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Some Contemporary Explanations for Virginia's Early Failures



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The first party of settlers experienced extreme difficulty; within six months, only 38 remained alive. As gentlemen and artisans, they were ill equipped to deal with the rugged life that awaited them in the New World. They expected to find a passage to China and the type of wealth that Spain had been bringing back from its colonies. Instead they found a landscape that required a great deal of work before it would sustain them, the type of work that they were unwilling or unable to perform. Disease and starvation took a heavy toll.

Those temporall proceedings, to some maie seeme too charitable, to such a dailie daring trecherous people [i.e., the Indians]; to other unpleasant that we washed not the ground with their blouds, nor shewed such strange inventions in mangling, murdering, ransaking, and destroying (as did the Spaniards) the simple bodies of those ignorant soules; nor delightful, because not stuffed with relations of heaps and mines of gold and silver, nor such rare commodities as the Portugals and Spaniards found in the East and West Indies. The want whereof hath begot us, that were the first undertakers, no lesse scorne and contempt, than their noble conquests and valiant adventures (beautified with it), praise and honor. Too much, I confesse, the world cannot attribute to their ever memorable merit. And to cleare us from the worlds blind ignorant censure, these fewe words may suffise to any reasonably understanding.

It was the spaniards good hap to happen in those parts where were infinite numbers of people, whoe had manured the ground with that providence that it afforded victuall at all times; and time had brought them to that perfection [that] they had the use of gold and silver, and [of] the most of such commodities as their countries affoorded: so that what the Spaniard got was only the spoile and pillage of those countrie people, and not the labours of their owne hands.

But had those fruitfull Countries beene as Salvage [i.e., savage], as barbarous, as ill-peopled, as little planted laboured and manured, as Virginia; their proper labours, it is likely would have produced as small profit as ours. But had Virginia bin peopled, planted, manured, and adorned with such store of pretious Jewels and rich commodities as was the Indies: then, had we not gotten and done as much as by their examples might bee expected from us, the world might then have traduced us and our merits, and have made shame and infamy our recompence and reward.

But we chanced in a lande, even as God made it. Where we found only an idle, improvident, scattered people, ignorant of the knowledge of gold, or silver, or any commodities; and carelesse of anything but from hand to mouth, but for ba[u]bles of no worth; nothing to encourage us but what accidentally wee found nature afforded. Which ere we could bring to recompence our paines, defray our charges, and satisfie our adventurers; we were to discover the country, subdue the people, bring them to be tractable civil and industrious, and teach them trades that the fruits of their labours might make us recompence, or plant such colonies of our owne that mist first make provision how to live of themselves ere they can bring to perfection the commodities of the countrie: which doubtless will be as commodious for England as the west Indies for Spaine, if it be rightly managed...


Consider These Questions



1. Why do you think the settlers and the public at large expected Virginia to be like the Spanish colonies?

2. Why do you think the settlers felt that they had a right to take what belonged to the native people, or to "subdue the people, bring them to be tractable civil and industrious, and teach them trades that the fruits of their labors might make us recompense"?

3. What do you think the settlers would have done differently if they had known what Virginia was like?

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