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The History of America


Chapter I - Wives, Slaves, Indians and Tobacco


Wives, Slaves, Indians and Tobacco     1622 - 1680

     The year was notable in other respects as well. First, a special cargo of 90 young maidens arrived for sale to eager, prospective husbands. These marketable and marriageable virgins must have seemed quite a bargain at the price of their transportation - only 120 pounds of tobacco. Weeks later, bearing a more exotic cargo, a Dutch ship deposited twenty kidnapped Africans on shore, the first to stand on English North American soil. Accounts from the point of view of these enslaved Africans are almost nonexistent, but surely their experience was frighteningly similar to that of a man named Equiano who was dragged from his African village to the coast. Many years later Equiano recalled his terrifying journey across the sea. As he reported: "I was soon put down below deck where I was welcomed by a stench such as I had never before experienced. I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat. But soon to my grief two of the white men offered me edibles, and when I refused, one of them held me fast by the hands, laid me across, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole scene of horror almost inconceivable." Innumerable others were never to see the light above deck, dying hideous deaths in the dank holds of these crowded ships. Equiano, however, survived to join thousands of other slaves in Virginia where they labored under the blazing sun picking the white man's tobacco.
     Despite reforms and the growing slave labor force, problems persisted. Needing huge tracts of land to meet the growing demand for tobacco, colonists began to encroach on sacred Indian territory west of Virginia. Violently resisting this blatant appropriation of their land, on March 22, 1622, angry Wampanoag Indians killed 347 colonists. King James I then decided to revoke Virginia's charter and place the colony under royal control. Hostilities continued between the belligerent Indians and the unyielding colonists until 1644 when eleven united Algonquin tribes were defeated. In 1646 the Indians of the once-proud Powhatan Confederacy accepted a treaty which placed them completely under English control. By 1650 Virginia had become a prosperous colony dominated by a thriving elite group of tobacco growers who amassed their wealth at the expense of hired servants, defeated Indians, and, in a matter of a few years, enslaved Africans.
     As the population of the Chesapeake colonies increased during the 1670s, so did armed conflicts over land. Depressed tobacco prices and rising taxes worsened an already tense situation, and in July of 1675 tempers exploded. Wampanoag Indians murdered a group of settlers over a piece of land, and in retaliation a confederation of Virginia and Maryland militiamen slaughtered a number of Indian chiefs. The Susquehannock Indians then attacked several frontier settlements, prompting Nathaniel Bacon, a twenty-nine-year-old Cambridge University graduate, to organize an aggressive band of settlers who plotted revenge. Bacon, who like many other Englishmen despised Indians, contended that they were "all alike and nothing more than "wolves, tigers and bears" who preyed upon "harmless, innocent lambs."
     Fearing a massive counterattack against the Indians, Governor Berkeley of Virginia immediately ordered Bacon's supporters to disband. Furious over Berkeley's blunt demand, Bacon marched on Jamestown in September of 1676, burning the settlement to the ground when Berkeley's forces resisted. Determined to suppress the flagrant rebellion, Berkeley hanged 23 of Bacon's men, seizing their land after Bacon died of swamp fever a month later. Dismayed by the situation, James I recalled Berkeley and made "scores of treaties of pacification" with Indian tribes.
     These treaties opened up new land for settlement by discontented small planters, and taxes from the new land provided capital for investment in a more stable but expensive labor supply - slaves. Conflict between small and larger planters gradually decreased until planters of "different ranks" all used slaves to grow their tobacco and reap a profit. Thus, by 1680 a prosperously slave-based economy was flourishing in the Chesapeake region.

     HISTORIC SUMMARY NOTES: The English colonies shared many similarities, but they also had geographic and cultural differences that affected their development. New England colonists, who lacked good farmland and a warm climate, turned to sea industries for most of their livelihood. The middle colonies used their good farmland to grow much grain, and the southern colonies grew large money crops on their plantations.
     Although the colonists respected social class, opportunities for people to climb into the middle and upper classes were common. Hard work was respectable and necessary in the colonies. Unfortunately, the practice of black slavery developed because of the need for even more workers.
     Governors and legislatures provided government for the colonies. Most of the colonies set up legislative assemblies that represented the people and their wishes. However, colonial power was kept in check in the royal and proprietary colonies by appointed governors. Even so, all the colonies were able to establish their own local governments without British interference.

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