Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History

Author: Bruce, Philip A.
Title: Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based on Original and Contemporaneous Records.
Citation: New York: MacMillan and Co., 1896
Subdivision: Chapter XII
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added Aug. 16, 2002
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To inquire into the origin of the planters of Virginia in the seventeenth century would be to enter into a domain which is more distinctly a part of social than economic history. Such an inquiry was justified in the case of servants because they bore the same practical relation to the community as the ordinary beast of burden, only tempered by their human intelligence, which led to their receiving more conscientious treatment from their masters. Nevertheless, even from an economic point of view, it is important to know that the great body of men who sued out patents to public lands in Virginia were sprung from the portion of the English commonwealth that was removed from the highest as well as from the lowest ranks in the community, and which, while in many instances sharing the blood of the noblest, yet as a rule belonged to the classes engaged in the different professions and trades, in short, to the workers in all of the principal branches of English activity. With those powerful traditions animating them, the traditions of race and nationality, blending with the traditions of special pursuits, they had also that enterprising spirit which prompted them to abandon home and country to make a lodgment in the West. It is incorrect to infer that their position in their native land was lacking in advantages because they showed a willingness to emigrate. Of all the modern


races, the English have exhibited the most marked disposition to establish colonies. Until the settlement of Virginia, this disposition had had a latent existence only. That region furnished it the earliest opportunity for its display. The colony at Jamestown was the first swarm which, issuing from the central hive in England, established a permanent home abroad. Since the 13th of May, 1607, how many swarms have gone forth from the same hive, how vast a portion of the surface of the earth has now been populated by the same race! The same practical aspirations which in the present century have led to the formation of so many English commonwealths in the Australasian seas, influenced men of the same manly and self-reliant stock to remove to Virginia. A natural desire for an improved condition has been one of the strongest impulses for that migration to the Western World which began in the sixteenth century. This desire was just as pronounced in the founders of the most powerful families of the Colony in the seventeenth century, men of honorable origin in England, as it was in the humblest person who secured his passage thither by selling his labor for a certain term to begin after his arrival. In the hearts of both, there lingered that deep love of their native land which moved them to speak of it as “home” until their latest hour, and which was transmitted to their descendants, although the latter perhaps had never walked an English street or gazed upon an English landscape.1 This profound affection for the mother country, a trait which is distinctive of the offshoots of all the great races, had a vast influence upon

1 The references to England as “home” are very numerous in the county records. See, for instance, Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1690-1709, f. p. 3, where John Carter speaks of his crop “going home,” that is, to England.


the whole system of affairs in Virginia. It shaped the tone of its social institutions, moulded its political spirit, and guided its religious thought, and but for the peculiar conditions attending the culture of tobacco, would have governed its agricultural development also. There was one department of the economic life of the people in which it could exhibit itself without any obstruction in the local surroundings; this was the general appointments of the household.

In the previous chapters, I have sought to give some account of the different properties which the planter held, the slaves, the servants, the live stock, the estate in land. I have now come to the description of his house, his furniture, his utensils, his food, his drink, his dress, his means of getting from place to place, and the kindred economies of his daily existence. The only inference to be drawn from the copious details furnished by the recorded inventories of the seventeenth century, is that the members of the planting class, ranging from the highest to the lowest rank, were in the possession, in proportion to their resources, of all those articles which in that age were considered to be necessary to domestic comfort and convenience. Virginian homes in this period did not differ in their interior arrangement from those English homes that were owned by men of the same fortune as the householders of the Colony. In one important respect only the Virginian residence fell short of the English. This was in its construction. With a few exceptions, the contents of the house were imported, and were therefore equal in quality to the articles of the same character in common use in the mother country. The bedsteads, couches, chests, and looking-glasses of the chamber; the tables, chairs, plates, knives, and cups of the hall; the spits, ladles, chafing-dishes, kettles, and


pots of the kitchen; the churns, cheese-presses, and pails of the dairy, had been purchased in the same shops in which the English householder had bought his supplies of a similar nature. The Virginian residence, however, was in its framework the product of local skill and labor. The plank, the mortar, the brick, and the stone entering into its composition had been obtained in the Colony, and had been put together there. The tastes of the owner, even if he desired to erect a dwelling-house which in general appearance should resemble some one of those belonging to the rural gentry of England, must have remained ungratified on account of the great costliness of securing both the materials and the mechanical skill which were required. There had not been sufficient accumulation of wealth in Virginia in the seventeenth century to permit of large expenditure in building houses. The outlay attending the importation from the mother country of highly trained workmen and of special materials, would have imposed a burden difficult for even the most affluent members of the planting class to bear.1

So far as information is to be derived from records, there was no residence in the Colony in the seventeenth century which could make any pretensions to beauty of design. The homes even of the most prominent planters were simple and plain. Brick seems to have entered only to a limited extent into the construction of the dwellings. It would appear that all bricks used in Virginia in this century were manufactured there. As this material

1 So far as I have been able to discover, the first building materials of any kind brought into Virginia from England in the course of the seventeenth century were imported in 1607 for the use of George Percy. In memoranda of the Ninth Earl of Northumberland, the following entry is found: “To Mr. Melshewe for many necessaries, which he delivered to Mr. Percy toward building of a house in Virginia, 14s.” See Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 178.


was in general use in England, it is not surprising to discover that there were bricklayers, who were also doubtless brickmakers, in the band of settlers who arrived in 1607. Among the artisans whom the Company sought to obtain in 1609, with a view to their transportation to Jamestown, there were four brickmakers, who quite probably were also expected to serve as bricklayers.1 Brickmakers and bricklayers were advertised for on two occasions in 1610.2 It cannot be stated with certainty whether these men were dispatched to the Colony. No brickmakers are included by name in the list of persons sent over with the Second and Third Supplies. Dale reached Virginia in 1611, and was probably accompanied by workingmen of this class, as he mentions incidentally in his letter to the Council, written in the year of his arrival, that one of the most important tasks which the colonists had to perform was to manufacture bricks.3 Kilns were certainly erected at Henrico when that place was selected as the site of the new town which he had determined to build.5 The first story of all the houses there, was constructed of brick made on the spot by men who had been brought thither in company with spadesmen, carpenters, wood-choppers, and sawyers, for this special purpose. It was the bricks manufactured here which Whitaker, in his Good Newes from Virginia, had in mind when he related that the colonists had, in digging for bricks, come upon a red clay possessing the most excellent qualities for this purpose.5 At this time,

1 A True and Sincere Declaration, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 353. “I did visit . . . ould Short, the bricklayer,” President Wingfield records in his Discourse, 1607. See Works of Capt. John Smith, p. xc.

2 Broadside, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 356. Broadside, Ibid., p. 439.

3 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 492.

4 New Life of Virginia, p. 14, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I.

5 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 584. “If we digge any depth (as wee have done for our bricks) wee finde it to be redde clay.”


there were in the other settlements of Virginia no houses built of this material even in part. The various structures at Jamestown and the cabins and cottages at Point Comfort were made of wood.

In 1617, brickmakers were again included in the list of artisans whom it was sought to secure by publication of broadsides. The college lands had now been laid off and the college hall was to be erected. Brickmakers were to be attached permanently to these lands.1 It is to be inferred that a certain number were brought over to the Colony at the expense of the Company under the formal terms of indentures, for the Governor and Council in Virginia were directed some time later to hold the bricklayers who had bound themselves by contract to build the college strictly to the obligations of their agreement, in order that when the time for the beginning of the construction of the house was determined upon, there would be ready at hand the requisite quantity of bricks.2 The importation of these brickmakers and the strictness with which they were held to their covenants indicate how few were the members of this class of workmen in the Colony. This is confirmed by the request which William Capps made of the Company. In a letter addressed to the Deputy Treasurer in 1623, he declared his willingness to undertake the erection of an inn at Elizabeth City and another at Jamestown, provided that he was furnished with ten or twelve artisans, including brickmakers, for the work.3 It is possible that Capps had reason to expect that this number of artisans would be detached from the public lands for the purpose

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, p. 12.

2 Letter of Company to Governor and Council in Virginia, Neill’s Virginia Company of London, p. 330.

3 Royal Hist. MSS Commission, Eighth Report, Appx., p. 39.


of carrying his proposition into practical effect, but it seems rather probable that he anticipated that the workmen whom he asked for would be imported in a body from England. That bricks, however, were numerous in the Colony at this time, appears from the fact that Captain Nuce cased the sides of his well with this material. It is also stated that when the Indians on the day of the massacre, in 1622, attacked the home of Ralph Hamer, they were driven off with brick-bats.1 A still more striking proof of this fact is that bricks now formed one of the principal articles exported from Virginia to the Bermudas, and there exchanged, along with aquavitæ, oil, and sack, for the fruits and plants, ducks, turkeys, and limestone of that fertile island.2 There is nothing, however, to show that when the letters patent of the Company were revoked in 1624, nearly a full generation after the settlement of the country, there was a single house in the Colony constructed entirely of brick, although brickmen were sufficiently numerous to be made subject to a fixed charge for their labor, that is to say, forty pounds of tobacco for laying one thousand bricks.

Thirteen years after the dissolution of the Company, Governor Wyatt was instructed to require every landowner whose plantation was an hundred acres in extent to erect a dwelling-house of brick, to be twenty-four feet in length and sixteen feet in breadth, with a cellar attached. In the cases in which the area of the grant exceeded five hundred acres, the size of the dwelling-house was to be enlarged in proportion. This order was a fair sample of many received from the authorities in England who had charge of the affairs of the Colony, showing either the most complete ignorance of the conditions surrounding the Virginians, or indifference to the obstacles standing

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 676.

2 Ibid., p. 682.


in the way of the enforcement of their commands. To have compelled every planter to substitute brick for wood in the construction of his residence would have been an imposition of the most tyrannical nature. The instruction was a nullity because it could not be put into operation. The inconvenience as well as the expense of obtaining the brick for several thousand widely separated estates would have been intolerable even if it had been practicable. Such an order at least indicates that brick was not very much used in the construction of plantation residences.1 Secretary Kemp, writing to Secretary Windebank at this time, asserted that the people of Virginia were now showing a disposition to erect good houses, but this statement probably had its origin in his desire to make the impression on the English Government that the order to build towns, which had only recently been received, had had a marked influence in leading the planters at large to improve the architectural character of their homes.2 It is possible that Secretary Kemp had in mind Jamestown, where some activity in building in compliance with the Act of Assembly to promote the growth of that corporation was now displayed. In this year, the Secretary had erected a brick residence there, which was described as being the most substantial private dwelling-house in the Colony.3 It was perhaps the first structure entirely of

1 Instructions to Wyatt, 1638-39, British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, red. 79, pp. 219, 236; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1638, p. 46, Va. State Library. This order was repeated in the instructions to Berkeley, 1641. See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II, p. 284.

2 Richard Kemp to Secretary Windebank, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. IX, No. 96; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1638, p. 7, Va. State Library.

3 Letter of Governor and Council in Virginia, Jan. 18, 1639, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. X, No. 5; McDonald Papers, vol. II, p. 248, Va. State Library.


brick ever built in Virginia. No account of its exterior shape or the division of its apartments has survived; it was doubtless devoid of architectural pretensions, a square unadorned residence which was not even imposing in size. A number of brick houses were now erected at Jamestown, and if the facilities for securing brick existing there had been extended to the planters at large, it would probably have promoted the use of this material in the construction of their homes. It is not surprising to find that when Berkeley built a residence at Green Spring, distant about two miles from Jamestown, he employed brick in its construction. He was doubtless anxious to set an example which might be followed by the landowners in general. This house had the wide hall characteristic of all the larger dwellings in Virginia at this time, and only six rooms, showing that it was a structure of moderate proportions. The wideness of the hall was for the purpose of obtaining the fullest ventilation, the climate of this part of the Colony in the warm season being oppressive and unwholesome.1

It is quite certain that brick was used very generally in the construction of chimneys before the middle of the century. Being made on the ground or brought by water from the nearest kiln, the small quantity which each planter required did not put him to serious expense in the transportation. The absence of stone in all parts of the Peninsula was one of the most remarkable features of the country. There were no local quarries from which material for chimneys could be obtained. It is not likely that wooden cross-pieces daubed with mud would have afforded

1 Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, p. 204. There were doubtless outbuildings. Berkeley also owned three brick houses in Jamestown, as we learn from a deed bearing date March, 1654-55. He sold one of these houses afterwards to Richard Bennett. See Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 407.


permanent satisfaction. The author of the New Description of Virginia, which was perhaps written about forty years after the foundation of Jamestown, asserts that the people were in possession of a store of brick at that time, and that both houses and chimneys were constructed of this material.1 The correctness of this statement is proved at least by one instance, evidence of which has survived in the records of Surry County; it is there related that about 1652, Mr. Thomas Warren owned a residence of brick sixty feet in length.2 Under the terms of the Cohabitation Act of 1662, it was provided that thirty brick houses should be erected at Jamestown, the brickmakers and bricklayers employed in this work to be obtained from different parts of the Colony. No difficulty in securing the number required seems to have been anticipated.3 From the middle to the end of the century, the number of brickmakers steadily increased. Some were men of considerable property. Thus in 1682, John Robert of Lower Norfolk bought of George Newton two hundred acres of land, for which he gave sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco. In the following year, he appointed Joseph Knott his attorney to collect the some due him in different counties.4 John Kingston of York was also a brickmaker in possession of a good estate; among those

1 New Description of Virginia, p. 7, Force’s Historical Tracts, Vol. III. Bullock, writing about this time, says: “The soil (of Virginia) is a rich black mould for two feet deep, and under it a loam of which they make a fine brick,” p. 3. He advised the planters to build their houses of this material. Bullock’s Virginia, p. 61.

2 Records of Surry County, vol. 1671-1684, p, 254, Va. State Library. One of the rooms in the house of Captain Robert Spencer of the same county was known as the “Brick Room.” Ibid., vol. 1671-1684, p. 451, Va. State Library.

3 Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 172.

4 Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1675-1686, f. pp. 137, 150.


indebted to him for work which he had done in the course of his trade was Robert Booth, whose inventory showed an account in Kingston’s favor of seven pounds sterling1 Edwin Malin, also of York, was the owner of a plantation, having on one occasion purchased fifty acres.2 Thomas Meders of Lancaster held landed property in White Chapel parish in that county.3 Richard Burk of Rappahannock and Robert Wiggins and Thomas Wade of Northampton were also men of considerable means.4 John Franklin of Accomac in 1681 bought a single tract that covered five hundred and fifty acres.5

Many of the brickmakers were indented servants who had been imported by the planters. Such was William Eale of Elizabeth River, who for a certain term belonged to John Townes, by whom he was occasionally hired out.6 Eale had come from Barbadoes. John Talbott had been brought in by Richard Willie of Middlesex.7 Among the

1 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, pp. 180, 366, Va. State Library. Kingston, it seems, had been imported under articles of indenture by John Forrest. See Ibid., vol. 1687-1691, p. 170.

2 Ibid., vol. 1675-1684, p. 423, Va. State Library.

3 Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1687-1700, p. 12.

4 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 164, Va. State Library; Records of Northampton County, original vol. 1674-1679, p. 164; Ibid., original vol. 1689-1698, p. 391.

5 Records of Accomac County, original vol. 1676-1690, p. 275.

6 “Agreed between Captain Francis Yeardley of Lynhaven and John Townes of Elizabeth River that William Este, bricklayer and servant to Mr. Townes, shall well and substantially plaster, white lime . . . over ye . . . ye yellow room, kitchen and ye chamber ever ye kitchen, and likewise repair all ye rest of ye rooms and chambers in ye house at Lynhaven; likewise repair all ye brick work about the dwelling house at Kecaughtan.” Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1646-1651, f. p. 186.

7 Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1680-1694, orders Dec. 5, 1692. Among those who fled to New England after the suppression of Bacon’s insurrection was William Mason, bricklayer. Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, p. 376, note.


planters owning brick-kilns was William Sargent of Rappahannock.1 Many were in possession of large quantities of brick manufactured either by their own servants or by transient laborers. The inventory of the Croshaw estate, situated in York, which was entered in court in 1668, included one thousand.2 A large lot of the same material formed a part of the estate of William Heslett of Lower Norfolk.3 Mr. Robert Booth of York left at his death twenty-three thousand bricks, valued at one hundred and eighty-four shillings,4 a decline of nearly fifty per cent in comparison with the price in 1668, when they sold for fifteen shillings. It is improbable that when bricks were rated at eight shillings a thousand in Virginia, planters would have been led to import them from England, where, between 1650 and 1700, they could not be purchased for less than eighteen shillings and eight and one-quarter pence.5 The difference in price was rendered still greater by the charges for transportation across the ocean.

In the closing years of the century, brick was so common that it was used in supporting the marble slabs of tombs. In his will, Francis Page of York provided for the erection of a brick structure over his grave of equal height with the tombs, also of brick, covering the remains of his father and mother.6 No information has

1 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 10, Va. State Library.

2 Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, p. 401, Va. State Library. As early as 1646, a lot of bricks in possession of Henry Brooke were attached by Nicholas Brooke. See Records of York County, vol. 1638-1648, p. 171, Va. State Library.

3 Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1695-1703, f. p. 121.

4 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, p. 179, Va. State Library.

5 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, p. 532.

6 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, p. 169, Va. State Library.


survived as to the material entering into his residence. It is learned from his will that several buildings on his plantation, including his malt-house and a barn, were constructed of brick;1 and the probability is that the house in which he lived was also made of that material. There was a brick house standing on the Juxon plantation in York.2 William Fitzhugh, who was very careful in his management, was content to confine the brickwork of his buildings to the chimneys. In a letter bearing the date of 1686, he mentions that all the dwellings on his plantation were furnished with chimneys of brick, and there is little reason to doubt that the same influences governing him, shaped the action in this respect of other planters of equal prominence.3

Defective workmanship in the construction of chimneys of brick grew to be a frequent cause of dispute. In 1674, Captain Philip Lightfoot entered suit against Mr. Ralph Deane on the ground that he had sustained serious injury from the negligent manner in which the latter had performed his contract in building the brick chimneys which he had agreed to erect.4 The use of the same material in the construction of the whole dwelling-house had not become common among the planters of Virginia as late as the administration of Spotswood, the erection of brick residences by several prominent landowners in the early part of the eighteenth century having been noted by Beverley as a fact of importance, perhaps because exceptional.5 He states that these houses had numerous rooms on a floor, indicating that they were larger in size than the

1 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, p. 170, Va. State Library.

2 Ibid., vol. 1684-1687, pp. 32, 33.

3 Letters of William Fitzhugh, April 22, 1686.

4 Records of the General Court, p. 176.

5 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 235.


brick dwellings in the previous century, which had been built by Kemp and Berkeley at Jamestown.

In addition to the brick residences in Virginia in the seventeenth century, there were some public buildings constructed of this material. By contract with the Colonial Government, Theophilus Hone, Mathew Page, and William Drummond agreed to raise a fort at Jamestown, to have a frontage of brick extending at least one hundred and fifty feet.1 After some delay, this fort was built. When Clayton visited the Colony, he found that the structure had been erected in the shape of a half-moon.2 In the latter part of the century, there was a large house of public entertainment in New Kent known as the Brick House.3 Some of the county court-houses besides the one at Jamestown were constructed of this material; the court-house in Gloucester was built of brick,4 and so was that in Middlesex.5

1 Records of General Court, p. 149.

2 Clayton’s Virginia, pp. 23, 24, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

3 James Elcock, in enumerating his expenses in recovering two runaway servants, includes the cost of a pottle of beer which he had bought at the Brick House. Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, p. 501, Va. State Library.

4 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1680-1694, orders Feb. 2, 1684. It is incidentally mentioned in this reference that the Gloucester court-house building was of brick, the order providing for the erection of the Middlesex court-house requiring that it should be at least of “equal goodness and dimensions as ye brick court-house lately built in Gloucester county.”

5 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1680-1694, orders Nov. 14, 1692. The order for building of brick was dated Feb. 2, 1684. I have not been able to find any record showing that the original order requiring this court-house to be of this material was carried cut. The flooring alone of the court-house in York County seems to have been of brick. In this brief enumeration of public buildings in the Colony constructed of brick, I have designedly omitted all reference to the churches that were made of this material, some of which, like the one standing in Middle Plantation parish, that cost £800, had caused a considerable [footnote continues on p. 145] outlay. [Colonial Entry Book, No. 82, pp. 172, 174; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1683, p. 31, Va. State Library.] Some description of these brick churches can with more propriety be given in an account of the state of the Church in Virginia in the seventeenth century.


It was entirely natural that the dwellings of the planters of Virginia in the seventeenth century should, in general, have been made of wood. The difficulty of obtaining bricks in the necessary quantities unless the planter had a kiln of his own, which was only possible in the case of wealthy landowners, has already been pointed out. The finest timber, on the other hand, was extremely abundant; oak, elm, ash, chestnut, pine, cypress, cedar, hickory, all were to be found in the native forests. The site of every home was overshadowed by trees of extraordinary height and girth, and even in the rudest period, axes, frows, and saws were near at hand to convert the trunks of these trees into rough planks and boards. In this profusion of timber, Virginia differed essentially from the mother country. Stone, brick, and slate were the principal materials employed in building in England, because the area in forests was so small. At the end of the seventeenth century, there were only three million acres in woods and coppices in England,1 and in the early decades their extent was not much greater, a steady drain upon these resources being kept up in supplying fuel for iron and glass manufacture. The use of wood in English houses, owing to its dearness, seems to have been practically confined to laths, beams, floors, stairways, and wainscoting. Every consideration of cheapness and convenience compelled the planter in Virginia to construct every part of his house, except the chimney, of wood, an exception being only made in the case of the chimney, because this part of the building would not endure permanently if constructed

1 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, p. 529.


only of mud and sticks. The unsightliness of such materials was doubtless another element of objection.

There are many indications that the planters who owned large estates were in possession of a great abundance of plank. John Smyth of York left fifteen hundred feet,1 and John Andrews of Accomac eighteen hundred.2 The estate of Henry Jenkins of Elizabeth City was indebted to Pascho Curle to the extent of four thousand and twenty-nine feet.3 In some cases, it was the consideration in the sale of land.4 An attachment against it in the hands of a debtor was a common process. Dressed timber was known by its width in inches. The feather-edged plank was in general use in building, and formed a valuable part of the estates of planters.5 On one occasion, one hundred and thirty feet of dressed timber were sold in York for ten shillings,6 and on another, two hundred feet were appraised at twelve shillings. In Elizabeth City County, several thousand feet were disposed of at the rate of three pounds sterling a thousand, this being the average price in this part of the Colony towards the end of the century.7

During a long period, the colonist could only procure nails at a considerable expense because they shared the costliness of all articles manufactured of iron. So valuable were they, indeed, that the smaller landowners, in deserting their homes with a view to malting a settlement elsewhere on more fertile soil, were in the habit of burning

1 Records of York County, vol. 1694-1697, p. 419, Va. State Library.

2 Records of Accomac County, original vol. 1666-1670, p. 23.

3 Records of Elizabeth City County, vol. 1684-1699, p. 174, Va. State Library.

4 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, p. 385, Va. State Library.

5 Records of York County, vol. 1687-1691, p. 66, Va. State Library.

6 Ibid., vol. 1690-1694, p. 268.

7 Records of Elizabeth City County, vol. 1684-1699, p. 181, Va. State Library.


their cabins when abandoned, in order to secure the nails by which the planks were held together, and so general did this habit become, that in 1644-45 it was provided by law, as a means of destroying the motive for setting the houses on fire, that each planter, when he gave up his dwelling, should be allowed, at public expense, as many nails as two impartial men should calculate to be in the frame of the deserted residence.1 All these articles in use had been imported. Large quantities frequently formed a part of the estate of the landowner. Thus the inventory of the personalty of Francis Mathews, in 1675, showed him to have been in possession of seven thousand eight-penny, nine thousand six-penny, five thousand four-penny, and two thousand ten-penny nails.2 John Carter of Lancaster left, as a part of his estate, over seven thousand eight-penny, twelve thousand two hundred and thirty-three ten-penny, and nearly five thousand twenty-penny nails.3 Fitzhugh, in ordering nails from his merchant in London, would give directions that several thousand of different kinds should be sent to him at one time.4

It is quite probable that for a number of years after the foundation of Jamestown, neither plank nor nails entered into the construction of a majority of the houses in which the colonists lived. Undressed logs were doubtless the material principally in use. George Sandys, in a letter to a member of the Council in 1623, expressed the opinion that the only advantage which resulted from the massacre in the previous year was that it had compelled the planters to draw into narrower limits and to live more closely together, the continuation of which would inevitably lead

1 Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 291.

2 Records of York County, vol. 1671-1694, p. 130, Va. State Library.

3 Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1690-1709, p. 32.

4 Letters of William Fitzhugh, May 11, 1697.


them to build framed dwellings.1 Whitaker had already set the example.2 Sandys probably anticipated that a concentration of the population would diminish the expense of securing plank, not only by promoting the establishment of saw-mills, but also by reducing the expenses of transportation. As it was, the plantations soon again became too widely dispersed to justify the erection in convenient numbers of mills of this character, and it grew to be almost as expensive to procure finished plank as it was to obtain bricks. Governor Butler, who visited Jamestown and its vicinity not long after the massacre, declared in his pamphlet Virginia Unmasked, that the houses of the people were the “worst in the world,” and that the most wretched cottages in England were equal, if not superior, in appearance and comfort, to the finest dwellings in the Colony.3 No doubt this statement was substantially correct, although it was made in a sinister spirit. The houses were mean in the beginning, and in the damp climate of Virginia, easily fell into decay unless carefully repaired. The Governor and Council, replying to the strictures of Butler, while they acknowledged that the dwellings which had been erected had been built for use and not for ornament, asserted that those occupied by workingmen, which the great majority of the inhabitants professed themselves to be, excelled the homes of the same class in the rest of the English dominions. The houses in which persons of quality resided had many points of advantage over the cottages and cabins of the laborers, and no criticisms of importance could be justly passed upon them in the light of the surrounding circumstances4

1 George Sandys to Samuel Wrote, Neill’s Virginia Vetusta, p. 124.

2 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 510.

3 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, p. 171.

4 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, [footnote continues on p. 149] p. 178. Some of the residences in the Colony at this time had been erected at very considerable expense. In a petition offered to the King, in 1622, by Adam Dixon, he states that he and a companion had built a house at a cost of £100. A house erected by William Julian had caused an expenditure of £30. Abstracts of Proceedings of Virginia Company of London, vol. I, pp. 189, 190.


The framed house which Sandys was anxious for the planters to substitute for the log cabin was gradually introduced as the population increased. When Abraham Piersey died in 1632, he was the wealthiest resident of the Colony. In his will, he directed that his body should be interred in the garden in which his new framed house had been erected. This house was perhaps designed as his own residence.1 William Fitzhugh, a man of large means, occupied a dwelling into the construction of which it is probable that not a brick entered, with the exception of the chimneys and possibly the foundation.2 When Nicholas Hayward decided to establish one of his children in Virginia, he received a letter from Fitzhugh giving valuable information as to the course pursued by many of the planters in building. According to this writer, the most judicious plan to follow was to import carpenters and bricklayers from England who were bound by indenture to serve for a period of four or five years. In this length of time, they would be able to raise a substantial house without constructing the walls of brick, and also, by the performance of other tasks, to earn sufficient to meet the cost of the planks and nails and the additional materials, as well as to make good the outlay for their own food and clothing. Fitzhugh strongly advised against a large dwelling, and was doubtful even as to the wisdom of building an English framed house of the ordinary size, the charges for skilled labor being excessively dear, although there

1 British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 5, T.

2 Letters of William Fitzhugh, Jan. 30, 1686-1687.


was no serious expense in obtaining timber.1 He stated that in constructing his residence, he was compelled to pay out three times the amount which would have been required in the case of a house of the same proportions in London, where all the materials used had to be bought. In Virginia, it was necessary to allow three times the length of time that would have been taken to complete the same work in that city. The Fitzhugh dwelling, like so many of the houses in the Colony at this and in a later age, was doubtless in a measure the result of several additions at different periods as the wants of a growing family demanded, a room being joined to this wing or to that as convenience suggested. Many of the residences illustrated in the variety of their material the evolution through which so many of the planters’ mansions had passed; first the log house, then the framed, and finally the brick addition or the substitution of brick for the wood of which the central portion of the dwelling was made. It is an indication of how little attention was paid to the architectural effect of these additions that Bullock advised that the original residence should be built in such a manner that its extension in wings would not cause a defacement.2 The simplicity of the houses in which many persons of good position lived is shown in a reference of Fitzhugh to the residence erected by a brother of Hayward; it was as, devoid of architectural beauty as a barn, which it must have resembled exactly, as it is described by Fitzhugh as lacking both chimneys and partitions.3

1 Culpeper, writing in 1682, dwells upon the same fact. See Instructions, 1681-1682. Culpeper’s Reply to § 48, McDonald Papers, vol. VI, p. 147, Va. State Library.

2 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 61. The references to the New Room” in the inventories are very frequent.

3 Letters of William Fitzhugh, Jan. 30, 1686-1687. Fitzhugh probably intended to say that this house was lacking in substantial chimneys. It may have been in an unfinished state.


Unpretentious as most of the houses in the Colony were in the seventeenth century, it is found that there is not infrequent use in different records of the expression the “Great House,” which was so familiar among the negroes in later times, when the planters had accumulated large wealth and exhausted much of it in erecting residences of fine proportions. When James Knott, in 1632, leased a part of the public lands laid off in Elizabeth City by the Company some years before its dissolution, he obtained the privilege of holding not only the fifty acres included in the temporary grant, but also the house standing upon the tract and “commonly called the Great House.”1 It is evident from this that the expression did not have its origin with the slaves, but was probably transmitted from England. That it was in use, was no certain evidence that many large mansions were to be found in the Colony, since it was relative in its significance. There were also references to the planter’s residence as the “Manor House.” The typical dwelling of Virginia in the seventeenth century—and innumerable examples of the same kind have survived to the present day—was a framed building of moderate size with a chimney at each end. The early records of the eastern counties show the manner in which these houses were erected, and the outlay their construction entailed. Reference by way of illustration may be made to a few instances which have thus been preserved. In 1679, Major Thomas Chamberlayne, one of the most prominent citizens of Henrico, entered into an agreement with James Gates, a carpenter of the same county, by the terms of which, Gates was required to prepare the frame of a house that was to be forty feet in length and twenty

1 Va. Land Patents, vol. 1623-1643, p. 133. The residence of Mr. Sparks in Lancaster is also described in the records of that county as the “Great House.” See original vol. 1690-1709, pp. 19, 20.


in width. He was to put the different parts of this frame together on the spot selected as the site of the proposed dwelling, and then cover the sides with boards and place a roof on the top. There was to be no cellar, the house being supported by sills resting on the ground. A chimney was to be constructed at either end. The upper and lower floors were to be divided respectively into two rooms by wooden partitions. The joists and posts were to be squared by a line. In consideration of the satisfactory performance by Gates of the provisions of this agreement, Chamberlayne bound himself to pay twelve hundred pounds of tobacco in cask. The house was to be finished in seven months.1

In 1695, Robert Sharpe contracted to pay John Hudlesy, both being citizens of Henrico, twenty-two hundred pounds of tobacco in consideration that Hudlesy would build for him a framed house, thirty feet long and twenty feet wide, having a chimney at each end. Sharpe was to furnish the boards and shingles, and Hudlesy the nails and timbers, the latter during the performance of the agreement being required to supply his own food.2

Robert Stevens of Middlesex bound himself to erect for Thomas Hill a house forty feet in length in consideration of the payment of nine pounds sterling.3

Under the terms of a contract between the executors of William Pryor and Richard Bernard of York County, the latter in leasing the Pryor estate was required, in addition to paying the taxes, to build what was described as a sufficient dwelling-house, that is to say, a house

1 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1677-1692, p. 88, Va. State Library.

2 Ibid., vol. 1677-1699, orders Oct. 1, 1695, Va. State Library.

3 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1680-1694, p. 53; see also Ibid., original vol. 1673-1685, f. p. 17.


forty feet in length and eighteen or twenty in breadth.1 Christopher Branch of Henrico County, a planter in comfortable circumstances, who died in the latter part of the seventeenth century, gave directions in his will that there should be erected for his son a residence twenty feet long and sixteen wide, and for his grandson a dwelling to be made up of four series of boards five feet from end to end. The house in which he himself lived was twenty feet in length and fifteen in width.2 Richard Ward of Henrico left instructions that a dwelling twenty feet wide and thirty feet long should be built for his son. Five chimneys were to be erected.3

It is quite probable that the residences of the ministers represented the average dimensions of the dwelling-houses in Virginia at this period of colonial history. In 1635, there was erected in one of the parishes of the Eastern Shore a wooden parsonage, forty feet in width, eighteen feet in depth, and nine feet in the valley. A chimney was raised at each end. An apartment was attached to the main structure on either side, one being used as a study, the other as a buttery.4

The number of rooms in the dwelling-house of this century varied with the size of the structure; thus the residence of Governor Berkeley at Green Spring was divided into six apartments, while that of William Fitzhugh contained twelve or thirteen. The Stratton dwelling-house in Henrico had three chambers above and one below stairs, a hall, kitchen, and pantry. The kitchen was probably

1 Records of York County, vol. 1638-1648, p. 318, Va. State Library.

2 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1677-1692, p. 209; Ibid., original vol. 1697-1704, pp. 192, 195.

3 Sometimes the specifications called for one inside and one outside chimney. Records of York County, vol. 1691-1701, p. 205, Va. State Library.

4 Records of Accomac County, vol. 1632-1640, p. 43, Va. State Library.


detached. In the Osborne residence, the rooms on the lower floor are described as the “best,” the “outward,” and the “lodging;” on the upper floor, there were only two apartments, the “best room” and the “north room.” The kitchen was under a different roof. The Farrar dwelling-house contained a hall, an inner and an outer chamber, and a shed. The dairy and kitchen were also referred to, but they were probably in separate buildings.1

In some of the houses in York County, a hall or dining-room, a chamber and a kitchen, only were to be found. These dwellings either did not rise above one story or they spread out beyond the main structure. In others, the term “parlor” is substituted in the inventories for chamber in enumerating the suite of rooms. In others still, there were the new room, the inner room, the little chamber, or the little room opposite the stairs, the hall, the chamber over the parlor, the parlor, the shed, and the kitchen. In all of these cases, the kitchen was either attached to the main building or stood entirely by itself.

The apartments in the house of Colonel Thomas Ludlow, a planter of wealth, who lived about the middle of the century, consisted of an inner room, a small middle room, a chamber, hall, buttery, kitchen, milk-house, and store. Mathew Hubbard was also the owner of very valuable property. His home contained a parlor and hall, a hall and parlor chamber, a kitchen and buttery. Edward Lockey of the same county was a merchant who had acquired a considerable estate both by his own thrift and by his marriage with a widow who had received a fortune under the will of her first husband. His dwelling-house was probably as large as that of any man in the Colony in

1 Records of Henrico County, Stratton, original vol. 1697-1704, p. 137; Osborne, vol. 1688-1697, p. 351; Farrar, vol. 1682-1701, p. 9, Va. State Library.


possession of the same means; it contained only seven apartments, the chamber over the hall, the small room situated in the rear of the chamber, the room over the chamber, which was probably of very small dimensions, as a bed and couch formed its only furniture, the hall, which was situated on the ground floor, the middle room, the porch chamber, and the kitchen. There was in addition a dairy. Edmund Cobbs of York, who was the owner of six negro slaves, forty-eight head of cattle, thirty-two sheep, fifteen head of hogs, three cart and three saddle horses, resided in a house containing a hall and kitchen on the lower floor and one room above stairs.1

The division of rooms in the houses of Mrs. Elizabeth Digges and Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., of York, represents very probably the average number in the homes of the wealthiest members of the planting class in this county at the end of the century. The different names given to many of these apartments recall a contemporaneous custom of English housekeepers which has descended to the latest generation of Virginians. There were in the residence of Mrs. Digges, the yellow room, the red room, and the hall parlor; there was a large room opposite the yellow room, which was probably the chamber of the master and the mistress, while back of this, a small room was situated. Above the floor on which these apartments were found, there was a garret with a room attached, while below there was a cellar.2

The residence of Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., contained the old and the new hall, an inner room over the hall, an outer room, an upper chamber, the chamber of Mrs. Bacon and a chamber above it, a kitchen, dairy, and storeroom. Colonel

1 Records of York County, Ludlow, vol. 1657-1662, p. 275; Hubbard, vol. 1664-1672, p. 464; Cobbs, vol. 1690-1694, p. 333, Va. State Library.

2 Ibid., vol. 1690-1694, p. 313, Va. State Library.


Bacon was one of the largest property holders in Virginia.1 Rosegill in Middlesex, the home of Ralph Wormeley, President of the Council and Secretary of the Colony, a man whose personal estate was appraised at nearly three thousand pounds sterling, equal in value to sixty thousand dollars, contained a parlor with a chamber overhead, a chamber with a second chamber above it, an old and new nursery, the lady’s chamber with a chamber overhead, an entry, two closets, and a storeroom. Apparently detached from the house, there were a kitchen and dairy, two stories in height.2

Robert Beverley, who died in 1687, was a planter of still more valuable estate, but his residence was of much less pretension in size and appointments. Its apartments included the chamber in which Major Beverley slept, a second chamber overhead, a porch and hall chamber, a dairy and kitchen and the overseer’s room. Richard Willis of Middlesex was also a man of wealth. His house, which had received several additions from time to time, contained, eight rooms and one closet, with a kitchen and dairy attached. There were six rooms, a kitchen, and two closets in the residence of Corbin Griffin of the same county.3

The residence of William Fauntleroy of Rappahannock, one of the principal landowners in that part of Virginia, contained a hall chamber with a second chamber overhead, a porch chamber, a hall, closet, and kitchen.4 Thomas Willoughby, a wealthy planter of Lower Norfolk County,

1 Records of York County, vol. 1694-1697, p. 261, Va. State Library.

2 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1698-1713, p. 113; see also William and Mary Quarterly, January, 1894, p. 170.

3 Records of Middlesex County, Beverley inventory on file, 1687; Willis, original vol. 1698-1718, p. 68; Griffin, original vol. 1698-1713, p. 134.

4 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 108, Va. State Library.


resided in a house which was made up of a hall and parlor, a porch chamber, two additional chambers known respectively as the green and the red, over which there were two garrets, a chamber which Mrs. Willoughby used and which had a loft above it, a kitchen, meal-room, and cellar, a dairy, quartering-room, and shed. The dwelling of Adam Thoroughgood, who died in 1686, had fewer apartments. They included three chambers, a hall and parlor, a kitchen and cellar. Apparently, it was of one story. The house of Cornelius Lloyd, whose personal estate was valued at 131,044 pounds of tobacco, contained a chamber and hall, a kitchen, with a loft and a dairy. The residence of Adam Keeling was distinguished for seven rooms, including two sheds, a kitchen, and a buttery. In the dwelling of Captain John Sibsey, there were, besides a quartering-room and dairy, a parlor hall and chamber. The home of Francis Emperor contained three rooms in addition to a shed, dairy, and kitchen. These planters were the leading citizens of Lower Norfolk County.1

In the house of Southey Littleton of Accomac there were a parlor chamber, a porch chamber, a hall chamber, a hall, two garrets, a little room over the kitchen, the kitchen and the dairy.2 The residence of Argoll Yeardley of Northampton contained a hall chamber, a hall, a parlor chamber, two small chambers next to the parlor, with a dairy and kitchen, probably detached.3

The partitions of the plantation dwelling-house were

1 Records of Lower Norfolk County, Willoughby, original vol. 1666-1675, p. 125; Thoroughgood, original vol. 1675-1686, p. 223; Lloyd, original vol. 1651-1656, f. p. 163; Keeling, original vol. 1675-1686, f. p. 163; Sibsey, original vol. 1661-1666, f. p. 54; Emperor, original vol. 1656-1666, p. 346.

2 Records of Accomac County, original vol. 1676-1690, p. 293.

3 Records of Northampton County, original vol. 1654-1655, f. p. 117.


first covered with a thick layer of tenacious mud and then whitewashed.1 Lime was made in large quantities with ease, on account of the masses of oyster shells to be found in the soil or in the rivers.2 Bullock remarked on the excellence of this material in Virginia, its superiority to the like in use in the mother country being due to the fact that English lime was manufactured from chalk and was in consequence thin and less enduring.3 In some cases, the walls were scaled with riven boards and the partitions lined with wainscoting. This was observed in the house of Colonel Daniel Parke of York.4 The room of the Secretary of State at Jamestown was coiled with sawn boards which had been planed until they were perfectly smooth.5

The roofing of the houses was made of shingle, which was a square oblong piece of cypress or pine wood. There was some attempt to manufacture tile, but when used, it proved to be defective.6 In the Cohabitation Act of 1662, it was provided that the roofs of the brick houses

1 Leah and Rachel, p. 18, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 New Description of Virginia, p. 7, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II. See also Glover, in Philo. Trans. Royal Soc., 1676-1678, vol. XI-XII, p. 635.

3 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 3.

4 “Whereas Mr. Robert Whitehaire, attorney of Mr. Richard, executr of Mr. Robert Bourne, arrested to this court, Mr. Henry White concerning the furnishing and completing of his dwelling-house, as the house of Capt. Daniel Parke then was, and it being referred to the oath of the said White to declare what he was to doe thereto, and he on oath declares that he was to scale the upper rooms with riven boards, to make a wainscot partition between the two rooms and a wainscot . . . on the stair head and to put banisters into the stairs, for which said work when finished, the said Bourne was to pay him 666 lbs. of tobacco at 4½d. per lb.” Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, p. 71, Va. State Library.

5 Order of Governor and Council, Oct. 8, 1685, McDonald Papers, vol. VII, p. 386, Va. State Library.

6 New Description of Virginia, p. 7, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. II; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 235.


to be erected at Jamestown should be covered with this material;1 this constituted probably the greater quantity in Virginia during the latter part of the century, although it was said of the storm which occurred in 1684 that a large proportion of the damage which it inflicted consisted in the destruction of the tile roofs by the hail. No slate seems to have been employed, although, as the line of settlements spread, quarries of this formation were discovered. The cost of its transportation would have excluded it, even if the violent winds of Virginia had not rendered its use inadvisable. Cypress shingles were not only remarkable for the length of time during which they would last in a state of absolute exposure to every sort of weather, but they could be procured at a comparatively small expense, a consideration of supreme importance. The demand for this roofing was always steady. Among the fines imposed upon some of the persons implicated in the insurrection of Bacon was one of ten thousand shingles.2

The windows of the houses were doubtless in many cases merely sliding panels; in all homes of any pretension, however, glass panes were in use.3 In 1684, Colonel Byrd transmitted an order to his London merchant to send him four hundred feet of glass with drawn lead and solder in proportion, but a part of this was probably designed for sale in the Colony.4 Fitzhugh gave similar instructions

1 Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 172. The order was “slate or tile.”

2 Petition of John Johnson, British State Papers, Colonial Papers; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1677, p. 6, Va. State Library.

3 Leah and Rachel, p. 18, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. “In the difference between Mr. Thomas Ballard, Jr., assignee of Col. Thomas Ballard and Jeremiah Wing, it is ordered that the said Wing doth forthwith perform and finish the glazing work he was to do, otherwise execution for forty shillings to issue against him.” Records of York County, vol. 1684-1687, p. 157, Va. State Library. See also Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1651-1656, f. p. l.

4 Letters of William Byrd, June 21, 1684.


to his correspondent in England. Boxes of this material formed not infrequently a portion of the estate of deceased planters.1 In the county levies, provision was made for the purchase of glass for the court-houses, and glaziers were paid at the rate of fifty pounds of tobacco to put it in place.2 Some of these mechanics were so prosperous that they were able to acquire large tracts of land by patent. There are references in the inventories to cross garnets for windows. In a climate like that of Virginia, in which hail-storms and tempests arose so suddenly and prevailed with such violence, it was necessary to protect the glass panes with strong shutters; these shutters and the body of the house were in many instances allowed to remain unpainted, but this was not the case in general.3 The example of Fitzhugh was doubtless followed by every other planter in the enjoyment of easy circumstances; on one occasion alone he is found importing a large quantity of colors, with walnut and linseed oil, brushes, and half a dozen suits of the three-quarter cloth in which the house painters of this age pursued their trade.

The surroundings of the planter’s residence were plain and simple. The yard, as it was called, consisted of open ground, overshadowed here and there by trees. In the immediate vicinity of the house was situated the garden, devoted partly to vegetables and partly to flowers, thyme, marjoram, and phlox being as abundant there as in England. Many of the flowers and shrubs had only recently been

1 Francis Mathews’ personal estate included 37 feet of glass (Records of York County, vol. 1671-1694, p. 130, Va. State Library), and John Carter’s, one box, containing 144 feet of the same material (Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1690-1709, p. 23).

2 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1677-1692, p. 470, Va. State Library.

3 There is an entry in Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1690-1709, pp. 19, 20, in which it is stated that Edward Floyd painted the windows of the Sparks “Great House” with white lead.


brought from the mother country. Byrd is discovered in 1684 writing to his brother in England, and thanking him for the gooseberry and currant bushes which had just been received; in the salve year, he expresses to a second correspondent his appreciation of a gift of seeds and roots, which had been planted and had safely flowered.1 The summer-houses, arbors, and grottoes, which Beverley declares were to be found near the residences were doubtless generally situated in the garden, and were erected to afford a cool place of retreat in the warmest hours of the summer day; the garden itself was always protected by a paling to keep out the hogs and cattle which were permitted to wander without restraint. In the immediate vicinity of the dwellings of the wealthy landowners, there were as a rule grouped the dove-cot, stable, barn, henhouse, cabins for the servants, kitchen, and milk-house,2 the object of this in the last instances being to remove from the mansion the operations of cooking, washing, and dairying. In many yards, a tall pole with a toy house at the top was erected, in which the bee martin might build its nest, this bird bravely attacking the hawk and crow, and thus serving as a guardian of the poultry.3 In some cases, wells were dug as a means of procuring drinking water, but the natural springs were so numerous that the use of the former was comparatively rare.4 In the early history of the Colony,

1 Letters of William Byrd, May 21, 1684; Ibid., May 20, 1684. The seeds and roots were the iris, crocus, tulip, and anemone. Flower-pots are sometimes included in the inventories of personal estates. See, for instance, Records of Henrico County, vol. 1677-1692, p. 284, Va. State Library.

2 Letters of William Fitzhugh, April 22, 1686; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 235.

3 Such a pole stood in the yard surrounding the house of Colonel Nathaniel Bacon, Sr.

4 “They have pure and wholesome water which they fetch wholly from springs, whereof the country is so full that there is not a house but hath [footnote continues on p. 162] one nigh the door.” Glover, in Phila. Trans. Royal Soc., 1676-1678, vol. XI-XII, pp. 635, 636.


when there was a constant prospect of an assault by the Indians, the law required that the ground immediately adjacent to every house should be palisaded. This provision was only temporary.1 At a later period, many of the planters were in the habit of keeping the area about their dwellings enclosed by a stout fence. Fitzhugh selected locust for this purpose, the fibre of this tree being remarkable for its endurance.2 The same wood was for a similar reason employed by other planters.

Before entering into a description of the different contents of the plantation house and its out-buildings in the seventeenth century, it will be interesting to consider very briefly what several of the earliest writers who were familiar with the Colony thought necessary that the person taking up his residence there should import in the way of clothing and utensils. The Company advised that in addition to bringing with him certain articles of apparel to which reference will be made hereafter, the emigrant should carry over a pair of canvas sheets, seven ells of fine and five ells of coarse canvas, and one coarse rug; for kitchen utensils, one iron pot, one kettle, a spit, one large frying-pan, two skillets, several platters, dishes, and wooden spoons.3 Williams recommended, as we have already seen, that the emigrant should bring with him an iron pot, a gridiron, a large and a small kettle, skillets, frying-pans, dishes, platters, spoons, and knives.4 The agent in London to whom Sir Edward Verney wrote when he had decided to send his son to Virginia, had practical knowledge as to the household goods that would be required

1 Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 127.

2 Letters of William Fitzhugh, April 22, 1686.

3 Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 607-609.

4 Virginia Richly Valued, p. 10, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


by an emigrant to the Colony; he restricted the articles which would be needed to a feather-bed, bolster, and rug, a pair of blankets and three pairs of sheets.1

In examining the inventories of the seventeenth century, it is soon discovered that the overwhelming majority of planters who left personal estates were possessed of a far larger quantity of household goods than were found in these meagre enumerations. The English descent of the householders was shown in every particular of their residences. I shall begin with a description of the furniture and take the bedroom as a starting-point. The variety of beds in the possession of the planters was the same as in English homes of the same period; there were the large bed, the sea-bed,2 the flock-bed, and the trundle-bed, which was rolled under the large bed during the day. The bedtick was generally made of canvas and was stuffed with the feathers of wild or domestic fowls, or with hair or straw.3 One of the materials most commonly employed for this purpose in the homes of the smaller planters was the flower of a plant that was found in all the marshes and ponds of the Colony and which is still known as the cat-tail. This stuff had the softness of feathers. It was entirely a local expedient. The large bed of the chamber was surrounded by curtains which were upheld by a rod, some of these hangings being red, some white, and some green. The material of which they were made consisted of prints, linsey-woolsey, or kidderminster.

1 Verney Papers, Camden Society Publications; Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, pp. 109-111.

2 Among the orders of court recorded in York County is the following: “John Thomas ordered to pay Mathew Page a good sea-bed.” Vol. 1657-1662, p. 176, Va. State Library.

3 Colonel Norwood mentions that when he arrived at the house of Jenkin Price in Accomac, he lay down on a bed of fresh straw. Norwood’s Voyage to Virginia, p. 48, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.


The canopy does not appear to have been in common use. Some of the beds had mosquito nets.1 The valances, which were bands of cloth suspended from the sides of the bed to the floor, were made of linsey-woolsey; drugget, a species of cloth of French production containing gold and silver threads; or serge, a scarlet cloth, which, like all the cloths of this period which were dyed this color, was dear in price; or kidderminster, flowered green and white. The pillows and pillow-biers were manufactured of white linen or canvas, and the former were stuffed with feathers. The sheets were of oznaburg, canvas, brown or white holland. The most common blanket was known as the duffield. The outer covering consisted either of a coverlet, which was green or white in color, or a quilt of mixed hues. Sometimes it was of leather.2 The rugs were made of worsted yarn or cotton, and were white, red, green, or blue in color. In winter, the warming-pan was used as a means of taking the chill from the sheets, this household article being manufactured of brass. The couch, which was the forerunner of the sofa, served the purpose both of a bed and a reclining seat; it seems to have been made of different materials, references being found to wainscot, hide, tanned leather, embroidered Russian leather, and Turkey-worked couches. The last formed a part of the furniture in the houses of the wealthiest planters.

Prominent in the chamber were the trunk and the chest. Of the former, there were the plain leather, the

1 References to mosquito cloth in the inventories are very numerous. Among the articles of personal property owned by Thomas Batte at his death were fourteen yards of this cloth. Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, p. 234, Va. State Library.

2 Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1690-1709, p. 21, contains a reference to a leather coverlet.


gilt leather, the cabinet, and the sealskin.1 The chests were the principal receptacles of the most costly articles of clothing, many doubtless being highly ornamented. In them were placed the linen not in use, the garments of the past season, the fine dresses which were brought out only on special occasions, trinkets of value, and in some instances, plate. The substitute for the modern bureau was the case of drawers with a looking-glass fixed to its top. These glasses were of various sizes. There was also the detached looking-glass, which was often inserted in an olive wood frame. The chairs were made after several different fashions. There were the rush chair, the name derived from the material of which the seat was woven; the calfskin chair, which was doubtless the plainest in appearance; the Russian leather chair and the Turkey-worked chair. The Russian leather chair, the chair of the most costly manufacture, was found in all the dwellings in which there was any pretension to an unusual degree of comfort. In some houses, as many as two dozen were observed. The Turkey-worked chair was one the seat of which was covered with cloth highly ornamented with embroidered figures. In addition to these, there was the large wicker chair,2 the small wooden chair, with a bottom woven of white oak strips, and the cane chair, the plain stool, and the joint stool.

The fireplace was guarded by fenders of iron or tin. On the hearth stood andirons of brass or iron, those of the latter material not infrequently weighing as much as fifty-six pounds. They often represented dogs with brass

1 Inventory of Jonathan Newell included an oyster-shell trunk. Records of York County, vol. 1675-1685, p. 146, Va. State Library.

2 A wicker chair formed part of the household property of Nathaniel Bacon, Sr. Records of York County, vol. 1694-1697, p. 261, Va. State Library.


heads. There were shovels and tongs of iron, and doubtless, in many cases, of brass. In some of the houses, the backs of the chimneys were of the former metal.1 A large chafing-dish was used at times for heating the chamber. The floor was frequently protected by carpets, some of which were of stout leather, some of stuffs highly figured and colored.2 There were printed linens for the windows and printed cottons for the chimneys. In some of the houses, the walls of the chambers were hung with tapestry.3 There were screens, escritoires, and clocks of various and often of costly patterns.4 There were combs of horn and ivory for the arrangement of the hair. The basin and ewer were of pewter. The soap used in washing was either imported or the product of domestic manufacture. The inventories contain many references to “Virginia soft soap.”

The respective value of the various articles in the numerous chambers did not differ in a very striking degree. In this respect, the appraisements of the contents of the rooms in the residence of Thomas Stratton of Henrico, a planter whose estate was fairly representative, was probably not exceptional; the furniture in one chamber above stairs was set down as worth thirty-two pounds sterling; in another, thirty-seven; that in the principal apartment on the ground floor, thirty-nine.5 The furniture in the hall of the Yates residence in Lower Norfolk was entered at two thousand three hundred and

1 Letters of William Fitzhugh, June 28, 1684; Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1646-1651, f. p. 98.

2 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 106, Va. State Library. The term “carpet” was sometimes applied to table coverings.

3 Letters of William Fitzhugh, April 22, 1686.

4 There is a reference to a clock in Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 247, Va. State Library.

5 Records of Henrico County, original vol. 1607-1701, p. 137.


fifty-three pounds of tobacco; in the buttery, at a thousand and sixty-four; in the chamber, at six hundred and fifty; and in the closet, at ninety-six. This was near the middle of the century, when that commodity had begun to maintain a general average of about two pence a pound.1 Corbin Griffin, a planter of Middlesex who was in possession of a large amount of property, bequeathed to his widow one hundred pounds sterling, with which to furnish presumably her chamber.2

The articles in use in the hall or dining-room, which was sometimes called the “great room,” were comparatively few; among them were several varieties of tables, the most common of which were the short and the long framed, with benches or forms in proportion to their lengths, for seats. In addition, there were the folding, the falling, the Spanish, the Dutch oval, and the sideboard table. Some of these pieces of furniture were made of black walnut and some of cedar. The chairs found in this apartment were of the same character as those belonging to the chamber. An ordinary feature of this room was the cupboard, in which the plates and dishes were kept. The tablecloths were manufactured of cotton, oznaburg, dowlas, holland and damask, the damask table-cloth being of the finest texture, and therefore probably only used on special occasions. Among the articles included in the inventory of Mrs. Elizabeth Digges of York, presented in court in 1699,3 were nine table-cloths of this material. The quantity of table linen in English and Virginian homes of the seventeenth century

1 Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1646-1651, f. p. 35.

2 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1698-1713, p. 108. The chamber furniture of Mrs. William Basset was valued at twenty pounds sterling. Records of General Court, p. 121.

3 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, p. 214, Va. State Library.


is one of the most striking features of the domestic economy of that age; it was true of the tablecloths; it was still more true of the table napkins, the need for which was greater in those times than in the present on account of the rarity of the fork. The napkin was made of damask, canvas, lockram, oznaburg, holland, dowlas, diaper, huckaback, and Virginian cloth. That of canvas was of the most inferior texture. Costly as the purchase of damask napkins must have been, it is found that Mrs. Elizabeth Digges left thirty-six of this material. Napkins of the finest quality were often worked in figures. The press in which these articles were stored was one of the most familiar pieces of furniture in the homes of the planters of the seventeenth century.1

The plates in use were made, some of earthen ware, some of wooden, but the greatest number were of pewter. Pewter plates had the advantage not only of cheapness but also of durability, in which respect they were superior to the earthen and wooden. References are also found to trenchers, which were pieces of board.2 There were certain varieties of plates used for special purposes, as the pie-plate and the fish-plate. Many had been finely painted.3 The dishes also were generally made of pewter, some weighing as much as five pounds apiece, and being either deep or broad. Besides the ordinary dish, there was the chafing, the butter, and the magazine dish. There are few references to the fork in the inventories of the seventeenth century;

1 The furniture in the dining-room of Robert Beverley, Sr., one of the wealthiest men in the Colony, consisted of an oval and a folding table, a small table and a leather couch, two chests, a chest of drawers and fifteen Russian leather chairs, the whole valued at £9 9s. See inventory on file among Records of Middlesex County. The contents of the whole house were appraised at £207 19s. 6d.

2 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, p. 685.

3 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1698-1713, p. 71.


this article, not being generally found on English tables at this time, was not likely to enter into the domestic economy of the English colonist. Richard Hobbs, of Rappahannock, who died about 1677, owned a single fork.1 John Foison of Henrico was in possession of one of tortoise-shell.2 There are included in the personal estate of Robert Dudley of Middlesex, which was entered in court about 1700, a number of horn forks. James Blaise of the same county owned forks valued at two shillings. Corbin Griffin was also in possession of a few pieces of cutlery of this kind.3 The knives in use were the ease knife, which came in packages of a dozen, and the “slope point.” The ordinary composition of the spoons was tin, pewter, or alchemy, the alchemy spoon appearing to be as common as the pewter. William Major of York County, as shown in the inventory of his personal estate, owned three dozen spoons manufactured of this material.4 The steel spoon was not unknown. The salt-cellar was made of pewter, agate, or earthenware. There were in addition pewter or earthen porringers, sugar-pots, castors, custard-cups, bottle cruets, square glass and stone bottles, pewter bowls, and earthen jugs. There were for purposes of drinking a variety of receptacles, such as the tumbler, the mug, the cup, the flagon, the tankard, and the beaker. The cups were known by a number of names, such as the lignum vitæ, the syllabub, the sack, and the dram. The horn cup is sometimes referred to, but pewter was the material of which these utensils were generally made; there were few houses in which the raw metal was not

1 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 11, Va. State Library.

2 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, p. 463, Va. State Library.

3 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1698-1713, pp. 100, 112, 133.

4 Records of York County, vol. 1677-1684, p. 48, Va. State Library.


kept on hand in considerable quantities, to be consumed chiefly, however, in repairs.

A ware appearing on the table in the service of the meals less commonly than pewter or alchemy, but still not infrequently, was silver; plates and dishes were rarely found of thus metal in the Colony, but it entered very often into the composition of the cups, tumblers, tankards, porringers, and spoons. The author of Leah and Rachel, writing about the middle of the century, remarked upon the fact that there was a good store of silver in many of the planters’ homes.1 This had either been inherited from English relations or been purchased in England. The instance of Margaret Chessman, of Bermondsea, was not exceptional; in 1679, this lady is stated to have bequeathed a great silver beaker and tankard with other plate to the children of Lemuel Mason, who resided in Virginia.2 The far greater quantity in the Colony was doubtless bought in the mother country, like other articles in household use. Byrd, writing to his merchant in London in 1684, instructs him to send to him, “two new-fashioned silver mugs, one to contain half a pint, the other one quarter of a pint.”3 Fitzhugh purchased silver plate from time to time upon the principle that it was a form of property which would never lose its value, and, therefore, the parent was fortunate who could transmit much of it to his children as a part of his estate. In 1687, he directed Hayward to invest certain bills of exchange which stood to his credit in London in a pair of middle-sized silver candlesticks, a pair of snuffers, and a snuff-dish, and half a dozen trencher salts, the remainder to be expended in a

1 Leah and Rachel, p. 16, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

2 New England Historical and Genealogical Register, April, 1693, p. 250.

3 Letters of William Byrd, May 20, 1684.


handsome silver basin. In a letter to the same correspondent in 1689, he ordered to be sent him two silver dishes weighing fifty ounces apiece, and two, seventy ounces, a set of castors for sugar, pepper, and mustard, to weigh about twenty-four or twenty-six ounces, a basin, between forty and forty-five ounces, a salver and a pair of candlesticks about thirty ounces apiece, a ladle about ten ounces, and a case containing a dozen silver-hafted knives and a dozen silver-hafted forks. In 1698, he purchased in England two silver dishes of eighty or ninety ounces apiece, one dozen ordinary and two silver bread plates, one large pair of silver candlesticks and one pair of silver snuffers with a stand.1

The inventories show that many planters in moderate circumstances were in possession of a considerable quantity of silver plate. Among the items of the Farrar personalty there was one silver tankard, one silver beaker, one silver tumbler, three silver cups, two small silver salt cellars, and ten silver spoons. In the Davis personalty, there were twelve silver spoons; in the Milner, a small silver tumbler, a sack, and three dram-cups. The Crews estate included plate valued at eleven pounds sterling. Silver tankards, spoons, and other varieties of dining service formed a part of the Isham estate. Richard Ward left to his children at his death twenty-seven silver spoons, one silver bowl, one silver dram-cup, two silver mugs, one silver tankard, and several silver salt-cellars.2 Martin Elam bequeathed a silver tankard, two cups, and ten spoons. The owners of this plate were prominent landowners of Henrico County.

1 Letters of William Fitzhugh, July 18, 1687; July 21, 1698.

2 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1677-1692; Farrar, pp. 267, 268; Davis, p. 284; Milner, p. 286; Crews, p. 370; Isham, p. 392; Ward, p. 221.


The York records disclose that there were an equal number of planters in that county who were in possession of silverware representing the same varieties. Thus the Hunt estate included a silver currel, one sack and one dram-cup;1 the Croshaw personalty, a silver sack-cup, a silver tankard of the largest size, valued at four pounds sterling, perhaps equal in purchasing power to an hundred dollars in our modern currency, and twenty-four silver spoons.2 Mrs. Elizabeth Digges bequeathed two hundred and sixty-one ounces of silver plate. Robert Booth left twelve silver spoons, one salt-cellar, and one silver tumbler.3 In the estate of Richard Stock, there were thirteen silver spoons.4 The silver plate owned by Mathew Hubbard was appraised at five pounds sterling,5 while the proportion in the personalty of the Eubank estate was estimated at two pounds.6 Joseph Croshaw bequeathed three silver spoons and three silver sack-cups to his wife, and one silver beaker, one silver candle-cup, and two dramcups of the same metal to one of his sons.7 The estate of William White included six silver spoons, a silver wine-cup, and three dram-cups, one large silver tankard and one sugar-dish;8 the estate of Quintillian Gutherick of Elizabeth City, a silver salt-cellar, a silver cup, a silver punch-bowl, and four silver spoons. Thomas Wythe of the same county left three silver tankards, a silver cup, and seven silver spoons.9

The personalty of William Kendall of Northampton included, in silver plate, twenty-seven spoons, four salt-cellars,

1 Records of York County, vol. 1675-1684, p. 100, Va. State Library.

2 Ibid., p. 33. This was Richard Croshaw.

3 Ibid., vol. 1690-1694, p. 130.

4 Ibid., vol. 1664-1672, p. 532.

5 Ibid., p. 472.

6 Ibid., vol. 1684-1687, p. 255.

7 Ibid., vol. 1664-1672, p. 256.

8 Ibid., vol. 1657-1662, p. 152.

9 Elizabeth City County Records, vol. 1684-1699, pp. 36, 100, Va. State Library.


two sugar-dishes, a porringer, a tankard, two dram cups, two punch and one candle, and a pair of snuffers.1 Henry Spratt of Lower Norfolk possessed, in the form of silverware, three plates, one tankard, one salt-cellar, a beaker, three candle, three dram, and seven sack cups, two porringers, and fourteen spoons. Thomas Sibsey of the same county was the owner in silver of two beer-bowls, two wine-cups, a tankard, a beaker, twenty-four spoons, and four salt-cellars. The silver pieces belonging to Mrs. Sarah Willoughby were still more valuable; they were a large sugar basin, one large and three small salt-cellars, twenty-four spoons, two beer-bowls and one claret, a small tankard, a candle and a dram cup, and a small porringer.2 The silver owned by Robert Beverley of Middlesex were two tankards, one beaker, six cups, a porringer, a sugar-box, three trencher salts, one large salt-cellar, and seventeen spoons, amounting in value to thirty-one pounds sterling.3 Corbin Griffin of the same county possessed one hundred and sixty-six ounces of silver plate.4 Mrs. Rebecca Travers of Rappahannock owned in silver, one large salt-cellar, six trencher salts, one sugar-dish, eighteen spoons, a bottle, a snuff-dish with snuffers, a bowl, a tankard, a tumbler, two sack-cups and a dram-cup.5

In bequeathing their personalty, the testators were generally careful to apportion the silver plate equally among their heirs. This seems to have been in a marked degree the case in the disposition of spoons. The example

1 Records of Northampton County, original vol. 1689-1698, p. 500.

2 Records of Lower Norfolk County, Spratt, original vol. 1680-1695, f. p. 95; Sibsey, original vol. 1651-1656, f. p. 54; Willoughby, original vol. 1666-1675, p. 170.

3 See Beverley’s inventory on file in Middlesex County.

4 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1698-1713, p. 135.

5 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 289, Va. State Library.


of Richard Ward in this respect was the one commonly followed; in making a division of his silver plate, he left nine spoons to each of his three children, consisting of two sons and a daughter. The value attached by the owners to their silver service was illustrated in the case of Colonel Richard Lee, who took the trouble, on the occasion of a visit to England in the time of the Protectorate, to carry over his plate with a view to changing its fashion. The silver service of every person who was entitled to a coat of arms was engraved with his device.1

There is reason to think that few paintings adorned the walls of the chambers, halls, and parlors of the residences in that age. They were not entirely absent, however, from the homes of the most prosperous planters. Colonel Thomas Ludlow owned a portrait of Richardson, an English Judge.2 In one of the rooms of his house, Joseph Croshaw of York had hung five pictures, whether portraits or landscapes it is impossible to discover from the inventory of his estate.3 There was an equal number in the hall of Lieutenant Thomas Foote. The paintings in the parlor of Mrs. Elizabeth Digges could not have been of a high degree of merit, as they were appraised at five shillings only, there being in addition five of a small size in her garret. Those in the possession of John Smythe of York were also valued at the same amount.

1 See a reference to the coat of arms of Colonel Richard Lee, engraved on his plate, in Sainsbury’s Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, vol. 1574-1660, p. 430.

2 Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 275, Va. State Library.

3 Records of York County, Croshaw, vol. 1664-1672, p. 257; Foote, Ibid., p. 266; Smythe, vol. 1687-1691, p. 143, Va. State Library. See, also, reference in same volume, p. 379, to the “old pictures” of Mrs. Rowland Jones. The inventory of James Archer included a “parcell of pictures.” Vol. 1694-1097, p. 429, Va. State Library. There is a reference to portraits in the will of William Fitzhugh, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II, p. 276.


Among the articles to be found in the rooms of the planter’s residence were musical instruments, the most common of which was the virginal, but the hand lyre was not unknown. The cornet was also in use, and likewise both the small and the large fiddle, the violin, the recorder, the flute, and the hautboy.1

The utensils of the kitchen were made of brass, tin, pewter, wood, or clay. In the homes of the most affluent planters, there was probably an occasional boiler of copper and brass, imbedded in brick and mortar, and heated from beneath. This was a common feature of the English kitchens of that age. A boiler of this kind was often used in brewing. The principal utensil for boiling was the great iron pot which was hung on moving iron racks firmly attached to the chimney-piece; in summer, when a large part of the cooking was done out of doors, it was swung to a pole supported by posts and a fire lighted under it. Doubtless, the food of all the servants and slaves on each estate was prepared in a single mess in this utensil. These pots weighed in general about forty pounds, but in many cases they exceeded that figure. In addition, there were brass, tin, and copper kettles, some holding as much as fifteen gallons. There were iron spits for roasting, and iron and brass ladles for pouring the gravy over the flesh as it was cooking, and the dripping-pan for catching the gravy as it fell. There were gridirons for broiling, iron and brass skillets for baking, and

1 See, for these different instruments, Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, pp. 77, 532; vol. 1684-1687, p. 341, Va. State Library; Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1690-1709, p. 31; Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1695-1703, f. p. 137. The items in the inventory of Judith Parker included one recorder, two flutes, and one hautboy. Records of Surry County, vol. 1671-1684, p. 376, Va. State Library. Josiah Moody owned two violins. Records of York County, vol. 1687-1691, p. 42, Va. State Library.


pans for frying meats. There were brass chafing-dishes, skimmers, and saucepans, and pans of tin and earthenware for the reception of raw vegetables. There were mortars and pestles of iron, bell-metal, and brass; tin bread-graters, tin, sugar, and hominy sifters, wooden trays upon which the meals were borne from the kitchen to the dining-room; drawing-knives, which were probably the same as voiding-knives, with a slender blade, a keen edge, and a sharp point; chopping-knives, which were long, stout, and heavy, being used in dividing the solid meats both before and after they were cooked; also knives made for cutting cheese, dull and small in size; large flesh-forks which were employed in turning the meats in the pots; powdering-tubs in which beef and pork recently slaughtered were salted; flour-tubs, meal-barrels, tin cullenders, and funnels, butter and galley pots, pepper-boxes, wooden bowls, bell-metal posnets, pincers, rolling-pins, bellows, stillyards, scales, and weights. The oven was placed in the immediate vicinity of the house, being a brick structure in a hole in the ground.1 The ironing seems to have been done in the kitchen; in the inventory of the contents of this room, box-iron heaters and sad-irons are generally found enumerated.

The utensils in the dairy, or milk-house, as it was usually called, were cedar churns, pails, noggins and pigging, tubs, trays, and strainers; cheese-presses, butter-sticks, and earthen butter-pots.

1 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, p. 10, Va. State Library. “Upon the examination of Culpeper (a servant) . . . he confessed that John Green did come to him as he was at the oven about the bread.” Records of Accomac County, original vol. 1632-1640, p. 47. See also Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 174, Va. State Library. Lessors sometimes bound themselves to repair “the brick ovens” belonging to the houses leased. See Records of York County, original vol. 1675-1683, p. 596.


In examining the furniture and utensils in the different rooms in the dwelling-house of the average planter of the seventeenth century, it will be found that no effort was made to preserve a distinct character for each apartment. With the exception of the kitchen, there was hardly a room in the building which did not contain a bed, a fact that was due either to the size of the families at that period, or to the hospitable spirit of the landowners. In the hall, where the meals were taken, there were frequently placed flock-beds, linen chests, smoothing-irons, guns, pistols, powder-horns, and cutlasses, swords, drums, saddles, and bridles. In the parlor, which was the term applied to the apartment used as a sitting-room by the family as well as a reception-room for the guests, there were large feather-beds and truckle-beds, and also chests filled with the most valuable clothing and the finest table and bed linen. In the chamber, every variety of article in use in the household was stored, while the dairy, in addition to the ordinary utensils of the milk-house, contained masses of old and new pewter for repairing flagons, porringers, stills, chamber-pots, tankards, and fish-kettles. Powdering-tubs, chests, rum-casks, stillyards, spinning-wheels, raw hides, and sides of tanned leather were enumerated as a part of the contents of the “poultry.”

It will be interesting, as showing the division of the household articles among the different apartments of a dwelling, as well as throwing light on the character of these articles, to give in detail the items in the inventory of a planter whose estate was fairly representative of the average. I shall take the home of Thomas Osborne of Henrico, who died in the last decade of the century, leaving a personalty calculated to be worth one hundred and twenty-five pounds sterling, which, according to the


values of the present day, amounted perhaps to three thousand dollars in American currency.1 I shall omit all reference to the clothing and live stock of the estate, confining the enumeration to the furniture, table ware, bed and table linen, and the utensils in the kitchen and dairy. The room designated as the “best” contained a feather-bed, with a bolster and a pair of pillows, curtains and valance, a blanket, and a worsted rug. There were also two chests with locks and keys, one framed table and a large form, one small sideboard table, one chest of drawers, six high and six low leather chairs, a small old-fashioned looking-glass, a pair of andirons with brass bosses, a pair of bellows, and a small leather trunk. In the apartment described as the “outward room” there were a feather-bed with kidderminster curtains and valances, a bolster, a blanket, and a yarn rug, a pair of bellows, a large table and form, a small table, a chest, a couch, six rush-bottom chairs, and a pair of andirons. The apartment known as the “lodging room” contained a bedstead, a feather-bed, bolster, yarn rug, and blanket, a cupboard and chest, two Dantzic cases, and a small trunk. Passing from the lower to the higher floor, there were in the “best upper room” an old feather-bed and bolster, a pair of blankets and a cotton rug, calico curtains and valance, a new feather-bed and bolster, worsted kidderminster curtains and valance, a plain set of drawers, six Russian leather chairs, a small round table and looking-glass, a small seal-skin trunk and an ordinary chest. In the “north room” above stairs there were a bedstead, feather-bed, bolster, rug, and blanket, two pairs of holland and canvas sheets, a pair of holland and a pair of calico pillow-beers, two long diaper table-cloths, twenty-two diaper and six coarse napkins, four towels of Virginian

1 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1686-1697, p. 350, Va. State Library.


cloth, one chest, two warming-pans, four brass candlesticks, two small guns fixed and two unfixed, a carbine and belt, a silver beaker, three tumblers, twelve spoons, one sack and one dram cup. In the kitchen there were three brass kettles, a brass and a bell-metal skillet, a bell-metal and a brass mortar and pestle, a brass skimmer and ladle, two iron pots, two iron dripping-pans, a frying-pan, a pewter still, two iron pothooks, two iron potracks, a pair of andirons, six pewter spoons, two pewter flagons, one pottle-pot, one sugar basin, one salt-cellar, one pewter tankard, one saucer, a box iron, and two heaters. Among the miscellaneous articles enumerated in the Osborne inventory were one wool and one linen spinning-wheel, a pair of wool-cards, six towels made of tag ends, one dozen new and eight old plates, eighty-six pounds of raw pewter, a parcel of earthenware, an iron pestle, a pair of stillyards, one gridiron, and two pairs of tongs.

The personal estate of Captain Francis Mathews of York did not differ substantially from that of Thomas Osborne.1 In the hall of the Mathews residence there were two frame tables, one six feet in length, the other four feet, two leather chairs, a cupboard and drawers, two brass candlesticks, a clock with weights, and a pair of stillyards. The parlor contained a bedstead with green curtains and valance, a feather-bed with pillow, bolster, blanket, and rugs, a truckle-bed with a bolster, two pillows, one blanket, and one rug, a flock-bed with bolster, blanket, and rug, four pairs of canvas sheets and one brown holland sheet, three pillow-biers, three chairs, a pair of andirons, a gridiron, a pair of tongs and a pair of bellows, a looking-glass, a chest and trunk, two wine-glasses, a table case with four knives, a warming-pan, twenty napkins and two table-cloths, a towel and two

1 Records of York County, vol. 1671-1694, p. 130, Va. State Library.


night-caps. In the room opposite to the stairway, there were thirty-two books, a saddle and bridle, two pounds of powder and sixteen pounds of shot, a yoke, ring, and sickle. The chamber over the parlor contained a limbeck of copper, a pewter still and bottom, a bedstead, a saddle, and an iron chain. In the kitchen, there were two iron pots, three pairs of pothooks, one spit, one flesh-hook, a frying-pan, fourteen milk-trays, one brass kettle, two brass skillets, one brass and one iron mortar, eight pewter dishes, a sugar basin and flagon, fourteen ordinary and two pie plates, two porringers, a quart and a half-pint pot, a salt-cellar, a mustard-pot, two saucers, three old pails, a churn, one churn-press, one joint stool, one cider hogshead, one window frame, a broadaxe, a saw and grindstone, and three hides.

Such in general were the household goods, independently of clothing, of the Virginian planter of the seventeenth century who possessed the average amount of property. The inventories of the personal estates of members of this class varied only slightly in their details, the articles in use being confined, as a rule, to those which were considered necessary for substantial comfort. Descending in the scale, it will be interesting to inquire as to the household goods of persons in narrower circumstances. In 1678, the inventory of William Gibburd of York was presented in court.1 It showed that he had in his lifetime owned the following articles in addition to live stock and clothing: two beds and bolsters, two rugs, two blankets, two pillows, a hammock, an iron pestle, a saddle and bridle, an iron pot and pothooks, a skillet, a frying-pan, a smoothing-iron and heaters, a pewter chamber-pot, six pewter dishes, ten trays, two pewter drinking-cups, two porringers, a saucepan, two tin pans, eight spoons, a box, six glass bottles,

1 Records of York County, vol. 1675-1684, p. 53, Va. State Library.


two runlets, four cases, one trunk, one churn, two pails, a butter and a washing tub, six stools, four chairs, three hammers, three axes, a drawing-knife, a branding-iron, a bill, a cross-cut saw, a rolling-pin, two combs and brushes.

The house of Thomas Shippey of Henrico1 contained only three apartments, a hall, bedchamber, and kitchen. In the hall, there were found a bedstead and bed, with a pillow and bolster, curtains and valance, a rug, a blanket and two pairs of sheets, a table form, an elbow chair, two leather and two wooden chairs, a small and a large chest. There were in the bedchamber, a trunk, a bed with a bolster, one rug, one blanket, and one pair of sheets, a small table-cloth, four napkins, and a towel; in the kitchen, there were six pewter dishes, three plates, two saucers, a tumbler, a chamber-pot, six spoons, a tankard, a pewter salt-cellar, an iron pot, spit, ladle, frying-pan, bread-tray, and pail.

The inventory of the personal estate of John Porter of Henrico, presented for record in 1689,2 showed the following articles in use in his household: one wooden and four pewter dishes, six alchemy spoons, six pewter plates, three pewter porringers, three iron pots and pot-hooks, a frying-pan and a meal-sifter, three trays and two stone jugs, a pail and piggin, three stools, a wooden and a leather chair, a couch, two bedsteads, a bed filled with cat-tails, a second bed stuffed with feathers, curtains, valance, a cupboard, chest, trunk, and table.

To enumerate the household goods of other planters in the same position of life would only be to repeat the details which I have already given. Let us now consider the nature and quantity of the household articles found

1 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, p. 5, Va. State Library.

2 Ibid., p. 64.


in the different rooms of the residences of planters in the enjoyment of the largest wealth which had as yet been accumulated in the hands of private individuals in the Colony. The home of Mrs. Elizabeth Digges may be examined as no unfavorable example.1 In the hall parlor of her dwelling-house there were five Spanish tables, two green and two Turkey-worked carpets, nine Turkey-worked chairs and eleven with arrows woven in the cloth of the seats, one embroidered and one Turkey-worked couch, five pictures, two pairs of brass andirons, three pairs of old tongs, and one clock. There was in the passage a chest containing thirty damask, thirty-six diaper, and sixty flaxen napkins, three diaper, nine damask, and forty-eight flaxen table-cloths, eight diaper towels, three pairs of holland sheets and pillow-biers, eight ells of holland, eight yards of calico, five ells of linen, and four yards of bunting.

In the “yellow room,” there were a chest of drawers, one Turkey-worked and two plain carpets, one remnant of worsted tapestry and seven remnants of silk, one cloth bed with curtains and valances lined with yellow silk, a silk and an ordinary counterpane, a calico quilt, a teaster and a head-piece, a suit of white, and two old red curtains and two boxes.

In the “large room” opposite the “yellow room,” there were a chest of drawers, a feather-bed with bolster, blanket and three winter curtains, a looking-glass, two trunks, one pair of brass andirons, one old brush, and one wooden chair. In the “back room” opposite the “large room,” there were a number of small and large books, one spice-box, several old gallipots, one pistol, two red trunks with a small quantity of different wares, a parcel of earthen utensils

1 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, p. 213, Va. State Library. Mrs. Digges was the widow of Edward Digges, Governor of Virginia.


and glasses, several painted boxes containing combs and needles, small scales and weights, one looking-glass, one ring dial, two cases of knives, eight gold mourning rings, a diamond and a small stone ring, one parcel of sea pearls, an old bodkin, twenty ounces of plate, an old small table, an old paper box, an old feather-bed and bolster, an old blanket and rug, three iron curtain rods, three old calico curtains, three pillows, and two baskets.

In the “red room,” there were a feather-bed with a bolster, two pillows, one blanket, a counterpane, a quilt, and curtains; there were also a drugget carpet, a pair of small iron dogs, two chairs, and a window curtain.

In the garret, there were two old feather-beds, five rugs, two blankets, a quilt, two bolsters, a small canvas bag, a napkin press, a brass pestle, five small pictures, one brass fire-shovel, two wooden platters, a rope, a remnant of canvas, and two old cushions. There were also in this apartment four chests, one of which contained eight curtains, an old blanket, and two pillows; there were also five old trunks with locks and keys and two old boxes.

In the second “back room,” there were one bedstead, three feather-beds, two bolsters, two pillows, eight pillow-biers, thirteen pairs of sheets, seven old towels, three dozen flaxen napkins, nine old flaxen table-cloths, a small chest of drawers, two wooden and two leather chairs, one small table and brush, a pair of andirons, and a pair of fire-tongs.

In the cellar, there were one dozen quart glass bottles, six earthen pots, a stone mortar with wooden pestle, and a small quantity of old lumber.

In the kitchen, there were one still, a warming-pan, and a small quantity of old brass, two gridirons, seven spits, four iron pots and pothooks, two pairs of potracks, one pair of rack irons, three old frying-pans, one pair of old tongs, a fire-shovel, a nutmeg grater, three brass stands,


two kettles, one brass skillet with an iron frame, a small skillet, one large and one small copper, and an old chest.

In Virginia, in the seventeenth century, the candle was in common use as a means of illuminating the rooms of the planters’ residences after night had fallen. It was made of different materials. The candle of myrtle wax was for several reasons one of the most popular articles employed, owing partly to the clear light which it gave forth, and partly to the exquisite odor emanating from it. It was considered equal to a candle of beeswax of the finest quality.1 The myrtle was a plant that grew in all the marshes and swamps, and as its berries could be gathered in great quantities, and converted by boiling into wax, the means of illumination which it furnished was turned to account by the poorest as well as by the most affluent colonists. The candle made of myrtle wax was frequently consumed in the public service. Among the commodities paid for out of the public revenue in 1699, were twenty-six pounds of this vegetable wax and two pounds of cotton wick.2 Deer suet was also used. In the statement of disbursements which Colonel Norwood and the other owners of the ship Pink made, the articles for which the tobacco in their hands was shown to have been expended included thirty pounds of this material, which had been purchased to be moulded into candles.3 Candles were also manufactured of beef tallow. Many were imported. The composition of the candlestick was of earthenware, brass, pewter, copper, iron, or silver. In some cases, the column was screwed to the plate. The snuffers, and the stand in which the snuffers were placed,

1 Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 108.

2 Palmer’s Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. I, p. 68.

3 See Accounts of Colonel Henry Norwood et al., fly leaf, p. 23, Letters of William Byrd.


were made of the same metals as the candlestick. There were tin and brass lamps and tin lanterns. In the homes of the poorest class, it is quite probable that the pine knot served an important part in illumination, the turpentine, congealed in the fibre of the wood, causing it to burn with a fierce glare until consumed. The steel mill was in frequent use as a means of striking a light.

The fuel of the dwelling-house was found in the surrounding forests, which furnished a great variety of wood.1 The hickory and the oak were abundant everywhere. The clearing of new grounds, this forming a part of the annual plantation work, supplied a great quantity of trunks and limbs of trees of all sizes. The large fireplaces of the residences in winter were filled with the heavy sticks, which, as the flames converted them into ashes, were, with a generous hand, replenished by others. There could be no waste or extravagance in this use of wood, the surface of the country being covered with forests which the owners were anxious to destroy. Warmth was one element of comfort the colonial householder could secure in the coldest spells of the winter without expense and with little inconvenience. The great wood fires, which cast such a cheerful glow about the different apartments of his home, must have done much to promote the contentment of all who entered into his family circle. In the mother country, throughout the seventeenth century, the forests steadily diminished, and wood for household use, in consequence, became dearer in value; the difference in Virginia in this particular must have impressed all emigrants from England to the Colony, where firewood was the cheapest of

1 Sea-coal seems to have been imported to a small extent. In 1690, eight barrels of this material, lying at Handy’s Landing On Queen’s Creek, were attached. Records of York County, vol. 1687-1691, p. 463, Va. State Library.


the more important materials entering into the domestic economy. The climate being a mild one during the greater portion of the year, the large fires were only kept up in the short intervals of very cold weather.

The same fact had a controlling influence in the matter of the clothing worn by the planters and their families. John Smith, who resided long enough in the Colony to form a just notion as to the character of the climate, has preserved the list of articles which the Company considered necessary to the comfort of the emigrant to Virginia in this respect; he was advised to take with him a monmouth cap, three falling bands, three shirts, one waistcoat, one suit of canvas, one of frieze, one of broadcloth, three pairs of Irish stockings, a pair of garters, four pairs of shoes, and a dozen pairs of points. The purchase of these articles entailed an expenditure of fifty-nine shillings.1

If reliance can be placed on the testimony of Pory, the presiding officer of the first Assembly convening in Virginia, the simplicity of the outfit advised by the Company was not followed even by persons in the lower ranks of life in the Colony. “Our cow-keeper in Jamestown,” he wrote, “on Sundays goes accoutred in fresh flaming silk, and the wife of one in England that had professed the black art, not of a scholar but of a collier of Croydon, wears her rough beaver hat with a fair pearl hat-band and a silken suit thereto correspondent.”2 Pory was not indulging in as much exaggeration as would appear upon the surface. Among the regulations established by the Assembly in 1619, over which he presided, there was a provision that every person should, if unmarried, be assessed according to his apparel, and if married, according to the clothing belonging to himself and the members of

1 Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 607.

2 Letter of Pory, Neill’s Virginia Vetusta, p. 111.


his family. The object of this was to discourage any disposition to show extravagance in dress, it being justly thought that in the state of the Colony at that time, all the settlers’ means should be husbanded to ensure them the absolute necessaries of life.1 Ten years after the adoption of this regulation, when the Colony had recovered fully from the blow inflicted by the great massacre upon all of its interests, there are indications that fine apparel was quite common in Virginia. In 1629, Thomas Warnet, a prominent merchant of Jamestown, died, and in his will bequeathed to different persons many articles of showy clothing, among them a coif, a cross-cloth of wrought gold, a pair of silk stockings, a pair of black hose, a pair of red slippers, a sea-green scarf edged with gold lace, six dozen buttons of silk and thread, a felt hat, a black beaver hat, a Polish fur cap, a doublet of black camlet, a vest, a sword, and a gold belt.2

The incongruity of such shining apparel with the rude surroundings of new settlements in the wilderness does not seem to have jarred upon the perceptions of the population except so far as it implied an unnecessary expenditure; and this view was only taken when the resources of the Colony for one cause or another were seriously impaired. About the middle of the century, a law was passed prohibiting the introduction of garments containing silk, or the introduction of silk in pieces except for hoods or scarfs, or of silver, gold, or bone lace, or of ribbons wrought with gold or silver. All goods of this character brought in were to be confiscated and then

1 Lawes of Assembly, 1619, Colonial Records of Virginia, Senate Doct., Extra, 1874, p. 20. In the instructions to Wyatt, 1621, he was enjoined to allow only members of the Council and heads of Hundreds to wear gold in their clothes. Randolph MSS., vol. III, p. 161.

2 New England Historical and Genealogical Register, April, 1884, p. 197.


exported. In the matter of apparel, as in the other interests of their private lives and of the community at large, the colonists looked upon themselves as constituting just as much a part of the mother country in its social and economic habits as if no ocean rolled between Virginia and England. The physical conditions were different; the hinds of the people were the same. Silk stockings, beaver hats, red slippers, green scarfs, and gold lace appeared to be as natural articles of apparel to the Virginians in the early part of the century, when the community was made up of a few small settlements, as they did to Englishmen in the largest towns of the kingdom in the same age. This was all element of those class distinctions which have always entered so deeply into the English spirit, and which have cropped out without regard to physical surroundings; nowhere were these distinctions more jealously observed than in the infant Colony, and it is not, therefore, surprising to find that in spite of the rough conditions of life prevailing there, there was a marked disposition to indulge a taste for expensive clothing.

It has been seen that it was the habit of all the planters in affluent or even moderate circumstances to keep on hand many ells of different cloths to supply household needs as they arose.1 These were lockram, oznaburg, dowlas, blue linen, striped dimity, serge, kersoy, canvas, penistone, calico, linsey-woolsey, shalloon, damask, muslin, drugget, fustian, thread silk, galloon, and Scotch. Some description of these various materials will be of interest as showing the nature of the fabrics in which the people of Virginia dressed in the seventeenth century. Lockram and dowlas were species of cheap and coarse linen; this was also the

1 For examples, see Records of York County, vol. 1684-1687, p. 85, Va. State Library; Records of Henrico County, vol. 1677-1692, p. 221, Va. State Library.


character of oznaburg. Canvas was a strong cloth made of hemp or flax. The cloth known as Scotch varied in texture. Holland was the name given to unbleached linen. Calico was a cotton cloth that was first imported into England by the East India Company. Dimity was also of cotton but of a stout and enduring quality, being interwoven with figures and patterns in colors. Penistone was a coarse woollen fabric of different hues. Broad cloth was of fine wool and commonly black in color. Fustian was the term first applied to a mixture of cotton and flax, but at a later date was used to designate a certain species of woollen goods. Drugget in the seventeenth century was composed in part of silk and in part of wool or cotton, the warp containing gold or silver threads. Galloon was a closely woven lace used in binding.

In England, as well as in the Colony, it was the custom of the age for consumers to purchase large quantities of these and other cloths, and to have them converted into garments for the person or into articles for household use. A comparison of the prices at which they were valued in the mother country with the prices at which they were valued in Virginia, will throw important light on one of the principal elements in the relative expense of living in England and the Colony. In England, the cost of lockram was generally about fifteen pence an ell; in Virginia, it ranged from twelve to twenty-one pence an ell, according to breadth and quality, an ell being equal in length to a yard and a quarter. In England, one ell of dowlas averaged sixteen pence in cost; in Virginia, one yard of the same material ranged from eighteen pence to two shillings and a half, and in some cases, when it was probably in a damaged state, sold for fourteen and fifteen pence. Dimity commanded in England from eight pence to one shilling an all on the average; in Virginia, it ranged from fourteen


pence to two shillings. Scotch cloth was sold in England at the rate of about twenty pence a yard; in Virginia, it ranged from two to three shillings. The price of oznaburg in Virginia was about fifteen pence a yard; in England, it sold at the rate of twelve and three-quarter pence. Kersey in England ranged from twenty-eight pence to five shillings a yard; in Virginia, it was valued at from three to six shillings, according to width. Serge was sold in England in 1647 at the rate of six shillings a yard, but declined to two and three shillings towards the end of the century; in Virginia at this time it sold at the rate of three to five shillings a yard, according to quality.1

Some notion as to the texture of these different cloths can be obtained from the character of the articles of dress manufactured from them. The shirt was made of holland, blue linen, lockram, dowlas, and canvas, according to the quality desired; the holland representing the most costly and canvas the least expensive. The buttons used on the shirt were either of silver or pewter, and in many cases were carefully gilded. The drawers were of blue linen, calico, dimity, and canvas; a pair has been noted made of leather.2 The stockings were either of silk, woollen or cotton thread, worsted or yarn. Thread stockings seem to have been used in riding. The shoes worn by men were

1 For the prices of these various cloths in England, see Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V: for lockram, p. 557; dowlas, p. 557; dimity, p. 558; Scotch cloth, p. 554; oznaburg, p. 555; kersey, p. 575; serge, p. 575. The statement of prices in the Colony is based upon an extended comparison of the appraisements recorded in the county courts. The merchants who imported the cloths into Virginia obtained them in England at a lower price than they were retailed at in the kingdom. This accounts for the comparatively small difference between the prices at which they were sold in England and in Virginia.

2 Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, p. 223, Va. State library. “Drawers” was a term which in that age was very often applied to breeches.


made of ordinary leather, or they were of the sort known as French falls. The shoe buckles were manufactured of brass, steel, or silver. There are many references to boots, a popular means of protection to leg and foot, since the planters were compelled to pass much of their time on horseback.1 The periwig was worn in the latter part of the century. In 1689, William Byrd forwarded one to his merchant in London with instructions to have it altered.2 Among the personal effects of Robert Dudley of Middlesex were two articles of this kind. Thomas Perkins of Rappahannock left three at his death, and Alexander Young of York, two.3 The covering for the heads of men consisted of the monmouth cap, the felt, the beaver or castor, and the straw hat, which occasionally terminated in a steeple. The neck-cloth was of blue linen, calico, dowlas, muslin, or the finest holland. The band or falling collar was made either of linen or lace, in keeping with the character of the suit. The material of the coat ranged from broadcloth, camlet, fustian, drugget, and serge, which became less expensive with the progress of the century, to cotton, kersey, frieze, canvas, and buckskin.4 When of broadcloth, it was lined with calico and doubtless with different kinds of linen. There are numerous references

1 In 1636 a pair of boots in Accomac were valued at forty pounds of tobacco. Records of Accomac County, original vol. 1632-1640, p. 66.

2 Letters of William Byrd, June 10, 1689.

3 Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1698-1713, p. 103; Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 37, Va. State Library; Records of York County, vol. 1694-1702, p. 439, Va. State Library. See also Ibid., vol. 1675-1684, p. 381. The inventory in this instance included three. See also Stratton inventory, Records of Henrico County, original vol. 1697-1704, p. 137.

4 There is a reference in the inventory of Edward Phelps to a buckskin coat. Records of York County, vol. 1675-1684, p. 174, Va. State Library. For a squirrel-skin coat, see Records of Lower Norfolk County, Sept. 25, 1646. Full buckskin suits were not as common in the 17th as in the 18th century.


to the stuft coat, and the smock, and to the serge or linen jacket. The upper garment used in riding seems to have been made of camlet. The buttons attached to the coat ranged in composition from small and large silk thread to brass and pewter, stone, silver, gimp, and mohair. The sleeve terminated in ruffles or cuffs when its material was of the finest quality of cloth. Over the ordinary coat a great-coat of frieze was worn in spells of cold weather; on special occasions a substitute was found in a blue or scarlet cloak or silk mantle. The waistcoat was made of dimity, cotton or drugget, flannel or penistone, and reflected a great variety of colors, white, black, and blue being the most common. It was also found adorned with what was known as Turkey-work. The breeches when of the finest quality were of plush or broadcloth; when of inferior material, of linen or common ticking. There are many references to serge breeches lined with linen or worsted, and having thread buttons, and also to callimanco, having hair buttons. The whole suit was occasionally of plush, broadcloth, kersey, or canvas, or the coat was made of drugget, and the waistcoat and breeches of stuft cloth.1 The olive-colored suit was not uncommon. The handkerchiefs were of silk, lace, or blue linen, the gloves of yarn, or of ox, lamb, buck, clog, or sheepskin tanned, and were of local manufacture. The hands of children were kept warm by mittens. It seems to have been the habit of many persons among the wealthy class of planters to have even their plainest and simplest articles of clothing made in England. Fitzhugh instructed his merchant in London in 1697, to send him two suits of an ordinary character, one for use in winter and the other in summer. The exact measures for the shoes and stockings needed were

1 A suit was sometimes valued at ten pounds sterling. See Will of Corbin Griffin on file in Middlesex County.


to be guessed at, and the only direction given as to the two hats ordered were that they should be of the largest size.

The clothing of the female members of the planters’ families was obtained from the same source as the clothing of the planters themselves. The most costly part of it was imported. Many of the dresses worn must have been as handsome as the dresses of women of the same social class in England; there are numerous allusions to silk and flowered gowns, to bodices of blue linen or green satin, and to waistcoats trimmed with lace. The petticoat was of serge, flannel, or tabby, a species of colored silk cloth; it was also made of printed linen or dimity, and was trimmed with silk or silver lace. An outfit of gown, petticoat, and green stockings, composed of woollen material, is often entered in the inventories. The coverings for the head were of several kinds; there were sarsnet and calico hoods, palmetto hats1 and bonnets trimmed with lace, to be used on special occasions. Black tippets were worn on the lower portion of the arms, and the hands were concealed by thread gloves. Scarfs reflecting a variety of colors were drawn about the neck, and mantles of crimson taffeta over the shoulders. The hose also varied very much in color, being white, scarlet, or black. There were silk garters dyed in different hues. The shoes of finest quality were either laced or gallooned. Woollen shoes and shoes with wooden heels were also worn. The aprons were of muslin, silk, serge, and blue duffield. Fans, many of which were doubtless highly ornamented, were conspicuous articles of dress in the toilets of the planters’ wives, and golden and gilt stomachers were not unknown. Sweet powders were also in use.2

1 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1677-1682, p. 21, Va. State Library.

2 One Henrico inventory contains the following item: “Two boxes of sweet powder and four puffs.” Vol. 1688-1697, p. 463, Va. State Library.


When the stepdaughter of Joseph Croshaw of York set out for Virginia from England about 1661, she was furnished by Jonathan Newell with the following articles of clothing: a scarf, a white sarsnet and a ducape hood, a white flannel petticoat, two green aprons, three pairs of gloves, a long riding scarf, a mask, and a pair of shoes.1 The wardrobe of Mrs. Sarah Willoughby of Lower Norfolk consisted of a red, a blue, and a black silk petticoat, a petticoat of India silk and of worsted prunella, a striped linen and a calico petticoat, a black silk gown, a scarlet waistcoat, with silver lace, a white knit waistcoat, a striped stuff jacket, a worsted prunella mantle, a sky-colored satin bodice, a pair of red paragon bodices, three fine and three coarse holland aprons, seven handkerchiefs, and two hoods. The whole was valued at fourteen pounds and nineteen shillings.2

Mrs. Francis Pritchard of Lancaster was in possession of a wardrobe quite as extensive as that of Mrs. Willoughby. It included an olive colored silk petticoat, petticoats of silver and flowered tabby, and of velvet and white-striped dimity, a printed calico gown lined with blue silk, a white striped dimity jacket, a black silk waistcoat, a pair of scarlet sleeves, a pair of holland sleeves with ruffles, a Flanders lace band, one cambric and three holland aprons, five cambric handkerchiefs, and several pairs of green stockings.3

An instance is recorded in York of the destruction of silks and linen valued at fourteen pounds sterling belonging to a lady of that county, in consequence of the carelessness of her servant in dropping fire into the trunk in which they were kept.

1 Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 415, Va. State Library. See in same volume, p. 399; also p. 140 in vol. 1687-1691.

2 Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1675-1686, f. p. 147.

3 Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1674-1687, p. 77.


Among the property of women in this age were pearl necklaces, gold pendants, silver earrings, and gold hand rings which were often inscribed with posies. It was quite common for people making provision against the time of death to leave mourning rings to a large number of relatives and friends. Mrs. Elizabeth Digges in her will desired that eight should be distributed among the members of her intimate circle. Corbin Griffin of Middlesex bequeathed twenty-five pounds sterling for the purchase of rings of the same character, sixteen pounds of which were to be expended in such as would cost one guinea apiece. In his will, Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., ordered that twenty pounds of his estate should be used in buying mourning rings, which he directed should be given to certain persons who were dear to him. Francis Page left similar instructions. John Page empowered his executors to purchase eighteen for the same purpose,1 Robert Hodge of Lower Norfolk, fourteen, and Robert Beckingham of Lancaster, sixteen.2 In March, 1675, a judgment was entered in the General Court involving a large number of pearls which had not been delivered.3 A few years before, Mrs. William Bassett had been permitted by the same court to retain her jewels as a part of her paraphernalia. Bequests of such articles to wives by husbands were not uncommon. In the estate of Arthur Dickinson, there were included one gold ring with seven rubies, a second ring with one ruby, a third with a white

1 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, Bacon, p. 153; Francis Page, p. 171; John Page, p. 137; Va. State Library.

2 Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1675-1686, f. p. 106; Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1674-1689, f. p. 19.

3 Records of General Court, p. 213. See also Records of Princess Anne County, vol. for 1697, Oct. 21, in which there is an inventory that includes among its items ten pearls and fifteen bloodstones.


stone, and lastly, a ring of plain gold.1 Nathaniel Branker of Lower Norfolk County, at his death was in possession of a sapphire set in gold, one gold ring with a blue stone, another with a green stone, and another still with a yellow, two hollow wrought rings, a diamond ring with several sparks, a mourning ring, a beryl set in silver, and an amber necklace.2 Small gold and silver bodkins were used by the wives of the planters for the purpose of keeping the headdress in place.

Plantation life towards the end of the century, as at an earlier date, gave few opportunities even for the most moderate display. There were no towns where, as at Williamsburg in the following century, the families of the leading citizens of the Colony might gather at certain seasons and show off in considerable state the contemporaneous fashions. The church of the parish was the only social centre of each community. It was here alone that fine clothing could be exhibited on a public occasion. Doubtless at the weddings, and other social meetings of a private character, the most costly suits and dresses were worn.

1 Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, p. 474, Va. State Library.

2 Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1686-1695, f. p. 17. There seem to have been skilful goldsmiths in the Colony. This is to be inferred from the following extract from the Records of Elizabeth City County, vol. 1684-1699, p. 201: “Whereas it appears that Peter Gibson received of Henry Royall foure gold rings to make two rings of them of ye same weight, but they being lost by accident, as ye said Gibson alleges, and made oath that ye said rings weighed but four pennyweight and eight grains. It is, therefore, ordered yt the said Gibson doe forthwith make two gold rings of ye aforesaid weight and deliver ye same to ye said Royall or order, making reasonable payment for making thereof with costs.”

Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History

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