Why did the English select the site they did?
Jamestown is famous because it is regarded as being the first permanent British settlement in the entire United States of America. Jamestown is located along the Powhatan or James River on the east side. However, there have been questions and research by scholars seeking to know why the English selected Jamestown to be their first permanent settlement. To start off, it should be noted that Jamestown is located in the state of Virginia. It is in this state that the Virginia Company of London was situated at the time. This, therefore, serves to provide the first explanation as to why the first voyage from England to the United States was explicitly to Jamestown and was funded by the Company.
The British ferried people to Jamestown from England so that they could serve as the prospectors of the Virginia Company of London while also having a keen interest in the vast natural resources which were scattered in the area (Sharpe, M. (2014). The Virginia Company of London was in stiff competition with the Plymouth Company of London with regards to finding or discovering many profitable colonies in what was then regarded to as the new world. The Virginia Company was explicitly assigned to finding a favorable area along the coast to be their control base. The company was given specific instructions that this area was supposed to be highly defensible against the likely attacks from the Spanish forces that competed with the English at the time.
In addition to being defensible from sea attacks, the area was reportedly supposed to have a cove with deep waters to facilitate the docking of ships. Also, the area was supposed to be located inland, but be surrounded by deep water. However, the company was directed that that specific area should not be occupied by any native tribes. The tribes being referred to here are the Asian immigrants who had inhabited North America fifteen thousand years before the colonial conquest. As a result, the area of Jamestown was selected because officials from the company believed that it ticked all the boxes and met the above criteria.
Was it a good choice? Why or why not?
The choice of Jamestown cannot be regarded as an excellent choice by the English. For instance, despite their belief that the area was not inhabited by the indigenous community, it was occupied by the Powhatan tribe which lived along the river and the coast. This, therefore, means that one of the qualifications provided by the company had already been breached. The area was also faced with a very severe famine and as a result, took a very long time to experience and achieve any form of success. As a result, to further provide evidence that the area was not a good choice, the people inhabiting it later relocated to the region of Williamsburg, which eventually proved to be a better choice than Jamestown.
What was the original purpose of the expedition that founded Jamestown?
Several explanations exist with regards to the original purpose of the expedition that founded Jamestown, in the event making it the first permanent residence in America. The most valid explanation is that the expedition traces back to Sir Walter Raleigh; who was an adventurer as well as a courtier to Queen Elizabeth 1. In fact, the area was called Virginia as a result of honoring his virgin queen. Sir Raleigh is said to have organized at least three expeditions aimed at colonizing North America in the 1580s. However, the expedition proper was in the 1600s, when King James of England granted a charter to the Virginia Company of England; which was comprised of London gentlemen and merchants. The charter given to the company directed it to establish permanent English settlements in the area; which later came to be known as the Chesapeake area in North America.
Upon the granting of the charter, the company was issued with three clear objectives, which serve to be the original purpose of the expedition that founded Jamestown. The first objective was to discover natural resources in the area; specifically gold. The second objective was to identify and establish a water route to the South Seas. The third and final original purpose of the expedition was to find the lost colony of Roanoke. As a result, the above objectives tend to serve the original purpose which led to the flagging of the expedition which eventually led to the founding of Jamestown.
What saved the Virginia colony from ruin?
It should be noted that the area of Jamestown was not a very conducive one for settlement. In fact, the neighboring native communities had migrated from it and instead resided or formed villages in nearby areas. For instance, they avoided the region since its water was associated with diseases and its soil was not so fertile to support the crops they used to grow. It is as a result of this abandonment of the area by the indigenous people which made the English conclude that the area was not occupied, and with it being surrounded by water and having deep coves for docking their ships, felt that it was an ideal location.
The area did not have drinkable water and as a result, led to the colonialists digging up wells. However, they also realized that the well water was also not potable. The colonialists began perishing, and within the first year, half of them had died. This was further worsened by the presence of mosquitoes which caused more diseases. The English were so concerned with gold exploration that they seldom planted crops and as a result started starving. As a result, it was evident that the Virginia colony was on the edge of ruin. However, Captain John Smith arose and became the leader of the surviving individuals and is as a result credited with saving the colony from total collapse and ruin.
He came up with a new rule which indicated that anyone who did not work would not receive any food. As a result, this forced the English to plant food crops and set up fences to protect themselves from attacks from the Spanish (Sheppard, D. E. (2001). To further save his people, Captain John Smith made alliances with the indigenous communities, specially the Algonquian Indians to further enhance peaceful coexistence. Also, the peaceful coexistence entailed trading among the settlers and the Indians. However, the colony was eventually encountered with a disastrous famine which forced people to resort to feeding on dogs, cats, and rats. By the time Captain John Smith returned from England, only sixty English were left.
However, it is the eventual discovery of tobacco which served to save the Virginia colony from total ruin ultimately. The English later realized that the tobacco was at the time more valuable than the gold they had initially come to explore for. They resorted to the large-scale growing of tobacco which they would ship and sell it back to England. The tobacco trade proved to be very successful and made the colony very rich and therefore able to sustain itself. Consequently, it is the efforts of Captain John Smith and the discovery of tobacco which together combined to save the Virginia colony from ruin.
How did the English view themselves in comparison to the indigenous people?
The relationship between the English and the native people was somewhat complicated. This is because they varied from peaceful coexistence to attacks and tensions. The relationship, therefore, serves to give one an idea of how the English colonialists regarded or viewed themselves in comparison to the indigenous people inhabiting neighboring villages. The initial relationship was peaceful, with the English greatly benefiting from help from the natives which saved them from starvation. However, with time, the first colonialists settling in the area near Roanoke started viewing themselves as being unique and superior to the natives. This is evidenced by the English soldiers using force while demanding food from the indigenous people. This precipitated an attack which led to the soldiers being outnumbered and overpowered and eventually fleeing.
After the discovery of tobacco which prevented the perishing of the Europeans, the colonialists in Virginia were able to generate a lot of capital by selling it back in England. The tobacco ended up being the “new gold,” and as a result, the English cleared up large tracts of land to plant it. This newly discovered wealth led to the creation of vast wealth such that reinforcements were brought in to help colonize the area. The English started viewing themselves as superior and eventually captured the natives and used them as slaves working for no pay at their vast tobacco fields.
The settlers of the Virginia Company wanted to reap the rewards for the vast resources they had put in bringing in the colonialists. Therefore, they felt that bringing in laborers from England would be expensive since they would have to pay them. As a result, they viewed the natives as sources of cheap and eventually free labor when the proper colonization began. It is as a result of this that numerous wars were fought leading to the destruction and rebuilding of Jamestown as well as the abandonment of Jamestown and the English moving their capital to Williamsburg. In conclusion, therefore, the English viewed themselves as being superior over the other native communities inhabiting the area as evidenced by their treatment of the indigenous people.
Sharpe, M. (2014). Jamestown.
Sheppard, D. E. (2001). Spanish exploration and conquest of Native America. Native American Conquest Corp.
Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. (1997). Jamestown Rediscovery. Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA.