Colonization Essay, Research Paper

Essay #1

Although New England and the Chesapeake regions were settled largely by people of English origin, by

1700 the regions had evolved into two distinct societies. I have described both societies in an attempt to

demonstrate their developments.

Virginia Colony

In 1607 a group of merchants established England?s 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

beaver 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 Virginia?s 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 God?s 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, Salem?s Puritan minister, Roger Williams, began to voice disturbing opinions on church

and government policies. Williams denounced mandatory worship and argued that government officials

should 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 community?s 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 England?s 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


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.

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