The fort at Jamestown was founded in 1607, colonists settled in the fort with the hope of making a new life for themselves. Hundreds of men traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in the five-month journey. The journey, which might be described as hell for most men, consisted of sleeping on cargo, dried meat and hard tack. These men left their families back in England in hopes that they could travel hundreds of miles across the ocean and find success. Among the development of Jamestown, the tobacco industry took off. There are ethical implications of the early practices in the colonies including values of human life, and slavery.
Tobacco was introduced into the economy in 1611. During this time a type of tobacco plant known as Oronoco, native to South America was introduced into Virginia. The Oronoco plant was highly sought after as it had a sweeter, less harsh taste. Demand from England and from communities within the New World soared and pressure followed for the tobacco farmers to increase production. Tobacco was the cash crop of Jamestown; it allowed the city to flourish despite harsh conditions during periods like the starving time.
Shortly after the arrival to the New World, city of Jamestown experienced the period called the ‘starving time’. The period was classified by a great loss of life, leaving only roughly 60 men to continue to sustain the agriculture in Jamestown. Signs of reliable agriculture were few and far between because the drought that initiated the starving time lasted until 1612. Evidence of this period can be seen through archaeological finds, which can indicate signs of cannibalism and changes in tree growth indicated by the rings of the tree. Today we shutter at the thought of cannibalism. People hold intrinsic value and our moral conscious warns us that it would be morally wrong to kill and consume a human being. In the early 1600’s the choice was not a matter of what was right and wrong, rather a decision between life and death. As an early colonist of the region you were expected to work together with the other men that came with you. By combining efforts of everyone productivity would increase, leading to greater success for everyone. Tobacco production especially quickly became a contest and humans as animals have an innate competitive nature.
The sociocultural system during the 1600’s is very much different than our cultural system today. Humans then less altered the environmental state; the land was purer. There was a generalized lack of understanding of the land, crop rotation, and sources of clean drinking water were often overlooked because the colonists did not understand the land like we do today. The lack of knowledge of the land in the early 1600’s impacted the infrastructure of Jamestown through disease and pitfalls in agriculture production. Moving up the ladder of cultural materialism the structure was next to be impacted through the domestic economy. Their negligence of the land led to a crash in their economy as the tobacco plant fell from its peak production. People were dying because they didn’t know how to sustain their livings through the “starving time”. The starving time, a period of extreme drought lead to severe changes in mental state for the surviving people. There is archaeological evidence that some early settlers had to resort to cannibalism. It is clear that the new land, and civilization in its early stages far from mimicked England. The new land and people caused a dramatic change in culture, not only in the physical sense but clearly through superstructure of the sociocultural system. The change in the cultural system in the new world can clearly be seen through the practices of slavery and indentured servitude.
Slavery in itself is the demonstration of the beliefs that not all humans are created equal. In the 1600’s African Americans were not always seen as people. They were often seen exclusively as their profession, the cook, the blacksmith, and the tobacco picker. By giving typical wealthy and even middle class white men, African American slave laborers it showed the social divisions among the people in the 17th century. Slavery is an exaggerated version of speciesism, the belief that our species is superior to all of the others. The belief that our species is better than that of others is based solely in intellectual arguments and has no ethical support.
Slave labor, like cannibalism is morally frowned upon for a number of reasons. By assigning a certain race or gender to have less power and to work under you is the assertion of unjustified dominance. Slave labor along with indentured servitude are all seen in a negative connotation, and justly so. Considering only the positives that could arise from indentured servitude, obtaining land, having an income it is clear slavery is morally wrong. Alternatives to slave labor however can be controversial on many levels within the ethical spectrum. Technology began developing to increase productivity and rate of production. With this new technology indentured servants and slaves began to loss work as they became expendable commodities. One could argue that indentured servitude was much like a beneficial mutualistic relationship. From this perspective, technology would be looked down upon as it took away jobs.
I think that the majority of slaves that came across wanted work. Some were taken without consent; another violation of someone’s moral right to free will. Within slavery there are a number of people that lived decent lives, they found more success than they ever could have imagined and were content with their quality of life. On the other end of the spectrum, some people were treated with no moral consideration, their livelihoods were not accounted for and therefore they suffered through years of servitude, living in the restrictions of their race. As for improvements in technology it would be easy to say that technology lead to major success in the New world because that would be incorrect.
Technology did allow us as humans to produce more crop per acre, and process it much faster than previously using manual labor. The ethical concerns with these manual labor forces are what have caused deliberation for centuries. Some may argue that slavery gave opportunities to African Americans that wanted to come to cities like Jamestown, and that technological advances took those opportunities away. I however must contend that slavery and servitude of any kind is abominable and technology was a necessary advancement in order to drive our society towards social equality while leading us into a world with higher moral considerations.