The Founding of the Virginia Colony

The Founding of the Virginia Colony
Martha Jefferson: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to three weeks


Martha Jefferson was born, grew up, and lived most of her life in the colony (and then the state) of Virginia.  It was the home of a number of founding fathers and mothers, some of them rebels like Patrick Henry and some of them slave owners, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  For a time, early in colonial history, nearly all the eastern shoreline of what became the United States was Virginia.  For all these reasons, it is a good idea to look at its founding and its growth.


Students who participate in this lesson will develop an understanding of the founding of the Virginia colony, as well as become familiar with three of the major historic towns of Virginia, and three of its most famous houses.  Students will write a major report on the colony, from several points of view:
  • That of a plantation owner, such as Thomas Jefferson;
  • That of an African American, slave or free (male or female);
  • That of a tradesman of Jamestown;
  • That of a soldier at Yorktown;
  • That of a resident of a Powhatan village near Jamestown (male or female);
  • That of a female tavern owner in a town;
  • That of a plantation wife such as Martha Washington.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials; art supplies; paper.


1.  Begin the lesson by telling students that they are going to embark on a journey of discovery, through the eyes and experiences of someone who lived in the 17th or 18th century in colonial Virginia.
2.  Introduce them to the idea by having them spend a little time role playing a favorite book character, or movie or television character…perhaps playing a form of charades, in which they “play” the part for the class and the class has to guess who they “are.”
3.  There are seven “characters” in the play list (above); more can be added if you wish.  More than one student can “be” a particular character.
4.  Give students an opportunity to explore the websites below.  They are only introductory, although some will provide a good deal of information and insight.  Students will want to explore other sources, however, both online and in print, in order to get a good “handle” on their character.
5.  When students have a general idea of what’s on the websites, below, ask students to work, first, on a general history of the founding of the colony: Who founded it? When? What companies were involved? Who gave the charter? How was it named, and for whom? What was the nature of its population? How was it governed? When did it become a state?  The answers to these questions become the “core story”—the “facts” of the founding of the colony.
6.  Now, ask each student to select a “character,” and write a 8-10 page paper about the founding from the point of view of his or her “character.”  The papers may be illustrated with drawings, or with pictures available on the Internet.
7.  The paper may be assessed by means of a rubric designed by the teacher, or in terms of the usual norms regarding research papers, or by state content area standards with respect to writing.
8.  Provide a concluding day when students can share their points of view on the history of the founding of the colony of Virginia.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by having students “stage” their research papers, e.g., tell the story of the founding of the colony as if they were part of a story-telling conference.

Sources & Resources:


Colonial Virginia

Virtual Jamestown

Powhatan Indian Village

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Yorktown


Mt. Vernon



This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.