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During most of the 1600s, Virginia's labor force consisted primarily of white indentured servants and a handful of convict laborers, who in many cases were treated no better than slaves.Some Virginia Indians also worked as servants or, more often, were enslaved.Without horses, , meanwhile, was not fenced in, which led the English to assume that the Indians made no claim to it.Such misunderstandings, while perhaps inevitable, were tragic and, for the Indians, ultimately proved to be disastrous..In the meantime, John Rolfe had begun to cultivate a variety of Spanish tobacco from the West Indies, and found that it sold well in England. Most of them were poor Englishmen who contracted to work in the tobacco fields for several years, and they often died of disease, overwork, or harsh punishments.In order to thrive, the colony needed a staple crop, one that could be exported for profit and thus fuel Virginia's economy. Those who did survive helped to make a small number of elite white Virginians very wealthy.Tobacco, in other words, helped bring self-government to Virginia. Virginia's first Africans were originally purchased by Portuguese slave traders from other Africans in Angola and then, en route to Mexico, stolen by two English corsairs.(A corsair was a merchant ship licensed by a government to attack certain other ships and steal their cargoes.) The captives, likely Kimbundu-speaking people from the kingdom of Ndongo, arrived at , probably into slavery.
They had no domesticated animals to help them drag large tree trunks and to plow fields; instead, they used their own muscle power.In 1585, with permission from Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh bankrolled a colony at Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina.The settlement failed but nonetheless resulted in John White's vivid watercolors of Native Americans and, with the help of Thomas Hariot, his accurate maps of the land Raleigh had dubbed Virginia for his virgin queen.This time a hundred or so men—including Captain John Smith, Captain Christopher Newport, and George Percy—landed not far from the ill-fated Ajacán, erecting a fort on a marshy piece of land jutting out into the James River.They called their settlement Jamestown, in honor of their king, James I.