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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Learning Objective One:

Discuss the background of when, how and why Jamestown was founded as well as its first few years.

The London Company, a prime example of a joint-stock company, was a dynamic business venture with two objectives; profit and glory for England. Its leader, Sir Thomas Smith, was reputed to have been London's wealthiest merchant.

The first colonists were not well equipped for the enterprise and they consisted largely of "decayed gentlemen" and second sons of gentry (59), some artisans, soldiers, a sailor and several small boys.

Almost instantly the colonists began quarreling instead of cooperating for the common good. Because of the poor leadership, many of the first colonists spent their time hunting for gold instead of planting a crop and establishing a stable community .

The period is often called the "starving time."With the bad winter , lack of supplies and Jamestown under siege by the Native Americans who killed anyone who tried to leave the area the population went from over 500 to 60. As a result of earlier deaths along with those of the "starving time" the odds of staying alive in Virginia were about one in twelve during the first three years of the colony.   

For the first 17 years things were about the same as about 10,000

settlerss ailedt o Jamestowna.b out8 .000m adei t. and onlv 1275

survived by 1624.

Why had so many colonists died in a lands o rich in potential? The burden

of responsibility lay in large measure with the Virginia Company.( After

1609 the London Company was called the Virginia Company.)

Supporters of the Virginia Company were in too great a hurry to

make a profit. Settlers were shipped to America, but neither

housing nor food awaited them in Jamestown. Weakened by the

long sea voyage, they quickly succumbed to contagious disease.

Company officials in Jamestown also must bear a share of the

guilt. They were so eager to line their own pockets that they

consistently failed to provide for the common good. Jamestown

took on the characteristics of a "boomtown." There was no shared

sense of purpose, no common ideology except perhaps unrestrained self-advancement.

The company's scandalous mismanagement embarrassed the king,

and in 1624 he dissolved the enterprise and transformed Virginia

into a royal colony.

The changes in government had little impact upon the

character of daily life in Virginia. As a financial proposition the colony was a fiasco; the

shareholders an estimate 200,000 pounds.

However , there were some positive events to occur in Virginia during this formative period. A fortunate by-product of the company's effort to strengthen the Jamestown settlement was the formation of the first representative assembly in English America.

Twenty-two burgesses were chosen, two from each of 11 plantations. It was called the House of Burgesses and the meetings were held in the church where this first assembly exercised legislative , executive, and judicial authority, all of which were confined to local problems.

The independence of the House of Burgesses was limited in that any laws enacted were subjected to the acquiescence of the Virginia Company in London . The body developed because of the growth of the colony and the ever changing economic and social conditions required the colonists have more political control over their environment.

The body developed because of the growth of the colony and the ever changing economic and social conditions required the colonists have more

political control over their environment. Thus, self-government was not an American creation, but it was

partly an outgrowth of the conditions in America which made it necessary for survival.

At the same time, it was an invaluable legacy from England . The concept of the limited power of the monarch was widely accepted in England starting with the Magna Cartain 1215. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, this idea of basic rights and limited government had evolvedfrom the English mind and experience and was transmitted to the English colonies in the form of this enlightened and far-reaching governmental system in Virginia . This process was called the "Germ Theory"

Another event, but this one was of social significance, saw the Virginia Company

in 1619 send 90 young women of marriageable age to the colony. The Virginia

planters were to pay 120 pounds of tobacco for the passage of each woman' The purpose was to give stability to the colony by creating a pro European

life-style as 90 families were automatically created with the importation of

the women. At the same time 100 London slum children were dispatched to Virginia

where they became apprentices. This practice continued from time to time

as reflected by the events of 1627 when 1500 kidnapped children were sent

over to Virginia to provide needed labor and settlers for the colony.

The background on the economic development of Virginia.

The chief objective of the settlement of Virginia which she did not accomplish,

was to find gold. Virginia's charter of 1606 specified that one-fifth of the gold i

and silver found belonged to the King. As mentioned, gold fever so seduced the

minds of most early settlers that Jamestown nearly died for lack of food.

Also one of the main reasons for the founding of Virginia, as well as the Carolina's

and later Georgia, was to produce a variety of specialized products. It was thought

in England that silk, figs, olives, lemons, oranges, and other highly desired

commodities could be successfully grown. England also desired Virginia to

produce glass and other raw materials such as tar, pitch and timber. However,

none of the above mentioned products proved to be very profitable during

Virginia's early Years.

Virginia's economic future was assured in 1612 when John Rolfe successfully

planted the first West Indies tobacco seeds in American soil. The tobacco culture

set the pattern for life in Virginia from that time until after the Civil War. Virginia

remained the leading producer of tobacco in the United States until the War, when

she was replaced

Learning Objective Two Show how the interrelationship between a successful cash crop, cheap land, and cheap labor led to the plantation system and to the gradual acceptance of slavery.

n order for Virginia's plantation system to develop, three things were necessary : (1) a successful cash crop, (2) free land, and (3) cheap labor. The successful cash crop was tobacco. Virginia's tobacco at first brought about sixty pence or five shillings a pound, a price that was so profitable that farmers rushed madly to plant it at the expense of grain crops

Tobacco did not become the chief staple simple because of the successful attempts by Rolfe and others to produce a satisfactory smoking leaf. There was a ready market for tobacco all over Europe, and, per pound, it brought more income than wheat or timber.

Another reason was the fact that tobacco was indigenous to the soil and climate of Virginia. However, the tobacco grown by the Native Americans in Virginia was too harsh for European tastes . Rolfe's tobacco was a different species that was produced in Latin America. Plus, tobacco

had a greater advantage over all other staples because it could be produced in larger quantities per acre. This was important, considering the labor required to clear the trees and prepare the land for cultivation.

It was soon discovered that the amount of tobacco produced by one man's labor earned as much as the work of six men in a wheat field. A tobacco planter did not have to clear much land; on the average one man could farm between 1 112 to 2 acres of tobacco, plus provisions . A good yield on tobacco production was 1,000 pounds per acre. Moreover , tobacco could be shipped more economically than any other crop; thus the profit margin for tobacco was greater than for any other crop that could be produced in the colony.

With the above mentioned economic benefits, it's no wonder that Virginia became a one-crop society producing close to 400 pounds of tobacco for every man, woman, and child in the colony by the late 1600s. The free land came about under the "headright" system which was first introduced in Virginia in 1618. The headright system was the principal means of acquiring land in Virginia as well as the other Southern colonies during the seventeenth century.

A headright was originally 50 acres and was developed from the idea that anyone who paid his own way to Virginia should have a share in the Virginia Company; in this instance, a share represented by land. The colonist would also receive 50 acres for every member of his family over 15 and 50 acres for each servant he brought over.

But the system was soon tainted by graft and corruption. Colonial officials failed to check closely, and even names from tombstones were known to have been presented for head rights. As a result, many large holdings developed in Virginia. From 1628 to 1632 the headright patents averaged from 100 to 300 acres, but between 1650 to 1670 they averaged 674 acres. To "seat" a claim and receive title to the property, the holder of the headright had to mark out its boundaries, plant a crop, and construct some sort of habitation.

Generally the grantor of a headright demanded a small annual payment called a quitrent. A quitrent was not a rent at all, for the person who paid it was not a tenant. It was a tax paid in recognition to the grantor and was a practice that had been used in medieval Europe. In Virginia the quitrent was one shilling for every 50 acres, and provided a way for the grantor of the headright to derive income from his colony. The amount of the

quitrent varied from colony to colony and was greatly resented and hard to collect.

The cheap labor was first introduced with the development of indentured servants. Indentured servants were men and women who performed any sort of labor for the master for a period of four to seven years. The headright system encouraged landless Europeans to migrate to the colonies. More often than not those wanting to come could not afford passage across the Atlantic. In order to solve this problem the indentured servant system was developed.

After a servant completed their years of labor in exchange for their transportation to the New World, they became free.

Usually the ex-servant was entitled to an "outfit" (a suit of clothes, some farm tools, seed, and perhaps a gun). At the same time, the former servant received farmland in the usual way--50 acres for himself or herself and 50 acres each for a spouse or a grown child . Custom varied from colony to colony and according to the bargain struck by the two parties when the indenture was signed.

The first blacks (20 in number) came to Virginia in 1619 as indentured servants. They were brought over by a Dutch sea captain. They were an insignificant element in society at the time but would become very important as a solution to the future labor problems of Virginia within the next 50 years. The first statutes to deal with slavery were LOCAL and did not appear until the 1660s.

The medieval serfdom that had tied English peasants to the land or a master had long since died out.

English common law acknowledged various degrees of "unfree" status, such as indentured servitude, but it made no provision for lifetime or hereditary bondage. The concept of chattel slavery--that is, the ownership of one human being by another--was alien to English law. However, it is certain that by about 1640 some blacks were slaves and it appears that the practice grew and finally became legalized locally by the 1660s and colonial wide by 1670.

Learning Objective Three

Discuss the plantation system and the development of “white identity”. Also discuss how imperialism and capitalism created the need for the economic and moral acceptance of slavery

Slavery did not become a characteristic feature of Virginia society until nearly the end of the century. It became so then for several reasons.

As mentioned above, the catastrophic fall in the price of tobacco ruined the small farmers, permitting profits only to men who had the capital to purchase cheap and self-propagating labor.

Because of a shortage of indentured servants which started in the 1660's when England began restricting the emigration of white indentured servants, Virginians were forced to use black labor. The need for black labor continued in the 1670's because of the improved economic conditions in England. White servants were not as interested in indenturment and the competition of other colonies for servants provided other opportunities.

Relatively few blacks were imported into Virginia or the southern colonies until the late seventeenth century. The reason for this was that the cost of a slave was roughly five times that of a white servant. During this period blacks were sold in the New World to the sugar plantations in the West Indies where they fetched a higher price than Virginians could afford or would want to pay as long as the supply of white servants was available .

The problem of a low supply of the black man's labor and the high price needed for him was solved with the formation of the Royal African Company (1672) as it made slaves more readily available. The English government had given the Royal African Company a monopoly on the slave trade which ended in 1678; consequently, other merchants began slave-trading on a larger scale. Hence, the indenture system began to give way to slavery as the permanent solution to the region's chronic need for labor.

An additional inducement causing planters and politicians to switch was the recognition that, unlike white servants, black slaves (and their offspring) would be forever barred from competing with whites for land or political power .

In 1670, the House of Burgesses passed a law that sealed the fate of the black man, although it did not refer to them by race directly: "All servants not being Christians (that is, not being white Europeans) imported into this colony by shipping shall be slaves for their lives." This process became accelerated following the catastrophe of the 1676 Bacon's Rebellion. See videos below:

Slaves, themselves, became a major cash crop. Bought at African factories '16 a piece, they were sold in the colonies at prices ranging from 16 in the seventeenth century to 40 by 1750. (It is difficult to work out

present-day equivalents for seventeenth century currency. It has been estimated that one was equal to about 89 dollars today). Hence, the decision to bring African slaves to the English colonies was based primarily upon economic considerations.

However, there was a moral justification for slavery. "Cultural nationalism" had English writers associating blacks in Africa with heathen religion, barbarous behavior, sexual promiscuity, in fact, with evil itself. From such an ethnocentric perspective, the enslavement of African men and women seemed unobjectionable. The planters maintained that if black slaves converted to Christianity, and abandoned their supposedly savage ways, they would actually benefit from their loss of freedom.

Also because the African culture was a non-western culture and colonial society was based on western culture, when the Blacks' values and motivations did not match that of colonial society, they viewed them inferior as people and as a race.

As slavery increased in the late 1600s, the expanding black population apparently frightened white colonists. As the number of Africans increased, Virginia lawmakers drew up more restrictive slave codes. It was during this period that racism was fully revealed. By 1700 slavery was unequivocally based on the color of a person's skin. Blacks fell into this status simply because they were black and non-western in culture.

Finally, as American society continued to become more democratic, particularly after the American War for Independence, the increased emphasis on democracy made the white population more aware and afraid of the future position of the black slave and the need to keep him under control. By the 1830s, the fact that America's society contained nearly 2.5 million blacks suddenly became deeply troubling to many white Americans in the North and South.

In summary, this surge of race consciousness, White Identity. seemed to be attributed to six factors:

White Identity

  • Economic Necessity to support the plantation system
  • Cultural Nationalism
  • increase number of Africans
  • the development of democracy
  • class conflict (Bacon’s Rebellion)
  • Abolitionism
  • Slave Revolts

Moral Justifications

  • English Cultural Nationalism deemed Africans as “foreign”
  • African culture was non western
  • Dramatic increase of population of Africans in the Americas
  • Emergence of Racism (race consciousness)

With this combination of events white Americans had to confront the idea that blacks might become as free as anyone else to compete and make of themselves whatever they could. Most whites found this prospect abhorrent, and as they contemplated it, their racial attitudes as well as their anxiety over the social and economic position of blacks within society, intensified greatly. This anxiety over the social and economic position of blacks produced two distinct political patterns in society's treatment of the slave question up until the Civil War.

Listen to this insightful interview about "white identity":

Today, names like Mancuso, Weisman and Conan only hint at their ethnic roots. But 100 years ago, any of them would have immediately been recognized as belonging to a distinct ethnic group, complete with stereotypes and discrimination. Talk of the Nation looks at how America has expanded the definition of whiteness throughout history.