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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History The Virginia Companyhomesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities Classroom and Applications - Link

Workshop 1:  Lectures & Activities

Page 123

Lecture Transcript Two:
Evaluate the Virginia and Massachusetts Companies

Lecturer: Professor Pauline Maier

Image of Pauline Maier

Well, that was terrific. I thought you really had your eyes on the main issues. And probably the Virginia Company and the colonists could have used you in 1618. Let me tell you what really happened.

The company embarked on a major development program without an awful lot of consultation, I'm sorry to tell you, with the colonists. And it began by using land to get more people to Virginia. They understood you just had to build up that population. Land was useless to it unless it was developed anyway, so why not just give it away to all these Englishmen who were desperate for land because they couldn't get it at home? If you want to come, you get 50 acres if you pay your own way; and you bring your wife, you bring your children, you bring your servant, you get 50 acres for each of them. Hah! At the end, you might have to pay a quit rent on that land, but it's yours otherwise. It was a wonderful way of getting people to pay their own way, so the company didn't need to do that.

Well, what if you say, "I'm impoverished; I don't have enough money to pay my own way"? Not to worry. We can deal with that, too, we Virginia Company people. You come, we'll pay your way over. You work on company lands for a while. You get half of what you earn and give half to the company. They had a wonderful idea here. They would allot large acreage, for example, for the support of the governor, and they would allocate tenants who would come over on this sharecropping basis, and their earnings would support the governor, so nobody had to pay taxes to pay for the government. I mean, it looks like a kind of a paradise from that perspective.

Also, they started a major program of economic development. Tobacco—they had some doubts about tobacco. The king, particularly, took a dislike to it. And could you build a colony on smoke? No. I mean, it seemed terribly important to, now that there was a kind of foundation, to get the colony doing other things, things that were appropriate to Virginia. England was desperate to have more timber. It had used up its timber resources. Virginia had lots of woods. Why not have sawmills? They sent Dutch people over to operate sawmills so that they could have planks and they could export them. They sent Italians over to found glassworks so they could have beads and pottery. Iron—wasn't that a good idea? They found a man who'd go over and gave him state-of-the-art equipment to found an ironworks. They were going to make a diversified economy out of this colony.

Finally, they thought, how do we govern this colony? And the old authoritarian government didn't seem so appropriate now that you had a lot of people who were not employees, who were more or less independent producers. And it seemed very appropriate at that point to introduce the English institution of the assembly. The reforms of 1618 brought the first elected assembly in Jamestown, and it met in 1619. Well, it sounds like a wonderful solution.

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