Okay, so! In 1609, the Jamestown colony was pretty much a filthy, useless money hole that wasn’t producing any of the gold it promised and also rapidly shrinking due to starvation. What saved it was John Rolfe, who turned it into a town revolving around the production of a lucrative new cash crop: tobacco. From there, Jamestown expanded, and British colonization in the southern U.S. grew from there. The problem was getting workers who wouldn’t die of malaria. Settlers tried to make indentured servants from Europe work the land, but they kept dying of malaria. Then try tried enslaving the Native Americans, but they kept dying of smallpox and malaria and also easily running away. They eventually started importing kidnapped Africans, who for whatever reason were better able to survive malaria. And the trans-Atlantic slave trade was born. But it was all dependent on John Rolfe. Because the tobacco that grew around Jamestown was extremely harsh; Europeans didn’t like smoking it. The Spanish had developed a milder strain in the Caribbean, but it was illegal to sell it to anyone who wasn’t a Spaniard. We don’t know how exactly John Rolfe got his hands on this milder strain of tobacco. We know he was on the Sea Venture, which got hit by a hurricane on the way to Jamestown and ended up stranding the survivors in Bermuda for nine months. Sometime during those nine months, Rolfe somehow got ahold of those illegal tobacco seeds. When he finally got to Jamestown, he planted the seeds, England got addicted to tobacco, and Jamestown turned into a boomtown. Here’s the thing: without those tobacco seeds, would the trans-Atlantic slave trade still have happened? I think Jamestown would have folded. Would the English keep trying to establish a colony in the area? I assume the Puritans would still come to New England, but they were just a handful of religious extremists, not an economic powerhouse that England would have supported. Even if the English continued to try colonizing the New World, the attempts would take longer, possibly giving the Spanish the opportunity to settle the land first. And the Spanish had colonies elsewhere. Their only option wasn’t to try to farm a malarial swamp. (Jamestown specifically was in an awful place; even higher ground a few miles away would have made a huge difference.) Would they have had to resort to African slaves? Furthermore, would Native Americans be better off? In places colonized by the Spanish, Native Americans intermarried with the settlers. In places colonized by the English, they were decimated. Spanish colonization was still awful - and smallpox was still tearing through the population - but it wasn’t quite as vicious as English colonization. So what if the Sea Venture never washed ashore in Bermuda? It was a fancy new ship and its newness is what doomed it. What if they had waited longer before taking it out to sea for the first time? The caulking would be stronger and they might not have run into a hurricane. John Rolfe would have gone straight from England to Jamestown and never come across those tobacco seeds. I and everyone else in the U.S. would probably be speaking Spanish right now. And Africa would probably be way more stable. On the other hand, we probably wouldn’t have gotten The Tempest. But I’d gladly trade one Shakespeare play for no trans-Atlantic slave trade and a less horrific Native American genocide. What do you guys think? Am I being too optimistic? And what else do you think this would have changed?