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Early English settlements - Jamestown

The Virginia Company, an early form of corporation, aimed to find gold and a passage to the Indies in 1607. They settled in Jamestown, Virginia, but faced hardships due to poor soil, diseases, and lack of preparation. The settlers, mostly gentlemen, were unprepared for the challenges of the New World.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the last video, we talked about the short-lived and highly unsuccessful English colony at Roanoke Island, which disappeared pretty much without a trace, and even today is still known as the Lost Colony. So as late as 1585, England has still not successfully established a New World colony. Well, all of that is about to change. In 1607, when the Virginia Company, a joint-stock company, or an early precursor to the modern corporation, which spread out both the shares, the wealth, and the risk of an expedition like one headed to the New World. They received a charter for New World exploration from King James I, who had now taken over for Queen Elizabeth, and their goals were kinda the same as many of the goals of explorers in this time period. They wanted to find gold. They wanted to find a passage to the Indies that might make it easier for them to get the luxurious materials like spices and silk that were so expensive to get over the land route that was the silk road. And, James in particular was hoping that they could maybe get one up on the Spanish, who had been doing so well for more than 100 years in the West Indies. Now one of the important things to note about this is that no one who went to Virginia expected to set up a colony there and live there for the rest of their lives. What they expected was to go for a couple of years, mine tremendous amounts of gold, which they hoped were lying in giant piles all over the ground. Get tremendously wealthy, and live like kings for the rest of their lives in Europe. So this Virginia Company expedition was intended to be short-term. But, as it'll turn out, that will not be the case. So how did things go for the Virginia Company compared to the Roanoke Island colonists? Well, not terrifically better. They sailed in early 1607 into the Chesapeake Bay, and they spent some time looking for what might be a good place to settle, and they eventually chose a site here on what they'll name the James River, for King James, and in the town that they'll call Jamestown for the same reason. It's hard to overstate how terrible the land that they chose at Jamestown was, and it was terrible for a couple of reasons. One reason is that the soil isn't terrifically good there. It's marshy, it's not great for growing subsistence crops, which you'll need to survive. And more importantly, it's buggy, and by buggy I mean that there are tons of mosquitoes, and mosquitoes carry diseases like yellow fever, malaria, and those mosquito-borne diseases will have a tremendous effect, a huge death toll for the early settlers at Jamestown. The other thing I can't overstate about the colonists at Jamestown was just how incredibly unprepared and unsuited they were to be colonists in the New World. Remember, this was essentially a get rich quick scheme. Well, who are the sort of people who'd like to get rich quick? Investors, for the most part. These were gentlemen, and the English definition of a gentleman is really someone who has title, someone who has status, someone who does not work with his hands, and all through that first summer when they probably should've been planting crops to try to survive through the winter, instead, these gentlemen were busy looking for gold, which means that when winter rolled around, things got pretty dire at Jamestown, and we'll talk about that in the next video.