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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

Lecture Transcript Two:
Evaluate the Virginia and Massachusetts Companies

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One other thing they did along the way, of course, is to send over a shipload of women. Now, the scene here defies the imagination. I mean, you know, you could get a wife. You had to pay the transportation, apparently. How did they do it? I just kind of wonder. But there was a recognition that, for this to be a normal place where the population would grow, you had to have women; you had to have families. It was the only way it was going to stabilize.

Well, it sounds good, but it didn't work. By 1623, the crown heard enough horrendous rumors about the Virginia colony that it launched an investigation which found that the people sent to Virginia had died in massive numbers due to sickness, famine, and massacres of them by the native "savages." Moreover, those who survived, the commission discovered, lived in miserable and lamentable necessity and want, although the land itself was fruitful and healthful. "If industry were used," the commissioners concluded, "the land would produce many staple and good commodities, although the 16 years' government now past, has yielded few or none," which had to be the fault of the governors and company here who had power to direct the plantation there.

Well, that was right. The company had sent out great shiploads of immigrants inadequately supplied and without any provision made for their reception. So they spent months at sea, arrived in a weakened state without adequate food, without adequate supplies, without even guesthouses or any kind of shelter for them to come to. They quickly sickened and died. That's for sure. The Indians were blamed, obviously. There was the great massacre of March 22, 1622, but on the morning of that day, there were 1,240 people in Virginia. Now, you'll recall there were about 700 in 1618, and in this massive drive for development, the crown had sent over another 3,500. That should be 4,200. There were 1,200; there were 3,000 of those immigrants who had died or otherwise curiously disappeared. This was a death house. It was a terrible place.

The colonists were not innocent. They couldn't get the Indians to work; they had to settle for fellow Englishmen, and they exploited them ruthlessly. You have documents on this—poor Richard Frethorne, who talks about his not being paid enough, about he doesn't have a cloak; it is stolen from him, and he couldn't get back. Not enough clothes, not enough food, working hard. It's not a surprise that so many of these people died.

Well, the company failed, and the failure of the Virginia Company obviously deterred further investments in similar companies. There was, however, one company that worked well and persisted. And I'm talking here about the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was chartered in 1629, the last of the 17th-century English companies formed to found colonies. It had the advantage of being able to learn from Virginia's mistakes. It saw, for one thing, that Virginia suffered from the division of authority between the company in London and the colony in America. For that reason, and also to assure that there would be no outside interference with its Puritan religious beliefs, the company packed up its charter and took it with it to Massachusetts in 1630. They were very wily, and they knew how to work the bureaucratic ropes, so they brought it over to America and basically the outline of government in the Massachusetts charter, which is supposed to be a company management, if you will, became the government of the colony. The governor was supposed to be a company official; he became what we would think of as a civil official. Even today, you may know that the legislature of Massachusetts is known as the Great General Court. It's a word straight out of the 17th-century corporate charters.

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