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Unit 2

2.2 European Colonization

3 min readmay 28, 2020

James Glackin


Jamestown

Most emigrants were single males in their teens or early twenties who came as indentured servants. In exchange for passage across the Atlantic, they agreed to serve a master for a stated number of years. The younger the servant the longer he/she had to serve. In return, the master promised to give the laborers proper care and at the conclusion of their contracts, they provided them with tools and clothes according to the custom of the country. It dramatically skewed the colony’s sex ratio. Often men outnumbered women 6 to 1. As a result, servants that lived to the end of their indenture had little prospects for marriage.
After the Roanoke failure, English interest in American settlement declined. During Elizabeth’s reign, the major obstacle to colonization of the New World was raising money. No single person could underwrite the cost of an expedition. The solution was a joint-stock company, which was a business organization in which a group of people could invest without fear of bankruptcy. A merchant or landowner could purchase a share of stock at a stated price and in several years, the investor could anticipate recovering the initial amount plus a portion of whatever profits the company had made. 
In 1606, King James issued the first Virginia charter. It authorized the London Company to establish a plantation in Virginia. This territory covered present day North Carolina to the Hudson. The Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery sailed for America.
The leaders of the colony selected what they considered a promising location without consulting Indians. It was 30 miles from the mouth of the James River on a marshy peninsula, naming the village Jamestowne. The low-lying ground proved to be a disease-ridden death trap and drinking water was contaminated with sea salt. However, it seemed an ideal place to build a fort, since a surprise attack by Spanish or Indians seemed a greater threat. 
Almost immediately, the colonists began quarreling. Adventurers sat around Jamestown while the other men performed crucial agricultural tasks. People were starving because too little labor was expended on the planting and harvesting of crops. These adventurers expected instant wealth like the Spanish in Mexico because there had been tales of rubies and diamonds just laying on the beach, which inflamed their expectations. Instead of cooperating for the common good, individuals pursued personal interests. They searched for gold instead of planting corn. 

John Smith 

Virginia might have gone the way of Roanoke had it not been for John Smith. He traded with the local Indians for food, mapped the Chesapeake Bay and may even have been rescued from execution by a young Indian girl named Pocahontas. In 1608, he seized control of the ruling council and instituted military discipline. The colony then became very successful. He would be severely injured in a gunpowder explosion and would return to England to recover. 
Between 1609 and 1611, the Virginia settlers lacked capable leadership and as a result they lacked food. The winter of 1609-1610 was called the “starving time”. Some colonists were driven to cannibalism. In England, Smith heard that one colonist had killed his wife, salted her and eaten part of her before being discovered and executed. 

Powhatan 

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2Fcropped-North_carolina_algonkin-dorf.jpg?alt=media&token=2f11de30-a089-44b6-a1f1-3e5e34fc0632

John White, “Village of the Secotan, 1585. Wikimedia.

The colonists were living in an area controlled by what was the most powerful Indian Confederation East of the Mississippi River: the Powhatan. Under the leadership of Powhatan, they created a loose association of some 30 tribes. The Powhatans tried to drive out the invaders but it ended in the complete destruction of their empire. 
Only Indians bothered to cultivate tobacco until John Rolfe, who had married Pocahontas, realized that it might be a valuable export. Virginians suddenly possessed a means to make money. Tobacco was relatively easy to grow.

A Successful Colony 

They then established an elective representative assembly called the House of Burgesses to make the colony more attractive to wealthy speculators. Colonists who covered their own transportation cost to America were guaranteed a headright, a 50 acre lot for which they paid only a small annual rent. Adventurers were granted additional headrights for each servant they brought to the colony. A record number of people started to come to Jamestown. 

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