Comparing Jamestown & Plymouth

If we look at the United States on a map today, it is very difficult to imagine that where we see borders, cities, and states, there once existed nothing but open land, vast fields, uncharted mountain ranges, and miles of untouched wilderness.

North America was a highly desired destination for exploration and settlement. From the early 1500’s, expeditions from Europe to North America were funded by kings and queens in hopes of expanding their territories across the world. The terrain was treacherous with unknown dangers and many attempts to settle in this new land were faced with failure. In the early 1600’s however, the settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth survived the harsh conditions and established the first two settlements in North America.

Jamestown was founded in 1607. Of course, its colonists did not know it would go on to become the the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. The settlement was located near modern day Williamsburg, Virginia. Life in Jamestown was very hard, and nearly 80% of the first settlers died in the first year due to disease and starvation.

The region was warm and had fertile soil, making it a perfect place for growing crops, specifically tobacco. Sponsored by the Virginia Company, Jamestown was originally established for economic reasons, and within a few years of settlement, the colonists built plantations and became prosperous selling their crops overseas. Colonists of Jamestown were supporters of the Church of England.

By 1619, Jamestown had found some success growing tobacco as a cash crop. That summer, a  British pirate ship brought 20 captured Angolans to Jamestown and sold them to the governor. This began a system of enslaved Africans working for the profit of American plantation or farm owners and has been described as America's "original sin".  

Further north in America the next year, in 1620, Pilgrims seeking religious freedom established Plymouth as the second English colony in North America. Located in modern day Massachusetts, the cold climate and rocky soil made it difficult for farming and agriculture, so settlers turned to lumber, shipbuilding, and fishing for trade. Unlike the settlers of Jamestown, the Pilgrims of Plymouth were dissenters from the Church of England, and found freedom to practice their religious beliefs in the “New World”.

Although their reasons for settling were different, the settlements had many similar experiences. Jamestown and Plymouth both faced harsh and demanding climates and struggled with hunger, disease, and death. In their first years they had much difficulty establishing housing and finding a sustainable source of food.

Settlers of both colonies experienced complicated and, at times, violent relationships with local Native Americans that owned the land. While some American Indian groups offered help to the new settlers, oftentimes both sides needed to defend themselves from attacks. Nevertheless, the settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth persevered through these difficulties and maintained their establishments, providing inspiration for future colonies and settlers in search of a new life in the New World.