Chronicles of America 

The First Royal Province

The Company previously, and now the King, had urged upon the Virginians a diversified industry and agriculture. But Englishmen in Virginia had the familiar emigrant idea of making their fortunes. They had left England; they had taken their lives in their hands; they had suffered fevers, Indian attacks, homesickness, deprivation. They had come to Virginia to get rich. Now clapboards and sassafras, pitch, tar, and pine trees for masts, were making no fortune for Virginia shippers. How could they, these few folk far off in America, compete in products of the forest with northern Europe? As to mines of gold and silver, that first rich vision had proved a disheartening mirage. "They have great hopes that the mountains are very rich, from the discovery of a silver mine made nineteen years ago, at a place about four days' journey from the falls of James river; but they have not the means of transporting the ore." So, dissatisfied with some means of livelihood and disappointed in others, the Virginians turned to tobacco.

Every year each planter grew more tobacco; every year more ships were laden. In 1628 more than five hundred thousand pounds were sent to England, for to England it must go, and not elsewhere. There it must struggle with the best Spanish, for a long time valued above the best Virginian. Finally, however, James and after him Charles, agreed to exclude the Spanish. Virginia and the Somers Islands alone might import tobacco into England. But offsetting this, customs went up ruinously; a great lump sum must go annually to the King; the leaf must enter only at the port of London; so forth and so on. Finally Charles put forth his proposal to monopolize the industry, giving Virginia tobacco the English market but limiting its production to the amount which the Government could sell advantageously. Such a policy required cooperation from the colonists. The King therefore ordered the Governor to grant a Virginia Assembly, which in turn should dutifully enter into partnership with him -- upon his terms. So the Virginia Assembly thus came back into history. It made a "Humble Answere" in which, for all its humility, the King's proposal was declined. The idea of the royal monopoly faded out, and Virginia continued on its own way.

The General Assembly, having once met, seems of its own motion to have continued meeting. The next year we find it in session at Jamestown, and resolving "that we should go three severall marches upon the Indians, at three severall times of the yeare," and also "that there be an especiall care taken by all commanders and others that the people doe repaire to their churches on the Saboth day, and to see that the penalty of one pound of tobacco for every time of absence, and 50 pounds for every month's absence . . . be levyed, and the delinquents to pay the same." About this time we read: "Dr. John Pott, late Governor, indicted, arraigned, and found guilty of stealing cattle, 13 jurors, 3 whereof councellors. This day wholly spent in pleading; next day, in unnecessary disputation."

These were moving times in the little colony whose population may by now have been five thousand. Harvey, the Governor, was rapacious; the King at home, autocratic. Meanwhile, signs of change and of unrest were not wanting in Europe. England was hastening toward revolution; in Germany the Thirty Years' War was in mid-career; France and Italy were racked by strife; over the world the peoples groaned under the strain of oppression. In science, too, there was promise of revolution. Harvey--not that Governor Harvey of Virginia, but a greater in England was writing upon the circulation of the blood. Galileo brooded over ideas of the movement of the earth; Kepler, over celestial harmonies and solar rule. Descartes was laying the foundation of a new philosophy.

In the meantime, far across the Atlantic, bands of Virginians went out against the Indians -- who might, or might not, God knows! have put in a claim to be considered among the oppressed peoples. In Virginia the fat, black, tobacco-fields, steaming under a sun like the sun of Spain, called for and got more labor and still more labor. Every little sailing ship brought white workmen -- called servants -- consigned, indentured, apprenticed to many-acred planters. These, in return for their passage money, must serve Laban for a term of years, but then would receive Rachel, or at least Leah, in the shape of freedom and a small holding and provision with which to begin again their individual life. If they were ambitious and energetic they might presently be able, in turn, to import labor for their own acres. As yet, in Virginia, there were few African slaves -- not more perhaps than a couple of hundred. But whenever ships brought them they were readily purchased.

In Virginia, as everywhere in time of change, there arose anomalies. Side by side persisted a romantic devotion to the King and a determination to have popular assemblies; a great sense of the rights of the white individual together with African slavery; a practical, easy-going, debonair naturalism side by side with an Established Church penalizing alike Papist, Puritan, and atheist. Even so early as this, the social tone was set that was to hold for many and many a year. The suave climate was somehow to foster alike a sense of caste and good neighborliness -- class distinctions and republican ideas.

The "towns" were of the fewest and rudest -- little more than small palisaded hamlets, built of frame or log, poised near the water of the river James. The genius of the land was for the plantation rather than the town. The fair and large brick or frame planter's house of a later time had not yet risen, but the system was well inaugurated that set a main or "big" house upon some fair site, with cabins clustered near it, and all surrounded, save on the river front, with far-flung acres, some planted with grain and the rest with tobacco. Up and down the river these estates were strung together by the rudest roads, mere tracks through field and wood. The cart was as yet the sole wheeled vehicle. But the Virginia planter -- a horseman in England -- brought over horses, bred horses, and early placed horsemanship in the catalogue of the necessary colonial virtues. At this point, however, in a land of great and lesser rivers, with a network of creeks, the boat provided the chief means of communication. Behind all, enveloping all, still spread the illimitable forest, the haunt of Indians and innumerable game.

Virginians were already preparing for an expansion to the north. There was a man in Virginia named William Claiborne. This individual--able, determined, self-reliant, energetic--had come in as a young man, with the title of surveyor general for the Company, in the ship that brought Sir Francis Wyatt, just before the massacre of 1622. He had prospered and was now Secretary of the Province. He held lands, and was endowed with a bold, adventurous temper and a genius for business. In a few years he had established widespread trading relations with the Indians. He and the men whom he employed penetrated to the upper shores of Chesapeake, into the forest bordering Potomac and Susquehanna: Knives and hatchets, beads, trinkets, and colored cloth were changed for rich furs and various articles that the Indians could furnish. The skins thus gathered Claiborne shipped to London merchants, and was like to grow wealthy from what his trading brought.

Looking upon the future and contemplating barter on a princely scale, he set to work and obtained exhaustive licenses from the immediate Virginian authorities, and at last from the King himself. Under these grants, Claiborne began to provide settlements for his numerous traders. Far up the Chesapeake, a hundred miles or so from Point Comfort, he found an island that he liked, and named it Kent Island. Here for his men he built cabins with gardens around them, a mill and a church. He was far from the river James and the mass of his fellows, but he esteemed himself to be in Virginia and upon his own land.

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