The Jamestown Fiasco


The Jamestown Fiasco Essay, Research Paper

The Jamestown Fiasco

The mistakes made by the early settlers at Jamestown, which threatened their

survival is the fact that they didn t harvest for themselves, but rely on Indians. During the

winter of 1609-10, things could have been better, yet 500 settlers were starving from lack

of harvesting. The result is that they showed one and only authentic examples of

cannibalism witnessed in Virginia. By the spring, only sixty of them were left alive. Also,

Indians gave them trouble time to time. What Captain Christopher Newport did as soon as

he landed was building a fort and trying to make friends with Indians. Yet, when he came

back, he found that two hundred of Powhatan s warriors had attacked the fort. Even

afterward, uneasiness with Indians continues throughout. Nonetheless, important thing to

notice is that many mistakes of settlers are offspring of the poor organization and direction

of the colony. The way leaders were picked didn t help the colony, not to mention that the

council members spent most of their time bickering and intriguing against one another.

Later, John Smith came to rescue by putting people to work, but that changed again when

the Virginia Company came to take over the charge with military discipline.

Jamestown settlers were unable to feed themselves because they were unwilling to

work for food. It is stated that even Indians knew that settlers were dependant upon

Indians for food. The settlers have fallen into an uneasy truce with the Indians,

punctuated by guerrilla raids on both sides, but they have had plenty of time in which they

could have grown crops. When Smith told them that it s choice between working or

starving, the death rate dropped dramatically on later winter. Another explanation is the

character of the immigrants. There was an extraordinary number of gentlemen, not to

mention that gentlemen by definition, had no manual skill, nor could they be expected to

work at ordinary labor. Gentlemen or not, later, it is proven that starvation brought

everybody to laboring. Even though the collective organization of labor in the colony was

also part of early troubles, reorganization of 1609 changed it. The troubles of Jamestown

had been modified again and again until the discovery of tobacco, which is why it lasted

without facing extinction.

It is stated that during the next two years after John Smith landed in Jamestown,

his confidence and willingness to act overcame most of the handicaps imposed by the

feeble frame of government. Smith, the son of a yeoman, kept the colony going and dealt

with Indians. When the supplies ran out in the first autumn, he succeeded in trading with

the Indians for corn. When he was caught by Powhatan, it is known that he was saved by

fair princess, Pocahontas. Later, he also made astonishingly accurate map of the country

that shows the location of the different tribes. By the end of 1608 Smith was left alone in

complete control of the settlers. He divided the people into work gangs and made them a

little speech, in which he told them they could either work or starve. As a result, in the

winter of 1608-9 he lost only seven or eight men. It is Smith who kept colony going by

forcing people to work on harvesting until the Virginia Company came to take over the


The Virginia Company in 1609 was not yet ready to abandon its goal of making its

own way in Virginia, so when Thomas Gates and Lord De la Warr arrived, Virginia was

firmly governed under a clear set of laws. For the next eight or nine years whatever evil

befell the colony were not the result of any diffusion of authority except when the

appointed governor was absent. The so-called Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall, set the

colonists to work with military discipline and no pretense of gentle government. The Laws

prescribed death for a variety of crimes such as rape, adultery, theft, lying, sacrilege, and

blasphemy. It also did not even contemplate that the Indians would become a part of the

English settlement. They succeeded in planting settlements at several points along the

James as high up as Henrico, just below the falls. According to John Rolfe, the switch to

private enterprise transformed the colony s food deficit instantly to surplus, even though it

didn t last long because of Governor Samuel Argall (1617).

Edmund Morgan puts tobacco as the ray of hope, applying that it saved the

Jamestown from extinction. It had been known from the Roanoke experience, that the

Indians grew and smoked tobacco; and tobacco grown in the Spanish West Indies was

already being imported into England. Virginia tobacco wasn t exactly what they wanted it,

but when John Rolfe tried some seeds of the West Indian variety, the result was much

better. The colonists started to plant tobacco, and in 1617, ten years after the first landing

in the Jamestown, they shipped their first cargo to England. Later, when tobacco was used

for smoking for fun, it changed the Virginia Company s economy completely, for the

demand for tobacco was multiplying as more and more settlers grew tobacco.

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