The Puritans Believed That Male Authority In The Household Was

Welcome to Module 5!

The topic for this module is “Contact and Colonization in the Chesapeake and New England.”

In Module 5, we’ll focus on British colonization, including violence, settlement, and diplomatic events between Native people in the Chesapeake region and British settlers.

Compared to Spain, England’s efforts at exploration and expansion in the 1500s were minimal. The country was wracked by disunity because of religious strife and struggles with Ireland, and did not focus their energies on exploring the Americas. Towards the end of the 1500s, the English began to look toward North America as a way to increase national power and glory through trade.

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These two questions will guide this module blog post:

What kinds of relationships were formed between English colonists at Jamestown and the Powhatans, whose land they occupied?

How were New England colonists’ worldviews shaped by religion and their interaction with Native people?

Introduction to British Colonization

In addition to potentially increasing England’s national power and status, America was seen as a refuge for England’s “surplus population.” In the late 16th century, economic growth in England could not keep pace with population growth. In addition, changes to agricultural practices meant that many small farmers were unable to utilize land previously held in common. Many uprooted former farmers went to the cities, where they were denounced by authorities as “vagabonds” and “vagrants” searching for work. English authorities saw America as a place where these unemployed citizens could make something for themselves and contribute to the nation’s wealth. Thus, the main lure of America for settlers from England was the promise of independence that followed from owning one’s own land rather than other material riches like gold or silver.

Between 1607 and 1700, more than half a million people left England. About 180,000 settled in Ireland, and about the same number went to the West Indies. The rest went to North America:

About 120,000 settlers went to the Chesapeake region (Virginia and Maryland)

21,000 to New England

About 23,000 to the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania)

Many families emigrated together, especially to New England and the Middle Colonies. But the majority of the settlers were young, single men from the bottom rungs of English society.


Indentured Servitude

By the seventeenth century, nearly two-thirds of English settlers came as indentured servants. This meant they voluntarily surrendered their freedom for a certain amount of time (about 5-7 years), in exchange for passage to America. Indentured servants were subject to many restrictions—they could be bought and sold, could not marry without the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishments, and their obligations of servitude were enforced by the courts.

However, indentured servitude was extremely different from slavery. Servants knew that there was an end to their bondage, and received a payment of “freedom dues” at the end of their labor period, becoming free members of society. However, this amount of money was not usually enough for them to acquire land. The reality the American colonies was less appealing than many indentured servants anticipated. Many did not live to the end of their terms. Many employers complained of servants running away, or being unruly.<1>

Jamestown Colony

The first permanent English settlement in North America was at Jamestown, settled by a group of colonists backed financially by the Virginia Company of London, a private business organization whose shareholders included merchants, aristocrats, and members of the Parliament, interested in making a profit of off the resources the colonists found in America. The Virginia Company received a charter from King James I and sent three ships carrying colonists from England to the Chesapeake region, landing in 1607.

The first settlers to remain in Jamestown were 100 men—but by the end of their first year, their population had fallen by half. New arrivals (including two women) brought the population up to 400 in 1609, but after a particularly long and hard winter, only 65 remained alive in 1610.

John Smith governed the colony under a system of rigorous military discipline. He is quoted as declaring, “He that will not work, shall not eat.”

The Jamestown Colony was located on the land of the Powhatan confederacy, a population of about 15,000-25,000 people. The relationship between Jamestown colonists and the Powhatan was based on both trade and violence. Diplomatic relations were very tenuous, as one method John Smith used was taking food and destroying Native villages.

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Previously we examined the English concept of res nullius, the idea that the land in the Americas had “no owner” because no one was physically occupying and/or tending the land in the ways the English defined as proper/appropriate. This did not mean that there was no one on the land, just that Native people did not use the land as the English thought they should.

The abundance of “free” land was the ultimate drive for settling in America. Land was the basis of liberty. Owning land gave men control over their labor, and in most colonies, owning land gave men the right to vote. However, the value of land was also tied to labor – meaning that you needed someone to work it. Most settlers did not come with the idea that they were going to work on other peoples’ land (save for indentured servants during their labor term). Thus, many property owners turned unfree labor (enslaved people) as a labor force.

Thus, the concept of liberty was also fundamentally tied to the necessity of unfree labor. For one person to reap the benefits of liberty from land ownership they needed to deprive others of their liberty.

English and Violence

The “Black Legend of Spanish Cruelty” provided a powerful ideological sanction for English colonization of the Americas. English seized treasure from Spanish ships and staged raids on Spanish ports and cities in the Americas in the name of “rescuing” Natives from Spanish slavery in this larger anti-Spanish and, most importantly, anti-Catholic narrative. The British used the widespread knowledge of the Black Legend of Spanish Cruelty to justify their own efforts of colonization of the Americas.

For the most part, the English wanted to maintain a separation between themselves and Native people. They were interested mainly in trade, and there wasn’t the same legislation coming from the mother country about intermarriage as in Spanish colonies. British colonies were quite different than Spanish. With the Spanish, there was a concentrated effort to maintain a hierarchical organizing administrative system between the crown and the church, and a clear mission to incorporate the peoples of the “New World” into the Spanish dominion. In British America, there was no such presence of a strong royal government to give shape and direction to settlement policies.

In addition, there wasn’t as strong of a presence of the church. Missionaries did come to British America but their efforts were not as organized as the Catholic Church. Thus, while the Spanish thought of a “republic of the Indians” and a “republic of Spaniards,” the British expected Natives to either learn to behave like English men and women or move away. Early British colonists hoped to establish trading relationships with Native tribes, and relied heavily on Native people to provide assistance and supplies. However, fear and prejudice also undergirded British relations with Native people. Most of the Native people the British met did not seem to want to become like the English at all. In addition, as it became more clear to the Native people that the English were interested in permanent and ever-expanding colonization of their land, hostility grew and grew. Both sides wanted the other to leave the land.<2>

Historians have written about the ways in which English attitudes towards Natives hardened. After violent incidents between colonists and Native people, the English feared more “treachery” and saw violent confrontation and revenge as their only options. They were greatly outnumbered by the indigenous people on whose land they had settled, and expelling them from the land seemed to provide a degree of security. However, they still needed to cooperate with Native people for necessary food and supplies.


In addition, a steady stream of colonists deserted the Jamestown settlement to live within neighboring Native nations. To authorities, this seemed to signify the preference of poorer settlers for a “wild” and “carefree” existence among Natives rather than building a “civilized” community under a British system of social hierarchy. English colonists feared both violent attacks by Native people, and their own people deserting the settlement to become Natives.

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Word Cloud #1:

What do you think was the most important distinction English people may have made between themselves and Natives? Contribute a response to the embedded word cloud below, or access it here.

Powhatan-English Relations

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