You probably know about the Mayflower Pilgrims, but they weren’t the first English colonists. Several years before the Pilgrims arrived, settlers arrived in Virginia.
The Pilgrims came to America for religious reasons, but others came looking for opportunity. England was a crowded, dirty place and America seemed to hold the promise of adventure and wealth. Both the wealthy and the poor came looking for a new life.
In 1587, 150 English men, women, and children began a colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of Virginia. The governor, John White, returned to England for supplies. When he came back three years later, he found the island deserted. The settlers had scratched the word, Croatoan, onto a post, but White found no other clues about what had happened to the settlers. People believed they were killed or sold as slaves by the Powhatan Indians. Recently, researchers have found European artifacts, such as coins, weapons, and jewelry, mixed with Indian artifacts. Researchers believe the settlers might have joined the Indians.
In 1607, 105 men and boys arrived in three ships. They landed on the coast of Virginia and named their settlement Jamestown, in honor of King James. These settlers were wealthy gentlemen seeking their fortune. Unfortunately, Jamestown was built on a marshy area, prone to mosquitoes, which brought disease. Drought conditions caused crop failure. Indian attacks were always a danger too. Seventy-three men died in one year.
Captain John Smith helped the colony succeed. Most of the men were unaccustomed to hard work. Smith told them that if they wanted to eat they must work. He asked the Powhatan tribe to teach them how to catch fish and grow corn. Slowly the settlement began to prosper.
King James thought smoking and tobacco was a terrible habit, but it grew well in Virginia, and many people in Europe loved it. Virginian landowners became wealthy growing tobacco.
The landowners brought indentured servants from Europe to work on the farms. These servants could earn their freedom after a few years of hard work – if they survived.
Once the servants earned their freedom, they moved further inland and farmed their own land. These poor farmers resented the wealthy tobacco growers. In 1675 and 1676, Nathanial Bacon led a group of farmers in an uprising against the landowners. The rebels burned Jamestown to the ground.
The landowners knew that poor, indentured servants could become a danger once they were free. Slaves seemed like an ideal answer.
Artifacts: Items left behind by earlier civilizations