In 1607 a small group of Englishmen landed three ships on the banks of the Jamestown River in a place that later became part of the state of Virginia. They hoped to settle there and build the first English colony, or village, in North America.

While hunting in the forest, Captain John Smith found an odd animal with grizzled, gray fur and a bare, scaly tail. Its long, white face ended in a shiny, pink nose. To Smith, this creature looked like a patchwork of a cat, a rat, and a pig. Then he noticed something even more unusual—a pouch hidden in the skin of the animal's belly. Within this fur-lined pocket, a litter of baby opossums was curled up, warm and safe.

Captain Smith had traveled across Europe and Africa, but he had never encountered any creature like this. He asked the local Powhatan Indians what they called it. Apasam, they replied. It meant "white animal." Sounding out the word, Smith wrote it in his journal—opassum. The word later changed to opossum.

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