In 1607, the London Company, which had been granted all the land between what is today southern New York and North Carolina by King James I in the previous year, sent a group of roughly one hundred men to settle Virginia.
The English rationale for settlement of the New World was at least three-fold: first, they sought to spread their Christian faith as a sort of kinder and gentler alternative to the Catholicism of the Spaniards; second, they hoped to develop and benefit from trade; and, third, they sought to establish permanent settlements, partly in competition with the Spaniards who had arrived there earlier. Many of those who took part in the 1607 expedition to Virginia hoped to find gold.
After four grueling months at sea, the settlers landed in a rather inhospitable environment, where there was no gold to be found. Worse yet, the area was already settled by the Powhatan tribe, and within days, there were hostilities between the newcomers and the natives. Dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, has revealed that the region was also in the midst of an extreme drought. Native hostility may be seen within the context of competition over food as a scarce resource. Had the settlers landed at a different time, when precipitation and food were more abundant, things may have unfolded differently. Perhaps the gentlemen were not soft at all but rather unlucky.
For many years, historians attributed the initial troubles in the settlement to the social status of the settlers: there were many gentlemen and perhaps, historians argued, they were ill-suited for manual labor and not willing to work. Recent findings tend to suggest that there was a fair amount of work and planning done from the very beginning. The settlers chose a good defensive position along the James River and quickly began to build a fort. They scavenged for food and traded implements to the Powhatan in exchange for corn. Despite these efforts, there was intense hunger in 1608–10 and nearly two-thirds of the original settlers died. The worst of the "starving time," documented in some detail by George Percy and corroborated by evidence found at the site, was the winter of 1609–10. Hunger and native hostility were compounded by disease and some degree of infighting.
In 1994, a non-profit organization called Preservation Virginia launched a project called Jamestown Rediscovery. The project has resulted in the discovery of the original settlement site, including the location of the original James Fort. Archeological fieldwork continues at the site and many important finds are still being made. The story of what the settlers encountered is still being written. You can track the progress of the archeological digs and the latest findings at https://historicjamestowne.org/.