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Modern Voices
Peter Wood on the need for labor in Jamestown
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Q: In Jamestown there's the recognition that there's a real need for labor, if this is going to become a profitable colony. What do they begin to do?
Peter Wood

A: For the English in the New World there are really three labor options. One is to transport people from England to the New World. Another is to employ or exploit the indigenous labor that's already living there in America. And the other options is to bring people from Africa. The Spanish have explored all three of these options, and now with Jamestown the English have to explore these options. And they try them all. Bringing Africans is not their first choice, it's the last, if you will. These are people from another culture, they don't speak English, they're not Christians, and it's a long voyage and an expensive investment. In the early days, the people, the English settlers in Jamestown don't have enough money to be able to invest in any kind of expensive labor. But they do take whatever they can find. So when a Dutch ship shows up in the Chesapeake in 1619 with several dozen Africans whom they were unable to sell in the West Indies, they're bought and put to work in Jamestown, just the way indentured servants [from England] were being bought at the docks and put to work.
Peter Wood
Professor of History
Duke University

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