How Jamestown Embraced Slavery


At Zocalo, Dartmouth historian Paul Musselwhite explains how it all happened.  Here is a taste of “How Jamestown Abandoned a Utopian Vision and Embraced Slavery“:

In the summer of 1619, some of England’s first American colonists were carving up land seized from the Powhatan empire along the James River in Virginia. While the first settlers had arrived back in 1607, they had only recently discovered that they could turn a profit growing tobacco. Tobacco production had increased 20-fold over the past two years, and agricultural land was suddenly at a premium.

Yet the surveyors, instead of laying out private estates for upwardly mobile colonists, were mostly tracing the bounds of thousands of acres of common land. These vast tracts of public land were intended to accommodate hundreds of new colonists and their families, who would serve as tenants, raising crops and paying rents to support infrastructure while learning agricultural skills.

This symbiotic vision of common land and public institutions was one of the most dramatic innovations in the history of English colonialism to that point. But we have lost sight of that original vision and how it was undermined.

Read the rest here.

2 thoughts on “How Jamestown Embraced Slavery

  1. I think it very likely that in one place or other along the Atlantic coast slavery of Africans would come to exist.
    Trading with the sugar plantations in the Caribbean alone would have provided exposure and opportunity.
    Even in New England it took hold and not because they were copying the southern colonies.


  2. And an attempt at a quasi-utopian society in this New World morphed back into European Feudalism, with Milords in the manor houses ruling great estates worked by Tenant Serfs.

    Plus the big-bucks lure of a cash-crop economy, like olive oil and wine Latifundiae in the place and time where and when the Book of Revelation was written: “A mouthful of barley for a whole days’ wages, but don’t touch the olive oil and wine!”


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