Monday, September 29, 2008

Beyond Its Beginning: Our Legacies and Heritage from Jamestown - Part 5

A New Dominant Culture

The English immigration surge that began in the 1620s established a new dominant culture as the colonists began to outnumber the Algonquians by the 1630s. Dr. Fausz tells us of the March 1622 Algonquian attack, “That terrible, traumatic ’Flood of Blood,’ as John Donne so graphically described it, was immediately recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as a major watershed event, different from anything that English citizens had ever experienced”.

It provoked a sea change in the colonists’ attitudes and treatment of their indigenous neighbors; it also stimulated their “…measured, tempered military campaign that was neither ideological nor genocidal in intent or result. They quickly learned to coexist with their Indian enemies by forging enlightened alliances with Indian friends—and by repudiating both Christian conversion and Christian crusades as dysfunctional and dangerous practices”. Conflict between natives and colonists continued for another decade after 1622. It was then rekindled with another major raid in 1644, led by the Powhatans’ then elderly chief, with the loss of over 400 colonists’ lives. He was captured, but murdered, and another and seemingly final peace treaty was negotiated in 1646, which also established America’s first Indian reservations.

However, the pressures created by the English settlements became irresistible as their numbers spread throughout Virginia’s Tidewater and Eastern Shore and into Maryland by 1650. Professor Peter C. Mancall estimates that more than 160,000 English emigrated to the American colonies in the 17th century, of whom 116,000 went to the Chesapeake region. Historian James P. Horn also estimates that “During the 1630s and 1640s the immigration averaged about 8,000-9,000 per decade, but in 1650 to 1680, 16,000-20,000 entered the Chesapeake each decade—the equivalent of England’s second city, Bristol.” Still, the mortality rate for the new immigrants remained at well over 70 percent.

The Virginia Indian tribes were overwhelmed by this, the first wave of the one of the largest mass migrations of the history of humankind. They were also decimated by new European diseases and fought a protracted and futile war against the never-ending influx of immigrants. The second half of the 17th century brought their increasing subjugation, relocation and banishment.

As more and more new settlers arrived and the century wore on, they moved incessantly inland and upland, and displaced native tribes reacted with responses ranging from accommodation and coexistence to resistance and violence during the 1660s and 1670s. The newest settlers especially would often also react with retribution for the violence and include those accommodating tribes among their targets for extirpation. Historians Eric Hinderaker and Mancall estimate that, “Of …twenty thousand Indians who inhabited the Chesapeake on the eve of English settlement, some two thousand were left by the 1670s. The colony’s population, meanwhile, had grown to more than forty thousand”. Anthony Parent also estimates that this Indian population was “an 85 percent decline from the first contact with the English at Jamestown”. Thus, the legacy of over 200 years of devastation of American Indian culture and life began at Jamestown during the latter half of the 17th century.

The Berkeley Era’s Legacies

Billings also tells us, “Rendering an assessment of all [the colony’s governors] is difficult because an absence of records all but obscures their abilities and the individual marks they put upon the colony.” Most of Jamestown’s governmental records were destroyed at Richmond’s destruction during our Civil War, yet there is enough left to know that the colony’s growth took on new dimensions and energy with Charles I’s appointment of Sir William Berkeley as governor in 1641.

Berkeley succeeded a series of royal surrogates of varied quality and distinction who for almost a decade and a half had kept the colony in a state of uncertainty ranging from turmoil and emergency to stabilization, conciliation and reform. According to Billings, “Berkeley’s thirty-five year tenure marks him as one of Virginia’s most significant chief executives; he was also one of the most controversial. Berkeley stood with that handful who closely identified themselves with leading Virginians and their interests, even when those interests opposed the Crown’s…His arrival was also timely, for he governed Virginia during the crucial decades from the 1640s to the 1690s. These were the years when the General Assembly matured into a miniature parliament, and political power was divided between the provincial [i.e., colonial] and the county governments. Berkeley encouraged both developments for they comported with his political style.”

During most of its existence, and at his arrival, the Assembly consisted of the governor, twelve to sixteen councilors that he appointed, and the Burgesses that were elected by each county and Jamestown. Berkeley soon saw the need and benefits from governing the colony with a form of bicameral legislature that was to become a template, over the coming century, for our Congress and most of our state governing bodies.

His first step was to encourage the House of Burgesses to meet as a body separately from the Assembly. He also appointed Virginians to the key offices in the colony, including continuing the tradition of maintaining civilian control of the militias or military, as had been the policy since Company days. The colonial burgesses also concurrently initiated what developed into our unique congressional institution of an elected Speaker of the House (which differed significantly from the English crown-appointed version).

At the same time, English history was taking a turn that would greatly affect Jamestown. After years of political contention and violence, the monarchy and its royalist adherents (“Cavaliers”) and the Puritan-led Parliament (“Roundheads”) squared off in 1642 in the English Civil War; Berkeley had arrived just before it began. In 1646, the Roundheads began prevailing; three years later, Charles I was beheaded, and, by 1650, the interregnum commenced. England became a Commonwealth and then a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Parliament also recast Virginia as a Commonwealth.

Parliament then commissioned four Virginians to gain the colony’s obedience to the new regime, Berkeley’s resignation and interdiction of Dutch trade for the benefit of a London mercantile monopoly. In 1652, a Parliamentary enforcement fleet was sent to Jamestown and, for the first time, the colony experienced an English military force, which obliged Berkeley to step down and surrender a royalist-leaning Virginia to the new rulers. During the interregnum, the Burgesses dominated the colonial government. Councilors and governors were also elected, but were relatively passive.

On May 3, 1660, anticipating the restoration of the monarchy, the Assembly took a major step on our nation’s road to self-determination when it elected Berkeley to the governorship, who was also then reaffirmed by Charles II. He chose to retain almost all of the members of the Assembly, whether royalist or not.

This is the fifth of nine parts
Copyright 2008

No comments: