Jamestown Study Guide
In the late 16th
century (1500s) and early 17th century (1600s), some European
countries were in competition to increase their wealth and power by
expanding their empires to the New World. The English were one of these countries. The first permanent English
settlement in America was Jamestown, founded
in 1607, primarily as an economic venture.
Jamestown was financed by
the stockholders of the Virginia Company of
They hoped to become wealthy and powerful because, firstly, they expected the
settlers to find silver and gold in America. They also believed that an
American settlement would furnish raw materials that could not be grown
or found in England. Lastly, they counted on being able to open new markets
The stockholders of the
Virginia Company expected the settlers to find silver and gold and send it back
to England. Unfortunately, the settlers did not find these precious metals.
They were lucky if they could simply find the things they needed to survive.
They believed that the
settlers would find raw materials that could be shipped back to England. These
raw materials could be used to produce and sell goods not available in England
and other parts of Europe. Tobacco is a good example of a raw material which was exported
back to England and sold for a high
At the time Jamestown was
settled, trading was an important way to get goods. The stockholders hoped to
open new markets for trade. The settlers traded goods with the Indians to
When the settlers arrived
from England, choosing a location was essential to their survival. Both the
location and physical characteristics influenced the decision to settle at
In 1607, Jamestown was
located on a narrow peninsula bordered on three sides by the
A peninsula was a wise choice, as it could easily be defended from the
Spanish if they attacked by the sea.
In order for the ships to
be able to enter and exit the new settlement, they needed a waterway that was
deep enough for ships to dock. Jamestown fit that description.
Fresh water was necessary
for their short and long term survival. They believed that
Jamestown had a good supply of
fresh water. They soon learned that they were close enough to the Chesapeake
Bay and the Atlantic Ocean that the water was
brackish. In other words, the water supply was too salty to provide
healthy drinking water.
The King of England granted
charters to the Virginia Company of London. These charters gave
the Virginia Company the right to establish a settlement in North America.
The first charter given to
the Virginia Company of London established companies
to begin colonies in the New World. These companies financed the first
voyages to Jamestown. They paid for transportation, supplies, and other
The charters extended
English rights to the colonists. This meant that even though they were far
from home, the colonists still had the same rights as any English citizen.
In 1619, the
governor of Virginia called a meeting of the Virginia Assembly. The
Assembly included two citizen representatives (called “burgesses”) from
each of the divisions of Virginia, the governor’s council, and the
governor. At that time, only adult men were considered citizens.
Despite their hardships,
the Virginia Assembly continued to meet. By the 1640s, the burgesses
became a separate legislative body, called the Virginia House of Burgesses.
The Virginia House of
Burgesses was the first elected legislative body in
giving settlers the opportunity to control their own government. It became the
General Assembly of Virginia, which continues to this day.
The year 1620 was a
significant one in the history of Jamestown. Although there were a few women
who had come there before 1620, the arrival of large numbers of women
began then. This made it possible for the settlers to establish families,
and make Jamestown a more permanent settlement.
Also, in 1620, began the
arrival of Africans in Jamestown. Unlike the women, the Africans were
brought there against their will. It is believed that they arrived as
baptized Christians and therefore were labeled indentured servants.
Indentured servants were given their freedom, but only after working for a
period of five to seven years.
The arrival of Africans
made it possible to expand the tobacco economy. By 1620 tobacco was the
most important crop grown at Jamestown. It was the cash crop that
ensured the colonists’ survival. Africans became slaves, providing an
inexpensive work force for growing, harvesting, and transporting tobacco.
The English colonists found
life in Jamestown harder than they had expected. First of all, the site they
chose to live on was marshy and lacked safe drinking water. Also, the
settlers lacked some of the skills necessary to provide for themselves.
Finally, many settlers died of starvation and disease.
There were changes,
however, that ensured their survival. For example, the arrival of two supply
ships brought the sick and hungry settlers food and other things they
needed. It was also helpful that Captain John Smith used his strong
leadership to force the settlers to work. If not, they would get no food. Most
importantly, was the emphasis on agriculture, specifically to growing and
selling of tobacco.
The Powhatan people and the
English settlers at Jamestown established trading relationships and for a while
had positive interactions. Captain John Smith initiated relationships
with the Powhatans. They traded food, furs, and leather with the English
in exchange for tools, pots, guns, and other goods.
The Powhatan people
contributed to the survival of the Jamestown settlers in several ways. For
example, Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, believed the English and
American Indians could live in harmony. She began a friendship with the
colonists that helped them survive. Also, the Powhatans introduced new crops to
the English, including corn and tobacco.
The Powhatan people
realized the English settlement would continue to grow. They saw the
colonists as invaders that would take over their land. Because of this,
they became distrustful, and later they became hostile. Whatever relationship
they had, began to fall apart.
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