The first permanent English colony in America was Jamestown that started in 1607 when three ships landed on the James River in Virginia.
The Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth in Massachusetts that began in 1620 was the first English permanent settlement in America that never abandoned its colony. That makes it the first successful permanent English colony.
The pictures shown here and some of the others in this article are from a reconstruction of the original site as true as historians can tell. Shown here is a picture of the James River and three ships that over a million tourists visit every year. In my section on Plymouth Plantation, I have put in some pictures from a reconstruction of the site as historians think it looked in 1627, seven years after they had first arrived. It also has a million visitors come every year.
The genesis of America in Jamestown is not as inspirational as Plymouth. The character of those who settled in Jamestown was far lower than those who settled Plymouth to their north. Jamestown was marked by failure of commitment and an atmosphere of greed. They were motivated by secular goals of finding gold.
In contrast the Pilgrims were focused on building god centered families and a happy religious community of loving friends. As a result they thrived and laid the foundation for Americas freedom and material wealth.
Plymouth Plantation was founded on a higher standard than Jamestown. Those who founded Jamestown had a pirate mentality. They plundered ships on the way to Virginia. The Pilgrims didnt.
The motivation of those who settled in Jamestown was one of easy wealth. The Pilgrims at Plymouth accepted work and sacrifice and looked long range. In England there were advertisements of the "New World" saying one could live there without having to work, that gold and silver were so plentiful they could be picked up in basketfuls from the ground. There was not a spirit of work in Jamestown.
Captain Newport of the Jamestown expedition spent his time searching for gold and thought he found some. He took back what he thought was some gold dust but it was pyrite or "fools gold." Even so on his return trip they were so centered on gold and convinced that the sample they had sent to England was the wrong ore that the captain brought goldsmiths and refiners to supervise the diggings. The atmosphere of Jamestown was "get-rich-quick." He took back as much of the "fools gold" as he could get on board and put it in the hold of the ship. Newport even tried a third time to look for gold.
Gold fever swept the colony. One settler wrote in disgust of how the sailors "made all men their slaves. There was no talk, no hope, no work, but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold."
Carl Bridenbough in Jamestown 1544-1699 wrote: "... the
Englishmen who first went to the colony were an unskilled,
improvident, and lazy lot who, 'no more sensible than beasts, would
rather starve in idleness ... than feast in labor.' Like the
grasshoppers in Aesop's fable, they took little if any thought for
the future, and as a result, many of them perished, not only during
the 'starving time' but also for years to come because of their
failure to plant crops."