Summary: Land, Indians, Laborers, and Political Development

Notice the issues covered in this topic and how fluid they are. How things would turn out was indefinite.

What’s on this webpage:

Indian-Colonists Patterns

Land and the Headright System

Control of Labor

Voting and Assemblies


Indian-Colonists Patterns

The Indians in these events in the 1600s were all Eastern Woodlands tribes on the Atlantic coast. The English and the Indians were in conflict over land ownership (with the English fencing the land and clearing it of trees). The desire for trade brought some of the newcomers (from all nations) and the Indians together; lack of resistance to diseases resulted in great losses of population.


Notice the diversity of the events in the final column and compare the differences in those events by looking at the Religious Group column. Reminder: tobacco is a crop that depletes the land and forced planters to keep looking for new lands. What consequence did that have on Indian-colonists patterns?




Religious Group

Major Traits or Events

1612s; 1622, 1640s



Adoption of Indian crops (corn) methods of agriculture (beans grown beside corn) and methods of transportation (canoes) by colonists 

Attacks upon the Powhatan Indians (1610s)

Attacks by the Powhatan (1622), by deception, resulting in over 300 colonists dead

Suppression of the Powhatan (1640s)


Plymouth Plantation


Initial Indian-colonist cooperation (such as the Indians showing the Pilgrims how to grow corn and trading with the Pilgrims).

Later devastating smallpox epidemic.


Rhode Island

Puritan faction

Roger Williams flees to the Narragansett tribe; he purchases land from them


New England region


Pequot War (Connecticut Valley), leading to some consolidation in planning by the New England colonies

1640s. 1650s



Treaty area for Indians (1640s). Expansion into that territory by colonists (1650s) and clashes. Nathaniel Bacon and attempted pursuit of the Indians (1676).


New England region


King Philip’s War (leader also called Metacomet); 1000 colonists dead




William Penn pays the Indians for the land.


Land and the Headright System

Grants of land in Virginia (and later in Maryland) to encourage settlement, but also encouraged large plantations. Basic principle of headright:

§  2 headrights (100 acres) per original settler

§  1 headright per new settler

§  1 headright if paid passage for a new settler (But if you were an indentured servant whose passage was paid for, you did not necessarily get land at the end of the indenture. You may have become a landless worker.)


Control of Labor

This is a world that not long before (in the 1500s) in England was ending the feudal order, with such events as the shift to wool markets resulting in workers being thrown off the land. Serfdom, for all of its problems, offered a way to eat. Ask yourself:

  • What happens when people have no land available where they can grow their own food or hunt their own food or when people have no work available to them where they make enough to be able to pay for food?
  • What do those who make their livings from large-scale agriculture do to meet their needs for labor and control of laborers?


The uncertainty of where the colonies were going pops out in these two extremes:

§  Landless laborers were dangerous to social order (one of the issues revealed by Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia because the landless also backed him).

§  Slavery provided control of laborers.


Voting and Assemblies

Assemblies did exist and they were impressive:

  • Assemblies in New England (such as the General Court) coming out of the Congregational religious view as well as charters
  • Assemblies in Virginia (House of Burgesses) and in Maryland (House of Delegates)


The uncertainty of where the colonies were going pops out in these two examples:

  • The Virginia House of Burgesses shifted in how it worked:

§  In 1619 when it started, voting provided white (male) colonists a way to participate in government (an action done to keep these people from leaving).

§  By the 1670s, voting was restricted to those who owned land. This is a formidable shift.

  • Massachusetts Bay Colony from its beginning seemed to have trouble dealing with those who didn’t match the majority and real dispute over what government should do and who should decide. The splintering off of colonies and colonists reflected this problem:

§  Roger Williams to Rhode Island (and such principles as Indian rights and freedom of religion)

§  John Wheelwright to New Hampshire (and a different religious vision than Massachusetts Bay)ľand Anne Hutchinson to her death

§  Thomas Hooker to New Hampshire (and more males vote than in Massachusetts Bay)

§  Colonists to Connecticut (and a stricter code than in Massachusetts Bay).


Copyright C. J. Bibus, Ed.D. 2003-2014


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