England's first Colony: Virginia
P lagued with overpopulation and a declining economic base, England set out to join the imperial game in the late 15th century. Spurred by the successful voyages of John Cabot, the British Crown chartered the Virginia Company in 1606. Led by Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Gilbert, the Virginia Company sent an expedition to the New World in 1606. In 1608, the English landed in Jamestown, Virginia.
The Jamestown colony was an immediate failure. The Jamestown settlers did not find the gold they thought was in Virginia. Unaccustomed to the land and unable to farm, they died off in incredible numbers, as did hundreds of new settlers from England.
Suddenly, things turned around in 1617. The Jamestown settlers became interested in tobacco, which was brought back to England. Tobacco's popularity in Europe was incredible. It immediately became a crop with enormous financial potential. Wealthy English men started to pour into America in hopes of getting rich off of tobacco.
There was one problem, though. Tobacco was a very labor-intensive crop. The discovery of tobacco growing by the Jamestown settlers set the stage for the growth of England's North American colonies. It also created the impetus for one of the darker episodes in American history-the African slave trade.