The Old Dominion - Settling Virginia
David Saville Muzzey,
The gorgeous dreams of gold
and empire which filled the minds of the explorers of the sixteenth
century slowly faded into the sober realization of the hardships
involved in settling the wild and distant regions of the New World. To
the romantic age of discovery succeeded the practical age of
colonization. The motives which led thousands of Europeans to leave
their homes in the seventeenth century and brave the storms of the
Atlantic Ocean to settle on the shores of the James, Charles, Hudson,
and St. Lawrence Rivers, were those which have prompted migration in
every age; namely, the desire to get a better living and the desire to
enjoy a fuller freedom. Now it happened that both these desires were
greatly stimulated by the events of the sixteenth century in Europe.
the first place, the masses of the people, who had lived as serfs on
the great feudal estates of the nobles in the Middle Ages, were
finding more and more diversified employment as citizens of national
states -- artisans and mechanics in the towns, free tenant farmers,
merchants and traders.
On May 14, 1607, the
Jamestown colonists came ashore of
what would become the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Sidney E. King, courtesy Colonial National Historical Park
other words, a middle class was emerging and was beginning to amass
money. At the same time the military and civil expenses of the kings,
whose responsibilities were growing with their states, made taxes high
and land dear. The limitless virgin lands of the New World
offered a tempting relief for the hard-pressed.
In the second
place, large parts of northern Europe had broken away from the
ecclesiastical authority of the Roman Church in the sixteenth
century, in the movement known as the Protestant Reformation.
State churches were established in England, Germany,
Scandinavia, and the Netherlands, with the rulers in authority
instead of the Pope; and dissent from the doctrine of these
established churches was treated, not only as religious
heresy, but also as political treason. But, the spirit of free
inquiry and religious innovation which had destroyed the unity
of the Roman Church could not be held in check by rulers. Men
claimed individual freedom of belief and worship. A great
variety of religious sects appeared. Kings and princes tried
to reduce them to submission, and the persecutions in Europe
sent many refugees as colonists to the New World.
the seventeenth to the twentieth century the tide of immigration
flowed from Europe to America until, by the early 1900’s, less than
half the population of the United States was native-born with
native-born parents. Yet, these immigrants did not transport the
political and social institutions of their own lands to the United
States, but, instead, with remarkable rapidity, adopted the speech,
customs, and ideals of America. For although Spain and France held or
claimed by far the largest part of North America, while the English
settlements were still confined to a narrow strip along the Atlantic
coast, nevertheless those English settlements absorbed all the rest in
their spread to the Pacific and made the English civilization --
English speech, English political ideals, English common law, English
courts and local governments, English codes of manners and standards
of culture--the basis of American life. We severed our political
connection with England by the Revolution, but we could not lay aside
the culture or destroy the institutions in which our forefathers had
been trained for centuries. We still remained the daughter country,
though we left the mother's roof and set up our own establishment.
Elizabeth's long and glorious reign came to an end in 1603, when she
was succeeded on the throne of England by James Stuart of Scotland. In
the year 1606, King James gave permission to "certain loving subjects
to deduce and conduct two colonies or plantations of settlers to
America. The Stuart king began his reign with a pompous announcement
of peace with all his European neighbors; consequently, though England
claimed all North America by virtue of Cabot's discovery of 1497,
James limited the territory of his grant so as not to encroach on the
Spanish settlements of Florida or on the French interests about the
St. Lawrence River.
The powers of government
bestowed on the new companies were as complicated as the grants of
territory. The companies were to have a council of thirteen in England,
appointed by the king and subject to his control. This English council was
to appoint another council of thirteen members to reside in each colony,
and, under the direction of a president, to manage its local affairs;
subject always to the authority of the English council, which in turn, was
subject to the king.
In May, 1607, about 100
colonists, sent out by the London Company, reached the shores of
and sailing at some miles up a broad river, started a settlement on a low
peninsula. They named the river and settlement James and
honor of the king. However, the colony did not thrive.
Colonists construct the pallisade walls of the original, triangular shaped
Jamestown, in May 1607.
Painting by Sidney E. King, courtesy Colonial National Historical Park.
charter provided that the harvests should be gathered into a common
storehouse, and then dispensed to the settlers, thus encouraging the idle
and shiftless to live at the expense of the industrious. Authority was
hard to enforce with the clumsy form of government, and the proprietors in
England were too far away to consult the needs of the colonists. Exploring
the land for gold and the rivers for a passage to Cathay proved more
attractive to the settlers than planting corn. In addition, the
unwholesome site of the town caused fever and malaria.
Had it not
been for the almost superhuman efforts of one man,
Captain John Smith, the little
colony could not have survived.
Smith had come to
after a romantic and world-wide career as a soldier of fortune. His
masterful spirit, at once, assumed the direction of the colony in spite of
its president and council. His courage and tact with the Indians got corn for
the starving settlers, and his indomitable energy inspired the good and
cowed the lazy and the unjust. In his vivid narratives of early
in 1624, he gave himself and his services to the colony full credit, for
he was not a modest or retiring man. But his self-praise does not lessen
the value of his services. In the summer of 1609 he was wounded by an
explosion of gunpowder, and returned to England.
Captain John Smith's departure was the awful "starving time." Of five hundred men
in the colony in October, only 60 were left in June. This feeble remnant,
taking advantage of the arrival of ships from the Bermudas, determined to
abandon the settlement. With but a fortnight's provisions, which they
hoped would carry them to Newfoundland, they bid final farewell to the
scene of their suffering, and dropped slowly down the broad James River.
But, on reaching the mouth of the river they spied ships flying England's
colors. It was the fleet of Lord de la Warre (Delaware), the new governor,
bringing men and supplies. Thus, narrowly did the
Jamestown colony escape
the fate of Raleigh's settlements. De la Warre brought more than food and
recruits. The London Company had been reorganized in 1609, and a new
charter granted by the king, which altered both the territory and the
Henceforth, a large and rich corporation in England was to conduct the
affairs of the company, without the intervention of the king.
was to have a governor sent out by the company. Under the new regime, the
colony picked up, Order was enforced under the harsh but salutary rule of
Governor Dale. The colonists, losing the gold fever, turned to agriculture
Continued Next Page
Captain John Smith
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