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A few of the best known early colonies in the American Continent, then known as the “New World,” are the colonies of Jamestown, Plymouth, and the Massachusetts Bay Company. The three of these colonies are not only the earliest; they are also the ones that started the process of English Colonization in the East Coast of Continental America, which was known in the future to become the “Thirteen Original Colonies” that was to become the United States.
Of course it is also true that these three colonies have different stories, especially in relation to their goals, their nature, and as well as their experiences of both their success and their failure. This would be the focus of this essay; wherein the researcher would try to give a critical observation of these three different colonies based upon their historical accounts.
One of the best accounts regarding the founding of the colony of Jamestown is given by Captain John Smith, which can be found upon the third volume of the five volume work entitled “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles: Together with The True Travels, Adventures and Observations, and a Sea Grammar” (Smith, 1624).
The account of Captain Smith centers upon the experiences of these early colonists vis a vis an account of Virginia and the daily lives of the colonists in that place (Smith, 1624). In this case, it can be inferred that one of the primary goals of the colonists in setting up the Jamestown colony was economic; they planned to build a plantation colony where these colonists would start a new life and prosper. As said in the account of Captain James:
“Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, one of the first movers of this plantation, having many years solicited many of his friends, but found small assistance…but nothing could be effected, till by their great charge and industry, it came to be apprehended by certain of the nobility, gentry, and merchants, so that his Majesty by his letters patents, gave commission for establishing councils, to direct here; and to govern, and to execute there. ” (Smith, 1624).
However, it is also true that not all plans may be executed smoothly; for as stated above, their where difficulties that where faced, even in securing the necessary requirements and needs to go on with the resources and the people needed to secure a trip to the New World and build a colony. What is important is, in the end, the colonists where able to build the colony. Of course, the nature of the colony was a pioneering one, where the colonists have to face the challenges of surviving in an entirely New World.
The accounts of Captain Smith vividly recalled this, especially in their need to explore the territory, sustain their expedition, resist attacks from the natives, and find a way to grow crops to survive, making them not just dependent upon their mother country for supplies (Smith, 1624). Of course, it was not only a story of failures, but also of success, wherein they where able to befriend the native settlement of Powhatan, wherein accounts of Pocahontas is also given.
Overall, the account of the Jamestown colony only shows the challenges and the adventures of having to set up a new colony in an entirely new place. However, there are also racist and chauvinist tendencies which are very evident, wherein the natives are seen as “savages” that threaten their existence, despite indications of help and cooperation from the natives (Smith, 1624). While the Jamestown colony was primarily set up for new economic opportunities and a better life for its colonists, there is also another pioneering colony that was found on a mainly religious reason.
Such is the case of the Plymouth Plantation colony, as stated in the accounts of William Bradford (Bradford, 1630). This colony was set up not only by people wanting a better life, or by people seeking for adventure in a new place; on the contrary, the colonists where seeking a place where they could attain religious liberty—that is, where they can attain the freedom to practice their belief and form a community centered around divine inspiration. As stated in the account of Bradford:
“Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,” etc. “Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good: and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them.
” “Let them confess before the Lord His loving kindness and His wonderful works before the sons of men. ” (Bradford, 1630). However, as compared to the Jamestown colonists, the Plymouth colonist where much more grateful, especially by the time when Indians came and guided them on how to plant crops and survive in this new place for them, as well as even caring to make a treaty with the Indians. They also practiced their model community, even experimenting with communal and individual farming (Bradford, 1630).
Seeking religious liberty and establishing a model community according to religious beliefs was also the case for the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans, as stated in the account of John Winthrop (Winthrop, 1630). But while the two earlier accounts have already given experiences on actually setting up a community, this account centered upon the vision of a colony being a “Model of Christian Charity” (Winthrop, 1630). As stated in this vision: “We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities.
We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body…may the Lord make it like that of New England. For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. ” (Winthrop, 1630)