I still remember the idyllic pictures of the Jamestown settlement in my school books as a child, but in reality the settlement was anything but ideal. Many of the settlers were English gentlemen who had no idea how to work in a wild environment. They quickly ran out of food while battling the Algonquin and enduring very harsh winter conditions. You don't have to have much of an imagination to visualize how desperate those early settlers must have been. The vast majority of the early settlers succumbed to starvation and violence, and there are even credible reports of cannibalism. They suffered extreme hardship and personal sacrifice, all to create a more stable and prosperous future for subsequent generations.
The Europeans had also not anticipated the fierce resistance shown by the Native Americans, who had no intention of simply handing over their land. Although many movies portray the Europeans as vastly superior to the Native Americans in warfare, their most effective weapons were the diseases they brought, against which the Native Americans had no immunological resistance. These diseases wiped out whole villages and tribes through massive epidemics that were far more effective than any fighting force. While the Native Americans were being vanquished, the English, French, and Spaniards, among others, fought for the dominant position in the New World. The Jamestown colony would never have survived if it had not been for the friendship developed with the tribe of Powhatan, who taught them some basic fundamentals of farming and traded food for beads—a gracious, saving exception to the conflict and warfare that characterized our nation's early history.
In time, the English Jamestown settlement grew and thrived, especially after the introduction of indentured servants and slaves in 1619 and the development of American tobacco, which quickly became all the rage in England and other parts of Europe. The rapid growth of the tobacco industry turned out to be a financial bonanza for the fledgling colony, enabling it to survive. There were early attempts at remote self-rule, the most permanent of which was the establishment of the House of Burgess, which consisted of a governor and "councilors," appointed by the governor, and some representatives of estates.
Around the time of the establishment of the House of Burgess, a second permanent colony was being established by the pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the harbor of Cape Cod Bay. These religious separatists were interested in the New World primarily because they felt that their freedoms were compromised both in terms of religion and life in general. In an attempt at self-rule, they constructed an agreement of behavior known as the Mayflower Compact, the first formal constitution in North America. In this contract, they agreed to the fair and equal treatment of everyone for the good of the colony. Unfortunately, "everyone" did not include women, those who were not land owners, slaves and indentured servants, or the region's natives. To their credit, they were attempting to build a type of society that was foreign to most of the world, since most colonies were governed according to the wishes of the ruler. These were immature baby steps toward a more noble goal, but at least they were steps in the right direction