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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersAmerican Beginnings: 1492-1690
American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Settlement
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Settlement
Text 1. First Arrivals
Text 2. Hardships
Text 3. Q&AS for Potential Settlers
Text 4. Instructions for Leaders
Text 5. Missions to the Indians
Text 6. Enslaved Peoples
Text 7. Go Ahead?

Reading Guide
Coat of Arms, Lord Baltimore
Coat of Arms, Lord Baltimore
Instructions for Leaders
- Spanish: Monarchs' instructions for Hispaniola, 1501 (PDF)
- English: Investors' instructions for Jamestown, ca. 1607 (PDF)
- English: Founder's instructions for Maryland, 1633 (PDF)
- Russian: Officials' instructions for Kodiak Island (Alaska), 1784/96 (PDF)
- Maps (zoomable):

Spanish New World, 1511 (Item #2)
Virginia, 1624, by John Smith
Russian America and the Pacific, 1787

European archives are full of written instructions to the founders and governors of New World settlements. Many of the documents are boilerplate and not engrossing reading. But some, amidst the usual orders to survey the area, build towns, and make a lot of money for the home country, reveal the personal visions and political struggles of the founders. As a whole they document the profound challenges of governing colonies in an ungovernable, i.e., unknown environment, and this is what makes them worth dissecting.
  • HISPANIOLA. In 1502 the third governor of the Spanish West Indies, Nicolás de Ovando, arrived in Hispaniola. With him he brought 2500 new settlers and royal instructions that ordered him to build forts and towns, gather all the Spanish settlers into the towns, expel all foreigners, and treat the Indians equitably (while demanding tribute and labor from them). Ovando's seven-year rule set the precedent for effective yet brutal governance in Spanish America.
    [Instructions to Commander Nicolás de Ovando, Governor of Hispaniola, from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, 1501]

  • JAMESTOWN. Hampered by small royal coffers and by war with Spain and Ireland, England did not pursue an Atlantic coast colony for two decades after the loss of the 1587 Roanoke colony. Then in 1607 a new group of investors (the Virginia Company of London) received a charter from the new king (James I) to make a new attempt at a Virginia colony (Jamestown). This time the venture succeeded, but only after years of financial and human loss. This undated set of instructions was written by a Company member, perhaps Richard Hakluyt (hak-loot), to direct the leaders in their initial arrival, placement, and building of the colony. It also provides strict guidelines for dealing with the Powhatan Indians, who had massacred the Spanish settlers in a nearby settlement, Ajacan, thirty-five years earlier.
    [Virginia Company, "Instructions by way of advice, for the intended Voyage to Virginia," ca. 1606]

  • MARYLAND. Having received a charter from King Charles I of England to establish a new colony in the northern part of Virginia, Cecil Calvert sent his two brothers with about 150 men to build the first settlements in 1633. Foremost among his concerns in these Instructions is the potential threat from internal enemies and from the settlers of nearby Jamestown and its London backers. He never saw Mary Land himself, feeling bound to stay in England to protect his colonial interests from rivals.
    [Right Honorable Cecilius Lord Baltimore & Lord of the Provinces of Mary Land and Avalon unto his well beloved Brother Leonard Calvert . . . for the government of the said Province, 1633]

  • KODIAK ISLAND (ALASKA). Although the Russian settlement of North America began a century after the end date of this Toolbox, these instructions fit comfortably in this collection. Guidelines for a new settlement are similar regardless of the founding date—surveys must be taken, structures built, resources documented, native inhabitants dealt with, and reports sent home. The distinguishing features in a set of instructions reveal the unique identity of a fledgling settlement. Here it is Three Saints Bay, the first permanent Russian settlement in North America, established in 1784 on Kodiak Island off the mainland of present-day Alaska. The two sets of instructions reflect the founders' goals of expanding their fur trade, creating "Russian America," and, common to all the instructions in this section, establishing effective power over the settlers and native inhabitants.
    [Instructions from Grigorii Shelikhov to Konstantin Samoilov, his chief manager, 4 May 1786; and Instructions from Ivan Pil, governor of Siberia, to Grigorii Shelikhov, 12 May 1794]
The three maps were produced by founders or officials related to each venture, and their perspectives are apparent in the maps' titles, insets, illustrations, and commentary. The Hispaniola map was produced by the Spanish royal historian Peter Martyr, the Virginia map by Capt. John Smith, and the Russian America and Pacific map by Ivan Golikov, a founder of the Kodiak Island settlement. (13 pages, excluding the maps.)

Discussion questions
  1. What issues are addressed in all four sets of instructions? Are similar guidelines offered to deal with these issues?
  2. To what extent are the guidelines for building and protecting the settlements realistic, in your estimate?
  3. How do the instructions reflect the (a) personal goals of the authors, (b) the national ambitions of the home country, (c) the previous history of the colony or its region?
  4. How do the instructions differ by author—whether they are distant officials or hands-on leaders?
  5. How is the Indian presence addressed in the instructions? What status do the Indians hold in each case?
  6. Consider the settlers' hardships in Hispaniola and Jamestown in light of these instructions.
  7. What anxieties and political struggles appear in the instructions?
  8. How do the distant founders plan to maintain their power in the colonies?
  9. Where do you find idealism or optimism in these instructions?
  10. How do the maps reflect the ideals and anxieties of the colonies' founders?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What motivated the Europeans in their initial settlements?
  •  How did the European nations differ in their vision of a successful settlement?
  •  How did they differ in the institutions they created to maintain their settlements?
  •  What factors led to the survival or abandonment of a settlement?
  •  What relationships evolved among European settlers, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans?
  •  What did "America" signify to Europe in 1630? What did "Europe" signify to Native Americans and enslaved Africans?

Hispaniola:  2
Jamestown:  3
Maryland:  4
Kodiak Island:  4
13 pages (excluding the maps)
Supplemental Sites
Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier / Historias Paralelas: España, Estados Unidos y la Frontera Americana, from the Library of Congress, the National Library of Spain, and the Biblioteca Colombina y Capitular of Seville

Nicolás de Ovando, from Wikipedia

Jamestown Rediscovery, from the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

Virtual Jamestown, from the University of Virginia et al.

Cecil Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore, from Maryland Public Television

America, Russia, and the Meeting of Frontiers, / Встреча на границах, from the Library of Congress, the Russian State Library (Moscow), and the National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg)

History of Russian settlement in America, from the Congress of Russian Americans

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

National Humanities Center
  Spanish New World:
  Jamestown & Russian America:

University of Southern Maine
Library of Congress

Image: Coat of arms of Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, published in The Calvert Papers, No. 1, Maryland Historical Society, 1898. Courtesy of the Library of Congress: F176 .M37 NO. 28.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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