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Jamestown - the impact of tobacco

The Jamestown settlers, struggling to survive, shifted strategy under Lord De La Warr's leadership, escalating conflict with the Powhatan tribe. This led to the Anglo-Powhatan Wars. Peace briefly came with John Rolfe's marriage to Pocahontas. Rolfe also discovered tobacco's potential, transforming Virginia's economy and leading to the importation of African slaves.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] When we left off in the last video, things were not going particularly well for the English settlers at Jamestown. They had managed to survive a couple of years by the skin of their teeth, but by 1610, they had endured such incredible starvation that they were actually leaving. And as they were just leaving the Chesapeake Bay, they met a ship with English reinforcements, who ordered them back to Jamestown, and came bearing orders from England about a new strategy in Jamestown. And these new orders were carried by a new commander, here this was Lord De La Warr. Spelled a little bit different, but the state of Delaware today is named after this gentleman. And Lord De La Warr said, "Well, it's been great "that you've all been trying to get along "with these Powhatans, but let's get rid of them." So he switched the English from their small amount of conflict with the Native Americans over stealing food, to a pretty much all-out war of extinction against the Powhatans. And De La Warr was a veteran of the Irish campaigns to subdue that colony. So he brings his tactics of complete brutality and submission of the native population to the New World. He raids Native American villages. He burns their crops, and generally promotes an idea that they'll be no such thing as peaceful co-existence between English settlers and Native Americans. That the only thing for Native Americans to do is go away or die. And these conflicts between the English colonists and the Native Americans living in this Virginia tidewater are called the Anglo-Powhatan Wars. The first Anglo-Powhatan war ended in 1614 with a brief period of peace, when this fellow here, John Rolfe married Pocahontas. As kind of a peace offering. But, by the time that the second Anglo-Powhatan war was over in 1625, pretty much the entire Powhatan tribe had either been killed, or driven from the area, and therefore this English war of extinction against Native Americans had succeeded. Now John Rolfe made another contribution to the colony at Jamestown, beyond his marriage with Pocahontas, he also discovered that tobacco was a perfect crop for the kind of marshy Virginia soil. And tobacco was a commodity that was getting hotter and hotter in Europe, and so they discovered that they could grow pretty much as much tobacco as they possibly could, and markets in Europe would just buy it and buy it and buy it. And so, although the colonists at Jamestown didn't find the gold that they were hoping for, they found a very different way to get rich, and that was through cultivating tobacco. And this is going to have enormous consequences for the development of Virginia as a colony, both in terms of its geographic development, and also the development of its labor force. As tobacco is an incredibly labor-intensive crop, these English planters in Virginia will quickly look for ways to staff a labor force in the New World. And one way that they will do this is through the importation of African slaves. The very first slave ship arrived in Jamestown in 1619. We'll talk more about that in the next video.