Free essay on history of the british empire: jamestown and plymouth colonies

Settling in North America

The colonization of North America by the British Empire following the voyages led by Christopher Columbus during the late 15th century has notable economic and political characteristics. The British Empire saw North America as a resource-rich continent that is highly instrumental in expanding their economic activities. Given the initial failures to establish colonies and the rivalling Dutch, French and Spanish imperial forces in North America, the British Empire turned to joint stock companies for establishing settlements. Key to the operation of joint stock companies is the independent leadership exerted by the Proprietary Governors and the practice of mercantilism. Both the government of the British Empire and merchants therein forged a collaborative effort that successfully secured settlements in North America from the intervention and influence of other imperial forces. At the same time, mercantilism consolidated settlements in North America successfully through exclusive trading of its raw materials with manufactured products from England. Such caused the success of joint stock company-founded settlements, most notably the Jamestown Colony of the Virginia Company of London, which helped fortify the presence of the British Empire in North America (Canny 55-78).
Another instrumental consideration for the colonization of North America by the British Empire is the recurrent theme of religious persecution. Religious persecution was rampant not only in England, but also throughout Europe. A common trend on persecution back then involved that of the Church of England (Anglicanism) against separatists, Roman Catholics and Protestants. With Anglicanism in full force during the 17th century, many of those persecuted transferred to North America and established settlements. The Plymouth Colony stood as a prime example formed by the so-called Pilgrims, who all fled England for North America in order for them to express religious freedom (Canny 55-78).

Founding of Jamestown Colony

The idea of establishing Jamestown Colony first came into being when the Virginia Company received a royal charter from James I in 1806 to form colonies in the area presently forming the state of Virginia. The first settlers of Jamestown Colony embarked on three ships named Discovery, Godspeed and Susan Constant, all operated by the Virginia Company. Although the first settlers initially faced attacks from Indians upon landing on Virginia, they continued to look for an area suitable for a settlement. Under the leadership of the first council president Edward Maria Wingfield, who in turn became Governor of Jamestown and acted on instructions from the Virginia Company, the first settlers chose Jamestown Island as their settlement location. Several fortifications against attacks coming from Spanish imperial forces and Indians soon stood and proliferated throughout Jamestown Colony (Canny 79-98; 328-350).
Several of the first settlers of Jamestown Colony died from diseases and wounds from Indian attacks and a leadership debacle emerged with the deposition of Wingfield as Governor with the replacement of John Ratcliffe. Nevertheless, religious freedom proliferated throughout Jamestown Colony and the first settlers soon formed an amicable relationship with the Powhatan Indian tribe, which was unlike other Indians in the area as its members expressed hospitality and willingness to conduct trade activities with them. Crucial to the friendliness of the Powhatan Indian tribe was the capture of John Smith, a council member of the first settlers, by Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, intervened and saved Smith, which led the way for the Powhatan Indian tribe to accept the first settlers as allies. Such alliance was crucial for the first settlers to develop and expand Jamestown Colony in 1609 onwards (Canny 79-98; 328-350).
The Powhatan Indian tribe grew hostile towards the first settlers, whose numbers shrank greatly in 1610. Due to growing misery, Governor Thomas Gates sought to abandon Jamestown Colony and return to England. Yet, the arrival of more settlers from England urged Gates to return. Rebuilding efforts in Jamestown Colony took place through the establishment of martial law and instigation of attacks against Indians. Commerce grew as a result, with the granting of a new Royal Charter to the Virginia Company enabling the cultivation of crops and livestock with new land that included the Bermuda Islands. Pocahontas, kidnapped by Captain Samuel Argall due to the refusal of her father Powhatan to relinquish stolen items from Jamestown Colony, eventually married tobacco trader John Rolfe in 1614 and became instrumental in endorsing the colony for investment before the court of James I (Canny 79-98; 328-350).

Founding of Plymouth Colony

The Plymouth Colony first came about when the Pilgrims first embarked on their escape journey from Southampton, England with two ships – the Speedwell and the Mayflower, to Plymouth – the area north of present-day Virginia in 1620. Construction work ensued in Plymouth after the Pilgrims successfully established a favorable place for settlement. Despite numerous deaths due to diseases, the Pilgrims were fortunate in their first settlement because they were able to establish friendly ties with the Wampanoag Indian tribe, whose members welcomed them through a peace treaty with Governor John Carver (Canny 79-98; 328-350).
The death of Carver and the succession of William Bradford saw the continuation of amicable relationships between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indian tribe, as apparent in the joint harvest celebration held in 1621. Progress continued in Plymouth Colony as well, with the arrival of hundreds of new settlers between 1621 and 1623 signaling its expansion. Yet, improvements did not proceed in an upward fashion, with several crises such as the fire that razed several houses in Plymouth Colony in 1623 and religious concerns among the Pilgrims involving John Lyford in 1624 providing threats of mass departures back to England. Nevertheless, the development of trade and commerce in Plymouth Colony, particularly with the emergence of trading houses, urged many Pilgrims to stay (Canny 79-98; 328-350).

Works Cited

Canny, Nicholas (ed.). The Oxford History of the British Empire Vol. 1: The Origins of Empire. New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.