Unit 1 (Part 1) Chapters 1-3

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Unit 1 (Part 1)

Chapters 1-3

Exploration & the Rise of English America



New World Beginnings, 33,000 B.C.E.–1769 C.E.

0Chapter Themes

Theme: The first discoverers of America, the ancestors of the American Indians, were small bands of hunters who crossed a temporary land bridge from Siberia and spread across both North and South America. They evolved a great variety of cultures, which ranged from the sophisticated urban civilizations in Mexico and Central and South America to the largely seminomadic societies of North America.

Theme: Europe’s growing demand for Eastern luxuries prompted exploration in the hopes of reducing the expense of those goods with new trade routes. Exploration occurred incrementally, beginning with the Portuguese moving around the coast of Africa and establishing trading posts. Awareness of the New World and its wealth pushed exploration across the Atlantic. Spanish exploration continued in the same fashion, first in the Caribbean islands then expanding into South and North America.

Theme: Portuguese and Spanish explorers encountered and then conquered much of the Americas and their Indian inhabitants. This “collision of worlds” deeply affected all the Atlantic societies—Europe, the Americas, and Africa—as the effects of disease, conquest, slavery, and intermarriage began to create a truly “new world” in Latin America, including the borderlands of Florida, New Mexico, and California, all of which later became part of the United States.

0chapter summary

Millions of years ago, the two American continents became geologically separated from the Eastern Hemisphere land masses where humanity originated. The first people to enter these continents came across a temporary land bridge from Siberia about 35,000 years ago. Spreading across the two continents, they developed a great variety of societies based largely on corn agriculture and hunting. In North America, some ancient Indian peoples like the Pueblos, the Anasazi, and the Mississippian culture developed elaborate settlements. But on the whole, North American Indian societies were less numerous and urbanized than those in Central and South America, though equally diverse in culture and social organization.

The impetus for European exploration came from the desire for new trade routes to the East, the spirit and technological discoveries of the Renaissance, and the power of the new European national monarchies. The European encounters with Africa and America, beginning with the Portuguese and Spanish explorers, convulsed the entire world. Biological change, disease, population loss, conquest, African slavery, cultural change, and economic expansion were just some of the consequences of the commingling of the Old World and the New World.

After they conquered and then intermarried with Indians of the great civilizations of South America and Mexico, the Spanish conquistadores expanded northward into the northern border territories of Florida, New Mexico, and California. There they established small but permanent settlements in competition with the French and English explorers who also were venturing into North America.

0questions for class discussion

00. How did Indian societies of South and North America differ from European societies at the time the two came into contact? In what ways did Indians retain a worldview different from that of the Europeans?

00. What role did disease and forced labor (including slavery) play in the early settlement of America? Is the view of the Spanish and Portuguese as especially harsh conquerors and exploiters valid—or is this image just another version of the English black legend concerning the Spanish role in the Americas?

00. Are the differences between Latin America and North America due primarily to the differences between the respective Indian societies that existed in the two places, or to the disparity between Spanish and English culture? What would have happened if the English had conquered densely settled Mexico and Peru, and the Spanish had settled more thinly populated North America?

00. In what ways are the early (pre-1600) histories of Mexican and the present-day American Southwest understood differently now that the United States is being so substantially affected by Mexican and Latin American immigration and culture? To what extent should this now be regarded as part of our American history?

00. Why was the Old World able to dominate the New World? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Old World? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the New World?


The Planting of English America, 1500–1733

0Chapter Themes

Theme: The English hoped to follow Spain’s example of finding great wealth in the New World, and that influenced the financing and founding of the early southern colonies. The focus on making the southern colonies profitable shaped colonial decisions, including choice of crops and the use of indentured and slave labor. This same focus also helped create economic and cultural ties between the early southern colonies and English settlements in the West Indies.

Theme: The early southern colonies’ encounters with Indians and African slaves established the patterns of race relations that would shape the North American experience—in particular, warfare and reservations for the Indians and lifelong slave codes for African Americans.

Theme: After a late start, a proud, nationalistic England joined the colonial race and successfully established five colonies along the southeastern seacoast of North America. Although varying somewhat in origins and character, all these colonies exhibited plantation agriculture, indentured and slave labor, a tendency toward strong economic and social hierarchies, and a pattern of widely scattered, institutionally weak settlements.

0chapter summary

The defeat of the Spanish Armada and the exuberant spirit of Elizabethan nationalism finally drew England into the colonial race. After some early failures, the first permanent English colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia. Initially it faced harsh conditions and Indian hostility, but tobacco cultivation finally brought prosperity and population growth. Its charter also guaranteed colonists the same rights as Englishmen and developed an early form of representative self-government.

The early encounters of English settlers with the Powhatans in Virginia established many of the patterns that characterized later Indian-white relations in North America. Indian societies underwent their own substantial changes as a result of warfare, disease, trade, and the mingling and migration of Indians from the Atlantic coast to inland areas.

Other colonies were established in Maryland and the Carolinas. South Carolina flourished by establishing close ties with the British sugar colonies in the West Indies. It also borrowed the West Indian pattern of harsh slave codes and large plantation agriculture. North Carolina developed somewhat differently, with fewer slaves and more white colonists who owned small farms. Latecomer Georgia served initially as a buffer against the Spanish and a haven for debtors.

Despite some differences, all the southern colonies depended on staple plantation agriculture for their survival and on the institutions of indentured servitude and enslaved Africans for their labor. With widely scattered rural settlements, they had relatively weak religious and social institutions and tended to develop hierarchical economic and social orders.

0questions for class discussion

00. What did England and the English settlers really want from colonization? Did they want national glory, wealth, adventure, a solution to social tensions, and/or new sources of goods and trade? Did they get what they wanted?

00. How did Spanish success in the New World influence the English colonial efforts? How did England’s earlier experience in Ireland influence its colonial efforts in the New World? How did different events in England (and Europe) affect England’s southern colonies in the New World?

00. Were the English colonizers crueler or more tolerant than the Spanish conquistadores? Why did the Spanish tend to settle and intermarry with the Indian population, whereas the English killed the Indians, drove them out, or confined them to separate territories? How did this pattern of interaction affect both white and Indian societies?

00. Was the development of enslaved Africans in the North American colonies inevitable? (Consider that it never developed in some other colonial areas, for example, Mexico and New France.) How would the North American colonies have been different without slavery? What role did the Spanish encomienda system and British sugar colonies play in introducing slavery to the southern colonies?

00. How did the reliance on plantation agriculture affect the southern colonies? Were their societies relatively loose because they were primarily rural or because they tended to rely on forced labor systems?


Settling the Northern Colonies, 1619–1700

0Chapter Themes

Theme: Religious and political turmoil in England shaped settlement in New England and the middle colonies. Religious persecution in England pushed the Separatists into Plymouth and Quakers into Pennsylvania. England’s Glorious Revolution also prompted changes in the colonies.

Theme: The Protestant Reformation, in its English Calvinist (Reformed) version, provided the major impetus and leadership for the settlement of New England. The New England colonies developed a fairly homogeneous social order based on religion and semicommunal family and town settlements.

Theme: Principles of American government developed in New England with the beginnings of written constitutions (Mayflower Compact and Massachusetts’s royal charter) and with glimpses of self-rule seen in town hall meetings, the New England Confederation, and colonial opposition to the Dominion of New England.

Theme: The middle colonies of New Netherland (New York), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware developed with far greater political, ethnic, religious, and social diversity, and they represented a more cosmopolitan middle ground between the tightly knit New England towns and the scattered, hierarchical plantation in the South.

0chapter summary

The New England colonies were founded by English Puritans. While most Puritans sought to purify the Church of England from within, and not to break away from it, a small group of Separatists—the Pilgrims—founded the first small, pious Plymouth Colony in New England. More important was the larger group of nonseparating Puritans, led by John Winthrop, who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony as part of the great migration of Puritans fleeing persecution in England in the 1630s.

A strong sense of common purpose among the first settlers shaped the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Because of the close alignment of religion and politics in the colony, those who challenged religious orthodoxy, among them Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, were considered guilty of sedition and driven out of Massachusetts. The banished Williams founded Rhode Island, by far, the most religiously and politically tolerant of the colonies. Other New England settlements, all originating in Massachusetts Bay, were established in Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire. Although they shared a common way of life, the New England colonies developed with a substantial degree of independence.

The middle colonies took shape quite differently. New York, founded as New Netherland by the Dutch and later conquered by England, was economically and ethnically diverse, socially hierarchical, and politically quarrelsome. Pennsylvania, founded as a Quaker haven by William Penn, also attracted an economically ambitious and politically troublesome population of diverse ethnic groups.

With their economic variety, ethnic diversity, and political factionalism, the middle colonies were the most typically American of England’s thirteen Atlantic seaboard colonies.

0questions for class discussion

00. Did the Puritans really come to America seeking religious freedom? How did they reconcile their own religious dissent from the Church of England with their persecution of dissenters like Hutchinson and Williams? Does their outlook make them hypocrites?

00. How were government and religion—or church and state—related in New England and the middle colonies? How does the colonial view of these matters compare with more recent understandings?

00. Was an American Revolution, separating the colonies from England, inevitable after the Glorious Revolution had encouraged colonists to end the Dominion of New England, England’s serious attempt at enforcing royal authority? Did England’s “salutary neglect” contribute to future problems in its empire? How might have England been able to successfully enforce its rule on the colonies without causing rebellion?

00. Dutch colonization efforts in New Amsterdam most closely resembled English colonization efforts in which region: New England, the middle colonies, or the southern colonies? The Dutch had a powerful presence in the East Indies, so why were the Dutch less successful in the West Indies and North America? What is the lasting influence of the Dutch in English North America?

00. How does the founding of the New England colonies compare with the origin of the middle colonies? In what ways were New England and the middle colonies each like the South, and in what ways were they different?

00. In what ways were the middle colonies more open and diverse than New England? In what ways were they less democratic?

00. How did different events in England affect the New England and middle colonies in the New World? Which was the most affected and least affected by events in the Old World: New England, middle colonies, or southern colonies?

00. What were the push and pull factors for immigrants coming to each region of English colonies (New England, the middle colonies, and the southern colonies)?


Jamestown and the Founding of English America

by James Horn
Shortly before Christmas 1606, three small ships left London’s Blackwall docks to establish a settlement on Chesapeake Bay, in North America. The largest of the ships, the heavily armed, 120-ton merchantman Susan Constant, carried seventy-one passengers and crew, including the experienced commander of the fleet, Captain Christopher Newport; a highly successful privateer during the sea war with Spain, he had made many voyages to the Caribbean in the 1590s and early years of the seventeenth century and knew as much about American waters as any Englishman alive. The Godspeed followed with fifty-two men on board, while bringing up the rear was the tiny pinnace Discovery, which carried twenty-one men crammed together wherever they could find space in between provisions and equipment. Altogether, thirty-nine mariners and 105 adventurers set out to found what would be England’s first permanent colony in America.

The Jamestown expedition was not the first attempt to establish a colony on the mid-Atlantic coast. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh sponsored a colony on Roanoke Island, off the mainland of North Carolina, which ended the following year with the abandonment of the settlement. Another attempt made in 1587 under the leadership of John White also ended in failure and the disappearance of 117 men, women, and children (known since as the Lost Colony of Roanoke). On the eve of Jamestown’s founding, the English still had not succeeded in establishing a single colony in America.

In some respects, Jamestown was a belated continuation of Raleigh’s Roanoke ventures. In the winter of 1586, a small exploratory party had been dispatched from Roanoke Island to survey the Chesapeake Bay. The men had returned with highly favorable reports of the land and deep-water rivers that would make superb harbors for ocean-going ships and privateers, which could then plunder Spanish treasure fleets on their way across the Atlantic.

By the time planning began to establish a colony on the Chesapeake Bay, James I of England had already concluded a peace treaty with the Spanish and would not tolerate piracy, but he was prepared to allow the planting of English settlements in North America as long as they were located in lands uninhabited by other Europeans. On April 10, 1606, the king granted a charter to the Virginia Company to create two colonies, one to the south between latitudes 34º and 41º North (from modern-day North Carolina to New York), and the other between 38º and 45º (from the Chesapeake to northern Maine). The Virginia Company of London was responsible for promoting and governing the southern colony. Owing to the practical difficulty of overseeing day-to-day affairs in Virginia, the Company created a local council to rule the colony headed by an annually elected president.

The aims of the Jamestown expedition were to establish England’s claim to North America, search for gold or silver mines, find a passage to the Pacific Ocean (the “Other Sea”), harvest the natural resources of the land, and trade with Indian peoples. The settlers arrived off the Virginia capes on April 26 and the ruling council chose Edward Maria Wingfield, one of the prime movers of the expedition and a veteran of wars in the Netherlands and Ireland, as the colony’s first president. After reconnoitering lands along the James River for a couple of weeks, the council selected a site on a peninsula about fifty miles from the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, where they landed on May 14. They named the settlement Jamestown in honor of their king.

The English had settled in a region ruled by a powerful chief named Powhatan. Powhatan’s domains (called by the Indians Tsenacommacah) stretched from south of the James River to the Potomac River, and included more than thirty tribes numbering approximately 14,000 people. The colonists had been instructed by the Company to be cautious in their dealings with the Indians but to try to keep on good terms so as to encourage trade. Initial contacts indicated that some peoples were friendly but an attack on the English settlement by several hundred warriors at the end of May persuaded the colony’s leaders to construct a sturdy fortification. Work began on a triangular fort facing the James River, and was completed within three weeks.

Early explorations confirmed the area’s natural abundance, and information passed on by Indians hinted at great wealth to be found in the piedmont and mountains to the west. Secure within the palisades of their newly constructed fort, the settlers’ prospects appeared rosy, but after Newport returned to London in June 1607, the colony suffered a number of setbacks. During the summer and fall a combination of disease, sporadic Indian attacks, polluted drinking water, and poor diet led to the deaths of about two-thirds of the men. By December, only thirty-eight of the original 104 colonists who arrived at Jamestown survived. The colony was on the brink of collapse.

Reinforced by more colonists and fresh supplies early in 1608, the English continued to search for precious minerals and a river passage through the mountains that would lead them to the Pacific. Captain John Smith carried out two explorations of the Chesapeake Bay and its major rivers, revealing the extensiveness of the region, but found no evidence of mineral deposits or a passage. When he took over leadership of the colony in September 1608, he urged the colonists to give up the search for gold and silver and concentrate instead on producing goods and manufactures to return to England.

Meanwhile, the London Company, now led by the powerful merchant and financier Sir Thomas Smythe, had decided to thoroughly reform the colony to attract new investors and make the venture profitable. Emphasis was given to strengthening the colony’s leadership, producing manufactured goods and commodities, continuing the effort to find precious minerals, and bringing about the conversion of the Powhatans to Christianity.

The arrival of several hundred colonists during 1608 and 1609 led to a steady deterioration in relations with the Powhatans. Full-scale hostilities broke out in the fall of 1609 and in the winter the Powhatans sealed off Jamestown Island in an effort to starve the colony into submission. During the siege, later called by colonists “the starving time,” the colony’s numbers dropped from about 280 to ninety. Only the arrival of Sir Thomas Gates followed by Lord Delaware, along with hundreds of new settlers, in the spring of 1610 saved the settlement from abandonment.

Gates, Delaware, and another influential leader of this period, Sir Thomas Dale, all men with extensive military experience, introduced a severe code of martial law to maintain order among the colonists and prosecute the war. The “Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall,” as they were later known, set out the duties and obligations of settlers as well as penalties for transgressions. Officers were required to ensure all those under their command attended divine service twice daily and to punish anyone who blasphemed “Gods holy name” or challenged the authority of any preacher or minister. Serious crimes such as murder, treasonous acts and speeches, theft, trading with the Indians without permission, and embezzlement of Company goods were all punishable by death, while lesser offences such as slandering the Virginia Company or the colony’s leaders carried the penalty of whippings and galley service (serving at the oars of longboats).

War dragged on for four years before ending inconclusively in 1614. The marriage of Pocahontas, one of Powhatan’s favorite daughters, to John Rolfe, a prominent gentleman, was interpreted by the English as a diplomatic alliance and heralded an uneasy truce between the two peoples. Rolfe had been experimenting with the cultivation of tobacco for a couple of years and introduced a new type of leaf from the West Indies that was sweeter than the native Virginia plant and more palatable to English tastes. Settlers enjoyed a rapidly expanding market for tobacco in England leading to the rapid expansion of English settlement along the James River Valley. The Company proceeded with the establishment of a range of industries including glass blowing, iron smelting, and manufacture of potash, soap ashes, pitch, and tar. Settlers also produced a variety of timber goods, as well as attempting unsuccessfully to cultivate grapes for wine-making and mulberry trees for silk production.

In 1618, the Company introduced sweeping reforms designed to replace martial law with laws more like those of England. Land reforms permitted the acquisition of private property (previously all land and profits belonged to the Company). The following year the first representative legislative assembly in America, convened in Jamestown’s church at the end of July 1619, underlined that colonists would have some say in running their own affairs.

Just a few weeks later, in August of 1619, The White Lion, a privateer carrying about two dozen Africans, sailed up the James River. The Africans had been captured by Portuguese colonists in Angola and put on board a slave ship, the St. John the Baptist, bound for Vera Cruz in Spanish America. The White Lion had attacked the ship in the Gulf of Mexico and plundered her cargo. In Jamestown, the Africans were exchanged for provisions. Their status as slaves or indentured servants is uncertain but their arrival was an early forerunner of the tens of thousands of enslaved Africans who would follow over the next century and a half, and who would be the main source of labor in Virginia’s tobacco fields.

By the early 1620s the colony was booming. The white population, which had never been more than a few hundred in the early years, had risen to well over a thousand. As tobacco exports increased, profits multiplied and planters sought more laborers. The first mass migration to English America occurred between 1618 and early 1622 when at least 3,000 settlers arrived. Yet the spread of English settlement and taking of Indians’ lands brought misery and bitterness to local peoples. Led by Opechancanough (who had succeeded his elder brother, Powhatan, as de facto paramount chief on the latter’s death in 1618), Indian warriors attacked settlements all along the James River on March 22, 1622, killing about 350 settlers—one-quarter of the colony’s white population. The uprising and further losses of life and property over the next year were devastating blows to the Company, which, after a government investigation, collapsed in 1624.

Following the demise of the Company, the crown took control of Virginia, which became England’s first royal colony in America. The war with the Powhatans lingered on for the rest of the decade, but colonists quickly rebuilt plantations in response to the continuing demand for tobacco. The success of tobacco cultivation and defeat of the Powhatans secured the colony’s future after 1625.

At Jamestown the English learned the hard lessons of sustaining a colony. All successful English colonies followed in its wake, but Jamestown also presents two sides of America’s founding. On the one hand, England’s New World offered many settlers opportunities for social and economic advancement unthinkable at home; while on the other, colonization unleashed powerful destructive forces that were catastrophic for Indian peoples, whose lands were taken by colonists, and for enslaved Africans and their posterity, whose labor enabled Jamestown, and indeed America, to flourish.

James Horn is Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of research and historical interpretation. He is the author of numerous books and articles on colonial America, including A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America (2005).

Based on Horn’s account of the founding of Jamestown, what were the positive and negative impacts of the settlers’ actions upon the New World?

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