English Sea Captain Newport Lands at Jamestown on American Coast

Statue of Christopher Newport at Christopher Newport University, Sculptor Jon D. Hair.

Captain Christopher Newport of Harwich, England and his crew, make their momentous journey across the Atlantic arriving on Virginian soil 403 years ago.

In April 1607 a small flotilla, comprising three ships, dropped anchor in Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the James River on the coast of America. . Essex-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.

The Creation of the Virginia Company of London

The crippling war between England and Spain had ended in 1604 and the new monarch, James l, needed to colonise the Virginian coast, as had his predecessor, Elizabeth l. He granted a charter in 1606 for the creation of the Virginia Company of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth, both under the control of a Royal Council.

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.

Lure of the New World

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.

Great planning had gone into the 1607 voyage and the Virginia Company had chosen whom they considered the best and most experienced maritime navigators, most of whom had already sailed to the New World as privateers. One hundred and five passengers – men and boys – plus a crew of fifty sailors were on board the trio of ships that had left London’s Blackwall pier just before Christmas the previous year. Although their voyage had not been uneventful – the flotilla battled many storms and lost several sailors overboard during the Atlantic crossing – they arrived on the Virginian coast via the West Indies where fresh supplies were taken on board.

Choosing the Colony’s First President

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.