Early History of America: What Factors Allowed Jamestown To survive it’s First Fifteen Years

Published: 2021-09-10 10:50:08
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Category: Tobacco, Pocahontas, Jamestown

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In XVI and early XVII century many of the European nations tried to establish their colonies in that part of the New World, which is now known as North America. English attempts appeared to be most successful when Virginia Company received a relevant consent from King James I and settled a colony called Jamestown after James in 1607. Colonists had to face enormous hardships in their first years in the new country, however, they managed to found a permanent colony – a core for further exploration of the continent.

This paper is to examine and analyze the factors which sustained the colonists success for fifteen years: since 1607 till 1622 using examples from the book “A Land as God Made It” by James Horn, using the edition published in 2006. The paper shall discuss those factors being divided into two periods: from 1607 to 1615 and from 1615 to 1622 and how those factors relate to the total history of Jamestown. The paper shall deal with both positive and negative effects of those factors to make a complex and balanced research. Horn’s book possesses two remarkable characteristics.



On the one hand it is a rather calm and reserved story told without unnecessary fanfares. To the first look it may seem that the author is at all not interested in Jamestown as he speaks about Indians inhabiting the place, previous colonization attempts, and does not admire the romantic story of Pocahontas. English colonists are only a part of the epic history of European movement to America and he describes the story in context. On the other hand Horn is able to create a feeling of “living history”. He knows the people of XVII century well and pays much attention to their everyday life.
A reader can smell smoke of fires, hear gunshots and warlike shouts, being personally in the story. “A Land as God Made It” is a very atmospheric book. At that Horn does not lose the trend and remains a historian but not a belletrist. The book is based on facts but not on legends and is a solid scientific research. Although Horn gives more descriptions than analysis, the factors which influenced Jamestown can be easily derived from the book. Further those factors shall be found and analyzed. The first major factor, leading to survival of Jamestown throughout it’s entire history was the GEOGRAFIC LOCATION.
Actually, Jamestown has not been the very first settlement of Europeans in Virginia. Already in 1570 the Spanish have created a fort of Saint Augustine to protect their trade routes from the pirates as well as for protection of a Catholic mission from the Indians. There were several French attempts to colonize the place but they failed mostly because of the Spanish attacks and little interest of the French government to Virginia. And in fact the Spanish seemed to be the most dangerous enemies of the English in America as well as the French and the Dutch.
So the departing colonists have been instructed to find a place, which would be safe and easy to defend from attacks of Europeans, but little attention has been paid to Indians and to solving hardships with food supplies, which the people of Jamestown later faced. The colonists have made their first permanent camp after several weeks of explorations on a peninsula in the southern part of Chesapeake Bay, and there were several important reasons for this. The chosen place has been situated about fifty miles away from the oceanic coast to avoid surprise attack by the Spanish.
It was surrounded with water with only a narrow portion of sandy terrain tying it with the land. This vulnerable direction could be easily defended by a wooden fence, which the settlers immediately started to build. There was plenty of fish in the bay for food. The bay itself was deep enough to allow big ships sail in it and moor near Jamestown transporting provision, arms and equipment and taking colonial production from Jamestown. On the side of the river the settlement could be defended by ship’s cannons . However, there were also several disadvantages.
The land was quite moistly and unsuitable for agriculture, as well as the peninsula itself lacked building materials like wood and stone. Fresh water was dirty and the surrounding waters were salty. There were no proper sources of water in the surrounding, which later caused many hardships to the settlers including diseases and numerous deaths from dehydration when the colonists were not able to get water from outside the settlement. Local Indians appeared to be very antagonistic to the Englishmen and this often precluded them from leaving the settlement and forced the colonists to survive on a small site of land.
Some of those difficulties were solved via negotiations with the Indians. This makes the second factor: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH INDIANS. Captain’s John Smith diplomatic ability played an important role in survival of the colony right after it has been founded. Local Indian tribes have been united to the Powhatan alliance headed by a great chief Wahunsonacock. Smith became engaged in the series of negotiations, which Horn called "one of the most remarkable series of encounters between Englishmen and Indians in the New World.
" Smith managed not only to provide the safety of the colony from Indian attacks in it’s first and most vulnerable two years, but also to barter enough food for colonists in their first and most harsh winter. Smith organized explorative expeditions around the Chesapeake Bay and successfully traded food with Nansemond Indians. Later he entered into negotiations with Powhatan Confederacy of Indians, which were initially successful, and than after certain misunderstandings arose, almost lead Smith to death and saving by Pocahontas.
The relations between colonists and Indians have been to a great extent based on Smith’s personal authority and his ability to understand and accept Indian customs. It is known that he even received proposals to leave the settlement and become a mighty chief of the local tribes, which he rejected. In 1609 Smith had an accident with firearms and has been sent to England for medical treatment. There is little clarity with the accident and Horn makes an assumption that this could be a result of quarrels between colonists themselves.
Whichever thing happened, Smith’s departure resulted in frosting of the relationships and further conflict between the Indians and the settlers. Negotiations after 1609 were mostly fruitless, and the war broke out again until in the last portion of the colonists was killed in a slaughter leaving the colony deserted in 1622. Shortly thereafter however it has renewed and the British government of Virginia started expelling all indigenous peoples from the country except those who became slaves. Thus a policy of graduate displacement of Indians by the Europeans has begun.
Trading food with Indians allowed the settlement only to survive it’s harshest times, however, active living and exploration would never be possible without the next crucial factor which is active SUPPORT FROM THE HOMELAND. As soon as the first fortifications in Jamestown have been completed, the ships Newport and Susan Constant left back for England with samples of local minerals, leaving only one small vessel to serve the settlers needs. In the next 18 months Newport has twice sailed to from England to Jamestown and back bringing 70 new colonists and small supplies of food and materials.
This is now known as the first and second supply missions, but in fact there were too little supplies for colonists to survive, so they had to make contacts with Indians. Together with Newport other vessels brought skilled craftsmen recruited by the Virginia Company to start industry in Jamestown, including people from Holland, Germany and even Poland. Later these were added by Italians, perhaps starting a tradition of national diversity in America and making Jamestown the first “melting pot” in North America. Seeing colonists hardships in the new land Virginia Company decided to take the point of supplying Jamestown more seriously.
The Sea Venture, a new flagship of the Company, together with eight other vessels sailed to Jamestown in 1609 carrying the third batch of supplies for the colony. In the course of the voyage the fleet had to face a mighty hurricane and Sea Venture was lost near the Bermuda Islands. The survivors managed to build a smaller vessel from the remains of Sea Venture and local tincture and arrive to Jamestown in May 1610. They have found only about a hundred colonists out of original 500, who were willing to leave the colony. However, the governor of Virginia forced them to come back on the half-way home and continue the settlement .
Thusly, imperative will of the British authorities can be considered to be a yet another factor, which contributed to development of Jamestown. In May 1611 three more ships arrived to Jamestown, bringing supplies, cattle and a new governor appointed by the Company – Sir Thomas Dale. The latter decided, that living conditions at the site were unhealthy and called upon reconstruction of Jamestown as well as started arranging expeditions to find a better site for the colony near James River. At a distance up the river Dale started building a settlement of Henricus – a probable place for a new capital of Virginia.
A remarkable supply party arrived in 1619, which included the first Africans to live in North America (unfortunately as slaves) and 90 unmarried women, who were to become wives for single men of Jamestown. However, they were not the first women in Jamestown, as the first ones arrived as wives and maids in 1607, and by 1619 there were already several growing children of Englishmen, who could proudly call themselves Americans. The fourth important factor influencing life in Jamestown was PRODUCTION AND TRADE WITH THE BRITISH HOMELAND.
Virginia Company had a precise aim of obtaining profits from the colony and would never support the colonists, in case they would generate none. Already in 1608 the Company demanded the council of the colony to send commodities which would pay the voyage and to start winning gold, as they were sure that there is enough gold in the New World. Already Newport brought samples of local mineral pyrite, which the colonists confused with gold. However, by 1611 the colony was almost dead since it’s economic effect was vanishing and only King’s desire to have an outpost in America supported the existence of Jamestown.
The only goods which the colonists were able to produce and attempted to export were artifacts of glass. In 1611 however John Rofle’s attempts to raise an export of tobacco yielded their fruits. He started growing new sorts of Nicotiana Tobacco brought from England which were better than local Nicotiana rustica. Successful export of tobacco grown at Rofle’s farm began in 1612. In 1616 he took a voyage to England to persuade investors to provide funds for further development of industry in Jamestown. Upon his return to Jamestown Rofle continued to improve the quality of tobacco, so by 1622 it’s production grew rapidly .
Due to rising interest of investors to tobacco production in Jamestown, the so-called “hundreds” have been established. A hundred was a sort of agricultural division capable of growing certain amounts of agriculture at a certain area. The hundreds created tobacco plantations in the surroundings of Jamestown and later throughout Virginia. In 1617 the export of tobacco reached 50 000 pounds annually creating an economic basis for survival of the colony. Except the mentioned factors there were some, which are less measurable: religious and moral ones.
Almost all the settlers were protestants, who, by virtue of their religious beliefs, took rough with smooth and had a habit for hard work and moderation as well as carried spirit of enterprise and initiative with them. This attitude and this spirit later contributed to prosperity of the country. Europeans tried to begin living in North America for many times. Jamestown appeared to be one of the most successful project of all. Each of the mentioned factors was present in other European colonies, but their successful combination and perhaps luck made exactly Jamestown the most successful of all.

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