Home » Unit I: Early Injustices » Colonization


The First Successful Colony

#1 — Hello. My name is Thomas Andrews. I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from England and settled in Virginia in 1607. I came from a poor farming family. At that time in England, sheep grazing was becoming more profitable, and enclosure was taking place. It meant that farmers had less land to cultivate. I had no real future in England. So, I decided to sign up for the adventure of a life time. Investors in England pooled their money and created a joint stock company called The Virginia Company. King James gave the company the right to settle in North America. It was known as the Royal Charter. I was hoping to make it rich over there. The sailing was tough. We traveled over 6,000 miles and were stuck on the ship for almost 5 months. When I saw North America, I was really glad.

#2—–When I arrived in North America, the captain of ship decided to sail up the river. He called the river “James River” in honor of King James. We settled in an area where the river water and the salt water met. Well, we didn’t know it at that time, but it was the worst possible location for us to settle since the area was infested with mosquitoes. As a result, many of us got sick from malaria.

#3—–The captain called our settlement, “Jamestown.” It was a fortified community to protect ourselves from the Indians. We just didn’t know how to live with them peacefully. But we did know that we had to trade with them to get our food sometimes. Our ship brought copper pots and pans and some jewelry to trade with the Indians. We managed to trade our stuff with their stuff like corns and furs.

#4—–But, overall, the settlement was a failure. Our leaders were hoping to find gold and silver and had us dig for those precious metals. They heard about the Spanish success in Mexico and wanted us to be rich quickly with the discovery of gold and silver. Well, we found none of that and wasted a lot of time in the process, and got behind in food production. We were constantly hungry. To make the matters worse, many of our guys weren’t trained to do farm work. They were glass makers, jewelry makers, and blacksmiths. They refused to do the necessary farm work. Leaders were lazy. They thought it was beneath them to toil the earth.

#5—–What saved the first settlement from going completely hungry was John Smith’s leadership. The guy was a great soldier and a fearless leader. He set the policy called “No work, no food.” Some guys didn’t like John since John was an ‘in-your-face’ kind of guy. But without his yelling and intimidation, some guys just wouldn’t have worked. We somehow managed the first year, thanks to John.

#6—–John was very good with the Indians, too. He knew how to trade with them and got us lots of corn from them. When he was captured by one of the Indians, he came real close to getting executed. But, he had his life spared at the last minute. In his book, he said it was an 11-year-old Indian princess named Pocahontas who begged her dad to save John’s life. It sounded very much like a movie, but that’s what John wrote in his book.

#7 —-John left Virginia in 1609 to recover from a severe burning accident. Poor guy. He really wanted to make it big in Virginia but had to go back to England. I heard that he wanted to return to Virginia when he got better but never had the chance. I missed John’s strong leadership after he left. Guys stopped working hard, and things were literally falling apart. The winter of 1609-1610 was the toughest. At one point, Jamestown had over 500 people. By April of 1610, only 60 survived. I was one of them. It was the toughest thing that I had ever gotten through. I ate rats, tree bark, and even my leather boots. All 60 of us were ready to abandon Jamestown and go back to England when winter turned spring.

#8 —–Well, fate had other plans. The ship sailed in from England in May 1610 and got us more food and other provisions. Lord Delaware and other new settlers arrived and wouldn’t let us leave! That’s how Jamestown survived.

#9——Life in Jamestown continued to be challenging. But by 1614, we turned the corner. Our new leader, John Wolf, got the idea of planting tobacco in our fields for the purpose of selling it to smokers in England and other parts of Europe. I hate the smell of tobacco, but lots of people in England loved it. This new crop raised cash, and we were able to buy more things from England. In other words, we began trading with our mother country. It saved our settlement.

#10 —– Our new leader, John Rolf, married that young Indian Princess Pocahontas. For a period of time, our relationship with the Indians was good. I heard that Pocahontas moved to England with John later on and was popular in English society for a while. But, she died from illness shortly after in England.

“Nightmare in Jamestown” – Video Worksheet

You will be watching the video “Nightmare in Jamestown” by National Geographic. As you watch the video please answer the following questions.

1.Which country explores America before the English and starts bringing back large amounts of gold?

2. How long does it take to cross the ocean to America from England?

3. How many attempts to settle Virginia had failed before Jamestown?

4. How many artifacts have been unearthed at the Jamestown site in the last 12 years?

5. What was the death rate at Jamestown in the early years? ________%

6. What is the name of the river along which they settle?

7. What did Mr. Kelso find instead of an arrowhead?

8. Where did the bullet hit JR?

9. What makes the guns the colonists used extra dangerous?

10. How many trees were cut down to build the James Fort?

11. What enemy killed many of the first settlers?

12. Why would they bury a captain outside of the wall’s fort?

13. How old was Pocahontas when she met John Smith?

14. Is there hard evidence the Spanish had spies at Jamestown?

15. Why would a colonial doctor cut into someone’s skull?

16. What type of accident injuries John Smith?

17. Name two thing the settlers ate while they were starving?

1620’s due to England’s religious and political environment, the Puritans felt threatened and the economy worsened, thus they became interested in colonizing New England. Separatist Puritans became the Pilgrims. They established Plymouth in 1620.

1628: Several Puritans organized the Massachusetts Bay Company. It would be self-governed rather than controlled by England by proprietors, or the crown.

1629: 400 Puritans arrived in Salem.

America’s First Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims, who celebrated the first thanksgiving in America, were fleeing religious persecution in their native England. In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they lived and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims. They considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat to their children’s education and morality.

So they decided to leave Holland and travel to the New World. On September 6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the “Saints”, and 66 others, whom the Pilgrims called the “Strangers.”

The long trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. Since there was the danger of fire on the wooden ship, the food had to be eaten cold. Many passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted on November 10th.

The long trip led to many disagreements between the “Saints” and the “Strangers”. After land was sighted a meeting was held and an agreement was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves the “Pilgrims.”

At last the Pilgrims reached Plymouth, Massachusetts and decided to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor. A large brook offered a resource for fish. The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local Native American Indians. But the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat.

The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. Then, March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less that 50 survived the first winter.

Then on March 16, 1621, an Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. At first, the Pilgrims were frightened, but then the Indian called out “Welcome” (in English!).

His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. A few days later, he returned with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain.

Squanto’s importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn.

The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires.

The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.

The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.

The following year the Pilgrims harvest was not as bountiful, as they were still unused to growing the corn. During the year they had also shared their stored food with newcomers and the Pilgrims ran short of food.

The 3rd year brought a spring and summer that was hot and dry with the crops dying in the fields. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and it was soon thereafter that the rain came. To celebrate – November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is believed to be the real true beginning of the present day Thanksgiving Day.

In 1817 New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

A People’s History: The First Thanksgiving

When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a “vacuum.” The Indians, he said, had not “subdued” the land, and therefore had only a “natural” right to it, but not a “civil right.” A “natural right” did not have legal standing.

The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.

A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the Narraganset Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote:

They had commission to put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force.

The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: “The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully… -”

So, the war with the Pequots began. Massacres took place on both sides. The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes and later, in the twentieth century, even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy. This is ethno historian Francis Jennings’s interpretation of Captain John Mason’s attack on a Pequot village on the Mystic River near Long Island Sound: “Mason proposed to avoid attacking Pequot warriors, which would have overtaxed his unseasoned, unreliable troops. Battle, as such, was not his purpose. Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy’s will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective.”

So the English set fire to the wigwams of the village. By their own account: “The Captain also said, We must Burn Them; and immediately stepping into the Wigwam … brought out a Fire Brand, and putting it into the Matts with which they were covered, set the Wigwams on Fire.” William Bradford, in his History of the Plymouth Plantation written at the time, describes John Mason’s raid on the Pequot village:

Those that scaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.

As Dr. Cotton Mather, Puritan theologian, put it: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”

The war continued. Indian tribes were used against one another, and never seemed able to join together in fighting the English. Jennings sums up:

The terror was very real among the Indians, but in time they came to meditate upon its foundations. They drew three lessons from the Pequot War: (1) that the Englishmen’s most solemn pledge would be broken whenever obligation conflicted with advantage; (2) that the English way of war had no limit of scruple or mercy; and (3) that weapons of Indian making were almost useless against weapons of European manufacture. These lessons the Indians took to heart.

A footnote in Virgil Vogel’s book This Land Was Ours (1972) says: “The official figure on the number of Pequots now in Connecticut is twenty-one persons.”

Forty years after the Pequot War, Puritans and Indians fought again. This time it was the Wampanoags, occupying the south shore of Massachusetts Bay, who were in the way and also beginning to trade some of their land to people outside the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their chief, Massasoit, was dead. His son Wamsutta had been killed by Englishmen, and Wamsuttas brother Metacom (later to be called King Philip by the English) became chief. The English found their excuse, a murder which they attributed to Metacom, and they began a war of conquest against the Wampanoags, a war to take their land. They were clearly the aggressors, but claimed they attacked for preventive purposes. As Roger Williams, more friendly to the Indians than most, put it: “All men of conscience or prudence ply to windward, to maintain their wars to be defensive.”

Jennings says the elite of the Puritans wanted the war; the ordinary white Englishman did not want it and often refused to fight. The Indians certainly did not want war, but they matched atrocity with atrocity. When it was over, in 1676, the English had won, but their resources were drained; they had lost six hundred men. Three thousand Indians were dead, including Metacom himself. Yet the Indian raids did not stop.

For a while, the English tried softer tactics. But ultimately, it was back to annihilation. The Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico when Columbus came would ultimately be reduced to less than a million. Huge numbers of Indians would die from diseases introduced by the whites. A Dutch traveler in New Netherland wrote in 1656 that “the Indians … affirm, that before the arrival of the Christians, and before the smallpox broke out amongst them, they were ten times as numerous as they now are, and that their population had been melted down by this disease, whereof nine-tenths of them have died.” When the English first settled Martha’s Vineyard in 1642, the Wampanoags there numbered perhaps three thousand. There were no wars on that island, but by 1764, only 313 Indians were left there. Similarly, Block Island Indians numbered perhaps 1,200 to 1,500 in 1662, and by 1774 were reduced to fifty-one.

Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property. It was a morally ambiguous drive; the need for space, for land, was a real human need. But in conditions of scarcity, in a barbarous epoch of history ruled by competition, this human need was transformed into the murder of whole peoples. Roger Williams said it was

a depraved appetite after the great vanities, dreams and shadows of this vanishing life, great portions of land, land in this wilderness, as if men were in as great necessity and danger for want of great portions of land, as poor, hungry, thirsty seamen have, after a sick and stormy, a long and starving passage. This is one of the gods of New England, which the living and most high Eternal will destroy and famish.


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