Colonial Jamestown Essay

1165 words - 5 pages

Colonial Jamestown


In 1606 King James I set two companies, the London and the Plymouth, out with three instructions: find gold, find a route to the South Seas, and find the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Five months later, and forty-five men less, the London Company landed on a semi-island along the banks of a river the Indians knew as “Powhatan’s River”. On May 13, 1607, the first permanent British colony had been established in the form of a triangular fort. The men named their fort Jamestown, in honor of their King, and named their land Virginia, in honor or Queen Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen”.

“The company defined Virginia as the entire North American coast between 30º and 45ºN, and extending inland for 50 miles (80 kilometers). Virginia at one time stretched from southern Maine to California and encompassed all or part of 42 of the present 50 states, as well as Bermuda and part of the Canadian province of Ontario.” (Gale group) At first, the men believed they had found paradise. The climate appeared mild, and the natives had reacted friendly. John Smith wrote, “Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitations.” (Colonial History) Then, the beautiful new world turned to blistering heat, swarms of insects, unfit water, starvation, fierce winters, Indian attacks, and shiploads of inappropriately-prepared “Colonists” “whose breeding,” a contemporary said, “never knew what a day’s labor meant." These were men, often lesser scions of nobility, with no future in overpopulated England, who had been lured by the Virginia Company with promises of land and wealth--much as people were lured into going to California during the Gold Rush. But there was no gold in Virginia, and these "prospectors" didn't know how to farm, didn't know how to hunt, and--possibly feeling betrayed by the Virginia Company's promises, and lacking any land of their own--were not known for their spirit of cooperation either among themselves, nor with the local Indians of the Powhatan confederacy.

The only man who was able to somewhat keep peace, both in the colony and with the Indians, was John Smith. Despite the attempts of John Smith, the settlers still suffered one horror after another. Then, to make things worse, Smith was injured in a gunpowder explosion, and had to be shipped back to England. The colony quickly succumbed to anarchy when Smith returned to England just two years after Jamestown was founded. Tensions mounted with the native Powatan Indians, as in Smith's absence, settlers opted to raid Indian food supplies when staples ran out and British ships failed to arrive to replenish supplies (Taylor 127). Disease struck most of the first settlers within the years of 1609-1610. "Only 60 of the original 300 settlers were still alive by May, 1610," according to historian Edward Dodson. That same year, colonists founded Henrico (which later became Richmond), easing the isolation problems and food shortages experienced at...

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