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Jamestown Settlement

On May 14, 1607, just over one hundred men settled in what is now Jamestown, Virginia, to become the first permanent English colony in the New World. It was a business venture by the London Virginia Company. According to Nicholas Ferrar the first people reduced to slavery there were Polish, owned by Dr. Woodall, the surgeon of the British East India Company. Legal authorisation for slavery was introduced into English law by Sir Edward Coke with Calvin's Case (1608). Coke was a director of the Virginia Company and they had discussed the issue of slavery at one of their board meetings. They decided they did not want a public discussion of the issue, so Coke's use of his position as England's Attorney General to quietly legalise slavery went largely unnoticed.

In 1619 the first women and the first enslaved Africans arrived, and the colonists elected some of their number to the House of Burgesses, the first representative legislature in America. These are three of the famous "firsts" that took place in the Jamestown Colony.

To mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Settlement, in 1957 a large festival park opened with much ballyhoo: Queen Elizabeth II made an official appearance and loaned a copy of the Magna Carta for the exhibition. There is now a working reconstruction of the settlement and of the three ships that brought the colonists: the Goodspeed (or Godspeed), the Discovery, and the Susan Constant (or Sarah Constant), that is very popular with tourists, especially school groups. Recent archaeological work at the site is still expanding our knowledge of what happened at Jamestown in its earliest days.