May 14 – Jamestown was Founded

On May 14, 1607, Jamestown was founded. The arrival of European settlers in the Americas was the start of a new era in America, as well as world history. Colonists came for many reasonsĀ  some primarily to get rich quickly (few accomplished this), others because they were fleeing persecution, and some simply out of adventure. The Jamestown Charter lists the only purpose of the colony as propagating the Christian religion. In reality, however, the main motivation, for most of the colonists, was financial unlike the Pilgrims a few years later, who were fleeing persecution. Jamestown had a deadly start. In only a few years, the colonists had wiped out the local Paspahegh tribe. And in the first year, 80% of the colonists died, many of starvation or its effects.

One of the problems in the early years was the lack of willingness to work on communal farms. Many of the men (the first two women only arrived the second year) shirked their common responsibilities in favor of pursuing private wealth, and output of all kinds suffered. In 1613, Governor Thomas Dale got rid of the communal agriculture system, and assigned 3-acre plots of private property to existing settlers, and smaller ones to newcomers. As a result of his land reform, production of food and other agricultural products began to rise, and with it the success of the colony.

Questions:

  1. At the time of Jamestown, it was taken as a given that propagating the Christian religion was a good thing. Later, the process was described as bringing civilization. More recently, it has been spreading democracy. In each case, of course, there were mixed motives. Do you think any of these motives were, or would be, valid today? Or asked another way, what aspects of our civilization and culture are you confident enough in to say that we should actively try to spread them?
  2. The first Jamestown settlers would not have expected an 80% death rate. But after the first year or two, additional settlers would have had at least some information about the risks. Why do you think settlers continued to come? What do you imagine must have been the circumstances of people willing to take such risks? What rewards do you think they expected?
  3. Why do you think Thomas Dale’s land reform policies were so effective?
Image Citation:

23, June 1995, Governor Rat Cliffe from Walt Disney Productions of Pocahontas . Retrieved from <google.com>.