British Colonial America

British Colonial America




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British Colonial America


The French and Spanish had explored the Atlantic seaboard from Nova Scotia to Florida. At this time they believed that the area that we now know as New England was uninhabitable due to extreme winters. In the 1550's, England (Britain)was struggling in its attempt to conquer and colonize Ireland. As a result they lacked the funding for new colonies in the Americas. Only when they had achieved control of Ireland did the British begin thinking about colonizing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The British would first focus on the area that they named Virginia, after Queen Elizabeth I, who was a virgin. At that time, from 1580 to 1620 the entire east coast, from Nova Scotia to Florida was called “Virginia.” The first colonists to arrive from Britain were unsuccessful because they were only interested in finding gold and silver.

Colonization would soon grind to a halt after a costly war developed between the British and the Spanish in 1585. At this time, the British, following the lead of the Spanish and French decided to privatize the colonization by issuing licenses and monopolies to private investors. Most considered the licenses to be a big gamble. The only investors were from the southwestern England, and they were called the “West Country Men.” This group of promoters included Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir John Hopkins, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. All of them believed that they would get rich in the New World. They were also very interested in spreading Christianity.

In order to get the public interested in colonizing the Americas the promoters stressed the poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities that existed in England. At the time, the majority of the wealth was in the hands of the top 5 percent. Before long, the economy got even worse as the population surged. At this time the majority of people lived in country villages while cultivating grains and raising livestock. Things were fine until the aristocrats developed a program called enclosure. Enclosure fenced off lands and fenced out the peasants that were working there. At the same time the aristocrats fenced off the land that the common people had used to raise livestock. The result was agricultural productivity increased, but half of the peasants lost their lands, and thousands became homeless. The colonial promoters seized the opportunity and told everyone that they had a solution to England's economic problems, the new colony of Virginia

In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh sent the first 100 colonists to a small island called Roanoke. Sir Raleigh picked the location because they didn't want to alert the Spanish. Then 2 years later Raleigh sent another 94 colonists to Roanoke under the leadership of John White. White soon returned home, and due to the Spanish Armada he would not be able to return to Roanoke until August of 1590. Upon his return he did not find a single colonist alive.

In 1606, investors in London created the Virginia Company, and they were given the right to colonize Virginia by King James I. Then in 1607, the British tried again to settle Virginia. This time they sent 3 ships and 104 people to America. This group settled on the James River and called their new home Jamestown. The colonists faced extremely harsh conditions. Disease and hunger became the rule and they died in droves. After 9 months only 38 were still alive. They were so hungry that one colonist killed and ate his wife. Gradually things would get better. Between 1607 and 1622 the Virginia Company transported almost 10,000 people. Then in 1616, they would start harvesting tobacco and the population would explode.