In the early 17th century England was in the process of expanding its colonial scope by creating some of its first settlements in North America. Why did the English settle in Jamestown?
The English were faced with a clear choice when first approaching North American land, one that involved pulling their ships up at an unoccupied piece of land that would promise them a stable future. However, their expectations were not completely met following their arrival.
For more on the English settlement in Jamestown and what we know about the reasons behind it, read on.
A Safe Spot
From the moment they first stepped foot onto Jamestown, the English Settlers perceived it as the ideal location providing them with a fresh new beginning. For this to happen, they were met with the need to protect the new land, which was only off the mainland by a short distance of narrow land, making it an ideal spot to defend.
While the English often cooperated with the native American Powhatan tribes through business exchanges between various tools and the tribe’s food resources. But the two parties proved to lack a fixed relationship, given the frequent violence that would break out, mostly on behalf of the tribe’s members.
The reliance on gaining access to provisions from the native Americans through a passive-aggressive relationship was vital to the colonists during the continuous chain of incidents such as disease, or a fire being accidentally broken out by one of the colonists. Indeed, the colonists were keen on presenting their situation as rather too hopeful to correspondents in England.
Although the easy accessibility of water and natural resources seemed very promising from the view of the land from a ship’s deck, the colonists were quick to realize that it was a land lacking any source of freshwater or easy access to nutrition without requesting, sometimes forcefully, the help of local tribes.
Nevertheless, the local tribes provided the English with access to several new crops such as corn and tobacco that would benefit the colonists in extending their settlement during hardships such as famine.
The discovery of new crops helped the English foster an export market, and the addition of the enslaved labor of African men and women arriving at Jamestown made it even more manageable. The colonists were also interested in finding gold, one of the main objectives of the Virginia Company in London, by bringing along gold mining experts to locate the precious mineral, though the efforts were in vain.
A distinguishing crop that came to dominate the colony’s crop economy was tobacco, which was used by the colonists to outpass Spanish tobacco’s position in the British market. This was inherently due to one colonist, John Rolfe’s initiation in seeing the value in the tobacco crop which was replaced with a more efficient kind from the West Indies.
Depending on tobacco proved to be essential, as other colonists gradually began to imitate Rolfe’s experimentation, transforming Jamestown into a profiting colony. Suffice to say, the weather conditions which the colonists had before arrival thought to be tolerable would frequently prove to fluctuate, affecting crop harvests which not only hindered the economy but also caused a large number of deaths.
A Marriage of Cultures
Amid the rising tensions between the Powhatan tribes and the colonists, the marriage of Pocahontas, the daughter of the Chief Powhatan, and John Rolfe brought about temporary peace in Jamestown. With Pocahontas’ conversion to Christianity and loyalty to her husband and the English settlement, the relationship between the two factions grew fonder and tensions had almost vanished.
It was Pocahontas’ death during her trip to England that only enhanced a sense of agitation among the Powhatans who had grown impatient with the English and their demand for land and resources.
Apart from seizing their land, the English posed a threat to the Powhatans’ health, bringing along diseases from the Old World. While the New Town was established thanks to the growing independence of growing new crops, it was soon a subject of a series of attacks by Powhatans not long after Pocahontas’ death, only to be stopped following Jamestown turning into a royal colony.
To this day, archaeologists have been actively excavating Jametown’s sights to find remains of the original settlement of Jamestown which was previously thought to have sunk into the James River. The immeasurable amount of remains that have been found help to create a piece of a puzzle forming this designated moment in American history.