Legacies of Jamestown

Designing a Poster

Elementary, Middle School


Students will describe and illustrate some legacies of Jamestown.

Standards of Learning:

Virginia SOLs:  VS 3c, g; VS 4a
National Standards for History: Historical Comprehension

Materials Needed for Activity:

Cultures at Jamestown – Essay

Teacher Background:

America recognized the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia in 2007.  Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America.  The history of Jamestown includes many developments of which this nation can be proud.  Yet, the Powhatan Indians, the English, and the Africans who came together at Jamestown struggled through indescribable hardships and difficult interactions, as each played a unique role in the colony’s survival.

The colony at Jamestown laid the foundation for our system of free enterprise.  Colonists came to Virginia to make a profit.  They tried many things, including glassmaking and silk production.  Nothing worked well for them until 1613, when John Rolfe cultivated a sweeter brand of tobacco and made it profitable for the company.  It became profitable because it met the needs and wants of the Europeans for a better tasting tobacco. Tobacco served as money at Jamestown and was used to pay salaries and wages.  However, most of the land required to grow tobacco was taken from the Powhatans.  Dependence upon this cash crop became the key to survival for the colony. At the same time, tobacco growing could not have succeeded without the labor force the Africans provided.

Another legacy of Jamestown is the right of individuals to own property.  In 1618, the Virginia Company gave colonists the right to own land.  Until then, the company had owned all land in Virginia.  This right to acquire land offered opportunities for upward economic and social mobility.  Free Africans were also allowed to possess their own land.  This concept of private ownership of land became the major source of conflict between the English and the Powhatans, but it was a major factor in America’s growth as a nation.

In 1619, another modest beginning gave birth to what would become the political character of the colony and an enduring American tradition.  On an unbearably hot day in July, two burgesses selected from each of the seven plantations and four boroughs traveled to Jamestown to represent the interests of the colonists in the General Assembly.  Prior to this time, the Virginia Company had appointed the governor and his council of advisors as the governing body for the colony. Even though the governor and his council would continue to be present at all meetings, thereby stifling some freedom of debate, this meeting in the church at Jamestown in 1619 was the first step toward representative government in America, which in time would grow to inspire people and nations all over the world.  This was also the year in which a large number of women left England for Virginia signaling that the English were here ready to raise families and stay in Virginia.

The interaction of the Powhatan, English and Africans at Jamestown laid the foundation for an American society built by people of diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs.  Today we celebrate our cultural diversity which grew from these early years at Jamestown.  We remember as well the Indian populations who were confined to reservations for years after Virginia grew as a colony and the tragedy of African slavery which ensued for many years in our country.

All of these events are legacies of Jamestown with each legacy an important part of our 2007 commemoration.  Read Cultures at Jamestown background essay for more information.


Review information about free enterprise, land ownership, cultural diversity, and representative government.  Discuss the importance of recognizing all groups who contributed to the growth of Jamestown and the hardships borne by many people.

Step 1:  Tell students they have been asked to design a poster to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown.  Have them think about what they would like to emphasize about the legacies of Jamestown.  Why is Jamestown important to them today?  Why is Jamestown important to America today?  Their poster should be descriptive and need no further explanation than what they have portrayed.  Help students focus on one or two main ideas they want to communicate.

Step 2:  Have students create their poster.  They may draw an illustration, use web images, paint a picture, make a collage and use descriptive language to depict their message.

Summary Activity:

When work has been completed, have students share their posters with the class and explain why they chose to depict the legacies of Jamestown the way they did.