In the article ‘ The Labor Problem at Jamestown’ Edmund S. Morgan discusses the lackadaisical efforts of the newly settled English in Jamestown, Virginia, however brings to question the previous English economy and its role in their “ Idleness.” Morgan questions the first settler’s work ethic despite being starved to death, but provides an answer to the question, touching on the fact that they didn’t know any better because of the unsuccessful and dysfunctional English economy prior to their arrival. He writes this to make people question the criticisms made toward the people of Jamestown and inform people that in fact they may have not known any better.
Edmund S. Morgan begins the article criticizing the efforts of the newly settled people, describing them as full of “ laziness and irresponsibility”(602). He gives the audience reason to believe that these people are idiots. They provide such a useless work ethic to the point of starvation and in some cases cannibalism, unquestionable incentives to work. Morgan then presents his thesis stating that England provides “some clues to the way they felt about work…clues to habits of thinking that may have conditioned their perceptions of what confronted them at Jamestown”(597). He blames England for their lack of energy and incentive to work. Morgan points out that England’s strict and tedious labor laws were not always followed without punishment, thus paving the way for this attitude. The author also mentions that, “ wages were so inadequate that productivity was probably impaired by malnutrition”(602).
This statement clarifies that the Virginian’s attitude toward work was due to an English economy that was dysfunctional, providing no incentive to work hard, giving the same low wage no matter what, and creating unneeded jobs only hurting the people. People were even limited to how many hours they could work a day so their wage wasn’t too high, making it hard for one to support himself. The Virginian’s realized the value of the land they sat on, however chose to wait for a labor force. Indian’s were too hard to persuade and indentured servants were too lazy, demanding too much in return. This left African slaves who became the answer, generating all of the colonies’ tobacco based wealth.
This article gives an abundance of information of why people frowned upon and questioned the efforts made at Jamestown, as well as supports it with a variety of evidence, providing an answer to their less than impressive perseverance. While this article provides this insightful information, Morgan seems to at first question his own beliefs and is all over the place in terms of events, such as making the major point at the end about slavery and not the majority of what he just talked about(economic inefficiencies in England). This article definitely provides me with a better understanding of the Jamestown colony and more importantly why they waited for things they wanted instead of taking action; it was previously engraved into them.