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Economic & Political Precedents in 17th Century Virginia

As the first English colony established in North America, Virginia in many ways set the example which the rest of the colonies would follow. Although the investors of the joint-stock company who initially funded Virginia’s settlement were disappointed at its seeming failure in finding the things they had hoped for, it soon became apparent that a very valuable crop could be cultivated there, that is, tobacco. With John Rolfe’s discovery of a new method of drying the leaves, much profit was made in growing and selling this crop, and as more southern colonies were developed, they too grew tobacco.

One characteristic of this industry was the need to have large amounts of workers to cultivate the tobacco. With the initiation of the headright system, many people came from Europe as indentured servants. These were to work the land of the one who had paid for their voyage across, and after a certain amount of time (usually 6 to 10 years) they could own land of their own. As it happened, though, about 40% of these servants died before they could complete their indenture, and after many of them were gone, there was a need for additional laborers. As did Virginia, so did many of the other colonies, particularly those in the south.

When Virginia was established as a charter colony, it set a political precedent by basing its government on the will of the people. This was drastically different from Britain’s idea of “virtual representation,” and provided the American people with that taste of liberty that eventually led to independence.

In addition, Virginia was the first of the colonies to be subdivided into counties, each having a county court to handle the local government. This was particularly important for Virginia, with its emphasis on land instead of towns.

Finally, Virginia was the first royal colony, being initially in the hands of the Virginia Company which funded its settlement. However, the Crown was not happy with the company’s handling of the colony, believing it had given the settlers too many freedoms. After an Indian attack wreaked havoc on the frontier, the Crown took Virginia in order to have direct control over it. Thus it went from being a charter colony to a royal colony.

Because Virginia was the first colony, in many ways it acted as a big brother to the other colonies. Even today we can see how this colony has had far-reaching effects on modern America.


I wrote this essay last week for my American History class at Weatherford College, and it was graded as Excellent. The teacher was quite pleased with it, and he even read it before the rest of the class!

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