The Transformation of Colonial Virginia, 1606-1700

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The Transformation of Colonial Virginia, 1606-1700

In 1606, settlers of the Virginia Company of England embarked on an expedition to the New World, their goal being to found a settlement in the Virginia Colony. After a lengthy journey, the settlers came upon the mouth of the Chesapeake River, making landfall at Cape Henry. Their site would come to be known as Jamestown, widely regarded as the first permanent English settlement in America. However, the momentous task of establishing a society in a new and foreign land did not go without its fair share of tribulations. These settlers faced uncompromising challenges on the road to establishing stability and success, but their efforts produced both economic and social improvements that would eventually culminate to form one of England's most valued North American colonies.

In addition to acquiring gold and other precious minerals to send back to the waiting investors in England, the survival plan for the Jamestown colonists depended upon regular supplies from England and trade with the Native Americans. The location they selected was largely cutoff from the mainland, and offered little game for hunting, no fresh drinking water, and very limited ground for farming. Death from disease and conflicts with the Natives Americans took a fearsome toll on the colonists. No profitable exports had been identified, and it was unclear whether the settlement would survive financially. As George Percy states in A Discourse on the Plantation of Virginia, "There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such misery as we were in this new discovered Virginia."

In 1609, however, John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, holding the key to the colony's economic success. Rolfe, a businessman from London, brought with him new strains of tobacco that were cultivated successfully in the warm Virginian climate. This new tobacco, having come from Rolfe's Tahitian seeds, was met with great enthusiasm by the colonists, who held a...
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