Post-Establishment Jamestown (After 1610): Part I

We spend most of our time exploring how early life in Jamestown would have worked and what it would have looked like from our perspective. Many of those who traveled overseas to settle Jamestown would have had a “romantic” notion of this adventure, the same way we might have a romantic notion of hurdling light years through space to settle a faraway place, never to see home again. But those notions are born to die — just like everything else.

Even six years after Jamestown was first settled (this is after the worst winters and starvation periods the colonists would ever know), life was still difficult. It was better, but not good. Production remained inconsistent and the future was uncertain. Those who had organized the Virginia Company had a lot riding on the venture. Imagine investing a ton of money into an expedition and watching it fall to pieces as Jamestown did! You would do anything to right the course.

Governor Sir Thomas Dale was known to have assigned 3-acre parcels of land to each of the surviving members of the original voyages. Those who would arrive later would be entitled to land, but smaller parcels. This allowed Jamestown to grow ever so slowly. When the investors noted the economic advancements, it was time for another gamble: they would begin to farm land that was inhabited by the neighboring Native Americans. They had been mostly peaceful up until that point, but these actions would guarantee new conflict in the future.

One of the most important events in these years occurred in 1614, when a man named John Rolfe brought tobacco seeds from Bermuda. He had harvested them in the wild (tobacco wasn’t native to Bermuda, but it had been planted there years earlier by the Spanish), and no one knew how they would fare in Jamestown. Soon, they had a harvest!

It was these two events — tobacco farming and encroaching on land owned by the Native Americans, that paved the way for what would happen next.