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Virginia Studies 3 (VS3) Notes

VS3a,b,c Jamestown Settlement

In 1606 England, like many other European countries, was searching for more wealth and power. One way to accomplish this goal was to start a new colony in America. The Virginia Company of London wanted to finance a settlement in America for England. This was primarily an economic venture because the Virginia Company and King James I hoped to find silver and gold in the new lands. They were also looking for materials that could not be grown or acquired in England such as wood, furs, and new foods. In addition, they hoped that they would be able to increase their trade with other countries and peoples.

The King of England had the power to allow settlement in North America. In 1606 King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London. This first charter gave the Virginia Company the right to establish a settlement in North America. The charter also ensured, or guaranteed that the settlers would have all the rights and privileges of free Englishmen back home.

It was under the 1606 charter that the London Company sent out its first settlers to Virginia. In 1607 three ships arrived from England with 104 men and boys. The ships were named the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant. Captain Christopher Newport was in charge.

The settlers were told to find a suitable place for their colony. One of the first things they did was to name the nearby river James after their king. Then they chose a narrow peninsula on the James River for their new home. They chose this spot for three reasons: it could easily be defended from Spanish attack by sea; the water close to shore was deep enough for ships to dock; and the settlers thought that it had a good supply of fresh water. Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement in North America in 1607 due to its location and physical characteristics.

Today, Jamestown is located on an island in the James River.

VS3d Virginia’s New Government

As Jamestown grew, its system of government changed. In 1619, King James sent a message from England to the colony of Virginia. He said in his message that the colonists could now begin to make their own laws. That message ended the Virginia Company’s monopoly, or control over land ownership. They thought the colonists would be more motivated if they had ownership of the land.

When this message arrived, the governor of the colony of Virginia called for a meeting of the General Assembly to take place in Jamestown. The General Assembly, which was made up of the governor and two groups of men, the Governor’s Council and the Burgesses, met as one legislative (law-making) body.

• Group #1: The Governor’s Council – These were very wealthy and powerful men who gave advice to the governor.
• Group #2: Burgesses – These were representatives from each of the 11 settlements in the colony of Virginia. Each settlement had two burgesses. At the time, only certain free adult men had the right to be representatives.

This important meeting was the beginning of government by the people. This was exciting because the people in Virginia were used to a king telling them what laws they had to follow.

By the 1640s, the group of men called burgesses became a separate legislative (law-making) body called the House of Burgesses. They met separately from the Governor’s Council as one of the two legislative bodies of the General Assembly.

The House of Burgesses was the first elected legislative body in English America. It gave the settlers control of their own government. This was a brand new kind of government because the people now had the power to control their own government for the first time!

The Virginia General Assembly which is our legislative body today goes back to the establishment of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown in 1619.

VS3e,4a The Colony Changes: Africans, Women, and Tobacco

African men and women, from what is now the country of Angola, were captured by Portuguese sailors. It is not known whether these early African men and women were servants or slaves in Virginia. In 1619, however, Africans arrived in Jamestown against their will. The arrival of Africans would eventually make it possible to expand the planting and harvesting of tobacco.

In 1620 additional women landed in Jamestown on the Bride Ship. This ship was sent to Jamestown by the Virginia Company. If a man married one of the women from the Bride Ship, he had to repay the Virginia Company for her trip with part of his tobacco crop. The arrival of the women made it possible for the settlers to establish families. These growing families made Jamestown a more permanent settlement.

The economy of the Virginia colony depended on agriculture. It was the primary source of wealth. The most profitable agricultural product was tobacco. Tobacco became the cash crop of Virginia. This means that the farmers grew it to sell for money rather than for their personal use. Much of the colony’s tobacco crop was sold in England. The tobacco farms soon grew so large they needed more and more workers to plant and harvest the crop. Steady and inexpensive workers, or laborers, were a must. Soon large numbers of African men, women, and children were brought to the colony against their will to work as slaves on the plantations. As a result, the colony of Virginia began to depend on slave labor. This dependence would last a long time.

VS3f,g The Hardships and Survival of Jamestown

The English settlers found life in Jamestown harder than they expected. One problem was their water supply. Most of the available water was salty and unsafe for drinking. In addition, the marshy land was filled with mosquitoes that carried diseases like malaria. This disease weakened many of the settlers.

Another problem involved the skills of the settlers. Most of the settlers lacked the skills to provide for themselves. They were not familiar with farming or manual labor. They never intended to grow their own food. Instead they were depending on trade with the Indians for food and the supply ships from England. As a result of these problems, or obstacles, many settlers died of disease and starvation.

The arrival of supply ships and the leadership of John Smith were two changes that resulted in the survival of the colony. Smith was eventually elected president of the colony. He began a policy of strict discipline and encouraged farming with this scolding: “He who does not work, will not eat.” Smith encouraged the colonists to grow their own crops for their families. This change put an importance on agriculture and pushed the colonists to work harder.

Captain John Smith also started a trading relationship with the native peoples. Powhatan, the chief of many tribes, provided leadership to his people and taught the settlers these survival skills. This relationship between the native peoples and the English settlers helped in several ways. The native peoples traded mainly food with the English in exchange for tools, pots, and copper for jewelry. They also showed the settlers how to plant corn and tobacco. This interaction was positive until the native peoples realized the English settlement would continue to grow.

Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, acted as the contact between the native peoples and the English. In that role, she helped the English settlers survive even though the native peoples saw them as invaders who would take over their land. Thanks to the leadership of John Smith and the support of Pocahontas, the settlement was in a better position to survive and grow.