History of the United States - Colonial History

NORTH AMERICA, with the exception of Mexico, was not colonized by Europeans so early as the southern part of the Continent. The discoveries of Cabot, A. D. 1497, had given England a valid claim to the whole coast from Labrador to Florida; but the country presented none of the allurements that had incited and rewarded the Spanish adventurers. Fertile and well wooded, indeed, intersected by noble rivers, and inclosing safe and capacious harbors and bays, it seemed a promising region for permanent settlements and agricultural industry, but offered only a faint prospect of wealth to be obtained from gold and silver mines, or from plundering the native inhabitants. A party of French Huguenots attempted to colonize Florida; but the Spaniards, who claimed the country, surprised the infant settlement, and massacred nearly all its inhabitants, not sparing even the women and children, A. D. 1564. This slaughter was soon avenged by a Frenchman, Dominique de Gourges, who captured Fort Carolina, where the victors had established themselves, and hanged all his prisoners; but he made no attempt to form another colony, and did not even disturb the little Spanish city of St. Augustine, which remained, but did not flourish, as the only permanent settlement of Europeans on the coast north of the Gulf of Mexico during the sixteenth century.

The English, under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh and his halfbrother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, attempted to create a settlement on the coast of what was subsequently called North Carolina. Three parties of colonists were sent thither, A. D. 15834587, but they were few in number, and ill provided with necessaries; one returned, and the other two perished, either from starvation or the hostility of the natives. Early in the seventeenth century, the French, under de Monts and Champlain, explored the country around the Bay of Fundy and that bordering on the St. Lawrence, laying claim to Acadie (Nova Scotia) and Canada, which together were called New France. In 1609, the Dutch sent out Henry Hudson, who explored the American coast for a considerable distance, entered New York harbor, and sailed up the river which now bears his name. Stimulated by a feeling of rivalry with the French, the English renewed their attempts at colonization on a larger scale. James I granted the whole country, from Cape Fear to Passamaquoddy Bay, to two companies of merchants and adventurers. The southern portion, from the thirty-fourth to the forty-first degree of latitude, was given to the London Company; and the northern part, from the thirty-eighth to the forty-fifth degree, was to be colonized by the Plymouth Company.

VIRGINIA. The first band of colonists sent out by the London Company, A. D. 1607, established themselves on a spot which they called Jamestown, on the James river, about fifty miles above its entrance into Chesapeake Bay. The direction of affairs had been given to a council, consisting of seven persons, nominated by the Company in England. John Smith, a military adventurer of great courage, enterprise, and sagacity, was one of them; and the incompetency of his colleagues soon becoming manifest, he gradually assumed the lead, and several times rescued the feeble settlements from the imminent perils of savage warfare and famine. Half of the emigrants perished during the first six months; and if the colony had, not been fed by frequent supplies of food and additional settlers from England, the enterprise must soon have been abandoned. In spite of Smith's remonstrances, the settlers wasted their time in seeking for gold and silver., instead of cultivating the ground; and they actually sent a vessel to Eng land laden with dirt, in which glittering specks had been discovered, which they mistook for gold. Smith explored the country, and coasted the bay in an open boat, entering the principal rivers and inlets, and thus obtaining the requisite information for the construction of a chart, which was transmitted to England and published. In one of these expeditions, he fell into the hands of the savages, and was on the point of being put to death, when he was rescued by the chieftain's daughter, Pocahontas, and after an imprisonment of a few weeks, was sent back to James town. But the colony was soon deprived of his invaluable services; in 1609, he was severely injured by the accidental explosion of his powder bag, and was compelled to return to England for surgical aid. After his departure, the affairs of the colony again declined, and the settlers more than once determined to abandon the undertaking, and return home. But they were prevented by the seasonable arrival of ships, bringing fresh supplies and a reinforcement of men, whose broken fortunes in their native land made them eager to brave the perils of a desperate enterprise. Thus often rescued from the brink of ruin, the colony struggled on, till its members at last became inured to their novel situation, and acquired the habits of life which alone could meet its exigencies. Novel recruits were sent out from time to time to keep up their numbers. In 1619, ninety young women arrived, of irreproachable character, who were sold at the price of their passage, to become wives to the planters. Many cargoes of vagrants, thieves, and jail-birds also came, to serve as indented servants for a term of years, and afterwards to become free colonists. Then a more lasting impression was made on the future character and fortunes of the settlement by the introduction of twenty negro slaves, who were brought by a Dutch trading vessel, and readily purchased by the settlers. Tobacco had now become the staple product of the colony, and slaves were profitably employed in its cultivation.