Teaching with Primary Sources

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Teaching with Primary Sources

A historical investigation question requires students to interpret a lesson’s historical content in order to make their own claims.


The 1606 expedition and ensuing settlement at Jamestown was the first permanent English colonial settlement in the New World. The initial settlers struggled to survive due to insufficient preparations and leadership, a poor location, unskilled expedition members, and conflicts with the native peoples for natural resources. These conflicts resulted in attacks on the colonial settlement by the native peoples and ultimately led to armed conflicts and usurpation of native lands for settlements, hunting, farming, and tobacco cultivation.

Historical Investigation Questions

Why did Europeans settlers colonize the region that became Jamestown and what happened as a result of their settlement?

How did the settlement of Jamestown affect the existing native peoples?

History-Social Science Standards for CA Public Schools, K-12

5.3 Students describe the cooperation and conflict that existed among the American Indians and between the Indian nations and the new settlers.

  1. Describe the competition among the English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Indian nations for control of North America.

  2. Describe the cooperation that existed between the colonists and Indians during the 1600s and 1700s (e.g., in agriculture, the fur trade, military alliances, treaties, cultural interchanges).

5.4 Students understand the political, religious, social, and economic institutions that evolved in the colonial era.

  1. Understand the influence of location and physical setting on the founding of the original 13 colonies, and identify on a map the locations of the colonies and of the American Indian nations already inhabiting these areas.

  2. Identify the major individuals and groups responsible for the founding of the various colonies and the reasons for their founding (e.g., John Smith, Virginia; Roger Williams, Rhode Island; William Penn, Pennsylvania; Lord Baltimore, Maryland; William Bradford, Plymouth; John Winthrop, Massachusetts).

Here’s a link to the Standards: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/histsocscistnd.pdf

Secondary Source

From England to Asia

At the dawn of the seventeenth century in Europe, explorers and their patrons focused on the centuries-old goal of finding a Northwest Passage from Europe to East Asia. Though it was already well known that there was a significant landmass—the Americas—in the Atlantic Ocean, sailors and explorers were often charged with finding water routes around it. Such was the case as the year 1606 drew to a close. The English monarch King James I granted a charter to a private company known as the Virginia Company to build a settlement in the Chesapeake Bay area of North America. As in other attempts at settlement, two of the primary goals were to find gold and to find a water route to Asia. The original Jamestown was also intended to be strategically located far enough from the James River that it would not be in the firing range of ships belonging to hostile powers such as Spain.

A City on the Swamp

On December 20, 1606, around 100 members of the Virginia Company sailed across the Atlantic. They reached the Chesapeake Bay in April 1607, and they established a settlement on an island up the James River on May 14, naming it “James Towne” after the current monarch, James I, as was the habit of English settlement. Initial hostility between the colonists and a confederation of native groups led by Chief Powhatan led the settlers to establish forts. Nonetheless, the two groups often engaged in trade, which provided a source of food for Jamestown when settlers were only beginning to clear land for agriculture.

A lack of basic hygiene combined with food shortages and cold weather to cause a number of deaths. By the autumn of 1607, it was apparent that colonists had not worked enough to ensure a stable food supply. Many of those who came with the Virginia Company were aristocrats who refused to demean themselves with agricultural labor. Moreover, Jamestown was in a swampy location, which gave rise to epidemics and disease. Chief Powhatan supplied the English with food, which likely prevented the settlement from collapsing altogether, but only about 40% of the settlers had survived the harsh winter when additional colonists arrived at the beginning of 1608. John Smith was among the colonists who secured food, and thus the colony, through trade and exploration. During 1607, he devoted his energies to repelling attacks and also explored and mapped the area. In December, he was captured and taken to Chief Powhatan. The chief released him on friendly terms after four weeks. Smith later claimed that this was by the efforts of Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, but there is no evidence to support the claim.
Smith, elected president of the local council in September 1608, imposed a more rigid structure. One of the main rules under his regime was "He who does not work, will not eat." Laziness, particularly among well-heeled colonists, put the settlement in such a precarious position that Smith believed they must be compelled to work to increase the food supply. Though the settlement endured the winter and well into 1609, some of Smith’s contemporaries chafed at his strict leadership. Smith left Jamestown in October 1609 to seek medical treatment in London after receiving a gunpowder injury. He never returned to Jamestown, and the settlement experienced a winter known as the “starving time” during which only a few dozen colonists survived. Many of the survivors abandoned Jamestown.
Jamestown Reemerges

The arrival of Lord De La Warr with supplies and new colonists revived Jamestown after its near abandonment in June 1610. De La Warr’s ships intercepted many fleeing settlers, a number of whom decided to remain in Jamestown under his governorship. The settlement experienced a much more stable period in the years after De La Warr’s arrival, largely from the efforts of John Rolfe, who arrived with the new settlers in 1610. Rolfe is credited as a pioneer in Virginia’s tobacco industry, successfully introducing and cultivating tobacco, which became a major export to England. He also ushered in a period of peace between settlers and natives when he married Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, in 1614. In 1619, two major events foreshadowed later developments in American history. On July 30, a representative body called the House of Burgesses convened in response to an order by the Virginia Company to establish a government for the entire colony, making it the first of its kind in North America. That same year, a Dutch trader introduced what may have been the first African slaves to the continent.

Though the settlement to this point had been essentially a business venture administered by the equivalent of a private corporation, the 1620s brought major changes to the colony. The native people became increasingly frustrated with the encroachment of settlers on what they considered to be their lands. In 1622, attacks made on various colonial plantations left 300 dead. Jamestown was spared, but this episode discredited the administration of the Virginia Company. Jamestown was in many ways a losing business venture. In 1624, James

Secondary Source (cont.)

I revoked the Company’s charter and designated Virginia as a royal colony.
The town thrived for several decades in the seventeenth century, but declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, however, archaeologists uncovered several of the settlement’s buildings, and today visitors can view many of the homes and belongings of the people who first brought Jamestown into being.
Library of Congress Teacher Guide Primary Source Set, http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/jamestown/pdf/overview.pdf

Primary Sources

Smith, John. Virginia. Map. [London: 1624.] From Library of Congress, Map Collections. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3880.ct000377

Bry, Theodor de. “[The Town of Pomeiock.]” Print. [1590.] From Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. http://loc.gov/pictures/item/2001696973/

Bry, Theodor de. “[Village of Secotan.]” Print. [1590.] From Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. http://loc.gov/pictures/item/2001695723/

"Charter for the Virginia Company of London, 1606." 1606. From the Library of Congress, The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 8. Virginia Records Manuscripts. 1606-1737. Page 4. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mtj8&fileName=mtj8page062.db&recNum=3

“We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government: DO, by these our Letters Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires;

      “And do therefore, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, GRANT and agree, that the said Sir Thomas Gates, Sir George Somers, Richard Hackluit, and Edward-Maria Wingfield, Adventurers of and for our City of London, and all such others, as are, or shall be, joined unto them of that Colony, shall be called the first Colony; And they shall and may begin their said first Plantation and Habitation, at any Place upon the said Coast of Virginia or America, where they shall think fit and convenient, between the said four and thirty and one and forty Degrees of the said Latitude; And that they shall have all the Lands, Woods, Soil, Grounds, Havens, Ports, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, Marshes, Waters, Fishing, Commodities, and Hereditaments…And shall and may inhabit and remain there; and shall and may also build and fortify within any the same, for their better Safeguard and Defence, according to their best Discretion, and the Discretion of the Council of that Colony… And moreover, we do GRANT and agree…the said several Colonies, shall and lawfully may…give and take Order, to dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver, and Copper…” (http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/organic/1606-fcv.htm).

The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar - Volume 1, Chapter I. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/lhbcb:@field(DOCID+@lit(lhbcb0262adiv11)) [by John Smith, 1624]

“Now falleth every man to worke, the Councell contrive the Fort, the rest cut downe trees to make place to pitch their Tents; some provide clapbord to relade the ships, some make gardens, some nets, &c. The Salvages often visited us kindly. The Presidents overweening jealousie would admit no exercise at armes, or fortification, but the boughs of trees cast together in the forme of a halfe moone by the extraordinary paines and diligence of Captaine Kendall, Newport, Smith, and twentie others, were sent to discover the head of the river: by divers small habitations they passed, in six dayes they arrived at a Towne called Powhatan, consisting of some twelve houses, pleasantly seated on a hill; before it three fertile Isles, about it many of their cornefields, the place is very pleasant, and strong by nature, of this place the Prince is called Powhatan, and his people Powhatans, to this place the river is navigable: but higher within a myle, by reason of the Rockes and Isles, there is not passage for a small Boat, this they call the Falles, the people in all parts kindly intreated them, till being returned within twentie myles of James towne, they gave just cause of jealousie, but had God not blessed the discoverers otherwise then those at the Fort, there had then beene an end of that plantation; for at the Fort, where they arrived the next day, they found 17 men hurt, and a boy slaine by the Salvages, and had it not chanced a crosse barre shot from the Ships strooke down a bough from a tree amongst them, that caused them to retire, our men had all beene slaine, being securely all at worke, and their armes in dry fats [casks for stacking guns].”

After the ships’ arrival in Virginia, a Council of leaders and a president were appointed. The settlers began working to build a fort, repair the ships, and plant gardens. They were visited often by peaceful Native Americans. A group, including Smith, left to explore the area and encountered the peaceful Powhatan tribe. Upon their return to the new fort, they found that it had been attacked by a group of Native Americans, who succeeded in injuring 17 men and killing a boy.

The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925, The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar / http://memory.loc.gov/cgibin/query/r?ammem/lhbcb:@field(DOCID+@lit(lhbcb0262adiv23)) [John Smith, 1624].

LOC Introduction: One variety of tobacco was native to Virginia, but it was quite bitter and inferior to the variety grown in the West Indies. In 1612, John Rolf introduced the latter into Virginia; two years later he sent four hogsheads (about 2600 pounds) to England. This crop appeared to be the staple product the colonists had been searching for. King James I, concerned about the health of his subjects, opposed growing and selling tobacco. Even so, the market for tobacco in England continued to expand, and, by 1617, Virginia shipped around 20,000 pounds of tobacco to England.


In James towne he [Captain Samuel Argall] found but five or six houses, the Church downe, the Palizado's broken, the Bridge in pieces, the Well of fresh water spoiled; the Store-house they used for the Church, the market-place, and streets, and all other spare places planted with Tobacco, the Salvages as frequent in their houses as themselves, whereby they were become expert in our armes, and had a great many in their custodie and possession, the Colonie dispersed all about, planting Tobacco…had we but Carpenters to build and make Carts and Ploughs, and skilfull men that know how to use them, and traine up our cattell to draw them, which though we indevour to effect, yet our want of experience brings but little to perfection but planting Tobaco, and yet of that many are so covetous to have much, they make little good; besides there are so many sofisticating Tobaco-mungers in England, were it never so bad, they would sell it for Verinas, and the trash that remaineth should be Virginia, such devilish bad mindes we know some of our owne Country-men doe beare, not onely to the businesse, but also to our mother England her selfe; could they or durst they as freely defame her.

Captain Argall and John Rolf arrived in Jamestown in 1617 and discovered that the settlers were neglecting the maintenance of the settlement in order to grow tobacco. They argue, against those in England who were not in support of the settlement, that the land was rich and productive for farming if only the settlers were more skilled farmers and craftsmen. The inexperienced laborers found planting tobacco much easier, but it was not yet profitable as tobacco sellers in England considered it low grade.

Passenger list for a ship bound for Jamestown. http://www.packrat-pro.com/ships/jamestown.htm

December 20, 1606, 150 passengers left Blackwall, London, England in three London (Virginia) Company ships, Susan Constant with Master Christopher Newport and 71 passengers, Godspeed with Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold  and 52 passengers and the Discovery under Capt. John Ratcliffe, carrying 21 persons. They headed for the New World and in search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke (John White's 1587 trip with  150 passengers landing at Hatorask on July 22.) After 6 weeks, the ships landed in Cape Henry, Virginia. 105 survivors established the town of Jamestown.

April 30, 1607: The ships arrive at Cape Comfort, a vanguard boat stopped at Kecoughtan where the natives welcomed the English

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