“Incompetent Leadership”

For the brave, opportunistic and adventurous spirit, the settlement of Jamestown was definitely the place to start a new life.  Founded by a private entity known as the Virginia Company in 1607, Jamestown was named in honor of King James I of England.  The Virginia Company’s main purpose was to colonize and establish settlements along North Americas Atlantic seaboard. “Fearful of their Spanish imperial rivals, the Company chose a site located up the James River. Though sheltered from naval attack, the island colony was located in a marsh without access to clean water, which eventually exposed the colonists to diseases worse than anything they might have expected from the Spanish.” Jamestown was built along the muddy and marsh like James River.  Jamestown was not an immediate success and faced many hardships along the way.  Although many historians believe that Jamestown’s environment led to its high death rate, the poor leadership and lack of communication was what led to Jamestown’s excessive death rate and detriment.

Those who repudiate the idea that poor leadership led to Jamestown’s high death rate, argue that diseases brought about by Jamestown’s environment such as typhoid, dysentery, and salt poisoning were the main causes of death in the community (Earle, 110).

The opposition does have a point by stating that the high death rate at Jamestown can be attributed to the environmental borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and salt poisoning (Earle, 110).  However, the reality is that the lack of competent leadership led to Jamestown’s high mortality rate.

The first example of lack of communication and trust involves John Smith.  Smith understood and methodically took note of the

Native Americans movement patterns and lifestyle and used them to benefit the Jamestown settlers, thus reducing the high death rate

John Smiths leadership was marred by the incompetent leaders who came after him. Image - http://apva.org/rediscovery/image/js.jpg

John Smiths leadership was marred by the incompetent leaders who came after him.
Image – http://apva.org/rediscovery/image/js.jpg

suffered by the colonists at Jamestown (Earle, 107).  “He realized that the colony’s survival, no less than the Indians’, depended on semi nomadism, at least during the deadly summer season” (Earle, 107).   With this in mind, Smith broke the colony into smaller units and dispersed colonists to different freshwater areas which were safer from disease.  “Indian behavior had given Smith the key to life in the James estuary, but this precious knowledge was soon lost.” (Earle -108)  Smith’s presidency was revoked and he set sail back to England. (Earle – 108)  Without Smith’s guidance the colonists were sent back to Jamestown and funnily enough death from disease soon followed.  The example above shows that lack of communication and trust led to the high number of deaths at Jamestown.

An example of poor leadership at Jamestown was demonstrated by Lord De la Warr.  Warr arrived at Jamestown in June of the year 1610 and did not learn or use any of Smith’s relocation techniques, thus keeping the colonists situated at Jamestown to once again be afflicted by the horrible diseases there.  “In mid-June 350 people were alive, the sickness began one month later, and 150 (43 percent) had died by the end of the summer” (Earle, 110-111).  The example above once again proves that poor leadership led to the detriment of the settlers at Jamestown.

Another example of the absence of communication between colonial leaders and their superiors at the Virginia Company involves Thomas Dale.  Dale arrived in Virginia on May 22, 1611 (Earle, 111).  Dale as the Governor chose a new site to settle.  This site was named Henrico. The site was a freshwater area and was a lot safer from disease than Jamestown.  Dale adopted the same strategies of Smith because they were effective at reducing death and sickness and relocated and dispersed the population from Jamestown to safer freshwater areas between the years 1613 and 1616 (Earle, 112).  Virginians enjoyed the new found freedom that the healthier environment gave them. The colony enjoyed its new found success and its relatively stable and healthiest era.  “By 1614 Jamestown had dwindled as the colony’s center, and the population shifted toward the head of the James River” (Earle, 112).  Dale set sail for England in the spring of 1616, and felt positive that the Virginia colony would persevere.  Unfortunately that would not be the case.  “With the arrival of a new governor in the spring of 1617, all of Dale’s insights were abandoned, to be painfully relearned” (Earle, 114).

An additional example of incompetent leadership involves the newly appointed Governor after Dale.  The new colonial Governor was Samuel Argall; Argall was shocked that Jamestown was left to rot while everyone else was dispersed all over.  He recalled many settlers back to his beloved Jamestown and “suddenly the mortality rate had risen from almost nil to 25 percent.” (Earle – 115)  “The hard-won

Knowledge of the environment and the adjustments made between 1607 and 1617 were abandoned” (Earle, 115).  Under Argall’s

Samuel Argall's amateurish leadership led to the high mortality rates in the Virginia colony.Image - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/30/Samuel_Argall.gif/200px-Samuel_Argall.gif

Samuel Argall’s amateurish leadership led to the high mortality rates in the Virginia colony.
Image – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/30/Samuel_Argall.gif/200px-Samuel_Argall.gif

management the disease-related epidemics got considerably worse year after year and the diseases were killing colonists who were veterans to the environment and they were lethal against the newly arrived immigrants.  As shown in the example above poor leadership and being oblivious to ones surroundings led to Jamestown’s demise and high mortality rate.

The failure of leadership and consequent rumors of hardship and failure led to the Virginia Company being portrayed as inept.  The joint-stock company known as the was disbanded in 1624.  This was probably one of the best leadership decisions made (Earle, 120).  “The old constraints focusing the colony on Jamestown and the oligohaline were relaxed, and mortality fell” (Earle, 120).  With the colony now under the direct control of the King, the population was dispersed from the deadliest areas and they were moved to safer areas such as “the freshwater zone at the head of the James, the lower James, and the Eastern Shore” (Earle, 122). Typhoid and dysentery were the main diseases that killed the colonists and these diseases could not plague the settlers when they were dispersed throughout Virginia in safe freshwater areas (Earle, 122).

The history of early Virginia was marred by the incompetent leadership and lack of vital communication between colonial governors and their Virginia Company bosses.   The diseases and crises that the colonists faced would probably have been inevitable for any colony in the Chesapeake region, yet a lack of coherent leadership policy among the early administrators meant that they were far more fatal than if leadership was competent.  “Smith and Dale saved lives, but their insights were abandoned with the arrival of new colonial leaders or a new company administration” (Earle, 125).  Whenever these new leaders or administrations came about Jamestown was made the center of everyday life and soon thereafter death followed.  Amateurish leadership, an obsession with Jamestown, and lack of communication and trust led to the high mortality rates experienced by the colonists of early Virginia.

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