How Was the English Colony of Jamestown Founded?

The English Colony of Virginia began in Jamestown in 1607, with Captain John Smith elected leader in 1608. In its first years, the colony was plagued by swift-spreading diseases due to large amounts of standing water, as well as unskilled laborers who were used to having someone else do the dirty work. During the winter of 1609-1610, a period known as the Starving Time was responsible for the death of a large proportion of settlers; they had little supplies and few crops to support them. The popularity of tobacco led a large amount of new English settlers to the colony and led to profitable trade between the Jamestown and England. In 1619, 20 African indentured servants arrived and would result in Virginia becoming the first colony to legalize slavery in 1660. King James I wanted to exercise more control over the area, so Virginia was made a Royal Colony in 1624. After the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, many supporters of the King settled in Virginia, which led to some problems. The wealthier settlers pushed the poor people farther inland, where they were susceptible to Indian attacks and were underrepresented in the House of Burgesses. Nathaniel Bacon led a frustrated group of settlers in the burning of Jamestown to the ground, destroying the majority of the wealthy settlers’ homes. This event came to be known as Bacon’s Rebellion.


The English Colony of Virginia
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The English Colony of Virginia


The English Colony of Virginia, which began at Jamestown, was at first plagued by a poor location and a lack of skilled laborers. First, Jamestown was started on a peninsula that had a lot of free-standing water, which led to mosquitoes and malarial conditions. It wasn’t very suitable for farming, so people were unable to grow crops right away, and they had a lack of skilled laborers.


Many of the people who had traveled were noblemen who weren’t used to getting their hands dirty or anything to do any hard work, or their man servants who were also used to just taking care of their nobleman’s business. They didn’t have to actually go out and do a lot of hard work. People who had originally arrived as colonists in Jamestown didn’t really know how to live this new life. They weren’t skilled laborers ready for this kind of a job. Their location wasn’t a very good location. Captain John Smith was elected leader in 1608.


This was a good thing for Jamestown, because he proved to be the strict leader the colony needed to survive. If there wasn’t and someone who was very strict and in control making sure food was rationed, making sure people were working, then the colony probably wouldn’t have survived. John Smith was a strict leader and he helped the colonies survive. However, a large proportion of the settlers died during the winter of 1609-1610, which came to be known as the starving time.


The colony hadn’t really gotten on its feet yet. It didn’t have crops grown. It didn’t have a lot of food, so a lot of people starved or they got sick and then they died, because they still didn’t have any good nutrition. They were unable to heal. Out of about 500 people, there were only about 60 that survived. It was a huge proportion of the settlers that were there that died during the starving time. In the end, what saved the Virginia Colony was the wild popularity of tobacco.


This is because tobacco flourished as a crop in this area. When England realized how popular tobacco was and how they could sell this to their neighboring countries back in Europe, they thought it profitable to send more supplies and more colonists to Virginia. They kept the Virginia colony going so that more tobacco and eventually other goods could be shipped back to England for trade. In 1619 the House of Burgesses met, becoming the first legislative body to be formed in the New World.


Now, King James I of England correctly predicted that this would only lead to trouble for his nation. The legislative bodies were supposed to be in England. The people who were in English colonies were supposed to be considered Englishman with the full rights of Englishman, but having their own legislative body meant that they were going to be doing more governing in their own area and maybe not listening as strongly to England’s governance. In 1619, 20 African indentured servants arrived on a Dutch warship.


That would be your first African slaves that would be arriving in the New World. Virginia would become the first colony to legalize slavery in 1660. They were the first colony. They had the first slaves come in in 1619. Eventually, when the subject came up of legalizing slavery, Virginia was the first state, or the first colony, to legalize slavery in 1660. Virginia officially became a royal colony in 1624. This was in part because the Virginia Company, which was the joint stock company that had previously administered affairs, had gone bankrupt.


The Virginia Company had previously handled the affairs of the colony in Virginia. That’s because they had formed a joint stock company where several people put in money and then they would all get a reward back from any profits that were turned with this company. One person wouldn’t have to pay for a ship and supplies and colonists to travel across the ocean with food and everything else they would need to start this colony. Several people went in together on this in a joint stock company.


They all put money in, and, based on how much they put in, they would get a percentage of profits back. They had formed this joint stock company, but it went bankrupt in 1624, so someone else had to take it over. Now, someone else may have come in and pulled in all those loose ends and taken over the Virginia Company or the affairs of the Virginia Company. King James I wanted to exercise more control over this area. He already thought that having the legislative body the House of Burgesses was going to be trouble.


He thought if this is a royal colony, he would have more control over what went on in Virginia. King James I said, “Okay, your company went bankrupt. We’ll take over the colony of Virginia as a country. This will be a royal colony.” After the English civil wars of the 1640s, many of the supporters of the king, known as Cavaliers, settled in Virginia. This led to some problems.


During this period, the wealthy colonists, a lot of which would have been the supporters of the king, began claiming coastal land and pushing the poor people further inland, where they were prey to Indian attacks and were under-represented in the House of Burgesses. These wealthy people coming in and settling in Virginia said, “We’re richer. We’re going to take these better lands.” They stayed along the coast where it was safer.


They pushed the poor people further inland where things hadn’t been quite as domesticated and where Indian attacks were going to be more common, because they were closer to where the Indians were living. They were under-represented in the House of Burgesses, since they weren’t right there were all the action was happening along the coast anymore, they weren’t always represented well whenever the House of Burgesses met.


They didn’t feel like this was fair. Frustrated, a group of settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon burned Jamestown to the ground. He would have been one of those settlers that had been pushed back, and he would have had these group of settlers that were poor, that had been pushed back, that felt like their rights were being taken away. They burned the whole colony to the ground. Now, this didn’t destroy everything, because there had been more of an expansion of the Colony of Virginia, but Jamestown, the outpost and kind of capital for Virginia, was burned to the ground.


All those wealthy people that were living along the coast had their homes, or where they were living, burned to the ground. This became known as Bacon’s Rebellion. It is thought of by many as a harbinger of things to come. That’s because Nathaniel Bacon and his followers, those other settlers, showed that they would not be pushed around. They weren’t going to let people come in from England and rule them, or push them out of land that they thought was theirs.


They weren’t going to be ruled by a tyrant. Much later in the American Revolution, you had people who considered themselves Americans, the colonists, provoked by the tyrant of England and they rebelled themselves. Nathaniel Bacon and his followers kind of showed that spirit that these colonists were holding onto not wanting to be pushed down and not wanting to be told what to do by people that had come from England. Whenever they had been living there in America themselves for some time.


Some people do consider that a harbinger of things to come. The English Colony of Virginia began at Jamestown, and it didn’t start off that well, because it was in a poor location and people who had traveled there with the first group of colonists weren’t really trained for this environment. They weren’t skilled laborers. They weren’t used to hard work. Many of the first colonists died in those first few years, but with the popularity of tobacco, England that enough supplies and more colonists to let the Colony of Virginia survive.


There was a legislative body formed. Slavery came to be in the Colony of Virginia. The colony eventually became a royal colony. When the Virginia Company went bankrupt, King James I saw this as an opportunity to exercise more control over the colony. Then, after the English civil wars, when wealthy people were moving from England to the Colony of Virginia, the colonists that had been there for awhile showed that they were not going to be pushed around just because they were poor.


They felt like they had a right to this land and they weren’t going to be held back. The Colony of Virginia had a rocky start, but it eventually spread its roots and stayed firmly planted in the New World.



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Last updated: 09/10/2018

 

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