An important date for the Anglosphere

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, May 14, 2007 ,

On May 14, 1607 the Virginia Company explorers, 108 of them, landed on Jamestown Island. Their intent was to establish the Virginia English colony on the banks of the James river, 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. This is the real beginning of the history of what later became the United States of America and is now the sole real superpower in the world. It is also the beginning of the spread of Anglospheric ideas across the world.

This brief history tells an interesting tale of the settlement and its subsequent history. Tory Historian was particularly taken with the point that historians and archaeologists have discovered that probably the “gentlemen” and certainly the others worked hard to create the new colony and to make it successful.

The early history of English colonization of North America (an attempt to rival and overcome the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonizers, often by warfare) had a mixed history.

As it happens, Tory Historian visited the excellent British Museum exhibition, “A New World”. Astonishingly enough, this exhibition has not closed, which indicates some attempts at good timing on the part of Tory Historian, and is strongly to be recommended to anyone who happens to be in London.

The core of the exhibition is a selection of watercolours made by John White in what was called Virginia but is now North Carolina during several voyages there in the late sixteenth century. The man was interested in everything he saw: people, their habits, their buildings, the birds, plants and animals around them.

His paintings and John Harriot’s descriptions, reprinted subsequently on the Continent, influenced greatly the Old World’s view of the New World, particularly in England. John White’s influence went on as his paintings were copied and engraved for a long time.

He was interested in establishing an English colony in Chesapeake Bay, not far from where the Jamestown settlement was built eventually. However, when he took a number of potential settlers, including his daughter and son-in-law, matters did not work out well.

The second colony of Roanoke was founded in 1587 with John White as governor. Somewhat mysteriously, he was persuaded to return to England by the other settlers, for more supplies and more people. Having fitted out several ships he found that because of the threat of the Spanish Armada he could not leave the country until 1590.

When he finally reached Roanoke he found that the entire colony had disappeared with only the word “Croatan” carved on one of the posts as an indicator as to where the settlers might have gone to. Croatan was an island where, it was assumed, the Indians were still friendly towards the English settlers.

The “Lost Colony of Roanoke” has remained a mystery. Sir Walter Raleigh, who had been given the rights to “Virginia” by Queen Elizabeth found himself in disgrace, as well as without the necessary funds. So the attempts to establish an English colony were abandoned until King James and the Virginia Company.

On August 21, 1602, in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Raleigh expressed his undying faith in the overseas English Empire which he had attempted to establish, saying, ". . . I shall yet live to see it an English Nation."
Not quite English, perhaps, but as the Queen expressed it on her recent visit, closely related.

1 Responses to An important date for the Anglosphere

  1. The recent discoveries on the Jamestown site, and better modern methods of research into the conditions of the colony, are forcing historians to re-examine what they thought they knew about Jamestowne’s earliest years, and about what really was happening there in the larger context of colonial American history.

    So, of what long-term importance is Jamestowne as a transformational event in our nation’s history?

    As we all know, on that mid-May day in 1607, those 100-plus English explorers came ashore to face the worst drought in almost 800 years and a treacherous, disease-infested new environment. They were in constant fear of returning Spanish explorers who had stirred the local Algonquians to suspicion and hostility.

    Affliction, severe famine and strife soon devastated the fledgling colony. Another 500 or so colonists arrived in the first three years, but only about fifty were still alive in spring 1610.

    Yet those survivors soon were joined by shiploads of more settlers, and they established through perseverance and tenacity what would become called the seedbed of the American nation and its first experiment in democracy.

    There, at Jamestowne, they placed the first stones in the foundation of our nation’s political and economic development. By 1620 (we all know what that date was), or within thirteen years of their landing, the settlers launched some of our most profound and enduring legacies, including:

    • The common citizen’s rights to ownership of private property.
    • The principle of common law as the foundation of our legal system.
    • Civilian control of the military.
    • An elected representative legislature and self-rule.
    • The free enterprise system as the form of the American economy.
    • New freedoms from European traditions that had bound many generations to their ancestors’ trades, classes and economic conditions.
    • English as the established common language of the new American nation.

    True enough, those colonists also left us other less well-known legacies that are not so memorable, such as the introduction of rats and new diseases into the New World, and others that are, such as European honeybees and earthworms.

    Another important one is that of the experiences, losses and mistakes learned in establishing Jamestowne, which served to give all succeeding English and British colonization efforts, at Plymouth and then around the world, more realistic direction, instructions and expectations that had better results. John Smith was the most vocal and articulate advocate for them.

    But, probably the most important of their legacies was a determination to succeed – or the American “can do” spirit.

    With that determination, the descendants of those Jamestowne pioneers also forged the most unique element of our American culture: a persistent striving for the freedom to better themselves with property, innovation and enterprise.

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