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Cononial Society

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Part

I

Colonial SocietY,1492-1783

what evidence colony in 1622and wrote a report of the conditions he saw there. failings were as much or perhaps even more to blame did h; provide that human document' than natural causes for the sufferings of the colonists? The second report, is a letter written by indentured servant Richard dated a year after Butler's exploitation of Frethorne to his parents in England, in which he reveals that the was well under way by 1623' human labor in Virginia winthrop of the As you read the third document, written by Governor John note the differences in what Breen termed operative Massachusetts Bay Colony, in Virginia' Comvalues between the stated goals for that colony and conditions journey to America in 1630, winthrop's statement clearly exposed during his forth the pressed the religious motives of the Puritan adventurers and set communal effort take precedence over individual amideologlcal objective that what did winthrop mean by his declaration that "we shall be as a city bition. upon a Hill"?

quite different, characcircumstances had done much to modify the original, and

and within a generation of the founding of Virginia and Massachusetts, time

that their ters of the two colonies. The Virginia colonists ultimately realized quickly would not find fulfillment; eventually, the expandreams of getting rich nonethesion of agrlculture furthered the development of a more stable-but Massachusetts also represented a success story, less prosperous-society. seventeenth though not the kind John winthrop envisioned. By the end of the fishing, and commerce had moved the eastern centriry, profits from agriculture, its citizens'attenhalf of the colony beyond the "wilderness" status and diverted a new Zion. Although the Puritan spirit would tion from the mission of creating was long continue to influence the Massachusetts population, its dominance broken. ESSAY Looking Out for Number One' Conflicting Cultural Values in Early Seventeenth- Century Virginia
T. H.
Breen

men Despite their common English background, the thousands of European to Barbados, Virginia, and New England during and women who migratel

Copyright @ 1979 Duke Seventeenth-Century Virginia ," Siuth Atlantic Quarterly 78:3, 342-360. Used by permission of the publisher' University Press. Ali rights reserved'

souRce:T.H.Breen,,,LookingOutforNumberOne:ConflictingCulturalValuesinEarly

22

Chapter

2

Conflicting Cultural Values in Early America

he,'e. What evidence &en more to blame r second document' fired servant Richard of Nt the exploitation

bhn WinthroP of the ren termed oPerative bns in Virginia' Com$atement clearlY exn and set forth the F over individual am\rue shall be as a CitY and rssachusetts, time grite different, charac-

dy realized that thelr et'entuallY, the exPannonether stable-but a success story' ffied rrd of the seventeenth had moved the eastern errted its citizens' attenfie Puritan sPirit would rrl, its dominance was

the New the seventeenth century created strikingly different societies in World. . . . This essay examines the creation of a distinct culture in virginia certain roughly between 1617 and.1630. Although early virginians shared migrants, their operg".rErui ideas, attitudes, and norms with other English and instituXtirre ,rulu"s were quite different from those that shaped social Bay. virginia's physical tional behavior in places such as Massachusetts its abilenvironment, its extensive network of navigable rivers, its rich_soil, powerfully reinforced ity to produce large quantities of marketable tobacco, between a \rut.r"i which the firsl settlers carried to America. The interplay New_world setting depur,l""ru. variant of ]acobean* culture and a specific 'termined the character of virginia's institutions, habits of personal interac"behavior that persisted long after the early tion, and patterns of group adventureis had died or retumed to the mother country' TheearlysettlersinVirginiawereanunusualgrouPofJacobeans.Inno way did they represent a indom sample of seventeenth-century English is known about the society or a cross section of English values. while little do have a fairly clear ,pu.iii. origins or backgroundi of most settlers, we iiea of whit sort of inducements persuaded men and women to move to emphasized economic opporvirginia. The colony',s promotionaf lite_rature ,,True Relation of the state of d'.,it, usually qul"t a"a easy riches. In_his hardVirginia" wriiten in L616, foi example, Jolur Rolfe pitied England's meet. "What happiness *oikirrg farmers who barely managed to make ends ground ,r,igtt, ttey er,1oy in Virginia," Rolfe mused, "where they may have fruits and,profits with foinothing, more than they can manure,reap mgrerecent half the la6our." And in 1.6)2Petet Arundle, overlooking the colony's English friends that military setbacks at the hands of the Indians, assured ;uny tiaorious honest man may in a short time become rich in this Counall too try.l';nwas a comPelling dream, one which certain Englishmen were aPPa:ently risked life willing to accept as trJh. Indeed, so many Persons john Harvey, urJ pStrusions in the elusive search for the main chance that

d

I

)

fi.e

:

uf,,tu,"RoyalGovernorofVirginia,beggedmenofintegrityonbothsides all tyme[s] in of the Atlantic to control "the rimors oiplenty to be found at
Virginia."
1r.r." of great wealth easily obtained held an especially individuals who peal for a specifil type of seventeenth-century Englishman,

EarlY nia rands of EuroPean men C New England during

ih"

strong ap-

accounts, telonged to a distinct subculture within ]acobean society. By all of street toughs' iirg-ia drew a disproportion-ately large number "urty ,o"if^'.,".[" fresh from the wars in Ireland, old soldiers looking for new persons glor"y, naive ad.venturers, mean-spirited sea captains' marginal are to be believed, attempting to recoup their losses. If contemporaries
*Jacobean

ir--rg Cultural

i-*"0

-u'!:t^l: 11"" CoPYtight O lqTq Duke

I' refers to the people and culture of England during the reign of James

1603-1625. Gds.)

;'u-t'1isher.

Part

I

Colonial Society,1492-1783

Virginia found itself burdened with "many unruly gallants packed thether by their friends to escape ill destinies." Even Sir Thomas Dale, himself a recent veteran of English military expeditions in Holland, was shocked by the colony's settlers, "so prophane, so riotous, so full of Mutenie and treasonable Intendments" that they provided little "testimonie beside their Even if Dale exaggerated, there is no reason to question that the colonists were highly individualistic, motivated by the hope of material gain, and in many cases, not only familiar with violence but also quite prepared to employ it to obtain their own ends in the New World. By and large, they appear to have been extremely competitive and suspicious of other men's motives. Mutiny and anarchy sometimes seemed more attractive than obeying someone else's orders. Few of the colonists showed substantial interest in creating a permanent settlement. For the adventurer, Virginia was not a new home, not a place to carry out a divine mission, but simply an area to be exploited for private gain. It was this "variant" strain of values-a sense of living only for the present or near future, a belief that the environment could and should be forced to yield quick financial returns, an assumption that everyone was looking out for number one and hence that cooperative ventures of all sorts were bound to fail-that help to account for the distinctive patterns of social and institutional behavior found in early Virginia. The transfer of these variant values, of course, only partially explains Virginia's cultural development. The attitudes, beliefs, and ideas that the founders brought with them to the New World interacted with specific environmental conditions. The settlers' value system would certainly have withered in a physical setting that offered no natural resources capable of giving plausibility to the adventurers' original expectations. If by some chance the Virginians had landed in a cold, rocky, inhospitable country devoid of valuable marketable goods, then they would probably have given up the entire venture and like a defeated army, straggled home. That is exactly what happened in7607 to the unfortunate men who settled in Sagadahoc, Maine, a tiny outpost that failed to produce instant wealth. Virginia almost went the way of Sagadahoc. The first decade of its history was filled with apathy and disappointment, and at several points, the entire enterprise seemed doomed. The privatistic values that the colonists had carried to Jamestown, a tough, exploitive competitive individualism, were dysfunctional-even counterproductive-in an environment which offered up neither spices nor gold, neither passages to China nor a subject population easily subdued and exploited. In fact, before 7677 this value system generated only political faction and petty personal violence, things that a people skuggling for survival could ill afford. The successful cultivation of tobacco altered the course of Virginia's cultural development. Clearly, in an economic sense, the crop saved the names that they are Christians."

24

Chapter

2

Conflicting Cultural Values in Early America

::-ked thether
.= =hocked bY *:=:rie and trea-

- :,e, hrmself

a

ur.nn-i':fu1rl

, :,-

that the r€ of material

:iso quite Pre,'rrrld. By and ! ar- -r susPicious of Fg =".:i more attrac-

colony. \Atrhat is less obvious but no less true, is that the discovery of a lucrative export preserved the founders' individualistic values. Suddenly, after ten years of error and failure, the adventurers' transPorted values were no longer at odds with their physical environment. The settlers belatedly stumbled across the payoff; the forests once so foreboding, so unpromising, could now be exploited with a reasonable expectation of quick return. By 7617 the process was well-advanced, and as one planter reported, "the streets, and all other spare places planted with Tobacco. The Colonie dispersed all about, planting Tobacco." The interplay between the settlers' value system and their environment

lw-::-. showed sub-:e adventurer, $urn

Irt'' -:1e mission, but b " -iant" strain of

@"= : beiief that the rffiu-;:cial returns/ an trcn-. and hence that fi:.,p to account for m;---: found in earlY

:artiallY exPlains h":- I ideas that the dF, rr-ith sPecific enrco;-l certainly have

6"; ll [-;:]-r'rfls. If bY some srsr-iable countrY delp-::ablY have given gfu. .o*". That is exi't-,: =ettied in Sagadaffi;: u'ealth' Virginia t---. history was filled & -:.e entire enterPrise Isrr-:sts had carried to uE---:11, were dysfuncr*::-h offered uP nein : subject PoPulation rs -.:lue sYstem generr ::ings that a PeoPle

r*=--urces caPable of

involved more than economic considerations. Once a market for tobacco had been assured, people spread out along the James and York Rivers. Whenever possible, they formed what the directors of the Virginia Company* called private hundreds, small plantations frequently five or more miles apart which groups of adventurers developed for their own profit. By 7619 fofty-four separate patents for private plantations had been issued, and by the early 7620s a dispersed settlement pattern, long to be a characteristic of Virginia society, was well established. The dispersion of the colony's population was a cultural phenomenon. It came about not simply because ihe Virginia soil was unusually well suited for growing tobacco or because its deep rivers provided easy access to the interior, but because men holding privatistic values regarded the land as an exploitable resource, and within lheir structure of priorities, the pursuit of private gain outranked the creation of corporate communities. The scattering of men and women along the colony's waterways, their self-imposed isolition, obviously reduced the kind of ongoing face-to-face contacti that one associates with the villages of seventeenth-century New England. A migrant to virginia tended to be highly competitive and to assume ihut oth"t men would do unto him as he would do unto them-certainly an unpleasant prospect. Dispersion heightened this sense of suspicion. Becaur" .o*tnnrricution between private plantations was difficult, Virginians possessed no adequate means to distinguish the truth about their nei[hbors irom malicious r;mor, and lacking towns and well-developed volirntary organizations, without shared rituals, ceremonies, even market days, they drew increasingly distrustful of whatever lay beyond the perimeter of their own few acres. The kind of human relationships that developed in colonial Virginia graphically reveal the effect of highly individualistic values upon social bef,urriot. In this settlement only two meaningful social categories existed, a person was either free or dependent, either an exploiter oI a resource. Ih"r" -u, no middle ground. Those men who held positions of political
*T:ne

E .ourse of Virginia's

Virginia Company was the private corporate body, headquartered in London' that or-

me :he croP saved the

::nized and financed the early settlement of Virginia' (Eds')

25

Part

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Colonial Society, 1492-1783

and economic power treated indentured servants and slaves not as human beings, but as instruments to produce short-run profits. As a consequence of this outlook, life on the private plantations was a degrading experience for thousands of men and women who arrived in Virginia as bonded laborers. Whatever their expectations about the colony may have been before they migrated, the servants' reality consisted of poor food, meager clothing, hard work, and more often than not, early death. The leading planters showed

little interest in reforming these conditions. The servants were objects,

planters complained that Captain john Martin, a longstanding troublemaker for the Virginia Company, "hath made his owne Territory there a receptacle of Vagabonds and bankerupts & other disorderly persons." Whether the rumors of Martin's activities were accurate is not the point. in such a society a gathering of "Vagabonds" represented a grave threat, a base from which the exploited could harass their former masters. The anxiety resurfaced in 1624 when the Virginia Company lost its charter and no one in the colony knew for certain who held legitimate authority. In shrill rhetoric that over the course of a century would become a regular feature of Virginia statute books, the colony's Assembly immediately ordered that "no person within this Colonie upon the rumor of supposed change and alterations [may] presume to be disobedient to the presente Govemment,

things to be gambled away in games of chance, beaten or abused, and then, replaced when they wore out. But dependence has another side. In Virginia dominance went hand in hand with fear, for no matter how tractable, how beaten down, the servants may have appeared, both masters and laborers recognized the potential for violence inherent in such relationships. In the early 1620s several worried

nor servants to theire privatt officers masters or overseers, at their utmost perills." The distrust that permeated Virginia society poisoned political institutions. Few colonists seem to have believed that local rulers would on their own initiative work for the public good. Instead, they assumed that persons in authority would use their office for personal gain. One settler called Governor George Yeardley, a man who grew rich directing public affairs, "the right worthy statesman for his own profit." William Capps, described simply as an old planter, referred to the governor as an "old smoker" and claimed that this official had "stood for a cypher whilst the Indians stood ripping open our guts." Cynicism about the motives of the colony's leaders meant that few citizens willingly sacrificed for the good of the state. In fact, Virginia planters seem to have regarded government orders as a threat to their independence, almost as a personal affront. William Strachey, secretary of the colony, condemned what he labeled the general "want of government." He reported, "every man overvaluing his owne worth, would be a Commander: every man underprising anothers value, denied to be commanded." Other colonists expressed agreement with Strachey's views. Dur26

a
Chapter

2

Conflicting Cultural Values in Early America

8",:: not aS human
L€ n aonsequence

of for &:: erPerience us ::nded laborers' E reen before theY e*=;r ciothing, hard m :ianters showed

,-a,a ,t'"t"

objects,

Ir -'-:used, and then,

tr;:.e went hand in fi ;--1\-n/ the servants re: :he Potential for

hl,: :everal worried

n'-'randing troublea reI le :ritorY there ks,:rderlY Persons' E -: not the Point' In mi: : grave threat, a

cv :l-asters. The anxrx: r:s chatter and no ne m :uthoritY. In shrill

' regular r::rediatelY ordered ::: 'uPPosed change s:eJ feature ot

!:e:ente Govemment, rs€rs, at their utmost
Political institu-;ers would on their ' 'ssumed that Persons CY< >ettler called Govr; public affairs' "the C:'rps, described simsmoker" and -,'')old Indians stood Lst the .-i the colony's leaders ru'"i of the state' In fact' n: orders as a threat to secretr :iliam StracheY, "want of governereral a rs-r.e worth/ would be jue. denied to be com: SrracheY's views' Dur-

ing the famous first meeting of the House of Burgesses in1'619, the repreweakness sentatives of the various plantations twice commented upon the the end of the session, they deof Virginia,s governing inititutions. Toward clared"that wl-ratever llws they passed in the future should go into immediate effect without special auihorization from London, "for otherwise this people . . would. in a shorte time growe so insolent, as they would shake Itf in gorr"tnment, and there would be no living among them'" Th-e colonists' achievements in education and religion were meager. From time to time, virginians commented upon the importance of churches reand schools in their soiiety, but little was done to transform rhetoric into of decay; ministers were ality. Church buildings were in a perpetual state poJrty supported blitheir parishioners. An ambitious plan for a college iu,,'u'to nothing, and schools for younger children seem to have been to nonexistent. The large distances between plantations and $e pressure fields, no doubt discouraged keep every able-bod[d person working in the disthe development of locai schools and parish churches, but the colony's the absence of these institupersed settiement plan does not in itself explain iior,s. R colonyrride boarding school could have been constructed in the colony's planters-were incapable Jamestown, a Fiarvard of Virginia, but required' of the sustained, cooperative ;ffort that such a project would have individuals, not as groups. They responded to general societal needs as at Later in the seventeenth century some successful planters sent their sons but not until the end great expense to universities in England and scotland, 6f the century did the colonists found a local college' An examination of virginia's rnilitary policies between 7617 and 1630 provides the clearest link between social values and institutional behavior' buring this important transitional period, military affairs were far better trace with a recorded than were other social activities, and the historian can the military decisions iuJ a"gt"u of confidence how particular "reflected military efforts reveal a .olonisL'value system. And second, in any society good, leople,s social priorities, their willingness to sacrifice for the common resources. Certainly, and their attitudes toward the allocation of community a major r1 early virginia, maintaining a strong defense should have been to dictate that a group of set:..nsidlration. Common sense alone seemed maraud:-ers confronted with a powerful Indian confederation and foreign for their own safety. But in in military matters at least, cooperate =rs would, :oint of fact, our ao*-on Sense was not the rule of the seventeenth-century force . ,.gir-,iu". The obsession with private profits was a more compelling of self-defense. This de--.ui *u, the desire to create a-dependible system secfe.::uctive individualism disgusted john Pory, at one time the colony's Yeardley asked the men of ::r, of state. In 7620 he rep."orted that Governor t,,i"rao*" ,,to contribute iome labor to a bridge, and to certaine platformes :l..ountegreateordinanceupon,beingbothfortheuseanddefenseofthe

27

Part

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Colonial Society, 1492-1783

same Citty, and so of themselves; yet they repyned as much as if all their goods had been taken from them." Virginians paid dearly for their failure to work together. On March 22, 1622, the Indians of the region launched a coordinated attack on the scattered, poorly defended white settlements, and before the colonists could react,347 of them had been killed. . . . The Massacre and the events of the months that followed provide rare insight into the workings of the Virginia culture. The shock of this defeat called into question previous institutional policies-not just military ones-and some colonists even saw the setback as an opportunity to reform society, to develop a new set of values. Virginia's vulnerability revealed to some men the need to transform the privatistic culture into a more tightly knit, cooperative venture. Local rulers bravely announced that "this Massacre will prove much to the speedie advancement of the Colony and much to the benefitt of all those that shall nowe come thither." No longer would the planters live so far apart. Shortsighted dreams of tobacco fortunes would be laid aside, and the people would join together in the construction of genuine towns. And most important, the settlers would no longer evade their military responsibilities. As the members of the Virginia Council wrote only a month after the Massacre, "our first and princypall care should have beene for our safetie . . . yet its very necessarie for us yett at last, to laye a better and surer foundation for

the tyme to come." But despite the death and destruction and despite the bold declarations about a new start, the colonists proceeded to repeat the very activities that contemporary commentators agreed had originally caused the people's immense suffering. Even though the Indians remained a grave threat to security throughout the 1620s, the settlers continued to grumble about the burden of military service. Each person seemed to assess the tragedy only in personal terms-

how, in other words, had the Indian Massacre affected his ability to turn a profit. By the end of the summer of L622, there were unmistakable signs that many people no longer regarded the defeat of the Indians as a community responsibility. Few men talked of the common good; fewer still seemed prepared to sacrifice their lives or immediate earning power in order to preserve the colony from a second disaster. Even as the governor and his council were weighing the various military alternatives, colonists were moving back to their isolated frontier plantations. The dispersion of fighting men, of course, seemed to invite new military defeats. But the danger from the Indians, although clearly perceived, was not sufficient to deter Virginians from taking up possessions which one person declared were "larger than 100 tymes their Nomber were able to Cultivate." In a poignant letter to his parents in England, a young servant, Richard Frethorne, captured the sense of doom that hung over the private plantations. "We are but 32 to fight against 3000 [Indians] if they should Come" he explained, "and the nighest helpe that Wee have is ten

28

Fr -'lch as if aII thetr
I

@:-r er. On March 22, p: '-ack on the scat-

lw

p '-

:- e colonists could -: :he events of the

trr,:
I t::-.

*s of the Virginia lt-rus institutional

J e" =:. sarv the setback I --: r-alues.

-: t:o:l
|

E ' =:,fure. Local rulers

to transform the

m!1:: :Lr the speedie ad-

that shall r.. far apart. Short= a:",:e, and the people n'":=. -\nd most imporE-" :esponsibilities. As
:11 those h", ::

r-* after the Massacre, ;r: safetie . . yet its f .urer foundation for a:reed had originally
:

t-t.itrrr1 and despite the r:,:eeded to repeat the

:,: security throughout r-.e burden of military l-. in personal terms-

rj

his ability to turn

a

rnmistakable signs that

riians as a community terter still seemed prelLa\-er in order to pre-

tning the various milir isolated frontier planseemed to invite new although clearly pertaking up possessions nes their Nomber were

:. in England, a young om that hung over the r 3000 [indians] if they e Chapter

2

Conflicting Cultural Values in Early America

Fch

as

if all their scat- be b

On March 22,

ffack on the

;olonists could l:he events of the ry of the Virginia rfu-"us institutional l >a\- the setback

d

r-alues.

d :o transform the du-re. Local rulers the speedie adthose that shall a iar apart. Shorte" and the people , And most impor-

tr

ff

rsponsibilities. As

trer the Massacre, sa,t-etie. . . yetits :g, foundation for

n and despite the ded to repeat the d had originally

ruritv throughout nrrden of military r p'ersonal termsb ability to turn a that s as a community r still seemed prer in order to pres akable signs

mililted frontier planrcd to invite new ough clearly perrg up possessions reir Nomber were England, a young hat hr,rng over the ) [Indians] if they t \Vee have is ten
; the various

miles of us, and when the rogues overcame this place last [Martin's Hundredj, they slew 80 Persons how then shall wee doe for wee lye even in their teeth, they may easily take us but that God is mercefull." Frethorne wrote this letter in March 7623, just twelve months after the massacre had revealed to all the survivors the consequences of lying in the Indians' teeth. The Virginia Council protested to colonial administrators in England, "It is noe smale difficultie and griefe unto us to maintaine a warr by unwill. Crye out of the loss of Tyme against their Commaninge people, who d€rs, in a Toarr where nothinge is to be gained." By contrast, the village militia in Massachusetts Bay provided an effective fighting force precisely because the soldiers trusted those persons who remained at home. In theory, at least, most New Englanders defined their lives in terms of the total community, not in terms of private advancement, and the troops had no reason to believe that their friends and neighbors would try to profit from their sacrifice. But in Virginia long before the massive enslavement of black Africans, human relationships were regarded as a matter of pounds and pence, and each day one man chased the Indians through the wilderness or helped build a fortification, another man grew richer growing tobacco. when William Capps in7623 attempted to organize a raiding party of forty men to go against the Indians, he was greeted with excuses and procrastination. Almost in disbelief, he informed an English correspondent of the planters' train of thought, "take away one of my men, there's 2000 Plantes gone/ thates 500 waight of Tobacco, yea and what shall this man doe, runne after the Indians. . I have perhaps 10, perhaps 15, perhaps 20, men and am able to secure my owne Plantacion; how will they doe that are fewer? let them first be Crusht alittle and then perhaps they will themselves make up the Nomber for theire own safeties." Perhaps Frethorne's anxiety grew out of the knowledge that no one beyond Martin's Hundred really cared what the Indians might do to him and his comrades. such foot-dragging obviously did nothing to promote colonial security. Regardless of the planters' behavior, however, Virginia leaders felt compeied to deal with the Indians. After all, these appointed officials did not want to appear incompetent before the king and his councillors. But the Virginians soon discovered that in the absence of public-spirited citizen soldiers, their range of military responses was effectively reduced to three. The govelnor and his council could make the business of war so lucrative that Virginians would willingly leave the tobacco fields to fight, entrust private coniractors with the responsibility of defending the entire population, or persuade the king to send English troops at his own expense to protect the iolonists from their Indian enemies. Unfortunately, each of these alternatives presented specific drawbacks that rendered them essentially useless as military policies. The iirst option was to make the conditions of service so profitable that the planters or in their place, the planters' servants, would join in subduing

{

$

J

4.

I

29

Part

I

Colonial Society, 1492-1783

the common enemy. ln times of military crisis, such as the one following the Great Massacre, both company and Crown officials tried their best to persuade the settlers that warfare was not all hardship and sacrifice-indeed, that for some men, presumably not themselves, Indian fighting could be an eco-

que 762t

nomic opportunity. For the majority, however, such arguments apparently rang hollow. The colonists had leamed that local Indians made poor slaves, and in a spacious colony like Virginia, the offer of free land was an inadequate incentive for risking one's life. The promise of plunder drew few men away from the tobacco fields, and with tlpical candor, Captain |ohn smith announced in7624, "I would not give twenty pound for all the pillage . . . to be got amongst the Salvages in twenty yeeres.// A second possible solution for Virginia's military needs was to hire someone to defend the colonists. The merits of this approach seemed obvious. The state could simply transfer public funds to grouPs of enterprising individuals who in turn might construct forts along the rivers, build palisades to ward off Indian attacks, and even in some cases, fight pitched battles along the frontier. Unlike the New Englanders, who generally regarded matters of defense as a community responsibility, much like providing churches and schools, Virginians accepted the notion that private contractors could serve as an adequate substitute for direct popular participation in military affairs. In this belief the Virginians were mistaken. A stream of opportunists came forward with schemes that would compensate for the colony's unreliable militia. Without exception, however, these plans drained the public treasury but failed to produce lasting results. Indeed, Virginia's social values spawned a class of military adventurers-perhaps military profiteers would be a more accurate description-who did their best to transform warfare into a profitable private business. Some of the private military schemes of the 1620s were bizatte, others humorous, almost all misallocations of public revenues. In the summer of 7622 a sea captain named Samuel Each, whose military qualifications remain obscure, offered to construct a fort of oyster shells to guard the mouth of the james River. Each's project seemed a convenient way to secure the colony's shipping from possible foreign harassment. For his work, the captain was promised a handsome reward, but as was so often to be the case in the history of seventeenth-century Virginia, the contractor disappointed the settlers' expectations. The proposed site for the fortification turned out to be under water at high tide and "at low water with everie wynd washed over by the surges." One colonist sardonically described Each's pile of sea shells as "a Castle in the aire" and suggested that the captain had wisely died on the job "to save his Credit." During the 1620s other adventurers followed, but their performance was no more impressive than Each's had been. These men sometimes couched their proposals in rhetoric about the common good. There was no

Mat ther hun rest wee so8 two ster. fectr shor

exte

gru(

patt tlver isad

huP mos reac dt t5

mair cau: bers
CUP

favc

ina crea hanr

the:

coul denl havt
Pos(
1OLL.

Vate
I^.- -

rpi r'-n

.

:::n

30

Chapter

2

Conflicting Cultural Values in Early America

fh* ':,e following the hc -:eir best to Per-

g:

r+-indeed, that

question, however, about what considerations motivated the contractors. In 7628, for example, two of the colony's most successful planters, Samuel Mathews and William Claiborne, presented the king of England with what

h""'- :ould be an ecoqg::::, ents apparently

m ::.ade poor slaves, It :f a-i al inadequate dr=-.'.'few men away

Fta-: Tohn Smith aniffie rillage . . . tobe

p :,eeds was to hire ;r-'ach seemed obvi-

g::s p'

of enterPrising

il:e iir-ers, build Pal-

n :enerally regarded

:rght Pitched bat-

m::r like Providing
F,:l private contrac-

Fu*ar particiPation in

they called "A Proposition Concerning the Winning of the Forest." They humbly informed Charles I that their plan grew "not out of any private respects, or intent to gaine to our selves, but because in our owne mindes wee perceive [?] our selves bound to expend both our lives and fortunes in so good a service for this Plantation." One may be justly skeptical about the extent of their anticipated personal sacrifice, for in the next paragraph, the two Virginians demanded 1200 pounds "in readie monye" and 100 pounds sterling every year thereafter. Governor Francis Wyatt gave the project begrudging support. He explained that because of the planters' "too much affection to their private dividents" and their unwillingness to alter their pattern of settlement in the interest of defense, Mathews and Claiborne ihould be encouraged to construct a fortified wall running six miles between the Charles and ]ames Rivers. The two men promised to build a palisade and staff it with their own armed servants. There is no record of what happened to this particular plan, but if it had been accepted, the servants most likely would have spent their days planting tobacco for two men already quite wealthy. The reliance on military adventurers held dangers of which the Virginians of the 1620s were only dimly aware. As long as the price of tobacco remained relatively high, the colonists ignored much of the waste and favoritism associated with lucrative military contracts. But high taxes caused grumbling, even serious social unrest. In the early 7620s the members of the Virginia Council reported that when it came time to reimburse Captain Each, there was "a general unwillingness (not to say an opposition) in all almost but ourselves." As tobacco profits dropped over the course of the seventeenth century, small planters and landless freemen showed an increasing hostility to private military contractors. A second difficulty with the adventurers was no bigger than a man's hand during the 1620s. The colony needed every able-bodied defender that could be found, and no one seems to have worried much about arming indentured servants and poor freeman. But in later years, Virginians would have cause to reconsider the wisdom of creating mercenary bodies composed largely of impoverished recruits. The leading planters discovered, in fact, that one could not systematically exploit other human beings for private profit and then expect those same people to risk their lives fighting to preserve the society that tolerated such oppressive conditions. As privatism became the way of life, the colony's leading planters were less and less certain whether internal or external enemies posed a greater threat to Virginia's security. A third possible solution to the settlement's early military needs lay in obtaining direct English assistance. During the 1620s Virginia leaders

rc"n of opportunists m' -:.e colony's unreli-

n l:ained the Public \ irginia's social valpr: :rrilitarY Profiteers

s:

nest

to transform

s -,'ere

bizaue, others ns. In the summer of Er-; qualifications rebto guard the mouth u'r: n'ay to secure the fu.r his work, the capr{fien to be the case in rt.''r disapPointed the ahon turned out to be ie n-vnd washed over ach's pile of sea shells in had wisely died on

rut their performance hese men sometimes n good. There was no

J1

Part

I

Colonial Society,1492-1783

frequently petitioned the mother country for arms, men and supplies. In 1626-fow years after the Massacre-the royal governor informed the Privy Council that the security of Virginia required "no less nombers then five hundred soldiers to be yearly sent over." On other occasions officials in Virginia admitted that as few as 50 or 100 troops would do, but however many men England provided, the colonists expected the king to pay the bill. Free protection would remove the necessity for high taxes. Understandably, the English administrators never found the settlers' argument persuasive, and royal policy makers may well have wondered what several thousand colonists were doing to defend themselves. Before the 1670s not a single English soldier was dispatched to Virginia. Nevertheless, despite repeated failures in gaining English assistance, the dream of acquiring a cheap, dependable military force remained strong. Had the colony's own citizens been more involved in Virginia's defense, more willing to live closer together, there would have been no reason to plead for outside support. But the spirit of excessive individualism ironically bred a habit of dependence upon the mother country, and as soon as internal problems threatened the peace, someone was sure to call for English regulars. Virginia's military preparedness was no more impressive in 1630 than it had been a decade earlier. The colony's rulers still complained that the planters "utterly neglected eyther to stand upon their guard or to keepe their Armes fitt." The Council admitted helplessly that "neyther proclamations nor other strict orders have remedied the same." The settlers were incorrigible. Forts remained unbuilt; the great palisade neither kept the colonists in nor the Indians out. And in 1644 the local tribes launched a second, even more deadly attack, revealing once again the fundamental weakness of Virginia's military system. Virginia's extreme individualism was not an ephemeral phenomenon, something associated only with the colony's founding or a peculiar boomtown atmosphere. Long after the 1620s, values originally brought to the New World by adventurers and opportunists influenced patterns of social and institutional behavior, and instead of providing Virginia with new direction or a new sense of mission, newcomers were assimilated into an established cultural system. Customs became statute law, habitual acts tradition. seventeenth-centuryVirginiansneversucceededinforming a coherent society. Despite their apparent homogeneity, they lacked cohesive group identity; they generated no positive symbols, no historical myths strong enough to overcome individual differences. As one might expect, such a social system proved extremely fragile, and throughout the seventeenth century Virginians experienced social unrest, even open rebellion. Nor should the grand life style of the great eighteenth-century planters, the Byrds, the Carters, the Wormeleys, mislead one into thinking that their value system differed significantly from that of Virginia's early settlers.

Chapter

2

Conflicting Cultural Values in Early America

and suPPlies. In r€rr.r-rf informed the L. -ess nombers then rff.asions officials in ro'; lo, but however E {ng to PaY the bill. uqes UnderstandablY, |tri'rment persuasive, tr,ai several thousand

H

These

Virginia. neh'h assistance, the ilsr atched to

rre remained frn strong.

\-irginia's defense, cie been no reason to r mdividualism ironi-

ultr)', and as soon s >ure

as

to call for Eng-

first families of the early eighteenth century bore the same relationship to Captain john smith and his generation as Cotton Mather and his .ont"-po.iries did to the founders of Massachusetts Bay. The apparent political tranquility of late colonial Virginia grew not out of a sense of community or 1-r"* ,ruin"-orientations, but out of more effective forms of human The mass of tobacco field laborers were now black slaves, men "*ploitutiot. who by legal definition could never become fully part of the urrd *o*"n privatistic culture. in Byrd's Virginia, voluntaristic associations remained weak; education lagged, churches stagnated, and towns never developed. The isolation of plantation life continued, and the extended visits and the elaborate balb of the period may well have served to obscure the competition that underlay planter relationships. As one anthropologist reminds us, ,,in a society in which everyone outside the nuclear family is immediately suspect, in which one is at every moment believed to be vulnerable to the underhanded attacks of others, reliability and trust can never be taken for granted." In the course of a century of cultural development, Virginians i=ransformed an extreme form of individualism, a value system suited for soldiers an adventurers, into a set of regional virtues, a love of independence, an insistence upon personal liberty, a cult of manhood, and an uncompromising loYaltY to familY.

nessive in 1630 than

it

ct'rmplained that the eir guard or to keePe ar 'neyther Proclama" The settlers were ina.ie neither kePt the tribes Iaunched a seche fundamental weakhemeral phenomenon,

DOCUMENTS
Virginia, ATroubled Colony, tazz
I found the plantations generally seated upon meer salt marshes, full of infectious boggy and muddy creeks and lakes, and hereby subjected to all those inconveniences and diseases which are so commonly found in the most unsound and most unhealthy parts of England, whereof every countly and climate hath some. I found the shores and sides of those parts of the main river, where our plantations are settled, every where so shallow that no boats can approach ihe ,hores; so that besides ine difficulty, danger and spoil of goods in the landing of them, the poor people are forced to the continual wading and wettin[ themselves, at d thut in the prime of winter, when the ships commonly"arrive, and thereby get such violent surfeits of cold upon cold as seldom leave them until they leave to live. from Bibsouncr: Report of Nathaniel Butier, Govemor of Bermuda, 1622. Document edited;y Michael Bellesiles. Copyright O by Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted bv permission. liobase@, or a peculjar boomainally brought to the nced patterns of social \ irginia with new dia.similated into an este law, habitual acts succeeded in forming eitr', they lacked coherls, no historical mYths As one might exPect, tfuoughout the sevenrven open rebellion. rg eenth-centurY Planters,

into thinking that their irginia's earlY settlers.

JJ…...

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