The James River

Jane Best

Joined August 2008

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View of the James River taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. The river has been a major player in the history of the United States.

The English colonists named it “James” after King James I of England, as they also constructed the first permanent English settlement in the Americas in 1607 at Jamestown along the banks of the James River about 35 miles (56 km) upstream from the Chesapeake Bay.

The navigable portion of the river was the major highway of the Colony of Virginia during its first 15 years, facilitating supply ships delivering supplies and more people from England. However, for the first five years, despite many hopes of gold and riches, these ships sent little of monetary value back to the sponsors. In 1612, businessman John Rolfe successfully cultivated a non-native strain of tobacco which proved popular in England. Soon, the river became the primary means of exporting the large hogsheads of this cash crop from an ever-growing number of plantations with wharfs along its banks. This development made the proprietary efforts of the Virginia Company of London successful financially, spurring even more development, investments and immigration. Below the falls at Richmond, many James River plantations had their own wharfs, and additional ports and/or early railheads were located at Warwick, Bermuda Hundred, City Point, Claremont, Scotland, and Smithfield, and, during the 17th century, the capital of the Colony at Jamestown.

Navigation of the James River played an important role in early Virginia commerce and the settlement of the interior, although growth of the colony was primarily in the Tidewater regions during the first 75 years. The upper reaches of the river above the head of navigation at the fall line were explored by fur trading parties sent by Abraham Wood during the late 17th century.

Although ocean-going ships could not navigate past present-day Richmond, portage of products and navigation with smaller craft to transport crops other than tobacco was feasible. Produce from the Piedmont and Great Valley regions traveled down the river to seaports at Richmond and Manchester through such port towns as Lynchburg, Scottsville, Columbia and Buchanan.

Artwork Comments

  • Joanne  Bradley
  • Jane Best
  • CraigsMom
  • Jane Best
  • clmustin
  • Jane Best
  • Angie Tirado
  • Jane Best
  • PBWright
  • Jane Best
  • Tom Deters
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