Settlers arrived in what came to be known as Jamestown in 1607, and most history books regard Jamestown as the first permanent English settlement in North America; however, Jamestown was initially called James Fort. Technically, it was James Fort that was abandoned briefly in 1610. The decision was made when Sir Thomas Gates arrived with a group of settlers and found the fort in disrepair and running low on supplies. By that time, the colony had suffered greatly from disease and starvation owing to drought and tensions with the Powhatan Indians. More than eighty percent of the settlers had perished in the winter of 1609-10, which is sometimes called the Starving Time. Gates and his group decided to abandon the settlement but returned almost immediately, having learned of the imminent arrival of a new group of settlers.
The settlement was, in a sense, again abandoned in 1699, by which time it was formally called Jamestown and had served as the capital of Virginia. The government and capital moved to Middle Plantation, which was soon renamed Williamsburg. While people continued to live and farm in the area, Jamestown ceased to be a town. The General Assembly's decision to move to Middle Plantation was motivated by concerns about contamination of the drinking water, challenges with disease and living conditions, and the desire for a settlement at a higher elevation. The decision appears to have been based not only on the problems in Jamestown but also the attractiveness of Middle Plantation, which by that time was a rapidly growing and vibrant community.
Jamestown was also briefly occupied (and then abandoned) by Confederates during the American Civil War.