The Founding of Jamestown

The Founding of Jamestown
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. It was the first step and attempt to bring a form of European civilization in this part of the world.
The chosen location had advantages like protection from Spanish ships, yet the most unwanted inconvenience was represented by the swamp waters, the terrible summer heat and the neighbors represented by the Powhatan Confederacy. We can ask ourselves why did these businessmen - most of whom, incidentally, claimed the title captain- came to the New World? Reasons varied, but many shared hopes, nurtured by the London Company, of achieving glory and quick fortunes - the same goals that had motivated the Spanish conquistadors a century earlier. Although some among this ambitious crowd looked for easy passage to the Pacific, most were obsessed with the search for gold.

In 1603, James I became king, and he was eager to colonize North America. In 1606, he granted a charter to two companies - one located in Plymouth and the other in London. In 1607, both of these companies established new colonies on the North American mainland. A fleet of three ships commanded by Christopher Newport, the flagship Susan Constant and two smaller escort vessels, the Discovery and the Godspeed, entered the Chesapeake Bay in May 1607. They sailed up a river the colonists called the James, and founded a settlement they called Jamestown. The site the colonists chose was a low, marshy peninsula jutting out into the river at a spot where the James narrowed considerably. One advantage of this location was its easy access to deep water. Secondly, it offered protection from attacks by Red Indians. The London Company had made sure to carry aboard experienced craftsmen like blacksmiths, carpenters, bricklayers, and masons who could accomplish the physical work necessary to build a permanent colony. These men were particularly important because another third of the 144 colonists who sailed to Virginia (104 survived the voyage) were, according to prevailing English standards, "gentlemen." That is, they enjoyed at least some measure of wealth and status at home, and considered their positions in the new settlement to be management rather than labor. They contributed little to the viability of Jamestown as a colony and generally refused to do work such as chopping down trees and plowing the soil.

Good leadership was crucial because the settlers faced grave problems. They had to construct defenses against the Indians, stockpile food for the winter, and find something they could export to England so that the London Company would continue to support them.

Trouble with the Red Indians began early, because the settlement encroached on some traditional hunting grounds. Most of the thirty or so tribes in the region that lay between the Potomac River and the Great Dismal Swamp. Powhatan's first personal contact with one of the Jamestown settlers came during the winter of 1607, when John Smith, who had been exploring the Chesapeake, was captured by Indians loyal to Powhatan, and brought to the house of the chief.

The colonists had a difficult summer. Once the heat set in, so did the epidemic diseases. Many colonists died, and those who didn't, were often too fatigued to work. The survival of Jamestown was now obviously in doubt, and food was the central concern. Therefore Smith, who had been deprived of his seat on the Jamestown governing council because of his excessive shipboard arrogance, proposed that he lead an expedition to find more trading partners. The leadership at Jamestown concluded that it had nothing to lose; if Smith returned with food, they would eat; if the Indians killed him, his death would be no loss. Although, Smith may have temporarily solved the colony's Indian problem, Jamestown's circumstances in early 1608 remained desperate.

Salvation came along with the discovery of tobacco and the financial gain that this product offered. Since 1619 Jamestown had exported 10 tons of tobacco to Europe. The export was increasing to the extent that they were able to afford two imports which greatly improved their production and actually their whole life. Tobacco can well be credited with establishing Jamestown as the first permanent English colony in the New World.

So you see, tobacco does not always kill!