One early English colonist described it as an "ample and faire Country." Another called it "pleasantly seated."
1608 feast there so much that he touted its "good Oysters, Fish, Flesh, Wild-foule, and good bread."
Early on, settler after settler recognized what Powhatan already knew when he seized the bountiful Indian village of Kecoughtan a decade before the English arrived in 1607.
Well-situated and fruitful, this great expanse of cultivated fields at the mouth of the Hampton River made a remarkably good location for settlement. And no other place in
sparked such lush descriptions of its virtues.
"The English passed here coming in. They passed here going out," says Hampton History Museum curator J. Michael Cobb. "They described the heck out of it — because they knew a good thing when they saw it."
Not until 1609, however, did the colonists establish an outpost called Fort Algernourne at Old Point Comfort. When the first Anglo-Powhatan War erupted a year later, Sir Thomas Gates drove Powhatan's people out and built two more palisaded strongholds — Fort Henry and Fort Charles — just a musket shot apart on the site where Kecoughtan had stood.
From that nucleus, the settlement that became America's oldest continuous English-speaking town grew rapidly, becoming one of the most frequently noted landmarks on maps of early colonial Virginia. By the mid 1620s, it was the most populated part of the colony, far outpacing the capital at
in both size and the number of fortified houses.
"This was the first stop when you came to Virginia," says
Institute for Archaeology historian Matthew Laird. "And very early on it stopped being the frontier and evolved into the colony's most important port town."
Among the inhabitants was Virginia surveyor general, treasurer and secretary of state William Claiborne, who patented 150 acres on the west side of the river in 1624. There he built a flourishing fur trading plantation whose pioneering expeditions opened up the
Claiborne's cronies included Gov. John Pott, whose fondness for the waterfront taverns here sparked an official reprimand in 1630. He also may have been friendly with wealthy sea Capt. Thomas Jarvis, who bought that land and 50 acres more in 1661, forming Hampton's beginning.
More than 335 years would pass before
archaeologists discovered the remains of an unusually large and well-appointed dwelling used by one or perhaps both adventurers.
At a time when most Virginians lived in crude post houses, this landmark boasted plaster walls, glass windows, a distinctive porch tower and possibly a tile roof.
"These things all indicate someone who had money," archaeologist Tom Higgins says. "He was upper-middle class if not rich."
Find out about John Smith's 1608 Christmas in Kecoughtan at