1907 Jamestown Exposition Issue

1907 Jamestown Exposition Issue 2020-07-10T12:04:44-06:00


Jamestown Exposition organizers requested that the Post Office Department issue a set of commemorative stamps, as it had done for other fairs since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. George B. Cortelyou, Postmaster General, at first refused. The Post Office did not issue special postage stamps in commemoration of expositions, he stated. Cortelyou quickly changed his mind, however, when President Roosevelt expressed his wish for a set of stamps.

Initially, the Post Office Department planned two denominations, a 1¢ and a 2¢, to meet the domestic postcard and letter rates, respectively. The stamps were to feature images of the ruins of the historic Jamestown church and the arrival of the English ships. Post Office officials, however, anticipated public disappointment if portraits of Captain John Smith, the colony’s military commander and civil leader, and Indian princess Pocahontas were not included.

Postal officials saw the need for a 5¢ stamp to meet the foreign postage rate when the Department of the Navy confirmed that there would be a vast assemblage of foreign war ships in Hampton Roads for the Exposition. As a result, new designs were created in a 1¢ John Smith, a 2¢ Founding of Jamestown, and a 5¢ Pocahontas stamp. The three engraved stamps were printed from plates of two hundred subjects in four panes of fifty each.

The Norfolk, Virginia, Post Office opened a branch on the Exposition site, called “Exposition Station.” It used a special cancel until the closing of the fair on November 30, 1907. The first day of issue for the two lower values coincided with the first day of the Exposition, April 26, and the 5¢ first day followed less than two weeks later.

download1¢ Stamp: John Smith

The 1¢ stamp paid the domestic card rate of the day, but it was also used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination rates. The stamp featured a portrait of Captain John Smith inspired by an engraving by Crispin Van de Passe the Younger. The design includes medallions in the upper corners representing Pocahontas and her father, Chief Powhatan. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced about 78 million of the 1¢ denomination.

Founding_of_Jamestown_stamp_2c_1907_issue Stamp: Founding of Jamestown

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced about 149 million of the 2¢ denomination. The 2¢ stamp paid the first class domestic rate and was also used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination rates. The stamp depicts the landing of the colonists at Jamestown in 1607 flanked by a tobacco plant and stalk of Indian corn. One colonist, with a sword in one hand and a flag in the other, leads the men in rowboats as they disembark and the fleet lies at anchor behind them, including the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery.

5¢ Stamp: Pocahontas5621_xm

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced about 8 million of the 5¢ denomination designed by Clair Aubrey Huston. According to legend, Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life after the Powhatan people had taken him prisoner. Following a Christian baptism, she married John Rolfe, who took her to England in 1616 where she enchanted her husband’s countrymen and came to symbolize the exotic New World. The 5¢ stamp features Pocahontas in an oval frame and is based on a 1616 engraving. It was commonly used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination rates.


Sheep and the demand for woolen cloth drove the economic conditions in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. English landowners were allowed by law to enclose their farms and fence off large areas as grazing lands for sheep making large amounts of wool available which merchants sold throughout Europe. While landowners, wool manufacturers and merchants amassed great wealth, small farmers who had rented their small plots of land from large landowners were uprooted and drifted from the countryside to towns and cities looking for work.  Many of the migrants were reduced to begging or stealing to survive. For many of these people, migrating to a new world seemed a hopeful choice. Leaders in England saw colonies as a potential way to resolve the problems of more and more displaced people, even though establishing colonies was a risky and expensive proposition. However, it was decided that if colonization was led by merchants and endorsed by the crown, the country’s political and economic interests would be served. England could sell more goods and resources to other countries while the colonies could send back raw materials such as lumber to the mother country and they would not have to be purchased from other countries. Additionally, the colonies could be markets for England’s manufactured goods.

King James I granted the Virginia Company of London its first charter in 1606 after the joint-stock company was formed by a group of merchants considering all of the above. King James appointed a royal council of 13 to govern the company and the charter included the right to establish colonies in Virginia and gave the rights of Englishmen to the colonists. Under the charter, an area was selected in what is today known as the mid-Atlantic region of the United States (Virginia). Wealthy British provided funds to provide supplies and ships for the voyage to Virginia. The Virginia Company had a branch called the Virginia Company of Plymouth which was granted the right to colonize in what is now known as New England.

Approximately 104 men and boys began the voyage aboard the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery on December 6, 1606. On May 13, 1607, they selected the site for their colony naming it Jamestown after their king. It was the first permanent English settlement in North America.

The Jamestown site was selected for several reasons: the water was deep enough to allow the ships to be tied up at the shoreline; it was not inhabited by Natives; it was far inland and surrounded by water on three sides (it was not yet fully an island) – this would make it easy to defend against potential attacks by the Spanish.


A triangle-shaped fort was completed by June 15 featuring a bulwark at each corner holding four to five pieces of artillery. Living on the hunting land of the local Powhatan Indians, with whom the colonists already had mixed relations, the settlers were now protected against any attacks. On June 22, Captain Newport, who had led them to North America, left for England to get more supplies for the new settlement.

Drinking water from the salty, slimy river, swellings, fluxes, fever, famine and wars began to lead to a high death toll not long after Captain Newport sailed. There was not enough food to support the colony, though then-Chief Powhatan sent provisions to help keep the colonists from starving. If not for the help of the Indians, Jamestown would likely have failed as the colonists faced death from disease and simple starvation.

The English became very demanding of food during a drought and the winter of 1609-10 became known as the “Starving Time”. Relations with the Indians soured due to the colonists’ demands and they became afraid to leave the fort for a legitimate fear of being killed by the Powhatans. The settlers resorted to eating anything they could find: leather from their belts and shoes, animals, and sometimes other colonists who had already died. By early 1610, some 80-90%, had died due to starvation and disease.

John Rolfe

In May, 1610 shipwrecked settlers who had been stranded in Bermuda finally arrived at Jamestown. In 1612, John Rolfe, one of the formerly shipwrecked, helped turn the Jamestown settlement into a profitable venture by introducing a new strain of tobacco from seeds he brought from his travels. Tobacco became the long awaited cash crop for the Virginia Company who wanted to make money from their investment in Jamestown.

Part of a party sent the previous fall, the shipwreck survivors used two boats built on Bermuda to get to Jamestown. Sir Thomas Gates, the newly named governor, found Jamestown in shambles with the palisades of the fort torn down, gates off their hinges, and food stores running low. The decision was made to abandon the settlement. Less than a day after leaving, however, Gates and those with him, including the survivors of the “Starving Time,” were met by news of an incoming fleet. The fleet was bringing the new governor for life, Lord Delaware. Gates and his party returned to Jamestown.


The beginning of representative government in what is now the United States began on July 30, 1619 when the newly appointed Governor Yeardley called for an assembly under the direction of the Virginia Company. Needing additional human resources to cultivate and harvest the labor-intensive tobacco, the English brought the first document Africans to Virginia as slaves. Also in 1619, the Virginia Company recruited and transported about 90 women to become wives and start families in Virginia, something needed to establish a permanent colony. More than 100 women, who brought or started families, had arrived in prior years, but 1619 was when establishing families became a primary focus.

The primary then-Chief of the Powhatans, Opechancanough, planned a coordinated attack against the English settlements when peace between them ended in 1622. He was not able to any longer accept the English encroachment on Powhatan lands. During the attack 350 – 400 of the 1,200 settlers were killed. After the attack, the Powhatans withdrew, as was their way, and waited for the English to reassemble or pack up and leave. Once the English regrouped, they retaliated and there was fighting between the two peoples for ten years. A tenuous peace was reached in 1632.

Another attack was executed by Opechancanough in April, 1644 and resulted in the deaths of 350-400 of the 8,000 settlers. The attack ended when Opechancanough was captured in 1646, taken to Jamestown, shot in the back by a guard – against orders – and killed. His death brought an eventual end to the Powhatan Chiefdom; it was reduced to tributary status. His successor signed the first treaties with the English, which made the Powhatans subjects of the English.

King James I revoked the Virginia Company’s charter in May, 1624 due to overwhelming politics and financial problems. While Virginia became a royal colony and remained so until the Revolutionary War, the shift in control did not change English policy toward the Powhatans. Although peace was declared in 1632, the English continued encroachments on Powhatan land as more settlers arrived in the colony.

Jamestown colonists were disgruntled about high taxes, Indian attacks on outlying tobacco plantations and having their tobacco sold only to English merchants due to the Navigation Acts. Nathaniel Bacon got about 1,000 settlers to join him to take care of the “Indian Problem” giving rise to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. Given an official commission to attack the Indians, Bacon and his followers did not differentiate between those tribes responsible for the attacks and those who were loyal to the English. Governor Berkeley declared Bacon a rebel and civil war erupted in the colony. In September, Bacon and his followers set fire to Jamestown, destroying 16 – 18 houses, the church and the statehouse. Not long after, in October, the Rebellion began its decline with the death of Nathaniel Bacon of the “bloody flux.” Eventually, many of the rebels were captured and 23 were hanged by Governor Berkeley.

The result of Bacon’s Rebellion was another treaty between the English and even more Virginia Indian tribes than included in the 1646 treaty. The treaty required continued payment from the Indians to the English of game and fish each year, as well as setting up additional reservation lands.

Destroying the statehouse and the prison, fire struck Jamestown again in 1698 started by a prisoner awaiting execution. Many public records were saved. The capital and government were moved from Jamestown to Middle Plantation (later Williamsburg) the following year. While people remained farming and living on Jamestown Island, it ceased to be a town.

83682-004-5473A260Preserved and maintained by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia, Jamestown Island is now a historic site, though there is one private home on the island. It is preserved by for visitors to learn about the importance of Jamestown and what was born out of its being the first permanent English settlement in North America.

The story of Pocahontas and her importance to the settlement of English colonies in Virginia

Powhatan, Chief of more than 30 tribes in coastal Virginia, had numerous wives and children. Pocahontas was Powhatan’s “most deare and wel-beloved daughter,” according to Captain John Smith who wrote extensively about his experiences in Virginia. Born about 1596, Pocahontas was a nickname meaning “playful one.” Her formal names were Amonute and Matoaka. While her mother’s name is not mentioned by any contemporary writers, it is known Pocahontas had many half-brothers and half-sisters. Even the daughter of a chief would be required to work when she reached maturity and it is likely Pocahontas helped her mother with daily chores, learning what would be expected of her as a mature adult.

An event described by John Smith many years later, he met Pocahontas in late 1607 when the girl was about 11 years old. Having been captured by Indians, Smith was brought before Powhatan at Werewocomoco, the Chief’s capital town on the York River. After the Indians gave Smith a feast, they laid his head on two stones as if to “beate out his braines,” when Pocahontas “got his head in her armes, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.”

Smith left Virginia in 1609, and Pocahontas was told by other colonists that he was dead. Sometime later, she married an Indian named Kocoum. In 1613, while hungry colonists searched for corn, Pocahontas was found in the village of the Patawomekes and kidnapped for ransom. Powhatan waited three months after learning of his daughter’s capture to return seven English prisoners and some stolen guns. He refused other demands, however, and relinquished his daughter to the English, agreeing to a tenuous peace. Some scholars today believe the incident was a ritual in which Powhatan sought to assert his sovereignty over Smith and the English in Virginia. In 1608, Pocahontas assisted in taking food to the English settlement at Jamestown to persuade Smith to free some Indian prisoners. The following year, according to Smith, she warned him of an Indian plot to take his life. It is clear that Pocahontas and Smith were important in one another’s lives.

Thereafter, Pocahontas lived among the settlers. The Reverend Alexander Whitaker, living up the James River near Henrico (Henricus), taught her Christian principles, and she learned to act and dress like an English woman. In 1614, she was baptized and given the name Rebecca. Soon after her conversion, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, the planter who had introduced tobacco as a cash crop in the Virginia Colony.

Although Pocahontas was one of Powhatan’s favorite children, she probably had little influence over her father’s actions toward the English colonists. However, after she married and traveled to England, she was able to bring the Virginia Colony to the attention of prominent English men and women. In 1616, the Rolfes and their young son, Thomas, traveled to England to help recruit new settlers for Virginia. While there, Pocahontas had a brief meeting with John Smith, whom she had believed to be dead, and told him that she would be “for ever and ever your Countrieman.” As the Rolfes began their return trip to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill and died at Gravesend, England, in March, 1617. John Rolfe sailed for Virginia, where he had been appointed secretary of the colony, but left Thomas in England with relatives. Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in the 1630s. By that time, Powhatan and John Rolfe were dead, and peace with the Indians had been broken in 1622 by a bloody uprising led by Pocahontas’ uncle, Opechancanough.

Pocahontas is represented in many paintings of her day and her image varies to a great degree. Some artists depicted her as a European-looking woman. Some feature her dressed in European fashions and others painted her wearing what they deemed to be “Indian clothing”. There is no contemporary written description of her features that is relied upon as authentic.




Almost 43 years old, Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest President in American history upon the assassination of President McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. Roosevelt brought new vigor and vision to the Presidency, leading Congress and the American public toward Progressive reforms and a strong foreign policy. He is remembered as “the first modern president.”

McKinley + TRBorn in 1858 to an affluent family, Roosevelt had little in common with the “log cabin presidents” who preceded him. Returning a hero from the Spanish-American War, he was elected Governor of New York in 1898. The state party leadership distrusted him and, to distract his attention, urged him to run for vice-president as William McKinley’s running mate in the election of 1900. Though it was believed that running for vice-president would render Roosevelt relatively powerless, he campaigned tirelessly and helped McKinley win by a landslide on a platform of peace, prosperity and conservatism. Roosevelt took the view that the President, as a “steward of the people”, should take whatever action necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution.

Theodore Roosevelt at leisure

“TR” led his party and the country into the Progressive Era. He championed his “Square Deal” domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of trusts (corporate monopolies), regulation of railroads, and pure food and drugs. Making conservation a top priority, he established a wealth of new national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve our nation’s natural resources. In foreign policy, he focused on Central America, where he fostered construction of the Panama Canal. He greatly expanded the United States Navy, and sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to project the United States’ naval power around the globe. His successful efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

By 1907, Americans had learned to embrace action on behalf of their causes: child labor, temperance, women’s suffrage, opportunities for better education for all, and more. Industrial capitalism was on the rise in 1907 and with it came lots of jobs. New businesses created a need for more clerical help and a new “white collar” mentality was born. More and more workers received a salary instead of an hourly wage. Retail jobs also flourished, and women were working more than ever before. It was an exciting, energizing time to be a modern American with changes, many of them improvements, occurring in every aspect of life.


  • January 23 – Charles Curtis from Kansas becomes the first Native American U.S. Senator.
  • February 26 – President Theodore Roosevelt appoints George Washington Goethals as chief engineer of the Panama Canal.
  • April 17 – The busiest day (11,747 immigrants received) of the busiest year for immigration at Ellis Island, with 1.1 million immigrants arriving in 1907.

J.P. Morgan on Wall Street

  • federal-reserve-sealOctober 24Several major Wall Street financiers create a $25,000,000 pool to invest in the shares on the plunging New York Stock Exchange. This ends the bank panic of 1907, and ultimately leads to establishment of the Federal Reserve System.
  • 110_2December 16 – The Great White Fleet departs Hampton Roads, Virginia on a 14-month journey around the world.
  • December 31 – The first electric ball drops in Times Square.


Against this background, the Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was staged and held in Norfolk, Virginia, opening on April 26th.



In 1900, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities began planning for a celebration of the tercentenary (300 year anniversary) of the founding of Jamestown and the Virginia Colony by settlers from England. Most people expected the celebration to be hosted by Richmond, the capital of Virginia, but the City of Norfolk began lobbying for that honor in 1901, citing its proximity to Cape Henry, where the Jamestown colonists first made landfall. During the planning phase, virtually no one thought that the original site of Jamestown would be suitable, as it was isolated and long-abandoned. There were no local facilities to handle large crowds and it was believed that the fort housing the settlement had long ago been swallowed by the James River. No rail lines ran nearby.

Norfolk subsequently won out, and the Jamestown Exposition Company was incorporated in 1902. The Company decided to locate the international Exposition on a mile-long frontage at Sewell’s Point in an area of salt marsh and farmland. While hard to reach by land, it was much more favorably accessible by water, which ultimately proved a great asset. New roads had to be built and two existing streetcar lines extended a considerable distance to reach the site. The eastern portion of the new Tidewater Railway was rushed into service, and the local Norfolk Southern Railway added substantial passenger capacity to move the thousands of daily attendees anticipated. On the shore, new piers had to be constructed for moving supplies to Exposition buildings. Hotels must be raised to handle the millions of anticipated Exposition visitors. Bad weather slowed everything. The Exposition Company had initially lobbied the federal government for $1,640,000, and later received a loan for an additional $1 million, to be repaid with 40% of the gate receipts. When crowds failed to appear as expected – the Exposition was attracting about 13,000 visitors daily, only 7,400 of whom paid entrance, almost half receiving complimentary or “comped” entrance – the Company was able to repay only $140,000 of the $1 million loan. The Fair began attracting negative attention in the press as early as January, 1907 before it opened, as a divisive split between members of the planning committee became public. The press who arrived for opening day found the grounds unfinished, the hotels overpriced, and the transportation between the Fair and nearby towns.

Incubators with “living infants”

The first day of the Exposition had its share of difficulties. Only 20% of the electric lights could be turned on, and the Warpath recreation area (midway) was far from ready. Construction of the government pier left much of the ground in the center of the Exposition a muddy soup. Of the 38 principal buildings planned, only 14 had been completed by opening day – the Fire Engine House and the waterfront boardwalk having been completed only in the preceding two days. Unlike the structures at prior U.S. Expositions, the buildings at Jamestown were permanent, costing more and taking longer to build. The Exposition Company failed to complete two planned buildings, the Historic Art and Education buildings, by the Exposition’s end. President Theodore Roosevelt opened the Exposition and presided over the Naval Review. After opening day, attendance dropped sharply, and never again achieved projections. But in time, things improved somewhat and portions of the event became spectacular.


Panama Canal relief map

Major exhibits at the Exposition included a scale model relief map of the Panama Canal, the Ferrari Wild Animal Show, a full-scale recreation of the Battle of the Merrimac and the Monitor, and a full-scale reproduction of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. The Smithsonian Institution exhibit included life-sized figures of Captain John Smith trading with Indians. There were replicas of Eskimo villages, as well as displays of automobiles, autoboats, electric and steam traction engines, and other innovations. Visitors could enjoy parades, competitions and contests of all kinds, rides, and a Wild West show. Celebrity guests and speakers included President Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain and others. Although Exposition organizers wanted all 45 of the U.S. states to participate, only 21 chose to erect buildings. Special days were set aside during the Exposition to honor each state and territory individually, including the ones that chose not to actively participate.

The Negro Building

The most controversial exhibit was the Negro Building, which was intended to showcase the progress of African-Americans but which also attracted criticism for exhibiting “Jim Crowism” more than black accomplishment. All African-American exhibits were confined to the Negro Building, which many felt simply perpetuated racial segregation.

Exciting sights and sounds at the Exposition

Princess Rajah

Princess Rajah on her camel

Fair Japan and the Japanese Tea Garden (40 geisha girls and 40 Japanese maidens); Princess Rajah greeting visitors to Akoun’s Beautiful Orient and Streets of Cairo; Pharaoh’s Daughter (illusion); a reproduction of the Crystal Palace that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851; the Swiss Village; the International Beauty Show (25 young maidens of all nations); Chute-the-Chutes; Streets of Seville; Spanish Theatre; Revolving Tower and Parachute; Figure Eight and Toboggan Slide; and Hell Gate. Infant incubators continued to be a curiosity as they had in some previous Expositions. There were also the Miracle Painting, “In the Shadow of the Cross“; Captain Sorcho and His Deep Sea Divers; Colonel Francis Ferrari’s Trained Wild Animals; and the 101 Ranch Wild West Show.

As with previous Expositions, visitors could bring their own boxed lunches or find fare ranging from a quick and easy sandwich to fine dining in many restaurants and hotels, including the Inside Inn located right on the fairgrounds.The Exposition offered musical entertainment of every variety, both outdoors and inside the beautiful concert hall auditorium.

Despite great expectations and hopes on the part of organizers, the Jamestown Exposition never enjoyed great popularity at the gate and the Exposition Company was left with a massive debt. The site on which the Exposition was held is now part of Norfolk Naval Station, and some of the original Exposition buildings are still in use today. The Exposition closed on December 1, 1907 as a financial failure, losing several million dollars. Attendance had been 3 million, a fraction of the numbers promised by the promoters. But, it had other benefits for the United States and for Norfolk and Hampton Roads.One of the most impressive displays was a Naval Review featuring all 16 U.S. battleships, along with warships from several other nations. The battleships later became the core of Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” which visited ports around the world in order to promote the glory and might of the United States.

Nearly every Congressman and Senator of prominence had attended the Exposition, which showcased Sewell’s Point. Of naval importance in the early Civil War, it had been virtually forgotten since shortly after its bombardment and return to Union hands in 1862. Navy leaders urged redevelopment of the Exposition site as a Naval Base, to use the infrastructure which had already been built.

Nearly ten years would elapse before the idea, given momentum by World War I, would become a reality. The new Naval Base was aided by the improvements remaining from the Exposition, the strategic location at Sewell’s Point on Hampton Roads, and the large tract of vacant land in the area. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson set aside $2.8 million for land purchase and the erection of storehouses and piers for what was to become the Navy Base. Three-quarters of the land had been the old Jamestown Exposition grounds; the military property was later expanded considerably. The base now includes more than 4,000 acres and is the largest Naval facility in the world.