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English saved by Native Americans

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One of the original goals of the Virginia Company, in addition to that of making a profit, was to create a community where Englishmen and Native Americans could work side-by-side and in complete harmony. The Indians would be allowed, if they so chose, to adopt English customs as well as Christianity. In other words, they would be "saved" from their savage lives. All would work under England's benevolent, "quiet goverment" -- a government which the English claimed differed markedly from the tyrranical rule of their Spanish rivals in Florida and in the Caribbean.

England's expectations for the new colony were high. The reality of the new colony couldn't have been further from the envisioned ideal.

On the first day that the English landed at Virginia's Cape Henry -- still several weeks before they were to pick the site of there new settlement, Jamestown -- they were attacked by local Indians and driven back to their ships. And the fighting continued. Soon after constructing the fort at Jamestown, two hundred Powhatan Indians unexpectedly attacked the new settlers, who had not yet unpacked their guns.

By 1609, the fighting had subsided, but there were still occasional raids on both sides. The real enemy of the settlers, though, was hunger, due to the lack of food. Instead of growing their own supply of corn (a New World crop unfamiliar to the English), the settlers relied heavily on corn grown by nearby Indians. But even with their neighbors' help, over 400 settlers would die over the winter of 1609-1610.

In the spring of 1610, the settlers still did not plant enough corn to keep themselves alive. The following winter would not be so devastating, thanks again to Indian-grown corn . . . but no thanks to the governor, the colony's leader. The governor negotiated with Powhatan, who ruled all Indian tribes in the Jamestown area, about a colonist who had run away from the colony, presumably to live with the Indians. Not satisfied with Powhatan's answers, the governor ordered that "Revendge" be taken upon the tribes closest to Jamestown. Raids on two villages followed. The inhabitants were killed, their houses burnt, and all the corn growing around the villages cut down.

Even ten years after Jamestown was first settled, the colonists did not grow enough corn to feed themselves. Through begging, bullying, and buying, they still acquired the corn from the Powhatan Indians whom they continued to mistreat.

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Related Entries:
The Virginia Company of London
Jamestown Settlement
Betty Wood on the Europeans' reaction to Native Americans
Betty Wood on why the English did not use Native Americans for their work force
Thomas Davis on how Europeans handle labor in the New World
Thomas Davis on the fears about the Spanish and Native Americans

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