Life in the Chesapeake Colonies

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Life in the Chesapeake Colonies

The first successful British colonization of the Americas was in the Chesapeake area and anchored by Jamestown which was founded in 1607. The original colonists nearly didn’t make it, as it was a very difficult life for them. Moreover, the colonists founded many relationships that were both good and bad with various other groups so that they could make it through those first years. With great will and sheer luck the area has thrived, becoming the heart of the United States gov- ernment today.

When you think of early America what comes to mind? Do you think of Christopher Columbus, or George Washington? Many people don’t realize that the first European settlers were actually from present day Norway through the adventures of Leif Ericson (Jones 2011). It was a very brief stay in the Newfound- land area and the settlement was abandoned as quickly as it began. Although Columbus never made it to North America, his impact on the western hemisphere is seen throughout North and South America today (Klein 2012). Few realize that Jamestown was the first successful colony of the United States founded in 1607 on the James River about 100 miles inland from Chesa- peake Bay. With the blessing of the British Crown through a charter with King James I and the Virginia Company of London. Despite the lack of gold, which was the original sought after bounty, they instead found an abundance of natural resources in which the company investors and King James I could exploit. The position of the town allowed ships to trade goods but more importantly it gave a natural defensive perimeter for the colonist to defend themselves against the native Indians. With the lack of gold, the colony was on the verge of failure but the soil in the area was found to be very fertile for tobacco farming. Being the cash crop of the period and the towns easy access to shipping, the town began to boom and became a major hub for trading and commerce (Jones2011).

For the colony to expand the need for all sorts of labor became evident. The colony could not maintain a viable population due to disease, starvation and wars with local Indian tribes (Jones 2011). In the beginning men out num- bered women 6 to 1 and with the average adult life expectancy only 40 women became very im- portant to the survival of the colony. So they were allowed to come from England to join their husbands and fathers so that they could help make the life there a bit easier and increase the population (historyisfun.org). But the largest population growth came from the importation of slaves from Africa so that tobacco harvest could be increased to enrich the company investors.

Salves were first introduced to the area by a Dutch warship that traded them for food and supplies in 1619. Originally they were treated as indentured servants and after their term of service some were given freedom, land and even converted to Christianity and baptized. This all changed in 1660 when several laws in Virginia and Maryland were passed to ensure that slaves were destined to generations of slavery. Slaves were an integral part of the success of the colony and to keep the profits high, so these laws went so far as to include children born by slaves became the property of the slave owner.

Any slaves that resisted the commands or even raising a hand in defense from their masters were subject to beatings, lash- ings or even death. Land was given to the initial colonists after their period of servitude to the company and King so that they could raise more tobacco and increase revenues. But with the land grants came a revolt, not among colonists or even the slaves, it came from the original people that occupied the land thousands of years before any Europeans crossed the 30th meridian, the Indi-

ans. The Indian tribes of the area were the Powhatan, Piscataway, Nanticoke (Tayac, et al). The Indians were very unsettled that the British were colonizing...
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