(The FRENCH, DUTCH and ENGLISH to AMERICA – continued)
For a century, fishermen from Normandy and Brittany (in what today is France) had been fishing for cod around the waters of Newfoundland, and they had been going ashore to sun-dry and salt their fish for the long voyage home. Indians saw the fishermen's steel knives and copper kettles among other things, and the fishermen saw the beaver and bearskin coats of the Indians, which they could sell in Europe. Trading began, and in 1608 the French founded a settlement at Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Only 8 of the 28 settlers survived the first winter. More settlers came during the spring. Soon the French were in conflict with the Iroquois Indians, and they aligned themselves with tribes that had been warring against the Iroquois.
At what is today called Hudson Bay, an attempt was being made to find a passage to China. Henry Hudson, an English sea captain working for the Dutch, was looking for a way to India, and in 1610 he entered the bay that now bears his name. His crew mutinied and tried to return to England. Those who would make it back to England would be hanged. Hudson also perished. But soon the Hudson Bay Company of England was founded and was setting up posts to aid Englishmen eager to make money from the fur trade.
King James I of England
The Dutch, meanwhile, were at war with the Habsburg emperor of Spain, and Dutch privateers were attacking the Spanish in the Americas. The Dutch were the world's foremost traders and merchant mariners, and in 1610 the Dutch set up a trading post on the southern end of Manhattan Island. Among other things, they traded their guns to the Iroquois, the enemy of the French, and the Iroquois became better armed than their rivals, the Huron – allies of the French.
Investors in England who had formed the Virginia Company were interested in gold and trade with the Indians, and they were afraid they were losing opportunities to enterprising people of other countries. In 1607, with the approval of their king, James I, they founded a settlement called Jamestown – England's first permanent colony. To the disappointment of the company, no gold was discovered around their colony. Some of their colonists searched for a passage to the Pacific Ocean, believing China was much closer than it actually was, and some of them traded with local Indians such as the Powhatan and Pamunkey.
Replica of a Powhatan village near James Towne (Wikimedia Commons)
The men that the Virginia Company had sent to Jamestown were not farmers and did not have farming on their mind. Only trading with the Powhatans for corn allowed the colonists to survive. The colonists suffered hunger and disease, and soon they suffered poor relations with the local Indians. The Virginia Company had ordered the colonists to behave properly so as not to make the Indians discontented with the colony, but among other manners that the Indians found offensive was the behavior of the Englishmen toward their women.
In 1610 and 1611 the Virginia Company sent fresh supplies and a second wave of colonists to Jamestown, one hundred people, instructing the new wave to concentrate on farming. To add incentive the company allowed individual plots of land to the new colonists. Communal possession of the colony's land was discarded.
The second wave pursued good relations with the Powhatans, and in 1612 a colonist named John Rolfe married the chief's daughter, Pocahontas. She went to England and was treated as a celebrity – and died there in 1617. Her son returned to Virginia, and his part Indian descendants were to become prominent in Virginia society.
In addition to growing crops, the Virginia Company colonists raised cattle and sold goods to seamen: turpentine, resin, pitch, tar and lumber. The crop that worked best for the new wave of colonists was tobacco, the colonists using the same slash and burn methods as the Powhatan had been using. A good market for tobacco existed in England. The first barrels of cured tobacco reached England in 1614, and, by 1619, 50,000 pounds were being shipped annually. Smoking had become a fad in England, with King James describing it as "loathsome," harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs. Tobacco growing expanded and in 1619, in need of labor, some colonists bought twenty blacks from a Dutch ship that had come to the harbor for supplies – the beginning of slavery in Anglo America.
That same year, the Virginia colony convened its first legislative assembly at Jamestown, with the owners of eleven tobacco plantations well represented. And the following year the colony had its first public library, with donated books. But following the economic boom in Virginia came a return of hard times. Between 1622 and 1624 the colony suffered from another epidemic of disease. And relations with the Indians deteriorated again. The Pamunkey resented the expansion and arrogance of the colonists. War broke out, with the Pamunkey resorting to guerrilla warfare. The colonists burned the Pamunkey's cornfields, and the Pamunkey managed to kill 347 settlers.
Of the six to ten thousand people who had arrived at the colony since 1607 (the numbers are disputed), only about a thousand survived – most of the deaths caused by disease. But mismanagement was also at fault, the Virginia Company having dumped settlers on shore without provision for food or shelter. King James was concerned about the welfare of his subjects, and he was upset with the Virginia Company. In 1624 he revoked the company's charter and put the Virginia colony under direct royal administration. And from England more colonists went to replace those who had died.
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.