Peter Wood on the first settlers who come to America
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Q: In the Virginia colony, describe those first settlers who come. What are they like? What kind of people come into America for that first settlement?
A: We romanticize, I think, the people who come in that first settlement to Jamestown. It's a very mixed lot of people. But you have to remember that it's primarily men, it's primarily a military outpost. There's the hope that this new colony will be able to challenge the Spanish further south in Florida; and there's also pressure on them to come up with profits and returns. So they're a very military bunch, and they're living under very difficult conditions: starving. There's even some evidence of some cannibalism during the earliest, toughest times. It's an outpost. Remember, that their geography is very limited by our standards. They actually have no idea how broad the American continent is. One of their instructions is to go up on the highest hill, look off to the west and see if you can't see the Pacific. Maybe this is just another little isthmus like the one that the Spanish found further south. So possibly the Chesapeake will just be a way-station toward greater riches, greater discoveries elsewhere. And it's only over the course of the seventeenth century that they begin to realize where they really are, what the nature of the Virginia landscape and climate is all about. Peter Wood
Professor of History
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