In 1607 a group of merchants established Englands first permanent colony in North America at Jamestown, Virginia. They operated as a joint-stock company that allowed them to sell shares of stock in their company and use the pooled investment capital to outfit and supply overseas expeditions. This joint stock company operated under a charter from James I with a concern for bringing Christian religion to the native people. However, most of the settlers probably agreed with Captain John Smith that the real aim was profit rather than religion.
Profits were elusive in the early years; expectations of gold and other minerals, trade with Indians for eaver and deer skins were not to be had by the colonists. Many Virginia colonists died of dysentery, malaria and malnutrition. The Virginia Company sent a diverse collection of people to Jamestown; there were artists and glassmakers, as well as unskilled servants. Both types of people adapted poorly to the wilderness conditions. Relations between the colonists and the Indians were bitter from the beginning. John Smith dealt with the Indians by shows of force and the Indians withdrew trade with the English.
Many settlers died of starvation in the first years. The discovery that tobacco would grow in the Chesapeake region was a salvation for Virginia. The planters shipped the first crop in 1617 and thereafter tobacco cultivation spread rapidly. By 1624, Virginia was exporting 200,000 pounds of tobacco; by 1638 the crop exceeded 3 million pounds. The cultivation of tobacco caused Virginias planters to find a reliable supply of cheap labor. To fill this need, planters recruited immigrants from various countries. These immigrants were called indentured servants.
They willingly sold a portion of their working lives in exchange for free passage across the Atlantic ocean. Many of the indentured servants were unemployed and held the lower class on the social ladder from their places of origin. Life for indentured servants was often a nightmare. If diseases did not kill them, many succumbed to the brutal work routine that harsh masters imposed upon them. When the remaining servants neared the end of their contract, masters would find ways to add time to the contracts. The profitable tobacco crops created an intense demand for land.
As more and more colonists settled along the rivers that flowed in Chesapeake Bay, the local Indian tribes retaliated. The murder of an Indian captain triggered a fierce Indian assault that dealt a staggering blow to Virginia. This attack led to the bankruptcy of the Virginia Company. The surviving planters felt they had justified reasons for the destruction of the Indians. As more settlers arrived, more pressure was placed on the Indians for land. Wars over land was provoked in 1644 and again in 1675. In each of these conflicts, the colonizers were victorious. The native population of Virginia was reduced to less than 1,000 by 1680.
Immigrants to the Chesapeake Bay region found existence difficult. Many immigrants arrived as indentured servants and could not marry until their time was paid. Once marriage was made, diseases claimed many within about seven years. Few children growing up could expect to have both parents alive. Widows and widowers often remarried soon after the death of their spouse, creating a complex web of family life. Because of mortality, the Chesapeake settlers remained, for most of the seventeenth-century, a land of immigrants rather than a land of settled families. Social institutions such as churches and schools took root very slowly.
The Chesapeake region architecture showed the fragility of life in the tobacco growing environment. Settlers at first built primitive huts and shanties. After establishing crops, planters improved their habitats but still built ramshackle one-room dwellings. Even as Virginia and Maryland matured, cheaply built and cramped houses remained the norm. Life was too uncertain and the tobacco economy was too volatile. Massachusetts Bay Colony While some English settlers scrambled for wealth on the Chesapeake, others were seized by the spirit of religion. These individuals were known as Puritans.
They aimed their efforts at reforming the corrupt new land. They wanted the new land to have a special mission in the world. The people attracted to the Puritan movement were not only religious reformers but also men and women who hoped to find changes in English society. They disapproved of the growing withdrawal from traditional restraints of individual action. They worried that individualistic behavior would undermine the notion of community involvement. This community involvement was the belief that people were bound together by reciprocal rights, obligations, and responsibilities.
Puritans vowed to reverse the march of disorder, wickedness and disregard for community by imposing a new discipline. Their intention was to establish communities of pure Christians who collectively swore a covenant with God to work for his ends. Civil and religious transgressors were rooted out and severely punished. Their emphasis was on homogeneous communities where the good of the group outweighed individual interests. The first winter for the Puritans was harsh, more than 200 of the first 700 settlers died and 100 others returned to the England in the next spring. But Puritans kept coming.
Motivated by their work ethic and sense of mission, the Puritans thrived almost from the beginning. The early leaders were university-trained ministers, experienced members of the lesser gentry and men with a compulsion to fulfill what they knew was Gods prophecy for New England. Most of the ordinary settlers came as free men in with families. Trained artisans and farmers from the mid rank of English society, they established close communities where brutal exploitation of labor had no place. The Puritans built a sound economy based on agriculture, fishing, timbering and trading for beaver furs with local Indians.
They also established the first printing press and planted they seed of a university, Harvard College. The Puritan leaders also created a tax-supported school system. In 1647, the government ordered every town with 50 families to establish an elementary school and every town with 100 families a secondary school as well. Although the Puritans had made many accomplishments, there were some dissenters from the Puritan way of life. In 1633, Salems Puritan minister, Roger Williams, began to voice disturbing opinions on church and government policies.
Williams denounced mandatory worship and argued that government officials hould not interfere with religious matters. In 1634, Anne Hutchinson began to discuss religion, suggesting that the holy spirit was absent in the preaching of some ministers. Hutchinson also offended the male leaders of the colony because she boldly stepped outside the subordinate position expected of women. The village was the vital center of Puritan life. These villages were small and tightly held. Many farmers established agriculture fields set outside the village. Families lived close together in compact towns built around a common meeting place.
These small, communal villages kept families in close touch. Land was distributed to individuals according to the size of his family, his wealth and his usefulness to the church and town. It was believed that every family should have enough land to sustain it, and prospering men were expected to use their wealth for the communitys benefit, not for themselves. Women played a vital role in this family centered society. The presence of women and a stable family life strongly affected New Englands architecture. Early economic gains were transformed into substantial housing.
Well constructed one-room houses with sleeping lofts quickly replaced the huts. Parlors and lean-to kitchens were added as soon as possible. Education was stressed in Puritan communities. Placing religion at the center of their lives, Puritans emphasized the ability to read catechisms, psalmbooks and especially the Bible. The 20,000 English immigrants who had come to New England by 1649 were dispersed from Maine to Long Island. It was only natural that farmers wished for better farm land. To combat the problems of dispersion, Puritan leaders established a broad intercolony political structure in 1643 called the Confederation of New England.
This first attempt at federalism managed to function fitfully for a generation. Although the Puritans built stable communities, developed the economy and constructed effective government, their leaders, as early as the 1640s, complained that the founding vision of Massachusetts Bay was faltering. Material concerns seemed to outweigh religious commitments and the individual prevailed over the community. However, New England had achieved economic success and political stability by the end of the seventeenth century. Towns functioned efficiently, poverty was uncommon, public education was mandated and family life was stable.