Jamestown provided the colonists with a deep-water port in a defensible location. Because shoreline settlements and camps allowed for easier transportation and a ready source of food, the colonists and Virginia Indians both lived on or near major waterways.
The James River continued to be an important feature of the town even after Jamestown expanded beyond the confines of its small, palisaded fort. Throughout the 17th century, the waterfront bustled with activity. Ships with imported goods for the colonists docked at the numerous wharves, where stevedores waited to roll hogsheads of tobacco onto the waiting vessels.
More than once, laws were passed that made Jamestown the colony's exclusive port of entry. These acts required all ships to load and unload at the colony's governmental seat.
That every ship arivinge in this colony from England, or any other parts, shall, with the first wind and weather, sayle upp to the porte of James Citty, and not to unlade any goods or breake any bulke before she shall cast anchor there, upon payne that the captayne and mayster of the sayd ship shall forfeite the sayd goods or the value thereof, and shall have and suffer one mounthes imprisonment.
A Grand Assembly Holden at James Citty, Act XX, The First of March 1631-2