Thursday, April 30, 2015

The colony that almost failed

Jamestown has the distinction of being the first permanent English colony in North America. Not the first English colony ever, but the first to survive. It nearly floundered, however, because of a lack of willingness on the part of many colonists to work. But when all the the other members of the council were drowned at sea during a storm, Captain John Smith was left in charge and instituted some basic reforms, including the Biblical injunction, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10).
The company was divided into squads of ten or fifteen, and assigned to the necessary duties of the colony. Six hours each day were devoted to their tasks, the rest in pastimes and merry exercises. But such was the untowardness of many among them, to whom labor was equally new and irksome, that our President was compelled to give them sharp counsel after his peculiar fashion.
 “Countryman,” he said, “the long experience of our late miseries, I hope, is sufficient to persuade every one to a present correction of himselfe. Thinke not that either my paines, nor the adventurers’ purses will ever maintain you in idlesse and sloathe. I speake not this to you all, for divers of you I know deserve both honor and reward, much better than is here to be had; but the greater part must be more industrious or starve; however you have been heretofore tollerated by the authoritie of the Councell. You see now that power resteth wholly in myselfe. You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work (except by sickness he is disabled) shall not eate. The labours of thirtie or fortie honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain an hundred and fiftie idle loyterers. (The Life of Captain John Smith:  The Founder of Virginia, pp. 283-284)
No welfare here, except for the disabled. Work, or die by your own indolence. Not surprisingly, the settlement began to prosper.
Tar, pitch, and potash, in considerable quantities, rewarded their exertions; they produced some samples of glass; dug a well of excellent water in the fort, which, till then, had been very much wanting; provided nets and seines for taking fish; built twenty new houses; repaired the church, and, the better to prevent thieving, and to check the incursions of the savages, raised a block-house on the isthmus of Jamestown, which neither Christian nor heathen was suffered to pass without order or permit from the President. Thirty or forty additional acres of land were also broken up and planted; and such new care taken of pigs and poultry that their increase became marvelous. The former were carried to an islet, which was Hog Island, and here a block-house was also built, and a garrison established which should give notice of any approaching shipping. The soldiers here were not, however, left to keep the place in idleness, but for their exercise and amusement were required to fell trees, and split clapboards. (Ibid, pp. 293-294)
Later, Plymouth colony had similar problems, instituted similar reforms, and (you guessed it) had similar results. See here and here