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Town founding in seventeenth-century North America: Jamestown in Virginia

Journal of Historical Geography
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0305-7488(82)90241-9


Abstract Jamestown in Virginia provides a case study of one facet of the geography of England's overseas expansion in the seventeenth century. Recent discussions of not only Jamestown but all early North American settlements have laid stress on two points. The first towns were founded as entrepôts for international trade in raw materials and were located at central points on colonial coastlines to exert monopoly control over trade. But Jamestown fulfilled neither of these objectives. It was conceived by its promoters, at least initially, as a trading station similar, in many ways, to the Kontors of the Hansa towns and the fondachi of Italian city states. In English institutional terms Jamestown was to be a staple. Its location was off-centre with respect to pre-settlement boundary lines. Its founding was influenced partly by perceptions of the Chesapeake and partly by rivalries in the imperial contest for North America. Jamestown's settlers also had a comprehensive list of town site criteria that included references to trade routes, to site defensibility, and to the physical environment. Although not a prototype for later colonization of the Atlantic Seaboard, Jamestown represented the first settlement form.

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