Life in the VA Colony

Everyday Life

Everyday life in colonial Virginia and surviving was not easy.


  • Food choices were limited

  • Meals were made of local produce and meats


  • Most people lived in one-room houses with dirt floors

  • Some wealthy people (like merchants, lawyers, and planters) lived in large houses


  • Women made clothes for family members in their households

  • Most clothing was made of cotton, wool, or leather

The Colonists

White Virginians:

  • Most were small farmers

  • A few owned large plantations

Enslaved African Americans:

  • Worked tobacco, other crops, and livestock

  • They were denied basic rights

Free African Americans:

  • Some owned land

  • They were denied basic rights

Virginia developed a unique culture due to the mix of Europeans, Africans, and American Indians living there.

Settlement Areas:

  • Europeans mostly settled in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions

  • Germans and Scots-Irish mostly settled in the Shenandoah Valley

  • Africans were brought to the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions to work in tobacco fields

  • Before the settlers arrived, American Indians lived throughout Virginia, but after the settlers arrived, most were forced away from the coast

Relocation of the Capital

Jamestown was not the best place to have the capital, so in 1699, the capital was changed to Williamsburg.

Reasons Why the Capital was Moved:

  • Drinking water in Jamestown was contaminated by salt water

  • Unhealthy living conditions in Jamestown caused diseases

  • Fire destroyed wooden and brick buildings at Jamestown

  • Williamsburg was a well-established town

The Economy

Terms to Know:

  • Money: a means of payment (like coins and paper bills)

  • Barter: trading or exchanging goods and services without the use of money

  • Credit: buying a good or service now and paying for it later

  • Debt: a good or service owed to someone

  • Cash crop: a crop that is grown to sell for money rather than for use by the growers (such as tobacco in the Virginia colony)

Coins and paper bills were not often used in the early Virginia colony. Instead, tobacco was often used as money.

Barter was also commonly used.

Farmers often bought goods and services on credit and paid their debts later when their crops were harvested and sold.

The economy of the Virginia colony depended on agriculture, especially tobacco, as the primary source of wealth. African Americans were brought to the Virginia colony as cheap labor to work on the plantations. The Virginia colony became dependent on slaves.