English Colonization in the New World

Chapters 6 and 8 of Taylor’s American Colonies describe the English journey to colonization. Taylor highlights that the situation in England during the time of exploration was unstable and that the leaders were eager to share in, but not directly fund, the exploration and exploitation of the New World. The English settled in a very different land with resources that were not as readily accessible as those from the areas of Spanish conquest. Many questions arose as to how the colonies could not only survive, but also generate the cash flows like those that Spain and France were receiving. The English answers to these questions involved different commodities and styles of living.

Despite early failures, the English developed successful colonies that grew to have different economic and social drivers, especially considering commerce and the treatment of native peoples. As one of my classmates mentioned in his post “The Instability of Trade, Economy, and Structure,” the Spanish used religion as a front for plunder and the enslavement of both the land and the people.  However, Taylor leads the reader to conclude that the English approached the problem of native people differently. The people of Jamestown did not initially wish to enslave, but rather assimilate natives and “transform the Indians into lower-sort English men and women” (Taylor, pg. 128). Statements from colonial supporter Sir William Herbert explain that this was to keep the colonists from escaping to the apparently less strenuous life of the Indians. I find this motivation curious due to the fact that Jamestown suffered greatly because the colonists themselves refused to undertake the labor of producing corn, which led to food shortages. Conflicts with the native people arose when the English expected to be provided for, leading to bloodshed that was less for the direct seizure of wealth and more for means of survival. Through this sporadic violence, the colonists began to cultivate tobacco, and production exponentially increased. The English of Chesapeake discovered a sustainable agricultural method of benefiting from colonization, but only after forsaking positive native relations and many lives.

The other branch of English colonization arose from the Puritan settlement of New England. This is the first group of colonists presented to the reader as middle-class Englishmen searching for subsistence rather than wealth. They lived in a strict society that revolved around small-level farming. Many of their conflicts were not over wealth, but rather aspects of life with religious implications. In this society men and women were more equal, and men were more equal to each other. Shipbuilding and fishing entered into their society in the mid and late 1600s, and with them came both societal disruption and sustainable commerce.

Both varieties of English settlers found success in American colonies through different means than either the French or Spanish. They had great differences from each other, and both found unique niches in the colonial economy through agriculture and trade (though New England’s trade was initially more local).Their colonization produced systems that could support themselves and become sustainable, independent economies.

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