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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Learning Objective I:

Discuss the background of when, how and why Jamestown was founded. Be sure to discuss the challenges and success the early settlers faced during first few years. Be sure to provide specific examples from the lecture.  



Most modern American citizens consider Great Britain to be their European "parent" country. However, by the time British arrived in the New World and established their first permanent settlement at Jamestown in 1607, much of the continent had already been claimed by other European nations.

All of the modern Southwest, including Texas and California, had been peopled by Spanish settlers for about a century. The entire expanse of land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains had at one point been claimed by France. As discussed in the lecture Age of Conquest, any factors contributed to Britain's tardiness. England was not the most powerful European nation in the 16th century. Spain was most influential. Along with Portugal, Spain dominated New World exploration in the decades that followed Columbus. France, the Netherlands, and Sweden all showed greater interest in the Western Hemisphere than England did.

Richard Hakluyt, a 16th-century geographer interested in explorers and travel narratives, suggested to Queen Elizabeth that New World colonies could serve two purposes. First, they could challenge Spanish domination of the New World. Second, the ever-growing poorer classes could be transported there, easing England's population pressures.

But Elizabeth was not persuaded to invest the public treasury in a venture that was likely to fail. She was not opposed to private investors taking such a chance, however. Raleigh had tried and failed. When it became clear that the wealth of an individual was not enough, the joint-stock company arose.

Joint-Stock Company The joint-stock company was the forerunner of the modern corporation. In a Joint-Stock Venture , stock was sold to high net-worth investors who provided capital and had limited risk. These companies had proven profitable in the past with trading ventures. The risk was small, and the returns were fairly quick.

Granted a charter by King James I in 1606, the Virginia Company was a joint-stock company created to establish settlements in the New World. This is a seal of the Virginia Company, which established the first English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.

But investing in a colony was an altogether different venture.

The risk was larger as the colony might fail. The startup costs were enormous and the returns might take years. Investors in such endeavors needed more than a small sense of adventure. Who led these English colonial expeditions? Often, these leaders were second sons from noble families.

Under English law, only the first-born male could inherit property. As such, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert were all second sons with a thirst to find their own riches. Merchants who dissented from the Church of England were also willing investors in New World colonies. There were plenty of Puritans who had the necessary capital, and with the Catholic-leaning Stuart monarchs assuming the throne the Puritans' motive to move became stronger.

With an excess landless population to serve as workers, and motivated, adventurous, or devout investors, the joint-stock company became the vehicle by which England finally settled the Western Hemisphere. This starkly contrasted with Spanish and French settlements. New Spain and New France were developed by their kings. The English colonies were developed by their people. Many historians argue that the primary reason the relatively small and late English colonization effort ultimately outlasted its predecessors was because individuals had a true stake in its success.

The first joint-stock company to launch a lasting venture to the New World was the Virginia Company of London . The investors had one goal in mind: gold. They hoped to repeat the success of Spaniards who found gold in South America. The London Company, a prime example of a joint-stock company, was a dynamic business venture with two objectives; profit and glory for England. Its leader, Sir Thomas Smith, was reputed to have been London's wealthiest merchant.

In 1607, 144 English men and boys established the Jamestown colony, named after King James I. The colonists were told that if they did not generate any wealth, financial support for their efforts would end. Many of the men spent their days vainly searching for gold. As a consequence, the colonists spent little time farming. Food supplies dwindled. Malaria and the harsh winter besieged the colonists, as well. After the first year, only 38 of the original 144 had survived.

The colony may well have perished had it not been for the leadership of John Smith. He imposed strict discipline on the colonists. "Work or starve" was his motto, and each colonist was required to spend four hours per day farming.

An accidental gunpowder burn forced Smith to return to England in 1609. After his departure, the colony endured even more hardships. A new boatload of colonists and supplies sank off the coast of Bermuda on its way to help the hungry settlement. The winter of 1609-10, known as the "Starving Time," may have been the worst of all.

Disease and hunger ravaged Jamestown. Two desperate colonists were tied to posts and left to starve as punishment for raiding the colonies' stores. One colonist even took to cannibalism, eating his own wife. The fate of the venture was precarious. Yet still more colonists arrived, and their numbers included women.

Powhatan and John Smith

Suggested Viewing

For the first 17 years things were about the same as about 10,000 settlers sailed to Jamestown onlv 1275 survived by 1624. Why had so many colonists died in a lands o rich in potential? The burden of responsibility lay in large measure with the Virginia Company.( After 1609 the London Company was called the Virginia Company.) Supporters of the Virginia Company were in too great a hurry to make a profit. Settlers were shipped to America, but neither housing nor food awaited them in Jamestown. Weakened by the long sea voyage, they quickly succumbed to contagious disease.

Company officials in Jamestown also must bear a share of the guilt. They were so eager to line their own pockets that they

consistently failed to provide for the common good. Jamestown took on the characteristics of a "boomtown." There was no shared

sense of purpose, no common ideology except perhaps unrestrained self-advancement.

The company's scandalous mismanagement embarrassed the king,

and in 1624 he dissolved the enterprise and transformed Virginia

into a royal colony. The changes in government had little impact upon the

character of daily life in Virginia. As a financial proposition the colony was a fiasco; the

shareholders an estimate 200,000 pounds.

However , there were some positive events to occur in Virginia during this formative period. A fortunate by-product of the company's effort to strengthen the Jamestown settlement was the formation of the first representative assembly in English America. Twenty-two burgesses were chosen, two from each of 11 plantations. It was called the House of Burgesses and the meetings were held in the church where this first assembly exercised legislative , executive, and judicial authority, all of which were confined to local problems.

The independence of the House of Burgesses was limited in that any laws enacted were subjected to the acquiescence of the Virginia Company in London . The body developed because of the growth of the colony and the ever changing economic and social conditions required the colonists have more political control over their environment.

The body developed because of the growth of the colony and the ever changing economic and social conditions required the colonists have more

political control over their environment. Thus, self-government was not an American creation, but it was partly an outgrowth of the conditions in America which made it necessary for survival.

At the same time, it was an invaluable legacy from England . The concept of the limited power of the monarch was widely accepted in England starting with the Magna Carta in 1215. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, this idea of basic rights and limited government had evolved from the English mind and experience and was transmitted to the English colonies in the form of this enlightened and far-reaching governmental system in Virginia . This process was called the "Germ Theory"

Another event, but this one was of social significance, saw the Virginia Company in 1619 send 90 young women of marriageable age to the colony. The Virginia planters were to pay 120 pounds of tobacco for the passage of each woman' The purpose was to give stability to the colony by creating a pro European life-style as 90 families were automatically created with the importation of the women. At the same time 100 London slum children were dispatched to Virginia where they became apprentices. This practice continued from time to time as reflected by the events of 1627 when 1500 kidnapped children were sent over to Virginia to provide needed labor and settlers for the colony.

The background on the economic development of Virginia.

The chief objective of the settlement of Virginia which it did not accomplish,

was to find gold. Virginia's charter of 1606 specified that one-fifth of the gold

and silver found belonged to the King. As mentioned, gold fever so seduced the

minds of most early settlers that Jamestown nearly died for lack of food.

Also one of the main reasons for the founding of Virginia, as well as the Carolina's

and later Georgia, was to produce a variety of specialized products. It was thought

in England that silk, figs, olives, lemons, oranges, and other highly desired

commodities could be successfully grown. England also desired Virginia to

produce glass and other raw materials such as tar, pitch and timber. However,

none of the above mentioned products proved to be very profitable during

Virginia's early Years.

Virginia's economic future was assured in 1612 when John Rolfe successfully

planted the first West Indies tobacco seeds in American soil. The tobacco culture

set the pattern for life in Virginia from that time until after the Civil War. Virginia

remained the leading producer of tobacco in the United States until the Civil War.  


Virginia Colony and Indentured Servants