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Jamestown (1607) (W8:D1)

Though Sir Walter Raleigh failed to establish Roanoke as the first English settlement, James I, King of England was set on creating the first settlement and laying claim to part of the New World. For this, he commissioned the London Company to sail to the Americas and establish a settlement, and was willing to do everything in his power to keep it. In 1606, under the command of Christopher Newport, they set sail with three ships: The Discovery, Godspeed, and Susan Constant. On the way, they stopped in the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, and then sailed north to Cape Henry of Chesapeake Bay, on April 26, 1607. Because of the experiences of the past, and stories of the indigenous people who lived in the New World, they spent days looking for the most secure location, settling on a Peninsula separated from the mainland by a river they called the James River, after the King. The local tribes would not live there, because it was swampy, with too many mosquitos, and poor soils, but the colonists held security as priority over the possibility of crops, as they were first worried of being attacked. For this reason, they spent much of their time preparing a fort, instead of crops. They called it James Fort, again, after the King.

The settlers arrived too late in the season to plant crops, and since most of the settlers were noblemen, they (nor their manservants) knew how to farm. Two-thirds of the settlers died before supplies could reach them in 1608. This was later deemed “Starving Time.” To pay for supplies and help from England, those who survived produced materials in James Fort, including wood planks. With the new arrivals came craftsmen and glassmakers; glass became an acceptable product to ship. Because supplies were needed to sustain the first settlers, Captain Newport’s second shipment of settlers only added to their starvation. They struggled to irrigate and plant enough crops to sustain the new arrivals. Some of the settlers even went so far as to defect and join the Powhatan tribe, bringing with them weapons and tools; before this, the tribe had none made of iron.

In 1609, the Spanish arrived to scout the area, and were fought off on the sea. The Spanish ship, La Asunción de Cristo, was sent to spy on the settlement, to see if the fort was weak enough to attack, but thanks to the Mary and John English vessel, they were kept away.

The London Company’s investors wanted more than meager glassware and wood; they were looking for specific items, such as gold, or a survivor from Roanoke. Captain John Smith set out with a small group to explore the area and was attacked by a native hunting party, who killed everyone except Smith. They dragged him through the village, parading him as their trophy. When they were done with him, they laid his head against a rock and when they were to “beat out [my] brains,” as Smith wrote in a letter to the queen, 10-year old Matoaka, daughter of Chief Wahunsenacawh, came to his rescue. When the Chief took over the tribe, he was given the same name as his tribe, Powhatan. Matoaka was given the name Pocahontas. She intervened, by cradling his head on her lap, signaling to the rest of the tribe that he wasn’t to be feared or killed. It was there that she pleaded for his life. She would also play a pivotal part for the survival of future colonists. Over her early life, she would bring food, and a peace treaty, among her people and settlers.

In 1609, John Smith was burned from an explosion during a trade expedition, and was sent back to England to give the bad news about the settlement. He reported that there was not much they could send and no gold to mine, unless they sent more craftsmen who could help them, and would not defect to the local tribes. The London Company got the message, and the third supply run came back with better equipment and supplies.

On the way back, though, a strong storm separated the ships; some of the ships made it to James Fort, but the largest, the Venture, carrying most of the supplies, was beached on a reef in the Bahamas. It took the company nine months to build two new ships - the Deliverance and the Patience - with enough space for all the settlers and supplies, before sailing to James Fort. Those in James Fort were much worse; starvation sent them to harvest every creature in the area, including snakes, and then, when that ran out, they began boiling their leather shoes for subsistence. Only 60 of the 214 original settlers survived. The Deliverance and Patience arrived in May, 1610, and the survivors were nursed back to health. Deciding the fort was unviable, the survivors boarded the ships and headed back to England. In the meantime, another ship was coming with much needed supplies, and the settlers returned.

With this fourth supply ship came settlers, who demanded much from Chief Powhatan’s tribe, and the relationship between the two soured, starting the Anglo-Powhatan War. It persisted until Samuel Argall, a naval officer, captured Pocahontas, who was delivered to him by other tribal leaders. This infuriated Powhatan, but she soon soothed the anger on both sides and helped the settlers negotiate peace. At one point, the Powhatan were to attack the settlers, but again she held them back.

It was the arrival of Governor Sir Thomas Dale that changed everything. Until that point, the London Company organized the settlers to farm together and put all crops into a communal storage, and everyone would take what they needed. It was Governor Dale that saw this was not the most effective way to survive. Without permission of the company, he plotted 3-acre farms for each of the original settlers, and smaller plots for the newcomers. They would work the land with their families, and bring their crops to a marketplace, where everyone could purchase and trade crops, according to their wants and needs. The harder the people worked, the better their crops would turn out, and the more they would have (those who couldn’t work were supported).

While shipwrecked in the Caribbean, John Ralfe cultivated enough seed of naturally grown tobacco that he could plant it, when he arrived in Jamestown. He was the first successful tobacco farmer in the Americas. Being successful and wealthy, he was given permission to marry the Powhatan chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. This brought peace to the colony for some time. In 1616, he and Pocahontas traveled back to England to visit his home. In 1617, she fell ill and died; soon to follow was her father. Pocahontas’s brother, a fierce warrior by the name of Opechancanough, was placed in command of the tribe. The settlers encroached more and more into his land to farm, and this again brought contention.

Because of the success of the James Fort, now being called Jamestown, settlers would do anything to leave the starvation and lower-class poverty in England. Since it was so expensive to travel to the American Continent, including room, board, lodging, and land in the Americas, they would register for Indentured Servitude. This meant someone in the Americas would pay their travel expenses, and they, in return, would come serve their benefactors for a specific number of years, (normally three to seven), until they paid back their debt. Those in England who could not pay their taxes, or committed other crimes, would also be stripped of all they owned in England, and sold into servitude, until their debts were paid off. In Virginia, it was against the law to have slaves, but servitude was acceptable. After the debt was paid, they were to receive a portion of their employer’s land.

In 1619, the English landowners gathered and organized the first Representative Assembly in America, called the House of Burgesses, to govern everything that happened in the colony. Only English men were to vote, though. This set off the men of other nationalities, who were most of the craftsmen. The Polish artisans held a strike. They demanded they had a vote, or they would not work; and so, they were given the right to equal votes. This assembly’s first act was to transfer the land given to settlers to now be owned by their occupants. England and the London Company were no longer owners.

During this same year, the first African slave ship, the White Lyon, arrived in Virginia, and sold a family, Anthony and Isabella Tucker, into indentured servitude. By the time they had their first child, William, they were no longer servants, but landowners. See, the Virginia General Assembly made no distinction between black and white indentured servants, and ended their employment with land and the same privileges. The Spanish and British colonies in the Caribbean and South America differed. Slavery was allowed, and as the farmers relied more on African slavery, the majority race in the Caribbean became of African descent.

NOTE: The first slave owner, in the eyes of an American court, was Anthony Johnson, a man who came to the colonies as an African indentured servant, who bought five of his own servants to plant his 250-acre farm, and their son’s 550-acre farms. Anthony’s family became very wealthy and influential in Virginia; his wife and daughters were provided the same privileges as white women. In 1653, John Casor, one of his African servants, went to the authorities and claimed that his servitude had expired 7 years previous, but Johnson would not release him and give him his due. Robert Parker convinced Johnson to free Casor and then offered Casor employment on his farm. Johnson sued, in Virginia courts, to keep his servant, and while Casor initially won the case, Johnson appealed and was awarded that Casor was to be returned, and become indentured for life. Though Casor had two white farmers witnessing on his behalf, the precedent of the lawsuit was poorly managed and fought, and that is what lost him the case. In 1655, Casor was the first, in the colonies, to be recognized by the courts as indentured for life, without committing a criminal act. There were many cases of lifetime indentured servants that were awarded because of crimes committed, for both whites and blacks. One such act included running away from legal servitude. The first on record was John Punch, when he, an African servant, and two other white servants tried to escape, and were caught. They were sentenced to lifetime servitude to their employer.

In 1622, the Powhatan could not allow the settlers to take any more of their land, and joined all their forces together. On the morning of March 22, 1622, they attacked, killing everyone in the farms around the outer edge of Jamestown. Even Governor Dale’s property, a school developed to teach the indigenous children alongside the colonial children, was destroyed, and 71 attendees and staff were killed. In the end of this surprise attack, 400 colonists were killed, and 40 women were taken captive to serve the Indian tribe, or be ransomed back. The warriors withdrew, believing that the settlers would act like other native tribes and move when they lost, but instead, the colonists planned out their revenge, and a rescue. They wanted to retaliate, but those who were left were women, children, and the elderly - those who could not fight back; so, they laid out a new plan. They released a prisoner to the tribe, to negotiate a peace treaty and the release of the women settlers they had taken. A group of settlers came unarmed to meet with the tribe. As a gesture of good faith, they gave a toast with the Powhatan leaders and warriors, but unbeknownst to the tribe, the wine was poisoned, and 200 of their men and leaders were killed (except Opechancanough, who escaped). Thinking they would be attacked, the Powhatan fled with their women captives. By 1624, 3,400 out of the 6,000 who settled there survived.

Activity: Harvesting - You have come to a new land. You are unfamiliar with the surroundings and the people already living there. What do you do to survive? It is recommended to seek three things: food, shelter, and fresh water. After those are found, the next step is to sustain yourself in the area in which you live. This means that you need to provide a sustainable crop of food for your survival. Have you ever planted a seed and watched it grow? Today, we are going to help you grow your first plant, as if you were a settler planting your first crop. Now they would create fields of these seeds, spaced every few inches, but we are only going to plant one this time. Go to to see how to plant your very first seed, and then we’ll learn about what it takes to grow those seeds.

Step 2: Now that you have planted the seed, observe its growth and draw what you see:

Week #2 (After 7 days) - Date:




Week #2 (After 14 days) - Date:




Week #3 (After 21 Days) - Date:




What are your thoughts on what you observed? _____________________________________________



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