Three Ships — One Hundred Forty-Four Men
When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, the commitment to explore north of Spanish Florida did not die with her. Her successor James I ended English piracy against Spain, but was willing to back ventures funded by private investors to pursue permanent plantations. A royal charter was granted to a diverse group of gentlemen patentees, backed by several of the nobility, to fund an expedition. Two companies, the Plymouth and the London, divided the geographical range of the coast from Maine to Georgia. They were overseen by the royal “Virginia Council” to make sure the crown’s interests were looked after.
On 20 December, 1606 three small ships left the Blackwall docks in London and set out to plant a settlement somewhere along the Chesapeake Bay region. The heavily armed merchantman Susan Constant, captained by ex-privateer Christopher Newport, carried seventy-one passengers and crew, the Godspeed commanded by Bartholomew Gosnold with fifty-two men, and the pinnacle Discover captained by John Ratcliffe with twenty-one men, braved the most dangerous ocean in the world for the next five months before sighting “the land of Virginia.” They explored the land and the rivers and settled on a rather unhealthy spot (as it turned out) along the river they named after King James.