The possibilities of the new world caught the imagination of English people dealing with the stagnation of the home economy. One of the earliest promoters of this idea was Richard Hakluyt, who was born around 1552. Apparently his uncle collected maps and stories of voyages and fired the young man’s imagination. Hakluyt became a priest and worked for powerful patrons. In 1582 he published “Divers Voyages Touching the Discoveries of America.” He followed this with “The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation” in 1589, with updated editions following. At the same period, stories of pirates, the main activity of English captains, were very popular in the pamphlets and broadsheets of London.
Hakluyt became a director of the nascent Virginia Company of London in 1589. This was a joint stock company formed to finance a colony in Virginia, which was licensed by James I in 1606 and sent out the first group of settlers in 1607. Between 1585 and 1630 more than 6,300 English men and women invested in such joint stock companies, which sponsored trading in Russia, Turkey, Asia, the East India, the Mediterranean, and America. The investors, called “adventurers”, purchased shares for 12 pounds. The company staged an extensive publicity campaign of pamphlets, plays, sermons and broadsheets to attract investors and settlers.
When people actually were in America, reports were sent back. John Smith, in addition to his other achievements, was another early promoter of colonization. He wrote a pamphlet in 1608, entitled “A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath Hapned in Virginia since the First Planting of That Colony.” This was followed in 1612 by “A Map of Virginia”, which included his hand-drawn map and illustrations. Smith left Jamestown in 1609, never to return. In 1614 and 1615 he voyaged to New England and wrote up the results of that trip in 1616. He was truly one of the founders of the colonization of America.
In 1618 the Virginia Company also began the granting of “headrights” to encourage settlement. This system granted 50 acres to anyone paying for the passage of someone from England to Virginia. You could count your family, so a wife and two children would guarantee you 200 acres on arrival.
In fact, many people came as indentured servants, who owed a specified number of years of service to the person paying their passage, usually 5-7 years. In Virginia, most of these people were able to secure their own land at the end of the period. Often there was also a stipulation that the “graduating” servant would be provided with tools and seed needed to plant his own land. Since it became evident at an early date that growing tobacco was the most profitable endeavor for the colony there was a need for lots of people to work the land.