Back To CourseWestern Civilization I: Help and Review
17 chapters | 308 lessons
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Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.
If I walked into a random place, let's say our local movie theater, and asked 50 people what they knew about Jamestown, Virginia, there's some hope I'd hear it was an early American settlement. Someone might even correctly tell me it was the first permanent English settlement in America, and there were lots of conflicts between the settlers and the natives. However, if I dug deeper and asked what England's response was to these conflicts, I'm guessing I'd get a bunch of blank stares, and people excusing themselves to get popcorn in time for the previews.
The reasons for this lack of knowledge problem are varied, but I can think of two right off the bat. First, lots of people doodled or slept through history class. Second, those who were awake were mostly taught American history, in which England is consigned to the role of bad guy in the American Revolution. Yes, England gets a role, but is never the star of the show. Today, we're going to remedy this by discussing how England responded to the problems at Jamestown. To get things rolling, let's get to know the English of Jamestown.
To begin, we have Scene One - The Charter. In 1606, the Virginia Company of London, a group of investors, was given a charter, or a written grant, by King James I to settle the parts of North America not already claimed by Spain and France. Desiring a place that would be easy to defend, the company chose land near a river in the Chesapeake Bay region. In honor of their king, they named the river the James and the settlement Jamestown.
This brings us to Scene Two - The Problems. Within a very short time, the English settlers met with serious problems. First, they had settled near lands occupied by the powerful Powhatan natives, a chiefdom of well over 10,000 members. Although trade was established between the English and the natives, the relationship was shaky at best. Adding to the woes of the settlers were undrinkable water, lack of food and a very unfamiliar climate. Making matters worse, many of the settlers were from the upper-crust of English society, and were unaccustomed to manual labor. Put this together with the fact that they had no farming skills, and it's no wonder things went poorly.
This brings us to Scene Three - The Hero and the Starving Time. Fortunately, Captain John Smith emerged as the settlers' leader in 1608. One of his first acts of business was to let everyone know those who didn't work, didn't eat! Unfortunately, Smith's role as leader was short lived, as in 1609 he sustained an injury and returned to England. Once Smith left the scene, things went further downhill. A period of warfare between the settlers and the natives, as well as the deaths of many English from starvation and disease, ensued. This has come to be known as The Starving Time.
In 1610, the few surviving settlers had reached their limit and decided to abandon Jamestown and head back to England. Ironically, as the exhausted settlers made their way up the James River, they were met by an English ship bringing not only supplies, but a second charter from King James. It seemed Mother England and the Virginia Company were not willing to give up their investment quite so easily. The exhausted settlers were ready to run from further conflict, but England was poised to keep up the fight.
However, this time Mother England would play a larger role as the second charter called for stronger central leadership. Along with supplies, the new ships brought a governor who would rule the settlement through military law. This allowed for harsh punishment of any dissenters and brings us to Scene Four - The Military Rule. On an interesting side note, this governor was none other than Thomas West, the Lord De La Warr, whom the state of Delaware is named after.
Under this rule, the governor's first action was to force the bedraggled survivors to return to Jamestown for another go at settlement. In order to make Jamestown a success, England's appointed governor had a plan. Rather than simply rely on trading with the natives for food, the new settlers tried their hand at things like glassmaking and woodworking. However, it wasn't until one of the colonists, the famous John Rolfe, introduced tobacco in about 1613 that things started to really hum.
With this new crop on the scene, and its sale back to England, Jamestown was in need of more workers and more land to sustain the crop. To solve the labor shortage, Mother England again got involved through a system known as headright. Under this system, wealthy Englishmen would pay a poor worker's passage to Jamestown in return for a portion of land. While the wealthy Englishman reaped the profits from the acreage, the poor workers were known as indentured servants, consigned to work until their passage fees were paid.
To solve the land problem, settlers further encroached on the lands occupied by the Powhatan natives, giving us Scene Five - The Massacre. Of course, the native populations were none too thrilled about this new English tactic, and violence soon ensued. In 1622, these conflicts came to a major head with the 1622 Massacre, in which the Powhatan attacked the settlement and killed over 300 settlers, including women and children. When news of the massacre reached England, it responded by sending more supplies, men and weapons. With this, all constraints seemed to lift from the settlers, and they began killing the natives en masse. During this time, English soldiers wiped out entire native villages.
This brings us to our last Scene - The Charter Dissolved! While these conflicts waged and profits plummeted, the Virginia Company of London began to lose credibility in the eyes of the king. This is not surprising when you realize thousands of English lives had been lost at Jamestown. With this in mind, the throne of England had had enough of lives lost and money wasted. In 1624, King James let the final boot drop by dissolving the charter and the rights of the Virginia Company to rule Jamestown. He claimed all of Virginia as a royal colony, under complete control of the throne. It would remain as such until the dawning of the Revolution.
In 1606, King James granted the Virginia Company of London a charter to settle in North America. Desiring a land they could defend, the travelers settled on the James River, naming their settlement Jamestown. Unaccustomed to the climate, lacking water and being unskilled in labor, many settlers died from disease and starvation. Making matters worse, their dealing with the natives of the area were tenuous at best.
Despite the efforts of men like Captain John Smith and John Rolfe, the settlement was plagued by death and warfare with the natives. Although Mother England tried to instill order by establishing central control through military rule, things went from bad to worse. Finally, after the devastating massacre of 1622 and the failure of the Virginia Company, the king dissolved the charter and claimed all of Virginia as a royal colony.
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Back To CourseWestern Civilization I: Help and Review
17 chapters | 308 lessons