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King James I granted a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London, an English joint stock company, on April 10, 1606, for establishing colonial settlements in North America. The territory granted to the London Company included the coast of America from the 34th parallel (Cape Fear, North Carolina) to the 41st parallel (Long Island Sound).

Another English-chartered company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, organized in 1628, was granted rights to the area between the Charles and Merrimack rivers and westward to the Pacific Ocean.

However, the settlers of the two colonies could not have been more different. The passengers headed to Virginia were usually single men whose average age was 20, most of whom were going as servant labor. The settlers in Massachusetts were usually complete households with the average age of the heads of households being 36. In other words, those bound for Virginia were footloose and poor, while those headed for New England were a community. As one Englishman later put it, America was a place where one could go to “live bravely,” to live without restraint in a new unchartered land. The facts that the New World had already been discovered centuries before Columbus and that it had been inhabited and “claimed” by Native Americans did not dissuade the granting of land tracts by the English Royalty. Scholars estimate that prior to Columbus’s journey there were 40 million natives in the Western Hemisphere, 10–15 million in North America alone. As a result of violence, possibly genocide, and an epidemic of diseases like smallpox and measles that proved deadly to the natives in both Americas, the population plummeted. For instance, in Massachusetts Bay, smallpox wiped out 90 percent of the Native American population. By the time of the American Revolution it is estimated that only 1 million Native Americans remained.

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