Identify some of the major leaders and groups responsible for the founding of the original colonies in North America. 1) Who founded the colony
2) When was the colony founded
3) Why was the colony founded (Political, social, economic, religious)
4) History of the Colony leading up to the French and Indian War
5) Colonies relationship with the Native Americans
6) Slave population
Key Terms
Virginia Company
Captain John Smith
John Rolfe
Virginia House of Burgesses
Chesapeake Colonies
Sir William Berkeley
Bacon's Rebellion

Team of Lauren C and Brittany C

Original 13 States Map
Original 13 States Map

In a quest for physical and financial growth to compete with that of the Spanish, along with the minor intent of spreading Christianity, King James I of England approved a charter for their first settlement in the New World in 1606. The group of wealthy London businessmen that initiated the pursuit established the Virginia Company. The following year, the group landed in the Chesapeake Bay, and traveled down the Powhatan River, which they named James River in honor of their king. Upon landing, Captain John Smith, with the help of the rest, founded the first permanent English colony at Jamestown in 1607. Of all of the men that made up the Virginia Company, only a few were skilled workers or farmers, so most historians believe that they expected to take advantage of the indigenous people to find wealth, much like the Spanish did through pillaging (Wood 2011). The native Algonquian Indians were resistant, however.

Captain John Smith
Captain John Smith

The Indian chief Powhatan was disgusted with the foreigners' attempt to manipulate his people and exhaust them of their vital resources. His attempt at attacking Jamestown in 1618 failed, however, so he resorted to peaceful negotiation--offering his youngest daughter Pocahontas to wed one of the leading colonists John Rolfe. He also saved Captain John Smith from execution and provided the explorers with corn in exchange for weapons (Henretta 2007). Peace would inevitably fail to last, though, and war would erupt between the Native Americans and the English explorers.

Starting in 1622, the Algonquian Indians attacked the English with the intent of permanently destroying their settlement; as many as a third of the men were killed. They retaliated by inviting the Indians to a supposed peace negotiation, but really ended up poisoning their drinks, killing about 200 of them (Wood 2011). The English also made up for their losses by depriving the Indians of their resources, the basis of their survival. The primary factor for the settlers' ultimate victory, however, was the constant flow of English immigrants, who would make up for any previous deaths and overtake the rest of the natives.

Although the natives were responsible for many of the explorers' deaths, the failings of the colony of Virginia were predominantly caused by natural conditions and the ineptitude of the colonists. The colonists did not accurately understand the Indians' culture, and showed no interest to learn; instead, they tried to take advantage of them and resorted to violence. Thus, they failed to maintain peace and order within the colony. Also, that the colonists came so unprepared and unskilled, they were dependent on impractical outside help from the start. The James River also greatly detrimented the colony, as it was a germy, slow-moving tidal river that moistened the land around it, where mosquitos could then thrive and spread malaria and other deadly diseases. To add to the already unhealthful conditions, the men dumped their garbage and sewage into the water, making it extremely unsanitary and dangerous to use (Wood 2011). Due to disease alone, most of the original settlers died. The extremely high death rate due to all of the failures was a major failure in and of itself. There was seemingly no way for unprepared, foreign men to begin a lasting civilization in a land where everything was against them, but they would prove the odds wrong and instead create the foundation for the greatest government in modern day.

The Virginia Company created a system of representative government through the establishment of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Starting in 1619, it practiced the right to make laws and levy taxes, since individual settlers were allowed to own more than 100 acres of land (Henretta 2007). The governor, as well as England's council, could veto any act of this new government, however. In 1624, James I took it upon himself to make Virginia a royal colony, with no more charter. The House of Burgesses was still to be in effect, but now the king's Privy Council was to approve of all legislation. Furthermore, Virginia had to pay taxes to the Church of England. Each of the royal colonies to follow would copy this overall system.

With Virginia's government a clear success, its economy would make the colony a force to be reckoned with. Tobacco was the major cash crop that brought Virginia's success, but not until John Rolfe introduced the first sweet--rather than strong and unappealing--tobacco to the region. They traded this high-priced crop for food with other colonies, making it so that sustenance was no longer a problem (Wood 2011). As Virginia started to thrive and stabilize, they needed more land, and so, they moved westward; as a result, more labor was needed.

Cheap labor was essential to maximize profits of Virginia, as well as Maryland, which developed virtually the same tobacco-based economy. The Chesapeake was the common region they shared, where they used the same system of labor. The Virginia Company would bring people over to the region, which was divided up into the Chesapeake Colonies; here, they would become indentured servants. The plantation owners would pay the Virginia Company for the expensive import of the new workers, who would pay off their debt though labor of approximately seven years (Wood 2011). Because of a low life expectancy, it was not practical to purchase the more-expensive African slaves who would work for life; the extra service that came with them would not be used, because they would probably die after seven years, or even the plantation owners themselves. When the life expectancy grew, however, the extra service was useful--and profitable. The percentage of people in Virginia who were slaves grew from 7% in 1680 to 42% in 1770 (Shmoop Editorial Team). Slavery would endure, as well as the racism and cruel treatment that went with their status of "property."

The Chesapeake Colonies grew dependent on the tobacco industry, as did people's civility. When an economic depression lasted from 1660 to the 1700's as a result of fluctuating tobacco prices, colonists began to take out their frustration on the Native Americans. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon, a relative of Virginia Governor Sir William Berkeley, raced a mob of 300 men, who killed off the local tribes. He then gathered up a total of 1200 men, with whom he planned to drive all Native Americans out of the colony, until Berkeley forbid it; Bacon rebelled however, hence the name Bacon's Rebellion, and proceeded to burn Jamestown (U.S. History I: Chesapeake Colonies: Virginia, Maryland - CliffsNotes). Virginia's contrasting respectable government and brutal actions foreshadowed the country that would emerge and endure to this day.

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