Jamestown's Economy

Student Worksheet

Part one of the worksheet contains many images of Jamestown; part two contains three letters by individuals living in and around Jamestown in the 1600s.

Part I- Images

How do we know so much about historical Jamestown? One way we learn about the past is by finding things in the ground that were used by people hundreds of years ago. Click on "What have we found?" to see what Jamestown archaeologists have been doing.

1) What are some things archaeologists might dig up hundreds of years from now that would tell us something about you?

Let's look at some of the specific objects archaeologists have found in Jamestown. After looking at the pictures and reading the descriptions on the following web pages, you should be able to answer these questions:

2) Stoneware:
1. What would it mean if this jug, normally made in Germany and bought and used in England, was found in America?
2. Why would England have had to buy this sort of jug, before they "developed their own stoneware industry?"
3. Explain how finding stoneware, or some other object, helps archaeologists learn about earlier people.

3) Food information:
1. Instead of beef and pork, what did the early colonists eat, more than most Americans probably do today?
2. Why do you think they ate so much of these things?

4) Beads for corn:
1. Why do you think the colonists traded beads for corn?
2. Why do you think the Native Americans traded corn for beads?

5) Copper for food:
1. What does the Native Americans' offer of venison and turkey, rather than say, chickens and pigs (more easily domesticated) say about their lifestyle?
2. On the other hand, what information is given that suggests Native Americans raised crops, if not farm animals?

6) Tobacco pipes:
1. Native Americans used tobacco before the Europeans. Why do you think archaeologists find more tobacco pipes in Jamestown than in New England colony archaeological sites?
2. Tobacco was exported from Virginia to Europe. What do you think is a product that was imported from Europe to Virginia?

7) Other objects:
1. Explore "the things" found on the Other Objects page, and choose one of the objects listed. How do you think this "thing" was used by the colonialists or by the Native Americans, for trade?
When answering the question, think about:
-how valuable the object was
-how helpful or useful it was
-how difficult it would be for someone else to make

Drawing conclusions: Answer these questions after looking at the pictures, above (1-7).
1. Why do you think the colonists and Native Americans grew tobacco and corn, and ate fish? How do people use the resources around them?
2. The Native Americans traded tobacco for European products, including jewelery and pots and other containers. Why do people trade for some things, instead of making everything themselves?

Part II- Letters

8) Read part of John Smith's letter describing Virginians and Native Americans and some of their jobs. You can choose a selection from the letter, or the entire letter. After reading the letter, answer the following questions:
1. How do Smith's men use the natural resources of the area for food?
2. From Smith's description, how do you think Smith's men make use of the natural resources of the area for transportation?
3. The early colonists were worried about survival. What is something Smith mentions that would threaten the colonists survival?

9) Read part of Richard Frethorne's letter to his mother, "The experiences of an indentured servant, 1623." You can choose a selection from the letter, or the entire letter. After reading the letter, answer the following questions:
1. What objects does Frethorne want to have?
2. What objects does he have?
3. What does Frethorne eat?
4. What does he want to eat, that must be too expensive or not available?
5. What work does he do?

10) Read part of Sir William Berkley's, "A Discourse and View of Virginia, 1663." You can choose a selection from the letter, or the entire letter. After reading the letter, answer the following questions:
1. What products/industries does he want there to be?
2. What does he discourage amongst the colonists, economically speaking?

Exercept from John Smith's Letter:

Vpon this river on the North side are seated a people called Cuttatawomen, with 30 fighting men. Higher on the riuer are the Moraughtacunds with 80 able men. Beyond them Toppahanock with 100 men. Far above is another Cuttatawomen with 20 men. On the South, far within the river is Nautaughtacund having 150 men. This river also as the two fomer is replenished with fish and foule. They are seated 2 daies higher then was passage for the discoverers Barge, which was hardly 2 toons, and had in it but 12 men to perform this discouery, wherein they lay aboue the space of 12 weekes vpon those great waters in those vnknown Countries, hauing nothing but a little meale or oatmeale and water to feed them; and scarse halfe sufficient of that for halfe that time, but that by the Savages and by plentie of fish they found in all places, they made themselues provision as opportunitie served; yet had they not a marriner or any that had skill to trim their sayles, vse their oares, or any businesse belonging to the Barge, but 2 or 3. The rest being Gentlemen or as ignorant in such toyle and labour: yet necessitie in a short time, by their Captaines diligence and example, taught them to become so perfect, that what they did by such small meanes, I leaue to the censure of the Reader to iudge by this discourse and the annexed

Excerpt from Richard Frethorne's letter:

LOVING AND KIND FATHER AND MOTHER: My most humble duty remembered to you, hoping in god of your good health, as I myself am at the making hereof. This is to let you understand that I you child am in a most heavy case by reason of the country, [which] is such that it causeth much sic kness, [such] as the scurvy and the bloody flux and diverse other diseases, which maketh the body very poor and weak. And when we are sick there is nothing to comfort us; for since I came out of the ship I never ate anything but peas, and loblollie (that is, water gruel). As for deer or venison I never saw any since I came into this land. There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef. A mouthful of bread for a penny loaf must serve for four men which is most pitiful. But I have nothing at all - no, not a shirt to my back but two rags (2), nor clothes but one poor suit, nor but one pair of shoes, but one pair of stockings, but one cap, [and] but two bands [collars]. My cloak is stolen by one of my fellows, and to his dying hour [he] would not tell me what he did with it; but some of my fel lows saw him have butter and beef out of a ship, which my cloak, I doubt [not], paid for. So that I have not a penny, nor a penny worth, to help me too either spice or sugar or strong waters, without the which one cannot live here. For when we go to Jamestown (that is 10 miles of us) there lie all the ships that come to land, and there they must deliver their goods. And when we went up to town [we would go], as it may be, on Monday at noon, and come there by night, [and] then load the next day by noon, and go home in the afternoon, and unload, and then away again in the night, and [we would] be up about midnight. Then if it rained or blowed never so hard, we must lie in the boat on the water and have nothing but a little bread. For when we go into the boat we [would] have a loaf allowed to two men, and it is all [we would get] if we stayed there two days, which is hard; and [we] must lie all that while in the boat. But that Goodman Jackson pitied me and made me a cabin to lie in always when I [would] come up, and he would give me some poor jacks [fish] [to take] home with me, which comforted me more than peas or water gruel. Oh, they be very godly folks, and love me very well, and will do anything for me.

Excerpt from Sir William Berkley's letter:

Now for those things which are naturally in it, they are these, Iron, Lead, Pitch, Tar, Masts, Timber for Ships of the greatest magnitude, and Wood for Pot-ashes. Now this is ascertained and confessed, that such staple commodities, as Iron, Silk, Flax, Hemp, and Pot-ashes, may be easily raised in Virginia, an high imputation will lye upon us, why we have not all this time endeavoured to evidence the truth and certainty of it, to our own and the publick advantage. But since the year 1630. the place began to be of more plenty and security, for the Indians, though not subdued, were terrified to a suspension of arms, the Planters then first began to fence their grounds and plant Corn; the few Cattel they had, increased to such numbers, that thay were able to help their neighbour Plantations. And now I believe, that there is no Plantation of the English would more abound in Catte l, Hogs, and all sorts of Fruit, than Virginia, if they had but a mean price to quicken their industry, and make their providence vigilant. his was the first and fundamental hinderance that made the Planters neglect all other accessions to wealth and happiness, and fix their hopes only on this vicious weed of Tobacco, which at length has brought them to that extremity, that they can neither handsomely subsist with it, nor without it.