English Settlement in the New World
After Christopher Columbus' historic voyage in 1492, Spain dominated the race to establish colonies in the Americas, while English efforts, such as the "lost colony" of Roanoke (1587), met with failure. In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a new venture, the Virginia Company, to form a settlement in North America. At the time, Virginia was the English name for the entire eastern coast of North America north of Florida; they had named it for Elizabeth I, the "virgin queen." The Virginia Company planned to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.
Roughly 100 colonists left England in late December 1606 on three ships (the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery) and reached Chesapeake Bay late the next April. After forming a governing council—including Christopher Newport, commander of the sea voyage, and John Smith, a former mercenary who had been accused of insubordination aboard ship by several other company members—the group searched for a suitable settlement site. On May 14, 1607, they landed on a narrow peninsula–virtually an island–in the James River, where they would begin their lives in the New World.