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The life of the colony


Sir Thomas Dale
Sir Thomas Dale

The settlers could not adapt to frontier conditions and support themselves from the land. Starvation and illness took their toll. In addition, although most of the Powhatan had at first been friendly, they soon reacted to the settlers’ unprovoked attacks on them and began harassing the fort and ambushing foraging parties. The company, determined to profit from its investment, continually sent supplies and men to replace the dead and dying. Most of the newcomers—thousands of them—also perished, but the colony somehow survived.

Jamestown was first governed by a council of seven appointed by the company, one of whom served as president. These councilors failed to provide proper leadership, quarreling among themselves and plotting against one another. The election of Captain John Smith as president in September 1608 brought some firm guidance to the colony, but Smith was forced to return to England the next year for medical treatment of an injury.

Under a new charter, granted in 1609, the company replaced Jamestown’s council with a strong governor, naming Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, to the post. Sir Thomas Gates was dispatched from England to serve as deputy governor until De La Warr, who was buying supplies and recruiting more settlers, could arrive. On the way to Virginia, Gates’s ship was wrecked by a hurricane in Bermuda, where Gates and his shipmates spent the winter. Meanwhile, the 500 colonists in Jamestown underwent what they called the Starving Time, when most of them perished from hunger and illness. Gates built two new ships and finally reached Jamestown in May 1610. He found only about 60 settlers still alive.

Just as Jamestown was about to be abandoned, De La Warr arrived and reorganized the colony, imposing martial law. Starvation and disease persisted, but supplies and more colonists arrived and new settlements grew along the James River.

In 1614 Sir Thomas Dale, the acting governor, vitalized the colony by permitting men to farm for their own profit. Previously all property had been communally owned and agriculture was unsuccessful. Men turned enthusiastically to planting and, because colonist John Rolfe in 1612 had found a way to eliminate the strong, bitter taste of Virginia tobacco, the settlers finally had a source of wealth. Settlers began to grow tobacco everywhere, even in the streets of Jamestown. The marriage of Rolfe to Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, in 1614 assured peace with the Native Americans for a time.

Another new charter, in 1618, laid the foundation for self-government. Under its provisions a two-chambered legislature, the General Assembly, first met in 1619. One chamber was the Council of State, appointed by the London Company; the other was the House of Burgesses, the Western Hemisphere’s first democratically elected body.

In 1622, Powhatan and Pocahontas having both died, Powhatan’s successor Opechancanough led an assault on the colony. The attack came over a 225-km (140-mi) front, and about 350 colonists were killed, including six members of the council. John Rolfe was probably one of the murdered council members. This so-called Great Massacre ended a plan by the colonists to convert and educate the Native Americans. The colonists began a war of extermination against them. "Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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