Tuesday, November 13, 2012

England to America

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

After two failed attempts to establish settlements in the 1580s, colonization efforts ceased. Finally, at the turn of the seventeenth century, attempts resumed in earnest.

An assortment of merchants , lawyers, and landed nobles chiefly from London, Bristol, and Plymouth. formed a joint-stock company to fund the establishment of a settlement in the New World. Of the company shareholders, fifty percent nobles or gentry, thirty two percent were current or  future earls, three percent were viscounts, and the rest were dozens of lesser gentry.They drafted a charter and presented it to King James I of England. James issued the patent authorizing the adventure.

The charter divided North American into two parts. It granted the northern part to the Plymouth group, and the southern part to the London group. The latter became known a the Virginia Company.

They organized a group of adventurers for the New World. For the initial settlement, 104 men and boys signed on. A governing council was named. The council would elect one of their own to direct affairs of the colonies once the landed. All council members were “gentleman” except for a soldier named John Smith. While at sea, Captain Christopher Newport remained in command. They set out in three ships--the Susan Constant, the Discovery, the Godspeed, arrived in Virginia in April of 1607.

Although Virginia became the first successful English colony in North American, its early beginnings were anything but successful. The first landing party came under attack by Indians. They reboarded their ship and drifted southward and established a base on a small peninsula between what Englishmen named the the James and York rivers. They named the settlement Jamestown.

These first settlers, however, were ill-prepared for their task. Over one-third of the original settlers were “gentlemen,” who by definition performed no manual labor. Remaining members including various artisans such as carpenters, masons, coopers, smiths, refiners.

No one, however, knew how to farm, hunt, or fish.

Consequently, the English found themselves depending upon provisions from area natives and facing starvation.

After the first winter of 1607-08, only 38 settlers of the original 104 remained alive.

In the spring, John Smith became the leader of the settlement. He initiated a military regimen that put everyone to work. Through hard work and the cultivation of good relations with the local tribes, the original settlers and the additional newcomers who arrived during 1608 made it through the winter. Only ten colonists died. Smith's unpopularity, however, led to his recall to England.

During the summer of 1609, the settlement grew to over 500 people. Most new settlers added nothing to the skill set required for the enterprise. Moreover, landed gentlemen who refused manual labor continued to arrive to Jamestown in search of fortune. Without the discipline instilled the previous year by Smith, the colonists entered the winter of 1609-10. It became remembered as “the starving time.” By the turn of the new year, only 60 out of the 500 settlers were still alive. The colony witnessed the first incident of English cannibalism in North America, when one of the colonist salted down and ate parts of his dead wife.

When relief shipments arrived with more supplies, more settlers, and new governors, they found the starving Englishmen not hard at work, but in their usual diversion, “bowling in the streets.”

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