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Lesson Plan
Voyage to Virginia: Keeping a Journal

Elementary, Middle

Students will describe the 1606 voyage to Virginia, including some of the challenges faced on the voyage and the colonists’ first impressions of Virginia when they first arrived.

Standards of Learning:
Virginia SOL: VS1g, i, j; VS2a, b, c; VS3b, c; USI 4a, b; 5a
National Standards of History: Historical Analysis and Interpretation; Historical Comprehension

Materials Needed for Activity:
Classroom map of the world
Classroom map of Virginia
Selected Quotes from Gabriel Archer and George Percy
Video: Alternate Link: http://content.jwplatform.com/players/XGVFuLcl-FaSAPBTu.html

Other Helpful Resources:
See the Cultures at Jamestown background essays under Curriculum Materials.

Teacher Background:

Vocabulary Words:

joint-stock company – a business venture in which shares were sold to investors such as merchants, lords, gentlemen and ordinary citizens who helped pay the company’s expenses and shared in any profits which might occur

Virginia Company – the joint-stock trading company that was formed in London to pay for the exploration of Virginia

charter – a government document outlining conditions under which a colony could be formed and which defines rights and privileges of those receiving the charter, such as the one King James I issued to the Virginia Company in 1606

colony – a group of people who form a settlement in a new place and which is under the control of the parent country or governing body within the parent country

On April 10, 1606, King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Company, a joint-stock company, to establish a settlement in Virginia. At this time, Virginia was defined as the land between present-day Maine and North Carolina. The charter and its accompanying documents provided a detailed explanation of how settlement should be undertaken.

On Saturday, December 20, 1606, three small ships –Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed – set sail down the Thames River from London. From the beginning, the voyage to Virginia would prove to be long and difficult. Fierce storms held the ships in the English Channel for over six weeks before they were finally able to depart. The ships sailed south along the coasts of Spain and Portugal, along the coast of Africa toward the Canary Islands. There they caught the Canary Current, which carried them west across the Atlantic Ocean. The long, southerly route to Virginia was selected to take advantage of prevailing winds, arriving in the West Indies in late March. From there, they sailed north. Captain Christopher Newport, commander of the expedition, took the ships through the Caribbean, stopping at several islands to restock supplies for the last leg of their journey.

Living conditions on the ships were cramped and tedious as the ships carried livestock and a full cargo. In addition, the settlers were from a variety of backgrounds including both gentlemen and laborers, which caused tension. They spent a good deal of their time battling sea-sickness, as well as boredom. Finally, on April 26, 1607, they entered the Chesapeake Bay where a scouting party went ashore to explore. Their first greeting in this new land was an unexpected attack by a small band of Indians which resulted in wounds to two of the men. That same night, Captain Christopher Newport opened the box containing the sealed orders from the Virginia Company and read the instructions, as well as the names of the men who would serve on the governing council in Virginia.

The colonists first landed at a point of land at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay they named Cape Henry in honor of the eldest son of King James. Here they planted a cross claiming the land for England and establishing Protestantism in the New World. Sailing westward across the lower Bay, they stopped at a place they later called Point Comfort where they met and feasted with the Kecoughtan Indians. From here they sailed up a river they named the “James” in honor of their King. The colonists had been instructed to locate their settlement inland on a river that bent to the northwest. In addition, they wanted to find a site which would enable them to defend themselves from Indian attacks. The location selected for the Jamestown settlement seemed to fit both of these criteria, having the added bonus of having a channel deep enough to anchor their ships by tying them to the trees on shore.


Step 1: Using a classroom map of the World, review with students the area defined as Virginia according to the charter granted to the Virginia Company – from present day Maine to North Carolina. Have the students locate the following places: England, Atlantic Ocean, Spain, Portugal, Canary Islands, West Indies, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, and approximate locations of Cape Henry, Point Comfort or Hampton and Jamestown. You may wish to use a larger scale classroom map of Virginia for the latter locations. Discuss with students why the colonists chose to take the longer southerly route to Virginia. Ask why the colonists decided to continue sailing after landing at Cape Henry and Point Comfort.

Step 2: Remind students that one way we learn about the past is through descriptions by people who lived in a particular time. Gabriel Archer and George Percy are two men who wrote accounts of what they saw and experienced at Jamestown. Distribute copies of Selected Quotes from Gabriel Archer and George Percy. Have students work in pairs and discuss the quotes. Have them record any words or phrases which they find difficult to understand. Discuss the meaning of these words today, and use them as examples of the way languages change over time. What did they learn about Jamestown from reading the quotes? Was there a difference in the two perspectives of Archer and Percy? Why are these writings so valuable to us today?

Step 3: Ask students to imagine that they are one of the colonists to land at Jamestown in 1607. Tell the students they will view a video about the voyage and will then make journal entries describing their impressions of the journey and their arrival in Virginia, including why the leaders chose this site.

Step 4: View the video, Discovering Jamestown: Voyage to Virginia. Have students make their journal entries. Instruct them to base their entries on what they have learned from Archer’s and Percy’s writings and what they saw and heard in the video.

Summary Activity: Once they have completed their entries, have students share them with the class. What was similar about the entries? What was different? Ask students why they think there are differences? Focus on the different perspectives that individuals bring to their experiences. Remind students that accounts from people of the past also bring different perspectives to history.

Selected Quotes from Gabriel Archer and George Percy

Selection from George Percy’s Discourse of the Plantation of the Southern Colony in Virginia, by the English in 1608.

The river which we have discovered is one of the famousest rivers that ever was found by any Christian. It ebbs and flows a hundred and threescore miles, where ships of great burden may harbor in safety. Wheresoever we landed upon this river we saw the goodliest woods as beech, oak, cedar, cypress, walnuts, sassafras and vines in great abundance which hang in great clusters on many trees, and other trees unknown, and all the grounds bespread with many sweet and delicate flowers of divers colors and kinds. There are also many fruits as strawberries, mulberries, raspberries, and fruits unknown. There are many branches of this river, which run flowing through the woods with great plenty of fish of all kinds; as for sturgeon, all the world cannot be compared to it.

Selection from Gabriel Archer’s writings - an excerpt The River and Country

The main river abounds with sturgeon very large and excellent good, having also at the mouth of every brook and in every creek both store and exceeding good fish of divers kinds; and in the large sounds near the sea are multitudes of fish, banks of oysters, and many great crabs rather better in taste than ours, one able to suffice four men. And within sight of land into the sea we expect at time of year to have a good fishing for cod……..This land lieth low at the mouth of the river and is sandy ground, all over beset with fair pine trees. But a little up the river it is reasonable high. And the further we go, till we come to the overfall, it still riseth increasing. It is generally replenish’d with wood of all kinds and that the fairest, yea, and best that ever any of us…. ever saw, being fit for any use whatsoever, as ships, houses, planks, pales, boards, masts, wainscot, clapboard – for pikes or elsewhat.

The “Discovering Jamestown” electronic classroom was made possible
by Dominion & Dominion Foundation and John and Dorothy Estes.


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