When Muslim Turks conquered the land trade routes from Europe to Asia, Europeans explored sea routes. These attempts were financed either by kings and wealthy private individuals, or through the new invention of “companies.”
In Medieval Europe, there were tradesmen, partnerships and guilds, but “companies” were virtually non-existent as the paying and receiving of interest was considered the sin of usury.
With the Protestant Reformation also came the rise of “joint-stock companies.” “Joint stock” companies were granted trading monopolies by royal charters from monarchs. Common people, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, masons, and farmers, could invest in and receive profits from them.
What is considered the first modern joint-stock company was chartered in 1551 as the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands. With funds from 250 investors, they attempted in 1553 to find a northeast sea route from England north of Russia to China, India and Indonesia’s Spice Islands. They got as far as northern Russia when they were trapped by ice and tragically most froze to death.
The company was rechartered into the Muscovy Company in 1555 which traded with Russia’s Czar Ivan the Terrible. In 1581, England started the Levant Company which traded with Turkey’s Ottoman Muslims. In 1600, the British East India Company was formed. Eventually, companies were formed to trade with Africa, the Mediterranean and America.
In 1602, the most financially successful joint-stock company was formed, the Dutch East India Company. Considered the first multinational corporation in the world, it had more trade with Asia between 1602 and 1796 than all other European companies combined.
A delicate balance of competing motivations drove then on, as both then and now, namely, gold versus the gospel.
In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh, sailing for the “Virgin” Queen Elizabeth, named his colony in her honor “Virginia,” and founded a settlement on Roanoke Island. Interrupted by the Spanish Armada’s attack on England in 1588, no supplies could be brought to the colony till 1589. When they arrived, they discovered the colony had disappeared.
In 1606, King James I, for whom the King James Bible was named, granted a charter to the Virginia Company, stating: “For the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness.”
Setting sail in late 1606, the Virginia Company sent three ships, the Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed, under Captain Christopher Newport to explore Chesapeake Bay. After a five-month journey, which included a stop in Puerto Rico, they made landfall at Cape Henry on April 26, 1607.
Upon landing, they erected a Christian cross and chaplain Rev. Robert Hunt offered prayer, as portrayed in the award winning CBN film “First Landing, the Movie” (2007 Award of Excellence Winner, Michael Little, executive producer). Sailing up the “James River,” named after King James, they established the first permanent English settlement in the New World on May 13, 1607 – “James Town.”
In the next three years, settlers experienced malaria from mosquito filled swamps, hunger, exposure and Indian attacks. During the “starving time” of 1609-1610, only 60 of the 500 settlers survived. Jamestown would have been abandoned had it not been for the timely arrival of Thomas West, Lord Delaware, June 10, 1610, who brought supplies and persuaded the settlers not to give up.
When the colony’s first minister, Rev. Robert Hunt, died, the settlers wrote: “1607. To the glory of God and in memory of the Reverend Robert Hunt, Presbyter, appointed by the Church of England. Minister of the Colony which established the English Church and English Civilization at Jamestown. … His people, members of the Colony, left this testimony concerning him. Rev. Robert Hunt was an honest, religious and courageous Divine. He preferred the Service of God in so good a voyage to every thought of ease at home.”
Jamestown settlers continued their tribute of Rev. Robert Hunt: “He endured every privation, yet none ever heard him repine. During his life our factions were ofte healed, and our greatest extremities so comforted that they seemed easy in comparison with what we endured after his memorable death. We all received from him the Holy Communion together, as a pledge of reconciliation, for we all loved him for his exceeding goodness. He planted the first Protestant Church in America and laid down his life in the foundation of America.”
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