Virginia Company: Charter, Definition & History

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Discover the Virginia Company, a joint stock company that was created to help found Jamestown, one of the earliest colonies in America. Learn about the development of the colony and the eventual end of the Virginia Company.

Definition of the Virginia Company

The Virginia Company was a joint stock company that was approved by King James I to create new settlements in the colony of Virginia. A joint stock company is a business organization with which investors pooled money in order to purchase stock in a company. The Virginia Company had two divisions, one was intended to plant a colony between the 34th and 38th parallels and the other was intended to plant a colony between the 41st and the 45th parallels.

Stained glass window depicting the coat of arms of the Virginia Company
Stained glass window depicting the coat of arms of the Virginia Company

The Charter of the Virginia Company

The charter of the Virginia Company was a document from King James I that granted approval for the Virginia Company to establish two settlements in the New World and granted the joint stock company the right to govern the colonies they established. One of the settlements, the Plymouth Colony, only lasted for about a year after it was established. That territory eventually was granted to the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth several years later. The other settlement approved in the charter was established at Jamestown.

John Smith

The joint stock holders of the Virginia Company expected the settlers at Jamestown to return to England with gold, wine, citrus fruits, olive oil, and gemstones. The stock holders and the King believed that the settlers of the New World would find riches in their new home.

The History of the Virginia Company

The Virginia Company's initial voyage to the New World consisted of 104 men and boys sailing in three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. They arrived at their new home in May of 1607 and named their new settlement, Jamestown, for King James. Life in the settlement was very difficult for the first few years. Although the settlers moved to the New World in order to make money, few of them were accustomed to working full time.

Without the intervention of John Smith, an experienced military leader and the assistance of the neighboring Powhatan Native Americans, most of the colonists would have likely died during their first year in the colony. Smith enforced martial law and forced a crop planting and work schedule for all the colonists. The Powhatan showed the English how to plant corn, a New World crop, and traded food for European weapons. They did not realize until too late that the English were more than temporary visitors.

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