UNITED STATES HISTORY
*Spain's wealth attracted attacks from English privateers and
encouraged England to explore and attempt to settle the New World
as well. Besides the economic and territorial motives for
this conflict lay religious ideology as well, for Spain saw itself
as the defender of Catholicism while England was a Protestant
country that saw Catholicism as its enemy.
*England in the 1500s had did not have a large navy, although the
Tudor monarchs worked hard to modernise and professionalise
it. For most of their combat against the Spanish, the
English relied on privateers--privately-owned ships led by a
captain with a letter of marque, official permission to attack the
ships of countries with whom the issuing country was at war (and
sometimes even when they were officially at peace), almost a sort
of licensed piracy. The Spanish called the English
privateers Sea Dogs, or worse. They raided Spanish shipping,
including the Treasure Fleet, and sometimes sacked entire Spanish
cities in the New World. Among the most famous were Sir
Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake.
*For most of the 1500s, the Spanish navy ruled the seas, despite
the loss of individual ships or small groups of them, and this
prevented any serious colonisation of the New World by anyone else
(except the Portuguese in Brazil). The English did claim
some land in North America and named it Virginia, in honour of the
Virgin Queen, and even attempted to set up a colony on Roanoke
Island (in modern North Carolina) in 1587.
*However, in 1588, the Spanish attempted to invade England with
the goal of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth and perhaps placing the
King of Spain, Philip II, on the throne in memory of his late
wife, Elizabeth’s sister Bloody Mary.
*Philip II gathered a vast fleet, known as the Invincible
Armada. The Armada was made up of 130 warships and converted
merchant vessels, 8,000 sailors, 18,000 soldiers, and 2,500
cannon. It was to sail from Spain, meet up with 30,000
Spanish troops in the Netherlands, and invade England, with the
support of Pope Sixtus V, who regarded it as a crusade against
*The Spanish fleet was met by a smaller, but better organised,
English fleet led by Sea Dogs like Sir Francis Drake. The
English also used fireships to disrupt the Spanish lines of battle
and eventually to scatter out of fear in the night. Once
scattered, the smaller but more manœuvrable English ships closed
with the Spanish and outfought them, for the English were better
cannoneers and marines.
*As the Spanish fleet was divided and weakened, it tried to sail
home around Scotland and Ireland, where North Atlantic storms sank
and shipwrecked more vessels (and many sailors who made it to
shore were killed by English soldiers in Ireland). This
storm was later called the Protestant Wind.
*This did not end Spain's power, but it weakened it. After
this, England, the Netherlands, and France could begin to explore
and colonise the world successfully, and although Spain would
remain wealthy for centuries, her military would never enjoy the
pre-eminence it had held for nearly a century. It was also
seen as a great symbolic victory for Protestants everywhere.
*Hostilities with Spain prevented Roanoke from being re-supplied
until 1590, by which point the settlers had vanished. The
word Croatoan was carved in a local tree, and some local Indians
have legends that involve adopting some of the colonists. A
number of their surnames survive in the some Virginia
tribes. Others may have fled inland and survived for years,
only to be killed by the Indian chief Powhatan in early 1607.
*In 1606, King James I divided English claims in North America
between two private companies, the Virginia Company or London
Company (34th–41st parallel) and the Plymouth Company (38th–45th)
giving them lands stretching to the South Seas, and guaranteeing
colonists who settled under their leadership the Rights of
Englishmen. Both of these were joint-stock companies, in
which a number of ‘adventurers’ could invest in the company’s
expeditions and reap a portion of the profits (if any), raising
more money than any individual and also requiring little
investment by the government.
*In 1607, 100 men arrived in Virginia and established a colony
they named Jamestown. Most of these men, and the Virginia
Company itself, hoped to find ready supplies of gold such as those
they imagined existed in Spanish territories. They also
imagined that most of the hard work of mining the gold might be
done by Indians. Therefore, the colonists who went to
Virginia were not farmers or woodsmen, but gentlemen unaccustomed
to labour and skilled craftsmen meant to work the gold and silver
they were certain to find.
*Sadly, the colony was established in a bad, swampy, malarial
location, had too few willing workers, sought quick profits, and
was surrounded by hostile Indians under Powhatan. Despite an
abundance of fish and game, the colony could not even feed itself
due to the lack of practical skills and work ethic amongst the
*Furthermore, the London Company investors attempted a plan of
communal work that failed miserably, as individualistic Englishmen
were not eager to work for the good of the community as a
*The colony seemed to be a failure, and remained one for some
time. In the first 15 years of the colony, at least 3,300 of
4,270 settlers died of disease and conflict with the Indians, a
death rate approaching 80%.
*In December, 1607, Captain John Smith was captured by Chief
Powhatan’s Indians, and apparently sentenced to death by having
his skull crushed by a war club. Powhatan’s daughter
Pocahontas threw herself across him and saved his life, in what
Smith reported as an act of love but which was probably a ritual
meant to show Powhatan’s power and dominance over the
region. Nonetheless, Pocahontas remained an important friend
of the colonists.
*In 1608 the first relief ship arrived and found 62 of the
original 100 settlers were dead. At this time, John Smith
took command of the colony, which was all that kept the town
alive, particularly his famous dictum ‘He who shall not work shall
not eat.’ During the second winter, only 12 of 200 settlers
*In 1609 a second relief expedition set out from England but got
shipwrecked in the Bahamas. Furthermore, the remaining grain
stored in Jamestown was eaten by rats.
*The winter of 1609-10 was known as the Starving Time.
Indians killed livestock and settlers starved or ate cats, rats,
dogs, snakes, horsehides, and even exhumed dead bodies. One
man was convicted for killing, salting, and eating his wife, for
which he was executed.
*In May, when the surviving settlers who had been stranded in the
Bahamas made it to Virginia, they saw no point in staying, and set
off down the James River with the 60 survivors. On the way
down the river, they met an expedition led by Lord De La
Warr. He led them back to Jamestown and ended the communal
system and established private ownership of land, and the colony
became more efficient.
*What finally made the colony profitable was not gold (which they
never found) nor conquest of the Indians (which did not come any
time soon), but rather a crop that the Spanish were already
selling profitably in Europe, tobacco, which John Rolfe began to
raise and cure for transport in 1612.
*In 1617 the first shipment of tobacco arrived in England.
It initially sold at three shillings a pound. This was far
less than Spanish tobacco (18 shillings a pound), but was still
very profitable, and the first thing in the colony to really turn
a profit of any kind. However, it was labour intensive, so
Virginians needed labour.
*At first, some Virginians attempted to enslave Indians, but it
was too easy for them to escape, while others simply died of
disease or overwork. Some labour, especially at first, came
from indentured servants (who initially worked for the Company,
and later for individuals), and some—eventually the majority—came
from African slaves.
*The first Africans sold in the English colonies were purchased
from a Dutch warship in 1619, although it is possible that they
were indentured servants of some kind rather than chattel
slaves. Slavery did not become deeply entrenched in the
colony until the second half of the 17th Century.
*At first, Virginia did depend on indentured servants. These
were people who (typically) chose to come to the New World and
work for a set number of years (usually 4-7) for the man who paid
their way (or perhaps someone else to whom he sold the
indenture). At the end of their term, such indentured
servants were freed and given a token payment for their labour,
such as clothing, some tools, and possibly a small parcel of
*Under the headright system used in Virginia and Maryland,
whomever paid the passage of a labourer received the right to
fifty acres of land, putting ever more land in the hands of the
wealthy while encouraging the importation of more and more
indentured servants, although any free man who paid his own way
also got fifty acres of land for himself, creating a small, but
growing, population of small farmers.
*These free men felt that, as Englishmen, they deserved a say in
their government, and in 1618 the Virginia Company agreed to let
the colonists elect an assembly, which met for the first time in
1619 as the House of Burgesses. Although it did not
initially accomplish much, it was the first representative
government in the English colonies, and set a precedent of
self-government in America.
*With indentured servants, slaves, and other immigrants coming as
a result of the tobacco boom, the Indians grew increasingly
concerned. They had always been violent and dangerous, and
they and the English had fought before, generally in a brutal
manner. In 1614, Pocahontas married John Rolfe of Virginia,
once again restoring the peace.
*However, the English had also shown how dangerous they could be
(especially under the leadership of Lord De La Warr) with their
weapons and their diseases, and that they could provide some
valuable trade goods. The combination of these facts led the
otherwise brutal Powhatan (who ruled a petty empire of subjugated
local Algonquian tribes) to be peaceful with the English.
After his death, the new chief Opechancanough, initially seemed
friendly, but alarmed by the growth of the English colony, decided
to drive the English from Virginia. Happily, an Indian who
had converted to Christianity warned his employer ahead of time so
that Jamestown was saved.
*In 1622 the Indians under Opechancanough massacred 347 of 1,240
colonists, about 28% of the population. The surviving
English descended upon the Indians just before the harvest, killed
all they could, burnt their corn, and made treaties with the
intention of breaking them in order to gain advantages.
*These tactics, especially burning crops and villages, were so
dirty they were called ‘Irish Tactics,’ because that was the only
group hitherto despised enough for the English to use them
against. The goal in dealing with the Indians this way (at
least for the moment), even more so than with the Irish, was to
utterly wipe them off the earth. There may have been 20,000
Indians in Virginia when the English arrived. The official
count in 1669 was 2,000.
*The massacre hurt the English badly at first, but hurt the
Indians much more within a year or two as the English had their
revenge, and it also hurt the colony as a whole, as fear of the
Indians stopped attempts at creating glassworks and ironworks and
mining out in the backcountry. This was one more reason
Virginia adopted so fully the tobacco economy and ultimately
dependence upon chattel slavery.
*The failure of the Virginia Company to turn a profit led King
James I to dissolve its charter in 1624 and make Virginia a royal
colony under direct royal control.
*The tobacco monoculture of Virginia was labour-intensive and also
required large amounts of land, because tobacco rapidly depletes
the nutrients in the soil, making it ruinous for farmland.
Tobacco planters needed to continually expand in order to keep
their economy viable.
*Initially, the headright system solved both of these
problems: paying for indentured servants to come to Virginia
led to large land grants for the wealthy planters and provided
them a workforce to farm it (or at least the parts they
cultivated—a lot was left fallow until needed). Furthermore,
the high mortality rate in Virginia meant that relatively few
indentured servants outlived their term of service (although many
planters died young, too, and their widows—often serial
widows—sometimes accumulated large estates and a fair amount of
unofficial social influence). In the first few generations
of Virginia’s existence, this kept the colonial elite firmly
entrenched at the top of society.
*There were exceptions, however: some people did manage to
pay their own way to the new world, and created a small class of
independent yeomen farmers with a small plot of their own.
Furthermore, as time passed, indentured servants began to survive
until they gained their independence, and needed land of their
*Virginia began to stratify into two societies: the
Tidewater aristocracy near the coast and the Backcountry people of
the Piedmont. This led to tension between the two groups and
between the colonists and the Indians.
*There were also tensions in England that spilled over into the
New World. For years there had been growing tension between
King Charles I, who believed in absolute royal authority and
supported a conservative Church of England, and an English middle
class who prized having a voice in Parliament and many of whom
were Puritans who wanted to reform the Church of England to purify
it of what they saw as Catholic traditions, decorations, central
authority, and the doctrine of Arminianism (which, among other
things, taught that men had free will to choose to follow God’s
will or not). In 1642 this tension broke out into Civil War.
*The English Civil War was fought between the supporters of the
King, called Royalists or Cavaliers, and the supporters of
Parliament who came under increasingly radical Puritan leadership,
and who were known as Parliamentarians or Roundheads. Under
the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, the Roundheads won and executed
the King, although under Cromwell’s leadership, England became
essentially a military dictatorship (although ruled in theory by
an elected parliament), and in 1660 the Monarchy was restored
under King Charles II, son of the late king.
*Many Cavaliers fled to Virginia, now known as the Cavalier
*Governor William Berkeley also faced difficulty from the
backcountry. After Opechancanough was killed in 1646, the
Tidewater gentry tried to keep the peace with the Indians.
However, for some small farmers and for the mass of newly-free
indentured servants, the only land free for the taking was
controlled by Indians, and they came into conflict with
them. They wanted the colonial government to protect them
and to help them expand into Indian lands, but Berkeley refused.
*The man who took advantage of this frontier discontent was a
recent immigrant from England, Nathaniel Bacon. He had come
from a wealthy family in England, but had gotten in trouble for
marrying a woman without her father’s permission and supposedly
defrauding someone else, so his family sent him to Virginia with
enough money to purchase two plantations on the frontier.
*With his background, he saw himself as better than the Tidewater
gentry (who in turn excluded him from the local circles of power),
who might have been at the top of the social pyramid in Virginia
but who would have been of no great account in England. He
also saw the discontent on the frontier, and decided to organise
it, leading Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676.
*Former indentured servants, small frontier farmers, and even some
slaves followed Bacon to massacre local Indians and overthrow the
colonial government and burned the capital in Jamestown
(afterwards it would be located in Williamsburg), forcing Berkeley
to flee and a new House of Burgesses to be elected. It gave
the right to vote to landless men (who had it in the early days of
the Burgesses, but lost it in the mid-1600s), limited the power of
the governor, and issued the Declaration of the People of
Virginia, criticising Berkeley for unfair taxes, appointing
friends to government offices, and not protecting the people from
the Indians. This is sometimes seen as a fore-runner of the
American Revolution, with people demanding more rights and more
*On 26 October, 1676, Bacon died of dysentery. Some of his
followers were tricked into giving up their weapons by the offer
of a pardon and others simply gave up. Some of the rebels
were hanged, but most were pardoned and some of their leaders
became part of the Virginia ruling class. Berkeley himself
briefly returned to power before being replaced by the King.
*One way Virginia’s planters tried to avoid having a free
underclass of former indentured servants that could revolt was by
vastly increasing the percentage of their labourers who were
slaves. Slavery increasingly came to be defined by race as
well. This creation of a permanently enslaved underclass
also created a sense of equality among the white people of
Virginia, so that both poor and rich saw themselves as, in some
ways, being part of the same class and all being, in some way,
free and equal.
*Virginia also had other problems, particularly as the
over-production of tobacco led to falling prices.
*Many Virginia planters also ended up in debt to the merchants in
London who sold their tobacco for them and purchased the latest
and most fashionable luxuries for on their behalf.
*On the other hand, Virginia slowly but surely expanded westward,
reaching the Appalachian Mountains by the early 1700s and
expanding into the Shenandoah Valley in the mid-1700s, fighting
with the Indians along the way.
*Economically, Virginia was very similar to its neighbour to the
north, Maryland, and they are sometimes grouped together as the
Chesapeake colonies (as is Delaware, economically but not
politically). Politically, though, there were some
significant differences between Maryland and Virginia.
*In the mid-1500s and throughout the 1600s, Catholics were faced
significant legal and social difficulties in many parts of England
and Scotland, even though in the mid-1600s, the British Kings were
sympathetic to them.
*In fact, in 1634, King Charles I granted what is now Maryland to
Lord Baltimore, an influential Catholic nobleman, who set up
Maryland as a home for Catholics, although firmly under his
control—making it what is called a proprietary colony, because he
owned all the land there. However, a General Assembly was
created there like the House of Commons in England.
*Although Catholics were encouraged to settle in Maryland, and the
large landowners who made up the local upper-class were Catholic,
many Protestants settled there as well, and there was some
fighting during the English Civil War, both within the colony and
between the colony and Parliamentary forces who tried to seize
*Worried that a growing number of Protestants might use their
voice in the General Assembly to limit the rights of Catholics in
the same way they had in England, the General Assembly passed the
Act of Religious Toleration in 1649, offering toleration to all
Christians (but not other groups) so that they would still be safe
once they ceased to be the majority. Catholics were
eventually outnumbered by Protestants in Maryland, but remained
quite numerous and influential.
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