from the Alabama Highway Patrol, E.L. Cowling and Harry Sims.

When it arrived at the Greyhound station in Anniston, Alabama, the bus was met by an angry white mob of approximately 150 to 200 people that attacked it with bats, pipes, and other implements. When the bus left the station, much of the mob followed it and slashed its tires, forcing it to the side of the road. They then rocked the bus and used chains, sticks, and iron rods to break the windows, and while some forced the exit door shut, one individual threw a firebomb inside. When fire reached the fuel tank, the back of the bus exploded.

Burned Out Bus. United Press International photo., 1961. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Print & Photographs Division

After the Freedom Riders and members of the media escaped the bus, some of the riders were beaten. Those suffering from smoke inhalation, burns, and bodily harm were taken by ambulance to Anniston Memorial HospitalExternal. This was a segregated hospital that wanted to separate the Freedom Riders for their treatments. Soon another white mob threatened the hospital, then the hospital released the injured riders.

Rev. Fred ShuttlesworthExternal, one of Alabama’s Civil Rights leaders, sent two of his representatives, Colonel Stone JohnsonExternal and Will Hall, along with a 15-car caravan of armed black men to rescue, protect and take the Freedom Riders to another hospital for care.

An hour later, a second bus of Freedom Riders arrived at the Trailways bus station in Anniston. A group of white men boarded the bus to beat and force the black Freedom Riders to the back of the bus. Once these angry white men left the bus, the driver was able to drive away and take back roads to Birmingham, Alabama. There the Riders were met with another angry white mob that attacked them as they exited the bus. Again, Fred Shuttlesworth and a group of black armed guards came to protect and take the Freedom Riders to safety.

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