The Colony Changes: Africans, Women, and Tobacco

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The Colony Changes:

Africans, Women, and Tobacco

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With the arrival of Africans and women, Jamestown was becoming a more diverse colony. In 1619 a Dutch trader brought twenty Africans to the colony against their will. It is believed that they arrived as baptized Christians. Because of this they were not considered to be slaves, but indentured servants. Indentured servants would work for a period of 5 to 7 years before being freed. The arrival of Africans would eventually make it possible to expand the planting and harvesting of tobacco.

In 1620 ninety young women landed in Jamestown on the Bride Ship. This ship was sent to Jamestown by the Virginia Company. If a man married one of the women from the Bride Ship, he had to repay the Virginia Company for her trip with part of his tobacco crop. The arrival of the women made it possible for the settlers to start families. These growing families made Jamestown a more permanent settlement.

In 1624, the king revoked the Virginia Company’s Charters and took control of the English settlement. Jamestown was named the capital of the royal colony of Virginia. The economy of the colony depended on agriculture. It was the primary source of wealth. The most profitable agricultural product was tobacco. Tobacco became the cash crop of Virginia. This means that the farmers grew it to sell for money rather than for their personal use. Much of the colony’s tobacco crop was sold in England. The tobacco farms soon grew so large they needed more and more workers to plant and harvest the crop. Before long, large numbers of Africans were brought to the colony against their will to work as slaves on the plantations. As a result of this very inexpensive labor, the colony of Virginia began to depend on slave labor. This dependence would last a long time.

The Cultural Landscape of the Colony of Virginia

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Although it was a colony of England, Virginia developed a unique culture that was different from the culture of England. Whenever people settle in an area, they bring their beliefs, customs, and architecture with them. In Virginia, European immigrants, American Indians, and Africans influenced the areas where they settled and left signs of their old cultures. These signs are called cultural landscapes and can include such things as barns, homes, and places of worship.

The names of places can also reflect the culture of the settlers who lived there. Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, is an English name. It comes from Richmond-on-the-Thames, a suburb of London. The city of Roanoke, which is located in southwestern Virginia, is an American Indian name that means "sea-shell," or "wampum."
Different cultural groups chose different areas of Virginia to settle. The first inhabitants of Virginia were the American Indians. They settled primarily in their traditional homelands located throughout the Tidewater, Piedmont, and Appalachian Plateau regions. The English settled primarily in the Tidewater and Piedmont regions, while German and Scotch-Irish immigrants moved inland along a popular migration route that took them into the fertile Shenandoah Valley. Africans were forced to settle primarily in the Tidewater and Piedmont regions with their owners or employers. The economy of these two regions relied heavily on agriculture, which required a great deal of low-cost labor. Indentured servants and slaves filled this need.
The culture of Virginia reflected American Indian, African, and European origins. As they settled, these groups adapted their old customs, beliefs and architecture to their new environment making the cultural landscape of Virginia unique and different from that of England.

© 2003

The Capital Cities of Early Virginia

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As the colony of Virginia grew, the needs of its people changed. The original capital located at Jamestown was plagued by problems. The drinking water was contaminated by the salt water of the surrounding river and bay. This in addition to mosquito born diseases, dirty living conditions, and frequent devastating fires caused the leaders of the colony to look for a healthier location for the capital city.

When the government buildings at Jamestown burned in 1699, The House of Burgesses chose the College of William and Mary as their new meeting place. Once there, they decided that the village near the college would make a fine new capital. They named it Williamsburg after their king, William. Williamsburg was located on much higher, dryer ground than Jamestown. Because of this, its water supply was fresh and disease-carrying mosquitoes were not as abundant. The houses of Williamsburg were also safer. Instead of the small, flammable huts of Jamestown, the citizens lived in larger homes constructed of wood and brick.

By the early 1700s, the population of Virginia was moving westward and the Piedmont region was becoming home to more and more settlers. As the population moved west, so did the capital. The city of Richmond was chosen as the site of the new capital. Richmond was a more central location than Williamsburg and its inland location and distance from the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay gave it added protection from possible attacks by the English navy. Its location on the James River also made it a major center of trade and commerce.

A number of geographical factors influenced the relocation of the capital of the colony of Virginia. Some of these included: the elevation of the land, the water supply, nearby bodies of water, and the distance inland.

Colonial Virginia and its Economy

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Money, which is a medium of exchange that includes paper bills and coins, was not commonly used in early agricultural societies. It was also in short supply in the colonial period. Few people had paper money and coins to use to buy goods and services. One reason for this was that England would not allow the colonies to print bills or make coins. This lack of money forced the colonists to barter. Bartering is trading goods and services without the use of money. Throughout the colonial period, colonists traded goods with England, the Indians, and their neighbors.

Many different forms of exchange, or money, were used during the colonial period. Some of these included tobacco, rice, corn, animal skins, gunpowder, and livestock. Tobacco was a very popular form of exchange in the colony of Virginia. Tobacco farmers could use their tobacco to pay for the goods and services their families needed. Farmers and consumers could also buy goods and services on credit. Credit is buying a good or service now and paying for it later. When the farmers’ crops were harvested and sold, they would pay their debts. A debt is a good or service that you owe to another.

With very little paper money or coins being used, colonial Virginia had no banks. This lack of money and banks made saving money very difficult for the colonists. To save means to put money away to spend at a later time.

People living in colonial Virginia depended on natural, human, and capital resources to produce the goods and services they needed. Food choices were limited, and most meals were made of local produce and meats. Many people lived in one-room houses with dirt floors. Some people (wealthy farmers) lived in large houses. Households made their own clothes out of cotton, wool, and/or leather.

Most white Virginians made their living from the land as small farmers. A few owned large farms (plantations).Most enslaved African Americans worked tobacco, other crops, and livestock. Enslaved African Americans had no rights. Many free African Americans owned their own businesses and property but were denied most rights.

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