Chapter 2. Planting Colonies in the New World

The Virginia Company

The first English settlements were provisioned by investors who expected the colonists to find gold or silver in Virginia, in which they were disappointed. The colonists managed some income by exporting Caribbean tobacco, but the enterprise was a failure. Within the first three years about 85 percent of the colonists died by starvation and sickness. To grow tobacco for trade the colonists seized Powhatan lands but they didn’t manage to provide for themselves. By 1609 John Smith had begun to send raiding parties to demand food from the Powhatan. When that didn’t work, the colonists burned Powhatan houses and stole their food supplies. Mistreating the Indians led to the Jamestown Massacre of 1622 after which the colonists consolidated eighty plantations into eight.


Pocahontas didn’t save the life of John Smith. This wasn’t a love story. John Smith traded his life for an ivory compass, two cannons, and a grindstone. Pocahontas was abducted, taught English, baptized under the name Rebecca, and married to John Rolfe.


They left London because King James wouldn’t let them flout the rules of his state religion. They left Leyden because their elders wanted to retire, and because their young were becoming less puritanical. They suffered or died on the voyage, and on landing at Plymouth, they brought upon themselves worse misfortunes.

Savage barbarians

According to William Bradford, the people whose lands he thought were his to own, a people, unlike Bradford’s, who knew how to care for their own in this “hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” were “savage barbarians.”


The Puritans, English Calvinists who thought that the Church of England had not become protestant enough, came to New England in droves after they were kicked out of power by the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and their leaders were kicked out of the Church by the Act of Uniformity of 1662. They believed in demons and the devil and attempted exorcisms of the witches among them, as though they didn’t realize that their most self-righteous accusers brought more evil into the world than the people whom they hanged, even though they were warned against “going to the Devil for help against the Devil.”

New Netherland

They couldn’t make their own decisions since they were governed from the Netherlands. They didn’t understand the people who lived here, the Algonquins. The Dutch and the Algonquins had vastly different conceptions of owning land. What the colonists saw as a purchase, the natives saw as a trade agreement. But the Dutch prospered and amassed, as they say, their own private fortunes.

Wouter van Twiller

Wouter van Twiller, agent of the West India Company and governor of New Amsterdam, was old, fat, and taciturn. Washington Irving praised him for avoiding saying foolish things by saying nothing at all.


The first Dutch colonists, Walloons from Belgium, brought their slaves. In addition Walloons, there were a large number of African natives, English brought up from New England, and Huguenots, Germans, and Scandinavians working in New Netherland.