Why Did The Settlers Go To Jamestown
Why did the settlers go to Jamestown?
The earlier answers to this question focus on explaining why the Jamestown settlers went to the New World, but not upon the other implied question of why the settlers went to Jamestown specifically. As other have noted, this voyage, the first with the intent of creating a permanent English settlement in the New World, was funded by the Virginia Company and had financial, rather than religious, motivations—the travelers on this voyage hoped to become wealthy from the natural resources of the area, and served as prospectors for the Virginia Company. The site of Jamestown itself was chosen based on detailed instructions provided by the Virginia Company of London, who were in competition with the Plymouth Company of London to found profitable colonies in the new world. The Virginia Company had been assigned a charter to settle in a particular area of the coast. Within this area, it stipulated to its seafarers that the land they chose should be highly defensible against potential Spanish attacks; should allow for a cove with water deep enough for the ship to remain moored there; should be inland, but surrounded by water; and should not be occupied by Native tribes. Jamestown was selected because the sailors believed it to fit all these criteria, although, as they would later learn, it was not really the case that the area was not inhabited by Native Americans. In fact, the Powhatan tribe lived nearby and provided a great deal of help to the English settlers in the early years.
The Jamestown settlement took several decades to be truly called "successful," as its inhabitants endured a long famine at first. However, it went on to succeed for a century before its inhabitants moved on to Williamsburg, making it certainly a vast improvement on the previous English attempt at settling at Roanoke where the colonists disappeared without trace.
The original settlers went to Jamestown for different reasons, though the primary mission of the settlement was to provide a source of wealth (hopefully gold and silver) and to establish an English foothold against potential Spanish expansion in the New World. The family of one of the original colonists, the genteel James Forrest, seem to have intended to supervise the search for gold, and saw the expedition as an opportunity to get rich. His wife Margaret accompanied him, perhaps at his behest. Her servant, Anne Burras, had no choice but to accompany her mistress. In the first decades of the settlement, many laborers arrived as indentured servants, selling their labor over a three or seven year period in return for property at the end of their indenture, or contract. Others came as soldiers, who, depending on their rank, also served as laborers or leaders in the colony. John Smith, a career military adventurer, was an example of the latter. The colony also received many convict laborers, who often worked under longer terms than indentured servants. As tobacco emerged as a viable export crop after 1610, the colony became a source for many ambitious young men of the "middling sort" in England who hoped to gain wealth through the cultivation of the crop. Later voyages also brought skilled craftsmen from England, Germany, and Poland, who because of their high desirability in the colony either received short indentures or had their voyages subsidized by the Virginia Company. Later in the seventeenth century, large quantities of African laborers would enter the colony against their will (i.e. as slaves) but their numbers were not significant in the early years of the settlement.
In contrast to the Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colonies, which would begin more than a decade later as places of religious refuge for Dissenting (Puritan) English people, Jamestown was started as a financial venture by the Virginia Company of London. The company hoped to find silver and gold in the area, and they also hoped, by establishing a permanent colony, to be able to exploit the natural resources of the area and sell back finished goods to the colonists.
The original settlers came for economic reasons, hoping to earn good financial rewards from such a risky adventure. The first 104 settlers (one died on the voyage) were all male and many came from upper-class backgrounds, so they were unused to labor. Establishing a colony in a region filled with Native Americans as well as other obstacles proved much more difficult than expected, and many of the early settlers died of hunger and disease.