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 IX
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added July 27, 2002
◄Chapter VIII  Directory of Files  Chapter X►




In the preceding chapters I have described the modes of acquiring a patent to land, and the general use which was made of the soil. I have come now to an examination of the system of agricultural labor prevailing in Virginia in the seventeenth century, the means employed in securing servants and slaves, the laws applicable to this part of the population, the duties which they were called on to perform, their character and manner of life, and their influence upon the economic destinies of the Colony. Of these two great classes, the servants are entitled to be considered first, not only because they exceeded the slaves in number throughout the period to which my attention is confined, but also because they were introduced at an earlier date. When the Dutch ship in 1619 arrived with its memorable cargo of negroes, that section of the community which was known as servants made up a very large proportion of the whole population, and this proportion was steadily maintained until the end of the century was nearly reached, when the number of imported slaves approximated the number of imported English servants. In 1625, there were about four hundred and sixty-four white servants in Virginia, but only twenty-two negroes.1 In 1671, there were six thousand servants and two thousand

1 Census of 1624-25, Hotten’s Original List of Emigrants 1600-1700, p. 201.


slaves.1 In the course of the last twenty years of the century the demand for slaves increased, and they rapidly advanced in importance from a numerical point of view, and continued to do so until the termination of the colonial era. Until the middle of the seventeenth century, however, they played but a small part in the economic life of the community in comparison with the white servant. The latter was the main pillar of the industrial fabric of the Colony, and performed the most honorable work in establishing and sustaining the earliest and, in some respects, the greatest of the English settlements in America.

The term “servant” has been misinterpreted in modern times in the light of the menial signification which the expression has gradually acquired.2 The members of this class in Virginia in the seventeenth century included all who had bound themselves under the provisions of an agreement, embodied in a formal legal document, or, in the absence of an indenture, according to the universal custom of the country, which had the force and sanctity of law, to continue for a prescribed time in another’s employment. The term was applied not only to those who had contracted to work as agricultural laborers, or as artisans and mechanics, but also to those who were seeking to obtain, under articles of apprenticeship, a knowledge of one of

1 Governor Berkeley’s Replies to Interrogatories of Commissioners, 1671, Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 515.

2 This is also true of the word “transportation,” which has acquired a secondary meaning in its association with criminals. In the seventeenth century to “transport” was simply to “convey,” and it was used indiscriminately of all classes in connection with the passage from Europe to America. The following sentence from the will of Richard Lee illustrates this: “My will and earnest desire (are) that my good friends will with all convenient speed cause my wife and children, all except Francis, if he be pleased, to be transported to Virginia” (1664-65). New England Historical and Genealogical Register, January, 1892, p. 69.


the learned professions. In 1626, Richard Townsend, in a suit of law against Dr. John Pott on the ground that Dr. Pott had not instructed him in the apothecary’s art according to the conditions of his indenture, described himself as the servant of that physician, who was so distinguished in the early history of Virginia.1 Nor did the term necessarily imply an humble social origin. Adam Thoroughgood, a man of wealth and influence in the Colony towards the middle of the seventeenth century, and who was referred to as “gentleman” in the patents he sued out,2 a designation to which he was entitled not only on account of his general character and position, but by his social connections in England, came to Virginia as an apprentice or servant. In making his will in 1666, Sir Robert Peake, a well-known citizen of London, devised three hundred pounds sterling to George Lyddall, his cousin, at that time in Virginia, to whom he alludes as his “sometime servant.”3

In 1671, there was presented to the Council of Maryland a petition from Elias Nuthall, son of John Nuthall, who was described as “gentleman,” being formerly a citizen of that Colony, but at this time deceased, in which he stated that he was living in Virginia, where he was bound over as a “servant” under the provisions of an indenture. He prayed that his share in his father’s estate, which seems to have been one of considerable value, should be transferred to him in order that he might use a part of it at once in purchasing his freedom. In the end, the

1 General Court Orders, Oct. 9, 1626, Robinson Transcripts, p. 52.

2 Va. Land Patents, vol. 1623-1643, p. 160.

3 New England Historical and Genealogical Register, for October, 1883, p. 379. There is a case recorded in York County of a similar character. One brother, John Fleming by name, binds himself as the “voluntary servant” of another. See Records of York County, vol. 1694-1702, p. 235, Va. State Library.


brothers of Elias Nuthall were compelled to send some one to Virginia to be exchanged for him, an evidence of the pressing demand for laborers in that Colony at this period.1 Ten years later, William Martin, who resided in England, informed Nicholas Spencer, one of the principal citizens of Virginia, that he had sent over in his vessel, the Endeavor, his servant Francis Jones, “a gentleman’s son.”2 These instances illustrating the liberal signification of the word “servant” in its relation to the emigrants in the seventeenth century, might be swelled in number by other instances equally to the point.3

I propose to confine myself now to the servants who guided the plough or wielded the spade, the hoe, or the axe, deferring consideration of the artisan and mechanic, who were under indentures, to that portion of my work which bears upon the condition of the manual trades. In that age of small private fortunes, domestics were comparatively unimportant in number, and were probably, with hardly an exception, women. It was the servants who took part in the tasks of the field and workshop who were of supreme value, and they were acquired as rapidly as the means of the landowners permitted.

There were two powerful influences at work in the seventeenth century to increase the number of servants in the Colony who were engaged in the performance of agricultural tasks. One of these influences was to be observed exclusively in England, the other in Virginia, and though entirely distinct in themselves and separated

1 Archives of Maryland, Proceedings of Council, 1667-1688, pp. 98, 103.

2 British State Papers, Colonial Papers, August, 1687; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1687, p. 54, Va. State Library.

3 In the Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, p. 116, Va. State Library, there will be found an instance in which the attorney of Richard Longman, a merchant of London, is referred to as his “then servant.”


in the fields of their operation by thousands of miles of ocean, nevertheless, they were equally promotive of the introduction of agricultural laborers. The two complemented each other, for while the one prompted this class to abandon the mother country, the other induced the same class to make a settlement in the Colony.

The long interval between 1600 and 1700, was a period in which the most momentous principles of free government were contended for on the battle-field and in the council-chamber, and permanently secured as a part of the inalienable rights of the Anglo-Saxon race, but a hundred and fifty years were to pass before the English laborer was to feel in his daily life the beneficent influence of these hard-won victories. It was a period of scientific activity which in time was to lead to a vast improvement in the economic condition of every class in the English communities by the wiser use of all the powers and resources of nature, but as yet the position of the workingman remained unaltered. The expanding commerce brought him little advantage. The new countries which the English explorers were opening up offered a virgin field, it is true, but it was a field which could only be reached by first enduring all the pangs of exile,—grievous enough even for those who are flying from intolerable evils.

Under the provisions of the statute 5 Eliz., C. 3, no one was permitted to follow a trade unless he had first served an apprenticeship, and all not otherwise employed were required to take part in husbandry. The practical effect of this regulation was to establish a privileged class of artisans who were assured of steady and remunerative labor, while the masses of the people were thrown upon agricultural work as their only means of obtaining a livelihood, the rates of wages being laid down by the justices


at the quarter sessions. The rapid growth in the number of the poor led to the passage of the 43 Eliz., C. 9, which provided for the indigent under certain conditions at the public expense, and this statute was still in force in 1662, when the 13 and 14 Charles II, C. 12, became a law. It had been enlarged in the interval only so far as to allow poor children to be bound out as apprentices in different trades by the local authorities, a power which, as we shall see, was exercised in connection with Virginia, especially during the existence of the Company.

Although 43 Eliz., C. 9, provided for regular assessments for the benefit of the poor, yet during the first forty years which followed its passage, either no rates were levied for this purpose, or the amount collected was so small that many individuals among the working classes perished from want. Indeed, the burden imposed was so heavy that the taxpayers were slow to accept it. In 1622, a number of English parishes turned loose upon the country so great a swarm of idle or disabled laborers as to threaten a dangerous pestilence of vagabonds, who, however willing to work, were unable to find employment. The evil was not confined to one or more communities, but was in various degrees common to all England. Each parish, as a means of self-protection, was compelled to adopt the most stringent measures to prevent such persons, belonging to other parts of the kingdom, from overflowing into its own boundaries. The statute 13 and 14 Charles II, C. 12, was passed to give legal sanction to these measures, and this statute was supplemented by 1 Jas. II, C. 17, to make its provisions more effective. By the terms of these laws, two justices of the peace, on complaint of the church wardens or the overseers of the poor, within forty days after the arrival of a new comer, were empowered to require of him security that he would not become burdensome


to the parish to which he had removed. To prevent him from obtaining a legal residence by clandestine settlement during the forty days, he was compelled to give notice to the same officers as to the place of his abode and the number of persons in his family. His legal residence began only from the delivery of this notice. The effect of these statutes was to confine the great body of the English laborers to their native parishes, and thus not only to put a restriction upon their personal liberty, but also to diminish and even destroy their ability to improve their condition. So small were the wages allowed by the justices, that each parish was forced to levy additional taxes to obtain the means of meeting the charges resulting from the number of families who were unable to earn entirely their own support.1

Even if we allow for the greater purchasing capacity of money in that age as compared with the present, the remuneration of the laboring classes appears exceedingly small. According to the rates adopted by the county of Rutland in 1610, three years after the foundation of Jamestown, rates which continued in force until the beginning of the Civil War and were restored in 1682, the annual wages of a ploughman were fifty shillings; of an ordinary workingman, forty shillings; of women who had been taught to bake and brew, twenty-six shillings and eight pence; of a common female drudge, sixteen shillings; of girls under sixteen, fourteen shillings. A mower of the average strength, who lead an allowance of meat, received five pence a day; a male reaper, four pence; a female reaper, three pence; and a female haymaker, two pence. When food was not provided by the employer, the amount of these wages was in each instance doubled. Omitting the period of harvest from consideration, agricultural

1 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, p. 101.


laborers without distinction were paid in the intervals between Easter and Michaelmas three pence a day with an allowance of food, or seven without. From Michaelmas to Easter, on the other hand, the remuneration of the same class was two pence a day if meat were added, and six pence if not. In 1684, the ordinary agricultural laborer in Warwickshire was paid eight pence a day, the artisan one shilling. The wages of the same classes in Suffolk were lower than they had been in the early part of the century. In the interval between 1600 and 1700, the remuneration of the agricultural laborer by the week advanced from five shillings to eight, while the average price of a quarter of wheat, in the interval between 1564 and 1700, advanced from about nineteen shillings a quarter to forty shillings, eleven and one-fourth pence. The price of malt rose to about twenty-two shillings, oatmeal to about fifty-two, and beef to three pence a pound.1

It was estimated that the smallest sum upon which a family could be maintained during a period of twelve months was twenty pounds and eleven shillings, including the cost of renting a cottage and the price of the necessary amount of bread, meat, fuel, and clothing.

The annual wages of an agricultural laborer in 1618, were eight pounds, eight shillings and nine pence, and in the interval between 1643 and 1700, fifteen pounds and nineteen shillings.2 The industry and frugality of a life-time

1 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, pp. 97, 98, 829, 830. Craik’s History of England, vol. III, pp. 658, 905-912.

2 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, pp. 622, 829. It is only proper to say that the wages received did not constitute the only means of subsistence which the laborer in all parts of England possessed. In some parts of the kingdom, the laborer enjoyed in addition (1) the produce of his garden or a large plat of ground; (2) certain rights of commonage; (3) proceeds of bye industries, especially the production of yarn for the flourishing wool manufactures. In my account [footnote continues on p. 580] of the general condition of the English laborer in the seventeenth century, which is necessarily very brief, I have followed Professor Rogers. See, however, Professor Ashley’s criticism of Rogers’ conclusions in Pol. Sci. Quarterly, vol. IV, p. 381; see also Hewins’ English Trade and Finance.


would not certainly enable him to purchase security against want in his old age.1 In the years in which the price of wheat rose high above the average as a result of scarcity, as in 1660, 1681, and 1694, the condition of the agricultural laborer, which was always impoverished, became deplorable because the advance in the cost of bread was not considered in the assessment of wages. The amount received by him for his work was the same in 1610, when wheat sold in the market for thirty-five shillings and two and a half pence a quarter, as it was in 1564, when wheat sold at about nineteen shillings a quarter.2 In 1684, when the price of wheat was fixed at thirty-seven shillings and four and a half pence by the magistrates of Warwickshire, his wages were increased but one penny a day. The high rents established by landowners in England in the seventeenth century have been attributed to their systematic efforts to cheapen every form of agricultural labor;3 the smaller the wages of the tiller of the soil, the larger would be the profits of the farmer and the greater his ability to pay the high rent which was the condition attached to his tenure.

Confined to his native parish as to the limits of a

1 “And now let me turn back and look upon my poore spirited countrymen in England and examine first the meanest, that is the poore ploughman, day labourer and poore Artificer, and I shall find them labouring and sweating all dayes of their lives; some for fourteen pence, others for sixteen, eighteen, twenty pence or two shillings a day; which is the highest of wages to such kind of people, and the most of them to end their dayes in sorrow, not having purchased so much by their lives labour as will scarce preserve them in their old days from beggery.” This was in 1649. Bullock’s Virginia, p. 44.

2 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, pp. 97, 98.

3 This is the opinion expressed by Professor Rogers.


prison; receiving wages which had been assessed by landowners who were interested in reducing them to the lowest point, wages which did not furnish an easy subsistence to his family even in years of plenty; compelled to purchase his supplies at prices set by the producers, and exposed to heavy penalties for the smallest infractions of law, it is not surprising that the great class of English agricultural laborers should in large numbers have been prepared to take advantage of the providential opportunity Virginia offered for the establishment of new homes after a service for a term of years in the Colony.

This unhappy condition was not confined to those who sought a livelihood in the fields. In his famous sermon, delivered April 18th, 1622, Copeland declared that some of the most diligent laborers in London had often complained to him with tears in their eyes that although they, their wives and children, rose at an early hour and wore away their flesh throughout the day in the performance of the most exacting tasks, went to bed late and fed upon brown bread and cheese, yet with difficulty they secured food enough to appease their hunger, or clothing sufficient to hide their nakedness.1 In the statute 13 and 14 Charles II, C. 12, there was a special reference to the great swarms of persons, stricken with the direst want, to be found in the cities of London and Westminster,2 and the same extreme poverty among the lower classes was, equally observable in other towns of England.3 The condition

1 Neill’s English Colonization of America, p. 160. The sermon was entitled: “Virginia’s God be thanked or a Sermon of Thanksgiving on Ps. cvii, 23, for the happie successe of the Affayes in Virginia this last yeare.” It was preached at Bow Church in Cheapside before “the Honorable Virginia Company,” and was published by Command of the Company.

2 See also Remembrancia of the City of London, pp. 358, 359.

3 Eden, vol. I, p. 155; Cunningham’s Growth of English Industry and Commerce, pp. 206, 207.


of the people of Sheffield, in 1615, was perhaps not exceptional. In a survey of its population made in that year, it was discovered that seven hundred and twenty-five of its twenty-two hundred and seven inhabitants were compelled to rely in part upon the charity of their neighbors for a subsistence. Of the two hundred and sixty householders who resided in the town, only one hundred were able to afford relief to the men and women around them who were struggling to keep from starvation; the remainder lived upon such a narrow margin of subsistence that an attack of sickness which continued for a fortnight drove them to absolute beggary. Children only a few years of age were required to work to contribute to the meagre support of their families.1

It did not follow that the mass of English laborers in this age were morally degraded because they were exposed to such harsh influences in their daily lives. They belonged to a class of men and women who constituted one of the sturdiest sections of the population even in the seventeenth century, and who, in the nineteenth, compare most favorably both physically and morally with any body of agricultural laboring men in the world. The economic condition of this class in the seventeenth century could not destroy the great qualities that were inherent in the stock from which they sprung, and it only required more enlightened legislation and more wholesome local surroundings to restore these qualities to their original vigor. The work of colonization which has been performed by the people of England surpasses, both in extent and beneficence, that of any other race which has left an impression upon universal history, and the part the manual laborers have taken in this work is not less memorable than the part taken by the higher classes of the nation.

1 Hunter’s Hallamshire, p. 148.


In the seventeenth century, there was, as has been seen, a combination of influences to induce this kind of laborers to leave their native land in large numbers. Their poverty was no obstacle to their emigration, because the demand for their services in the Colonies was so great, that there were always persons anxious to bear the expense of their transportation in return for the right of disposing of them for a consideration after arrival.

Nor was there any attempt on the part of the higher ranks in England or the men occupying positions of authority there in that age to obstruct this tide of emigration. The political economists of the seventeenth century regarded the mass of the poor with impatience and aversion as a useless weight upon the welfare of the community.1 I have already pointed out that one of the strongest motives which entered into the earliest English enterprises looking to colonization of that vast extent of country known as Virginia, was the hope that this new country would furnish homes for the overflowing population of England, and thus relieve the parishes of men and women who, however willing to work, were unable to find employment, and who were, therefore, compelled to rely in part at least upon the charity of others for subsistence. It was not planned that Virginia was to become a place for the retention of those who had been guilty of crime in England, and who in consequence were to be banished from their native land; on the contrary, it was anticipated that the Colony would diminish crime in the kingdom by drawing away a large number of the inhabitants who otherwise might be tempted, by the small opportunities within their reach of earning a livelihood, to drift into vagabondage, beggary, and lawlessness. In this way, it was anticipated that Virginia would be the means of lessening the growing charges imposed

1 Rogers’ History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. V, p. 103.


upon every English community by the number of persons crying in the public ear for assistance in the terrible struggle for their daily food. It has been seen how firm the English people were in their determination that England should secure the fullest benefit of the commodities of the Colony, one of the most important objects of its settlement being to open up a country where those articles might be obtained which were then imported into the kingdom from the continents of Europe and Asia at a heavy expense and with a serious risk of total loss. The Navigation Acts not only obstructed the further diversion to foreign ports of the valuable products of Virginia, but fostered that growth in shipping which the foundation of the Colony at Jamestown had been intended to promote. In a later chapter, it will be shown that the mother country also insisted upon a retention of another of the advantages which colonization had been expected, and in reality did create, that is to say, the establishment of a new market for the sale of English manufactured goods. In regarding Virginia, therefore, as a place to which its surplus lower population might be encouraged to withdraw, England was merely seeking to secure still another of those benefits which it had been anticipated would arise from the settlement of the land beyond the sea.

If the conditions prevailing in England in the interval between 1600 and 1700 decidedly promoted the abandonment of the kingdom by a valuable part of its laboring population, the inducements offered by Virginia to this class as a scene for a new start in life were extraordinary. Contemporaneous writers, who were familiar from personal observation with the state of that Colony, have declared that the only thing dear in its communities was labor, and this was as true at the end of the century as it was in the


middle and at the beginning.1 The reason for the great and continuous demand for laborers throughout this period had its origin in the physical peculiarities of the country. The men who obtained a patent to fifty acres of land there, stood in a much less favorable position than the farmer of modern times who has acquired a homestead right in the soil of a prairie in Illinois, Iowa, or Kansas. In the latter case, the tract when first occupied was entirely denuded of forests and only needed the application of the plough and hoe to produce abundant crops. The family of the owner furnished the whole amount of the assistance which he needed. In Virginia, on the other hand, the very anxiety of the colonists to secure a title to the richest land as promising the heaviest returns in tobacco from cultivation, increased the difficulties confronting them in making a permanent settlement, because the growth of timber was in proportion to the fertility of the soil. This was notably the case in the valleys of the streams, along the banks of which the line of plantations was extended at first. In removing the forest, this being the supreme obstacle to be surmounted, the settler required the aid of others whom he could direct and control in carrying through the work to be performed. The natural character of tobacco, which soon exhausted the most fertile land, demanded the continuation of this assistance even after a large area of ground had been cleared of trees. The person who had sued out a patent to fifty acres of land was in a few years compelled to sue out a patent to an additional tract of the same extent, in order to obtain

1 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 63. Culpeper, replying in 1680-81 to the instructions from England requiring him, among other things, to encourage silk husbandry in the Colony, wrote that “he despaired of silk by reason of dearness of labor.” Instructions to Culpeper, etc., 1681-1682, British State Papers, Colonial Virginia, vol. 65; McDonald Papers, vol. VI, p. 171, Va. State Library.


the virgin soil which was necessary for the production of the staple in the largest quantity, in that age when no manures were used in enriching the ground. However small the scale on which he cultivated the earth, his agricultural life consisted largely in a persistent attempt to clear away the forest. When the woods on the first plantation secured had been cut down, and the fertility of the soil exhausted, he proceeded to remove the trees from the face of the second plantation, and this course of taking up and opening new lands was prolonged for an indefinite term of years, unless he should become the owner, by original patent or by purchase, of an extensive tract in one body, furnishing him an ample area for new grounds in its own boundaries. But even under these circumstances, the task of constantly destroying the forest remained. In either situation, he needed the assistance of laborers. Without this assistance, he was helpless. If every owner of land in the Colony had been forced to rely upon himself in eradicating the forest and tilling the soil, the plantation system, which came into existence in Virginia so soon after Jamestown was founded, would never have arisen. The surface of the Colony would have been covered with a succession of small estates, many of which would have fallen into a condition of absolute neglect as soon as their fertility had disappeared, their owners having sued out patents to virgin lands in other localities as likely to yield large returns to the industry of the cultivator. But for the introduction of the indented servant into the Colony upon the threshold of its settlement, its progress would have been slow. Virginia, without laborers from England and without slaves, would have become a community of peasant proprietors, each clearing and working his ground with his own hands and with the aid of his immediate family. The unique social conditions established


at a later period would never have existed, or indeed, if such had been the case, only in a modified form. As long, however, as there was a surplus of population in all of the English parishes, with so many influences combining to induce them to emigrate, it was inevitable that the Agricultural System prevailing in Virginia would spring into life with all the far-reaching consequences which make up the actual history of the community from the beginning. England at this time was a storehouse from which as large a supply of servants could be drawn as the planters possessed the means to secure. The facilities for their transportation were ample, and the demand for their assistance was continuous from the hour when a stable government was formed. Hardly a year passed during the supremacy of the Company that English laborers were not brought into the Colony, and after its abolition, the stream of emigration grew larger and larger in its volume.

Until the establishment of Martin’s and Smith’s Hundreds in 1616 by the grant of subpatents, the agricultural servants who were dispatched to Virginia were the property of the Company. In the First Supply, there were twenty-one laborers, and in the Second, twelve. The number included in the Third Supply was doubtless very much larger, as five hundred people took part in the expedition; of these, one hundred and fifty did not arrive in the Colony until the Starving Time had reduced the remainder to sixty helpless men, women, and children. Additions were made to the number by the arrival of the successive expeditions under Delaware and Dale. Absolute freedom was extended to none of those who were in the service of the Company until the departure of Dale; the privilege was then granted by Yeardley to a few, the greater proportion of this class being retained on the


public works subject to the same servitude as they had been accustomed to from the beginning. During the administration of Argoll, the few who received their freedom purchased it at an extraordinary price. The population of the Colony at the close of his administration did not exceed four hundred, which signified a proportionate reduction in the number of agricultural servants.1

There is no direct evidence to show what was the exact character of the indentures by which the Company and the servants were mutually bound, previous to the arrival of Yeardley in 1619, but there is no reason to doubt that these agreements, like ordinary indentures at this time, simply required the Company to supply the laborer with food, clothing, and lodging, and probably after the close of his term, with land, in consideration of which he was for a period of years to perform such manual tasks as were set for him. The great value attached to the servant was disclosed in the severe punishment which the first Assembly convening in the Colony directed to be inflicted upon any one who sought to allure him from the employment of his master. By this time, private persons as well as the societies recently formed and known as Hundreds, had begun to import laborers not only for the cultivation of the lands they had acquired, but also to obtain a greater extent of ground

1 Briefe Declaration of the Plantation of Virginia, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 21, I; Colonial Records of Virginia, State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874, pp. 78, 80. It is stated in the Works of Capt. John Smith, pp. 486, 487, that the laborers who had come over to Virginia previous to the departure of Captain Smith were generally mere attendants of the adventurers, that is to say, footmen, but there were also a number of serving men. In a letter from the Council of Virginia to the Council in England, the men in the employment of the Company are referred to as our “waged men,” but the expression did not imply necessarily the payment of wages in the modern sense. Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 107.


upon the basis of the head right.1 Of the eight hundred and eleven servants who in 1619 were introduced into Virginia, six hundred and sixty were designed for private estates, the rest being reserved for the use of the Company. While the disproportion was not always so marked during the remaining years of the existence of that corporation, it was still very notable, since the area of plantations held in fee simple was extended with great rapidity.2

The urgent demand for agricultural laborers after the Colony had been firmly established is revealed in the fact that the strongest inducement offered in 1619 by the Company, with the view of promoting the cultivation of silk, flax, and corn in preference to tobacco, was that the magazine would furnish servants in payment for these commodities, but not for tobacco as heretofore.3

It is of special interest to inquire how far the Company, in order to supply the demand for laborers, was willing to accept criminal or dissolute persons for transportation to the Colony. To what extent was it ready to admit members of both sexes who, in their native country, were described as idle and wretched, and for whose redemption the settlements in Virginia had in the popular belief been largely founded?4 In a famous essay, Bacon had condemned in the strongest terms the use of wicked and convicted men, or the scum of the English inhabitants, as material for colonization. It would signify, he said, only the ruin of any plantation in which the experiment was

1 Colonial Records of Virginia, State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874, p. 22.

2 Declaration of the State of Virginia, p. 10, Force’s Historical Tracts, Vol. III.

3 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, p. 92.

4 Velasco to Philip III, Spanish Archives, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 456.


tried. The author of Nova Britannia, who gave expression to the sentiment of the Company, declared in 1609 that all the persons who were sent to Virginia should bear a good character. Poverty, he remarked, was no drawback to the emigrant, as the soil of the new country was so fertile that he would soon be able to acquire a competence.1 In the spring of the same year, it had been urged in Good Speed to Virginia, that particular care should be shown in the selection of the persons who were to be dispatched to the Colony.2

The sentiments voiced in these two celebrated pamphlets doubtless reflected very fully the opinion entertained by the Company at large. That body, however, in 1609 acted, as they were again to act in the future, upon a suggestion of the Privy Council in informing the authorities of London, that they desired to relieve the city and its suburbs of the swarms of idlers who in that age were considered to be the principal cause of the famines and plagues with which the metropolis was afflicted. The Mayor, Aldermen, and City Companies, it was thought, would make some contribution for the removal of these persons. That the latter were not expected by the Company to belong to the refuse of humanity appears from the numerous benefits which were to be extended to them and to their wives and children when they reached Virginia, benefits that only men with a sense of order and self-respect could be capable of using to their own advantage, and the advantage of the community in which they were to reside.3

If the managers of the Company had for a moment

1 Nova Britannia, p. 21, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. I.

2 Good Speed to Virginia, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 301.

3 Council of Virginia to Lord Mayor of London, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 253. These benefits were “meate, drinke and clothing, with an house, orchard and garden, for the meanest family, and a possession of lands to them and their posterity.”


been inclined to admit to the Colony a population of emigrants accepted without discrimination, of which there is no proof, that disposition had passed away before December, 1609, when the True and Sincere Declaration was issued. In that remarkable document, written in the light of so many mistakes and disasters, they proclaimed1 that it would be a scandal and a peril to accept as settlers, all of whom at this time were to be in the service of the corporation, idle and wicked persons, persons who had been impelled to withdraw to Virginia by shame or fear, persons who represented the “weeds of their native country.” “Being the surfeit of an able, healthy, and composed body,” it was justly declared that it must follow that, “they would act as poison in the body of a tender, feeble, and yet unformed colony.” Casting off, under the pressure of the extraordinary circumstances in which they found themselves, the influence of the English authorities, who not unnaturally looked first to the relief of their own communities, the Company boldly proclaimed that thereafter they would not receive any man who could not show “a character for religion and considerate conduct in his relations with his neighbors.” Not content with this, they announced further, that they would accept only those who were trained in the useful callings which they carefully specified. Experience had taught them, it was stated in a broadside issued by the Council, that nothing but damage to the welfare of the Colony would result from granting permission to parents to send their licentious sons to Virginia, or to wives, their shameless husbands, or to masters, their ungovernable servants.2

1 True and Sincere Declaration, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 352.

2 A Broadside by the Council, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 355.


Crashaw, in the celebrated sermon which he delivered before Lord Delaware on the eve of that nobleman’s first departure for Jamestown, denounced as a slanderous falsehood the assertion that the persons who were sent out had been raked up out of the refuse of the English population. “They are like those who are left behind,” he said, “even of all sorts better and worse.”1

It is again observable that the next suggestion that members of the classes in England who were “chargeable, dangerous, and troublesome” to the State, should be transferred to the Colony, had its origin not with the Company, against whose repeated proclamations of sentiment it would have been in direct and notorious conflict, but with the Mayor of London in a letter to the Master and Wardens of the City Companies, written at the request of the Privy Council.2 A few years later, it is not surprising to find that the King was anxious to deliver to the Company a number of youthful vagabonds who had proved incorrigible in spite of punishment, to be conveyed to Virginia, as the only means of cleansing England of their presence.3

During the whole of this immediate period, but one officer of the Company of his own motion advanced the proposition that English felons should be banished to Virginia in order to supply the plantations with laborers. Such a proposition was made by Dale to Salisbury in 1611. The act was characteristic of that distinguished officer. Great as were the services which he performed in establishing the Colony upon a broader and more stable footing than it had previously reached, he was essentially

1 Crashaw’s Sermon, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 364.

2 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 688.

3 The King to Sir Thomas Smyth, Neill’s Virginia Vetusta, p. 103.


a man of the sternest soldierly instincts, who thought that the infant settlements ought to be governed by military rules as strict as those prevailing in a fort under garrison. Virginia to him was a community to be controlled by the most rigid military discipline. Under such regulations as he insisted upon enforcing, the evil which might be expected to result from the introduction of criminals would necessarily have been very much diminished.1

No objection was offered by the Company, as the demand for laborers increased in the Colony, to the reception of persons who were either in part or entirely dependent upon the poor rates for subsistence. In 1620, on motion of Sir Edwin Sandys, a committee was appointed which was instructed to obtain from the justices of the peace in the shires of the kingdom, such youths above fifteen years of age as were a burden upon the resources of their respective parishes. Each of these parishes was to be asked to contribute five pounds sterling towards the equipment of every youth to be delivered by it,2 this being in accord with the policy already inaugurated in connection with the city of London. In the spring of 1619, the Company dispatched to Virginia one hundred children who had been furnished by the authorities of that great corporation. In the following January, the Lord Mayor consented, after a conference with the Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer, to provide one hundred children additional for shipment to the Colony, and to allow five pounds sterling towards the cost of their clothing and transportation across the ocean. He showed great solicitude to

1 Letter of Dale to Salisbury, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 506. It will be remembered that it was Dale who put in force in Virginia the famous Martial Laws.

2 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, p. 91.


obtain for their benefit every advantage which could be secured. The provisions the Company promised to make for them were carefully canvassed by the officers of the city and finally accepted as sufficient. The Company bound itself in writing to educate the children in trades or professions. During the period of their apprenticeship, which, if they were boys, was to continue for seven years, or until the completion of their twenty-first birthday, or if girls, until they were married, they were to receive an ample quantity of meat, drink, apparel, and other necessaries. At the expiration of his term, each boy was to become a tenant, and was to be provided not only with fifty acres of land, but also with a cow, seed corn, implements, tools, utensils, weapons, and ammunition.1 The anxiety exhibited by the authorities of London with reference to these children was so great, that at a Quarter Court held in November, 1620, Mr. Caswell declared that the city stood more upon an “over-advantageous bargain” for them than it did upon the good of the plantation.2 As the rule of the Company had been to require the payment of five pounds sterling whenever a youth or child was transported by that body to Virginia to serve as an apprentice, this being the sum necessary to cover all the charges incurred in the conveyance, it was decided, in 1620, to reduce this amount to five marks, because English parents found no difficulty in binding out their offspring at home at that rate, and the payment of five pounds imposed. a heavier outlay than they were either willing or able to bear.3 The city officials distinctly asserted that neither they nor the Company had a right to compel children,

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, pp. 36, 39-41. At the end of his term as tenant, each one of the apprentices was to receive twenty-five acres in fee simple. Ibid., p. 42.

2 Ibid., p. 96.

3 Ibid., p. 96.


who were subject to the regulations for the disposal of the poor, to leave England except with their own consent. In requiring that the amplest provision should be made for them upon the termination of their years of service, the authorities of London had regard to the natural anxiety of the parents, that the arrangement concluded with the Company should be such as to ensure the happiness and prosperity of their offspring.1

In 1621, it was estimated that the cost of sending fifty boys to Virginia was five hundred pounds sterling, or ten pounds to the boy, this including not only the charges for transportation but also the cost of food and clothing. The Company looked forward to recovering this amount by the sale of the youths, the price which was expected for each one being sixty-six hundred weight of tobacco at three shillings a pound. It was discovered that this quantity did not always meet the expense incurred in the case of each boy, and in this event, the rule was enforced that the purchaser should make good the difference, since it was unjust that the Company should be exposed to any loss when it was considering only the benefit of the planters in undertaking to supply them with servants.2

The preference displayed in the introduction of so many young persons had its origin in considerations, the influence of which lasted throughout the century. Boys were not only more easily controlled, but their terms continued for a greater length of time than those of persons who had reached maturity,3 and in consequence, their masters were not called upon to supply their places so often or so

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, p. 96.

2 Ibid., vol. I, p. 140.

3 See Chap. X for a statement as to the length of time covered by the terms of adult servants.


soon. A youth of eighteen or nineteen was capable of performing almost as heavy tasks as a man of twenty-three or twenty-four, and whatever difference of physical strength there might have been in the latter’s favor was covered by the advantages accruing from longer service. It must not be forgotten, however, that boys were more easily secured than adults because so many were bound out as apprentices.

The Company showed, in 1621, a willingness to accept men and women belonging to the ranks of the poor, who in that age constituted a serious burden upon the welfare of the kingdom. But one condition was imposed; these persons were to be delivered, supplied by the parish from which he or she came, with a fund which might be counted on as sufficient to cover the expense of clothing and transportation. This proposition had the approval of Parliament. It was regarded as a feasible means of diminishing the multitude of those who were unable to secure a livelihood without the aid of the authorities of the communities in which they lived.1 That the number of indigent persons imported into Virginia in consequence of this new source of supply was probably small, may be inferred from a statement published at this time, that the men recently sent out were “choice spirits” drawn from all parts of England, and enured from their earliest years to a life of industry.2

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, p. 127. For an account of Captain Bailly’s project to export annually from the kingdom to the English possessions in America, three thousand poor persons of “the great store who doth lye burdensome in all parishes,” see British State Papers, Dom. Cor. Jas. I, vol. 189, No. 36; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1623, p. 128, Va. State Library.

2 Declaration of the State of the Colonie, 1620, p. 5, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III. There was no inducement apparent to cause the author of the Declaration to make a false statement.


The determination of the Company to exclude from the Colony the influences which would have followed from the introduction of criminals, is disclosed in its requirement that all who had decided to go to Virginia should give notice of their intention, and that no shipmaster should presume to carry out from any port passengers who had not sent in their names.1 It was stated that no infamous persons had emigrated in the vessels previously dispatched, on account of the vigilance exercised, and this had induced the authorities of the corporation to extend their supervision to the shipments made in vessels belonging to private individuals or to associations. A book-keeper was appointed, upon whom the duty was imposed of registering the age, name, county, profession, and kindred of every one who set out. In every case in which this officer had evidence that a passenger was a malefactor, he was ordered to report the fact.2 When a private person desired to carry over to Virginia a reprieved felon, it was necessary to obtain the permission of the Company.3

There still survive records of the instances in which persons who could be properly described as convicts were sent to Virginia to be used as laborers either in the service of the Company or of private persons; these records are not only few in number, but they also generally reveal the existence of special circumstances. There is no indication of any desire on the part of the English Government at that

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, p. 17. See Instructions to Yeardley, 1618, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II, p. 164.

2 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, pp. 17, 18. See, as to previous arrangements of the same character, Instructions to Yeardley, 1618, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II, p. 164.

3 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. II, pp. 10, 11.


time to thrust its hardened criminals on the Colony. When, in 1618, it was sought by the friends of Henry Reade to secure his release from Newgate on condition that he would be removed to Virginia, discouragement was thrown by the officers of the law in the way of their request on the ground that the offence of which he was guilty, robbery on the highway, was so grave that the Privy Council, with whom the final decision rested, would not be disposed to lighten his punishment by granting the privilege of transportation, since this would amount only to condonation of his crime.1 In the cases in which that body showed a disposition to yield, often strong family influences had been brought to bear, influences singularly powerful in that age. A characteristic instance was that of John Throckmorton, who, in 1618, was imprisoned for stealing a hat valued at six shillings; a petition was entered by a kinswoman that if he was released by the authorities, she would undertake to bear all the expense of his conveyance to Virginia.2 It is hardly probable that there were many convicts in England whose relatives were sufficiently interested in them to assume the burden involved in the cost of their removal. When the prayer for transportation came from the prisoner alone, the Privy Council was inclined to act with still greater caution before granting it. This appears from the case of John Carter, whose petition, offered in 1622, was allowed for the specific reason that his guilt had not been clearly proven, but admitting that it had been, it was his first offence. He wished to be transferred to the plantations, because he was too poor or too friendless to secure his pardon outright.3

1 British State Papers, Domestic, Jas. I, vol. 105, No. 75; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1618, p. 7, Va. State Library.

2 Neill’s Virginia Vetusta, p. 102.

3 Petition of John Carter, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. II, No. 12; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1622, p. 74, Va. State Library.


In some cases, the trade of the criminal led to his transportation. When Samuel Rogers was convicted and sentenced to be hung for manslaughter during the administration of Sir Thomas Smyth, permission was obtained for his removal to Virginia on the ground that he was a skilful carpenter who would be of great use in the Colony, trained mechanics being in demand there.1

The prudence exercised by the Company in preventing even dissolute persons from being conveyed to Virginia, that is to say, persons who had been guilty of trivial offences or who led the lives of vagabonds, appears from the conduct of that body with reference to the letter of James I, which was considered in the Quarter Court held October 20th, 1619. In this letter the King had ordered that one hundred persons of dissolute character should be accepted for transportation to the Colony. Action upon this demand was deferred on the ground that shipping was now lacking. This proved unsatisfactory to the King, and the Company were commanded to convey one-half of the persons consigned to them to Virginia at once. A committee was appointed to procure vessels, but in the meanwhile a petition was offered to the Secretary of State, urging that the Company of the Somers Isles2 should be enjoined to relieve the London Company of a part of the contingent, an indication of the small degree of anxiety which the members felt to secure this class of persons, although the need of laborers in the Colony was growing so rapidly in importance. One objection to receiving them was, that their maintenance would entail a considerable expense before shipping could be made ready for their removal. The disinclination of the Company, however, was not due entirely to fear of the expense which would

1 Records of Middlesex, England, vol. II; p. 224.

2 The Bermudas.


have to be incurred. In anticipation of its hostility to the scheme of transportation, the Knight Marshal sought to conciliate the sentiment of that body by promising that if the band of “dissolute persons” were sent off to Virginia at once, he would supply the Company with men and women “of the quality and condition” which they desired. A committee was instructed at the Quarter Court assembling December 23d, 1619, to visit Bridewell, where the “dissolute persons” were to be collected by the Knight Marshal and after inspection to select those making the most favorable impression.1

One of the most convincing pieces of evidence that the population of Virginia, during the existence of the Company, contained no element that would cause it really to resemble a penal colony in character, is furnished by the report of the census of 1624-25, in which the ages of the servants are given. There were ten persons engaged in cultivating the public lands at Hog Island, and their average age was only twenty. Of the twenty-one persons who were employed on the lands assigned for the use of the Governor at Paspaheigh and on the Main, the average age was twenty-two. This was also true of the thirteen servants of Captain Epes, the fourteen of Captain Roger Smith, and the twenty-three of Samuel Mathews. The average age of the twelve servants of Capt. Pott and the fifteen of William Barry was twenty-five. The average age of the fifteen servants of Captain Blaney and the twenty of Captain Gookin was twenty-four. The average age of the fourteen servants of Captain William Tucker was only twenty-one; of the twenty-nine of Abraham Piersey and the thirteen of William Pierce, twenty-six.2

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, pp. 26, 34.

2 Hotten’s Original Lists of Emigrants 1600-1700. See chapter on [footnote continues on p. 601] Musters of Inhabitants in Virginia 1624-25, pp. 201-265. In some few cases the ages of the servants are not stated. These servants are omitted in my general average. Thus Abraham Piersey had four maids in addition to the number of servants whom he is mentioned as possessing; I have not taken them into account, as their ages are not given.


At this time, the number of servants in the Colony approximated four hundred and sixty-five. The ages of about seventy-four were not given when their names were set down in the census, beyond the fact that in many cases it is stated that they were boys or girls. Of the three hundred and ninety-two whose ages are recorded in the report of the muster, it is found upon an examination of the list that the average age was only twenty-three. There were only thirteen whose respective ages equalled or exceeded forty. One hundred and fifty-four had not attained their twenty-first birthday. Among the members of a great body of indented or apprenticed servants like this, servants who had in the majority of instances barely reached maturity, it is hardly probable that there could have been many representatives of the purely criminal classes of England. It must be remembered also, that these laborers had been brought into the Colony several years before, when they were still younger.

After the revocation of the charter of the Company, there appears to have been no decline in the feeling of hostility with which the public officers regarded the introduction of criminals into Virginia. A remarkable illustration of this feeling is to be discovered in the order adopted by the General Court in 1632, directing that there should be returned to England two maids who had been gotten with child in the course of their voyage to the Colony.1 It can be easily seen from the tenor of this order, how quickly, if it had been possible to override a command of the English authorities, an injunction would

1 Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 552.


have been entered by the court to the warrant issued, in 1635, to the sheriff of London to the effect that nine female convicts should be delivered into the possession of Captain Thomas Hill or Captain Richard Carleton for removal to Virginia.1 The criminals imported subsequent to the dissolution of the Company were not introduced by the English Government, but were brought over by merchants, shipmasters, and planters in the character of ordinary servants. In 1634, Thomas Brice, who was lying at that time in Newgate, having been recommended to the mercy of the King by the judge who had tried him, was ordered to be delivered to whatever sea-captain amongst those bound for Virginia his father should select.2 In 1635, John Talford, who had been convicted of stealing a mare, was granted to William Gibbs, on condition that Gibbs should carry him to the same country. In addition to the nine female convicts delivered to Captain Hill or Captain Carleton in 1634, to whom reference has already been made, there were five male felons. William Drysdale, in 1636, received six condemned men for shipment on his own account to the Colony.3 How negligent some of the persons were who acquired a property in these felons is shown in the case of Richard Ingram, who had been consigned to Lewis Edwards. Although Edwards had been commanded to transfer Ingram to Virginia, the latter appears to have been allowed to remain so long in England that he was arrested and brought up for execution

1 Warrant to the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, British State Papers, Domestic, Chas. I, Docquet; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1635, p. 120, Va. State Library.

2 King to Sheriffs of London, British State Papers, Colonial, Domestic Cor. Chas. I, vol. 272, No. 63; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1634, p. 76, Va. State Library.

3 British State Papers, Colonial, Domestic, Chas. I, Docquet; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1635, pp. 120, 157, Va. State Library.


on the ground that, in failing to depart, he had exposed himself to the penalty of death, which was the punishment originally prescribed for his crime. In 1638, six prisoners who had been granted to William Fleneman of London to be dispatched to the Colony, were informed that if they lingered in England twenty days after they had been released, or if they should return to that country without permission, they should be seized and hung.1 The crimes for which the prisoners sent out as servants had been condemned were often of a widely different nature. John Haydon, who asked while an inmate of Bridewell that he should be allowed to transport himself to Virginia, had given offence by persisting in “preaching abroad”;2 Henry Robinson, on the other hand, who was bound to James Place, an emigrant to that Colony, had been convicted of piracy, but owing probably to extenuating circumstances had been reprieved.3

There are many strong indications to sustain the belief that the disposition of the English authorities to substitute in many cases transportation for death arose from the fact that it was shocking to the sentiments of the magistrates, even of that age, to carry out with pitiless rigidity the criminal code then in force. At this time, there were three hundred crimes in the calendar for which capital punishment was inflicted.4 It seemed to be too harsh a punishment to impose death for the smallest offence.

1 British State Papers, Colonial, Domestic Cor. Chas. I, vol. 284, No. 42; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1636, p. 91, Va. State Library; Domestic Cor. Chas. I, Docquet; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1638, p. 64, Va. State Library.

2 Ibid., vol. 261, fol. 243; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1635, p. 117, Va. State Library.

3 Petition of Henry Robinson, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. VIII, No. 93; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1635, p. 144, Va. State Library.

4 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 629.


Transportation was a compromise on the part of the English judges with the more humane feelings of their nature. As long as the felon was in England, unless he was pardoned outright, he had to be made subject to the extreme penalty. The law prescribed the punishment of death, and the law had to be enforced. The judges may not have thought all the circumstances of a crime such as to justify them in recommending the criminal to royal mercy; at the same time, there may have been extenuating incidents among these circumstances which rendered them reluctant to apply the extreme punishment permitted by statute. It is doubtful whether a single convict was imported into Virginia, previous at least to 1650, whose case when tried in the English courts was not marked by circumstances in mitigation of its criminality. In 1661, a special committee was appointed by the Privy Council to consider, among other things, “how felons condemned to death for small offences” might be disposed of for the use of the English Plantations, and they recommended that the justices of the peace should be granted the power to distribute among these Plantations “all people of a loose and disorderly habit of life” who were a charge upon the parishes in which they were found.1 During the first years following the Restoration,

1 Minutes of the Council for Foreign Plantations, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. XIV, No. 59, pp. 30, 31; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1661, p. 8, Va. State Library. See House of Lords Calendar, 1663-64, March 28, for draft of an act for transporting persons convicted of felony within clergy or of petty larceny, beyond seas: “Persons convicted of felony who have benefit of clergy may now be burnt in hand and detained prisoners for any length of time not exceeding one year, and any women convicted of stealing any money or goods above the value of twelve pence and under the value of ten shillings may be branded in the hand and further punished by imprisonment, whipping, or sending to the House of Correction for any time not exceeding one year, but as it has not been found that these punishments prevent persons from committing [footnote continues on p. 605] the like crimes again, the bill provides that such offenders may at the discretion of the Judge or Justices be delivered to any merchant, planter or adventurer of other person (willing to take them) to be transported to Jamaica, Virginia or any other English plantation beyond the seas, there to serve for not less than five nor more than nine years.” This bill had been introduced the previous session, but was not reported from committee; it was revived and again dropped. Royal Hist. MSS. Commission, Seventh Report, part I, p. 175.


the number of men and women of this character introduced into Virginia was perhaps somewhat larger than it had been in the previous, or probably than it was destined to be at any time in the subsequent, course of the seventeenth century. This population is stated to have been drawn from the ranks of poor, idle, debauched, and condemned persons.1

It was not long before the apprehensions of the people of the Colony were aroused. In 1667, eighteen convicts were withdrawn from Newgate and transported to Virginia,2 but so large an introduction of condemned prisoners excited attention at once and led to a protest, which revealed how objectionable to the inhabitants this element of population was. The counties of York, Middlesex, and Gloucester were especially earnest in their opposition to the importation of “jail-birds.” They had not yet forgotten the attempt to subvert the laws, liberties, and religion of the people, instigated in 1663 by certain soldiers of Cromwell, who had suffered banishment to the Colony after the Restoration and had been compelled to act as servants. In accordance with this feeling, the General Court, in April, 1670, prohibited the introduction of English felons after January 20th, 1671.3 In 1670, Cap. 10 of 22 and 23 Charles II was passed, which made the arson of corn-stacks and the malicious

1 British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, No. xcii, pp. 275-283.

2 Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, p. 329.

3 Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 510.


killing of cattle capital offences, but allowing the persons guilty of these crimes the alternative of being shipped to the English Plantations. Before the operation of this statute could have increased the number of convicts among the servants of Virginia, a royal order, confirming the previous order of the General Court at Jamestown, announced that the importation of Newgate criminals was to cease, and that this rule was to apply to all the Colonies. The order was read in the General Court on April 6th, 1671, and in pursuance of its commands, that body proclaimed that shipmasters and merchants should not be permitted to land servants from their vessels while riding in the waters of Virginia, until the collectors had made inquiry and found that these persons had not been guilty of violating the royal instructions.1 Mr. Hugh Nevitt, a merchant, disregarded these instructions by introducing ten “jail-birds,” and was at once called to account for his action. An order of court was passed that he should not be suffered to leave Jamestown until he had offered good security for the removal of the whole number of the criminals from the Colony before the end of two months. The planters who had purchased them were commanded to deliver them up, and Nevitt was required to return in its original form the consideration which he had received for his human merchandise.2 Captains Bristow and Walker became securities for his performance of the order of court to send out the “jail-birds,” and they were compelled to bind themselves in the enormous amount of one million pounds of tobacco, an unmistakable indication of the earnest spirit in which that order had been passed. The motive of the General Court was not one merely of apprehension lest the dangerous conspiracy of 1663 might be repeated, but a reasonable

1 Records of General Court, p. 52.

2 Ibid., p. 93.


fear that the Colony might be injured in reputation by the belief which would arise in England that Virginia was a place only fit for the residence of the basest and most despicable class of persons.1

How important this matter was considered to be by the Virginians appears from their grateful feeling towards Arlington for assisting in securing the English Government’s approval of the order passed by the General Court, prohibiting the further importation of convicts into the Colony, and Ludwell was careful to impress upon that nobleman the fact that the safety and prosperity of the people were dependent upon the continuation of this approval.2 In 1682, the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations entered a memorandum that no felon should be sent to any of the English foreign settlements unless he furnished security in one hundred pounds sterling that he would not return in four years.3 The amount of this security was so large that if the Privy Council had adopted the suggestion, it must have seriously diminished the number of criminal persons introduced into the Colonies. Not many merchants who supplied Virginia with servants would have been willing to incur the risk of such a heavy loss by offering the security in their own names. Few convicts were in a position to give so large a bond on the basis of their own property, and their relatives

1 Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, pp. 510, 511. “Nor hath it been a small motive to us to hinder and prohibite the importation of such dangerous and scandalous people since we thereby apparently loose our reputation whilst we are believed to be a place only fitt to receive such base and lewd persons.”

2 Letter of Secretary Ludwell to Arlington, British State Papers, Colonial Papers, July 17, 1671; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1671, p. 178, Va. State Library.

3 Memorandum of the Lords of Trade and Plantations, British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, No. 97, p. 83; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1682, p. 201, Va. State Library.


must have shown little alacrity in coming to their assistance.

The larger proportion of the servants in Virginia in the seventeenth century who were imported into the Colony after being guilty of offences against the law in England, were simply men who had taken part in various rebellious movements. This class of population, so far from always belonging to a low station in their native country, frequently represented the most useful and respectable elements in the kingdom from which they came; it was no crime for Irishmen to defend their soil against the tyrannical intrusion of Cromwell, or for disaffected Englishmen and Scotchmen to rise up against the harsh and cruel measures of Charles II and James II. It was the men who loved their homes and were devoted to their church that led these movements, and their followers, in spite of ignorance and poverty, shared their courage, their steadfastness, and their patriotism. Banishment as a punishment for political offences seems to have been first employed by the authorities of the Commonwealth. It was enforced only in those cases in which, according to the strict provisions of the law, death could be inflicted, and it was, therefore, in mitigation of the extreme penalty. Even a disciplinarian as stern as Cromwell shrank from the slaughter of all the prisoners who were taken with arms in their hands. After the fall of Drogheda in September, 1649, the officers were deliberately butchered in cold blood, every tenth man was shot, and the survivors were shipped across the Atlantic. In the winter of 1649-50, two vessels set out from London having on board a number of political prisoners who were designed for the plantations in Virginia.1 After the defeat of Charles II at Worcester, his soldiers who were

1 Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 146, pp. 123, 140.


seized on that occasion were disposed of to merchants, and at least sixteen hundred were thus conveyed to America. The Parliamentary fleet in which they were transported sailed first to Barbadoes,1 and there it is probable that most of this living cargo were disembarked. We have certain information of the arrival of only one hundred and fifty Scotch servants in the Colony when the fleet arrived in 1651.2 In 1653, the Council of State gave permission to Richard Netherway of Bristol to export from Ireland one hundred Tories who were to be sold as slaves in Virginia.3 Among the names to be found at this time in the lists of head rights entered in land patents, Irish patronymics are observed to be extremely numerous. Batches of the unfortunate natives of Ireland were now imported. In a patent granted to Colonel Anthony Ellyott in 1655, the head rights were of Irish origin exclusively; this characteristic is also to be observed in patents to John Smithy, to Richard Lee, to Edmund and Littleton Scarborough, to John Woodward, and to others, bearing the same date.4 These Irishmen were for the most part introduced by merchants and sea-captains, who, after obtaining the certificates of head rights, assigned them to different planters. In 1655, the year in which the importation was the largest in volume, Richard New acquired by patent seven hundred and fifty acres of land by rights transferred to him by Captain Barrett, who had brought over fifteen Irish natives.5

1 Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 50, pp. 74, 75; 42, 69.

2 Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History, vol. III, p. 537. Scotch names are now frequently observed in the lists of head rights, in the Va. Land Patent Books, and in inventories of estates. See an instance of latter in Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1651-1656, f. p. 53.

3 Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 98, p. 405.

4 See Va. Land Patents for 1655.

5 See a long list of Irish names appended to a patent obtained in 1656 by Tabitha and Matilda Scarborough. Va. Land Patents, vol. 1655-1664, p. 35.


Edward Penruddock and George Duke, who took an active part in the uprising which occurred in Salisbury in 1655, were discharged from prison and suffered to withdraw to Virginia on condition that they would make no further attempt against the government of Cromwell.1 It is not improbable that some of their followers were also banished thither, although the majority of them were transported to the West Indies. When the monarchy was restored, a large number of political and religious offenders, the persecution of the non-conformists having been revived, were sent to the Colony. In October, 1662, the sheriff of London was commanded to deliver to Captain Foster, who was then on the point of sailing, the prisoners whose names were given in the list presented with the warrant.2 The number of these offenders living in Virginia, in 1663, as servants was sufficiently great to give rise to a conspiracy among persons of this description, the object of which was not merely their own emancipation, but the subversion of the religion and form of government that had the countenance of the people at large.3

The number of political offenders among the laborers of Virginia previous to 1670 could never have been great, as Governor Berkeley, in 1671, estimated the whole population of servants at only six thousand.4 In 1678, when

1 Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 104, p. 481. The word “Virginia,” used in the English records of this age as representing the point of destination for shipments of various kinds from England, was often intended to cover the West Indies also. Royal Hist. MSS. Commission, Thirteenth Report, Appx. part I, p. 605. The expression “Continent of Virginia” appears very frequently late in the seventeenth century.

2 Warrant to the Sheriffs of London, British State Papers, Colonial Papers, Oct. 16, 1662; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1662, p. 36, Va. State Library.

3 Hening’s Statutes, vol. II, p. 510.

4 Ibid., p. 515.


the uprising in Scotland had been suppressed with a merciless hand, a considerable proportion of the prisoners were shipped to America. The King in that year addressed a letter to Lord Culpeper, ordering him to permit Ralph Williamson to bring into the Colony and to dispose of fifty-two persons, who had been banished from Scotland for being implicated in the insurrectionary movements which Claverhouse succeeded in putting down with so much cruelty, and Culpeper was still further directed to suffer Williamson to land all others guilty of the same offences in Scotland, who might hereafter be delivered to him.1 It is a notable feature of these instructions, that Charles commanded his representatives in Virginia to treat as invalid the law prohibiting the importation of felons who had been convicted in the English courts, and to sweep away all hindrances which might be opposed to the execution of the royal wishes. This would seem to indicate that the King anticipated objection on the part of the people to the introduction even of political offenders, an element of population having, as a rule, superior intelligence and training, and comparing most favorably in character with the great body of the agricultural servants of the Colony. In 1685, when the rebellion, led by Monmouth and sustained by a large number of English farmers and laborers, had been crushed at Sedgemoor, a circular was issued to all the Governors of the English possessions, directing them to receive the different batches of rebels sent out of the kingdom, and not to allow them to return or to redeem themselves by the payment of money until the terms for which they were sentenced had expired. Lord Howard, who was at the head of affairs in Virginia at this time, received a copy of this

1 King to Lord Culpeper, British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, No. 95, p. 166; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1678, p. 193, Va. State Library.


order, and he was instructed to have a bill introduced in the Assembly to confirm it.1 After this, no attempt was made in the seventeenth century to thrust upon the Colony the presence of men who had been condemned in England for political offences.

The same reasons which led the landowners during the existence of the Company to prefer youths as servants continued to influence them when that corporation had been abolished. The author of the New Description of Virginia merely gave expression to the general feeling of the planters when he stated that the laborers who were most desired were persons who had just passed their sixteenth year, and all the evidence confirms the correctness of his remark that many thousand of this age could have found immediate employment in the Colony.2 So great was the demand for these youthful laborers that in one year alone, 1627, fourteen or fifteen hundred children who had been gathered up in different parts of England were sent to Virginia.3 In 1629, the Governor took steps to obtain a large number from the city of London. This demand continued during the remaining portion of the century.

The youthfulness of a majority of the laborers who emigrated to the Colony is revealed in various ways. In 1657, the ship Conquer was lying in the Thames ready to sail to Virginia, having nineteen indented servants among its passengers. Information as to their ages has been preserved. The average age was nineteen.4 The law of Virginia defining tithables provided that the number of the years of the youths brought into the Colony

1 British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, No. 97, pp. 172-174; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1685, p. 207, Va. State Library.

2 New Description of Virginia, p. 8, Force’s Historical Tracts, Vol. II.

3 See Letter quoted in Neill’s Virginia Carolorum, pp. 46, 47.

4 British State Papers, Colonial, Vol. XIII, No. 29, I; Sainsbury Abstracts vol. 1640-1691, pp. 170, 171, Va. State Library.


should be sworn to in order to assure the court that their owners were not endeavoring to evade the full payment of their share of taxation.1 The ages of a very large division of the laborers previous to 1700 became in this way a part of the permanent records of the country. The number of young imported servants as thus disclosed is a strong indication in itself of the smallness of the number of criminals added to the population of the Colony.2 The greatest proportion of these youths emigrated to Virginia in the company of their parents, kinsmen, or friends, or were bound out there as apprentices by their guardians or parents or the local authorities in England.3 A considerable section were obtained by felonious means. It was no uncommon thing at this period to find men and women in the seaport towns, but especially in London and Bristol, who earned a livelihood by alluring very young persons to their houses by gifts of sweetmeats, and who cropped the hair of the victims thus secured, so as to alter their appearance beyond recognition, and then disposed of them to persons engaged in sending out laborers to the plantations.4 Actual force and violence were probably only used in the case of children. Among the nineteen servants who were included in the list of passengers of the ship Conquer already referred to, not less than twelve were illegally detained. Robert Person, one of these

1 These youths were brought into court in order that the justices might be able to form their conclusions as to the truth of the oaths, from the appearance of the youths themselves.

2 At a single meeting of court held in Lancaster County, May 13, 1668, thirteen servants were adjudged to be under age. Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1666-1680.

3 Records of York County, vol. 1690-1694, p. 117, Va. State Library.

4 Craik’s History of England, Vol. III, p. 635; see also Public Good without Private Interest, p. 5; Records of Middlesex, England, Vol. IV, p. 433.


passengers, who was a drover from Yorkshire, had been made drank in Smithfield, and while in that condition had been enticed into the vessel at midnight, being under the impression that he was returning to his lodgings. Mary Cooper, a young woman in search of employment, had been told that by going on board she would find a place in Virginia, which was represented to her as a town situated only a few miles below Gravesend on the Thames. Elizabeth Smalridge had been persuaded by a soldier to enter the ship, where he had sold her into bondage.1

Warrants for the return of children and the discharge of grown persons who had been inveigled on board vessels were issued in great numbers and served upon the captains in command. There are instances of widowed mothers seeking by this means to recover children not ten years old, of fathers to recover sons under eleven years of age.2 A second warrant was sworn out at the same time for the seizure of the person who had been guilty of the abduction complained of, this person being generally some notorious spirit who was suspected of habitually committing the crime. Such was Christian Chacrett, who in 1655 was brought before a justice of the peace for enticing Edward Furnifall and his wife into the ship Planter, which was soon to raise anchor to set sail for Virginia;3 such was the still more infamous Avis, a resident of the vicinity of St. Katherine’s in London, who about the same time was arrested for taking on board of a Virginian vessel a boy eleven years of age.4 This traffic in kidnapped children and adults was carried on in Bristol as flagrantly and outrageously

1 Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 106, p. 84, British State Papers, Colonial, vol. XIII, No. 29, I.

2 Denbigh MSS., Royal Hist. MSS. Commission, Fourth Report, Appx., p. 272; Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 100, pp. 63, 64.

3 William and Mary College Quarterly, April, 1893, p. 198.

4 Interregnum Entry Book, vol. 100, pp. 63, 64.


as in London.1 In all parts of England at this period, the expression “to spirit away” became one in common use, and it was full of mysterious and terrifying significance to the popular mind; when any one who belonged to an inferior station in life disappeared without leaving any explanation of his absence from the community in which he had been living, he was said to have been “spirited away,” and this whether he had gone out as a servant to the English Plantations or not. The persons who had earned by their peculiar occupation the name of “spirits” were invested with even greater awe than body-snatchers in our own time. There is, however, reason to think that the means employed by this class of men and women in the pursuit of their profession were in the majority of cases wholly commonplace; they played upon the ignorance of the simple-minded, the restlessness of persons in the lower walks of life who were anxious for a change, the despair of those who were sunk in hopeless poverty, and the eagerness of those who had been guilty of infractions of the law to escape from the country. It was to such persons as these that the spirits held out the fairest promises of good fortune in the lands beyond the sea when their terms of service had expired, and it is not strange that they entered readily into the net. However selfish the motives of the spirits, the work which they performed was one which, owing to the new opportunities offered their victims for improving the condition of their lives, ultimately redounded to the advantage of such as possessed elements of strength and respectability in their characters.

The persons who committed themselves voluntarily to the hands of the spirits were carried to the numerous

1 Macaulay’s History of England, chap. III.


cook-shops in the neighborhood of the wharves in the principal seaports, and here they were kept in close confinement until sold to merchants or masters of ships which were about to set sail for Virginia.1 Their incarceration very often lasted for several months. So notorious were the houses in which these imprisonments took place, that warrants were frequently sued out authorizing employers to search them for the recovery of apprentices who had disappeared under the influence of the inducements held out by the spirits to fly to the Colonies. The frauds and robberies resulting from the custom of spiriting away became so common that in 1664, when the evil had reached its most alarming proportions, the Committee for Foreign Plantations decided to interpose. A few years before an application had been made by John Clark and Henry Harding for letters patent, under which they were to be granted the authority to establish an office in London to which all the servants and children to be sent to Virginia and Barbadoes from that port should be required to be brought in order that they might declare their willingness to go, or for the purpose of showing that their parents had consented to their departure.2 This application does not seem to have been successful, although the greatness of the evil sought to be remedied was fully admitted. A few years later, the matter was taken up by a very influential body of men who had reason to consider their own private interests seriously impaired by the work of the spirits. In 1664, the English merchants presented a petition condemning the action of these persons, not on the ground that it resulted in so much injustice and inhumanity, but because it offered to so many

1 See Bullock’s Virginia, p. 47.

2 British State Papers, Dom., Chas. II, vol. XXII, p. 138; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1660, p. 3, Va. State Library.


worthless individuals who had been spirited away with their own consent, an opportunity to say, after having received a large quantity of clothing and been furnished with food for a great length of time, that they had gone on board ship in opposition to their own wishes and had been detained there by force. Exposed to constant inconvenience and heavy loss from this source, the petitioners urged the appointment of a committee under the great seal, whose duty it should be to keep an exact record of the names, ages, places of birth and residence and the station in life of all who had decided to remove to the plantations.1 When this paper was received; the committee who had charge of the affairs of the Colonies ordered a report to be made on it. This resulted in a full corroboration of the merchants’ statement, it being affirmed that scarcely a ship departed from England for America which did not carry away a number of persons who had either been abducted or who pretended that they had been, their complaints to that effect being expressed at the last port at which the vessel touched on its outward voyage. The report recommended that there should be a record of every person who went out bound by the terms of a formal contract, and that the Secretaries of the Colonies should transmit to England, at regular intervals, the names and abodes of the different planters to whom the servants, whose agreements were with the merchants alone, were assigned after their arrival.2 Under the influence of this report, the Council passed an order creating the office of Register. A commission was prepared by which Roger Whitby was appointed the first incumbent of the

1 British State Papers, Colonial Papers, July 18, 1664; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1664, p. 54, Va. State Library.

2 Report of Sir Heneage Finch, British State Papers, Colonial Papers, July 18, 1664; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1664, p. 54, Va. State Library.


position, and his commission was addressed to the Duke of York, as the warden of the Cinque Ports, as well as to those in command of other ports in the kingdom. Not only was the new officer required to preserve a record of the names, ages, places of birth and residence of all who proposed to emigrate to America in the character of servants, but also the full tenor of their stipulations and covenants, and the acknowledgment that they had left the English shores with their own consent. Certificates of this fact, bearing his official seal, were delivered by the Register to the merchants by whom the servants were to be forwarded.1 The establishment of the Registry, although in its nature well calculated to enforce the object it had in view, did not prove entirely effective in removing the evil against which it was directed. The traders supplying the Colonies found it necessary in 1670 to offer a second petition, in which, after repeating their expression of abhorrence of the profession and practice of the spirits, they begged that new rules might be adopted to protect them in their business of supplying the plantations with laborers.2 This led to the passage of an Act of Parliament providing that all who were found guilty of stealing and transporting children and adults should be punished with death without benefit of clergy.

Not even this extreme penalty could put a stop to the mischief. Ten years after this Act became a law, it was stated that ten thousand persons were annually spirited away from the kingdom by the arts of kidnappers.3 An order of council issued in 1682 reveals the prevalence of

1 Order in Council, British State Papers, Dom., Chas. II, vol. 102, No. 27; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1664, p. 58, Va. State Library.

2 British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, vol. 94, p. 17; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1670, p. 147, Va. State Library.

3 Godwyn’s Negro’s and Indian’s Advocate, p. 171.


the evil in spite of all that had been done to eradicate it. This order recited that many persons were still induced by a great variety of devices to go on board of ships bound for the Colonies, and after being thus secured were carried off against their wishes. Many others who had started upon the voyage with great willingness, and had been supplied with food and apparel at the expense of the owners of the vessels in which they sailed, afterwards caused their friends in England to begin prosecutions of these owners without any just ground on which to base a suit. So much annoyance resulted from the frequency of these prosecutions that the Council, on the occasion referred to, reaffirmed the regulation adopted in 1664, by commanding that all servants who should hereafter be carried out of the kingdom should be required, in case they were not bound by indentures to planters in the Colonies, to enter into formal contracts with the owners of the ships in which they intended to sail, which contracts were to be executed in the presence of a magistrate. As a further precaution, their names were to be preserved in books set apart specially for the purpose in the magistrate’s office.1 A few years afterwards, the attention of the Committee for Trade and Plantations was called to the fact that several vessels had recently cleared at Gravesend, whose officers had not conformed to the order in council of 1682, so far as it related to the servants on board who were destined for the Colonies, and the Committee at once took steps to have the order renewed and republished as a warning to those who were disposed to disregard it.2

1 British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, No. 97, pp. 87-91; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1682, p. 219, Va. State Library.

2 British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, No. 108, p. 253; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1685, p. 235, Va. State Library.


It would be an error to suppose that all the servants who were dispatched to Virginia had been originally procured by means which the law was disposed to condemn, and which required the intervention of the English authorities in the different ways referred to. From an early period in the seventeenth century, agents of high character and standing had established themselves in the ports from which ships engaged in the colonial trade took their departure, including not only London and Bristol, but also Weymouth, Dartmouth, Hull, Plymouth, Biddeford, Barnstaple, and Southampton. They followed a business that was considered to be entirely proper, and their methods gave no occasion for disapproval or criticism. It was understood that they were prepared to supply all who intended to emigrate to the Colonies for the purpose of opening plantations, with servants who were fitted to be laborers, these servants having come to them with a view of being disposed of in this manner. Nor did the agents find their only customers in men who designed going out to the Colonies themselves, and who, therefore, wished to carry along with them the number of laborers whom they might require. Their principal patrons were merchants who made annual shipments of servants to the English possessions in America. Many of these agents were probably the representatives of firms interested in the colonial trade, and by perfectly fair means gathered together, for their employers, laborers for transportation abroad.

The great body of servants procured by the merchants by legitimate methods or methods wholly illegitimate, were annually exported as a mere species of merchandise which, like the remainder of the cargoes, was to be exchanged for the principal commodity of Virginia, subject to all the risks attending the fluctuations in the price of


tobacco1 The demand for them was, however, more sustained than the demand for manufactured goods in general, or articles of luxury, because they were considered more indispensable, the possession of laborers being necessary for the production of the crop which furnished the only means the planters possessed of buying their supplies. In 1683, William Byrd, writing to his agent in England,2 ordered that a number of youths and adults should be sent him to be used in exchange for a large quantity of the finest tobacco, which, he remarks, it is difficult to purchase without servants, and a few years later, he repeats his request in still stronger and more urgent language.3 Colonel Byrd was only referring to an acknowledged fact in making this statement, which was probably even truer of am earlier time than of the period in which he lived. In collecting a large number of servants, whether bound to him by indenture or not, the merchant who was about to dispatch a ship to Virginia felt that he could count upon a certain market in which to dispose of them, although not upon a handsome profit, since this would depend upon the sale of tobacco in the following year, and the tendency of that commodity to sink suddenly in price was even more marked than its tendency to rise suddenly.

There was another reason for his anxiety to procure a

1 Secretary Kemp, writing to Windebank, April 6, 1638, said: “Of hundreds which are yearly transported, scarce any but are brought in as merchandise to make sale of.” British State Papers, Colonial, vol. IX, No. 96; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1633, p. 8, Va. State Library. William Fitzhugh states in a letter bearing date Oct. 2, 1684, that a ship had just arrived in James River having thirty servants on board for sale.

2 “If you could send me six, eight or ten servants (men or lusty boys) by the first ship, and the procuration might not be too dear, they would much assist in purchasing some of our best crops; they seldom being to be bought without servants.” Letters of William Byrd, Feb. 25, 1683.

3 Letters of William Byrd, March 29, 1685.


cargo of laborers in addition to the large quantity of supplies which he placed on board of his vessel: without a cargo of servants and general merchandise, there would be no means of meeting the expense incurred in the navigation of the ship on its outward voyage. If the vessel had proceeded to Virginia with only worthless ballast in its hold, the profits of its return voyage would have been seriously diminished, however valuable the tobacco brought back might prove to be. It was for this reason to the interest of the English merchant or shipowner who traded with the planters of Virginia, to export to that Colony, whenever a ship was sent out, a cargo adapted to its needs, and as servants were always in demand, he took steps to obtain them as ensuring the smallest risk in his venture.

The principal month for sailing was September.1 A ship beginning its voyage in this month, either early or late, could safely calculate upon arriving in Virginia at the time when the bulk of the crop of tobacco for the past season had been put in shape for transportation to England. Not only could the shipmaster who reached the Colony in October or November rely with confidence upon securing a cargo of tobacco, since all the planters were eager to forward their hogsheads to the foreign markets at the earliest possible moment in order to obtain the highest price, but he could also justly indulge the hope of readily disposing of all his supplies, including the servants, since there was a crop on hand to be offered in

1 In the early history of the Colony, it was the custom of many shipmasters to set sail from the Isle of Wight in making the voyage to America. In May, 1621, the Quarter Court of the London Company allowed Berkeley twenty pounds sterling to meet his expenses in conducting to that point the twenty workingmen whom he was taking to Virginia to erect a furnace at Falling Creek. Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, p. 123.


immediate exchange for them. An advantageous transfer of the laborers under these circumstances allowed room for a double profit, first the profit on the sale of the laborers themselves after deducting the cost of their transportation, and secondly, the profit on the tobacco, for which they were bartered, when passed to the English dealers. So general was the habit of the shipowners to start their vessels from England in September, that an impression prevailed among many people in the kingdom that a voyage of twelve months was required to reach Virginia. This was a cause of complaint to those who were interested in the prosperity of the Colony, on the ground that many persons who might have desired in the spring to emigrate thither, had time to lose that disposition before September, the only season when passages were easily secured, came around again.1 The custom of sailing in this month was, however, not universal. A number of vessels arrived in Virginia in February2 with a view of transporting the tobacco which still remained in the hands of the planters, not having been in a state for shipment when the first fleet of vessels returned to England. The belated ships also brought over cargoes of servants and supplies for exchange.

Before the discovery in 1609 of the northern route to Virginia, ships leaving England and bound for the Colony directed their course as far to the south as Porto Rico, increasing the length of the voyage very materially. In order to avoid all occasions for quarrels with the Spanish Power in the West Indies, to keep clear of waters infested with pirates, and to reduce the expenditure of victuals and the charge for freight, the Company, in 1609, instructed Argoll, after leaving the Canaries to

1 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 11.

2 Ships also arrived in the Colony in the month of September.


the east, to sail upon a straight western line, in the hope of showing that Virginia could be safely reached by that course of navigation. The voyage proved to be successful, the time consumed being nine weeks, two weeks having been passed in a dead calm, during which no progress was made.1 The route of Argoll lay by way of the Bermudas. This route seems to have been followed in all subsequent voyages. Gates and Somers were wrecked on these islands while making for Virginia in 1610. Already it was said that the passage to the Colony would not require a greater length of time for its accomplishment than six weeks.2 The return voyage did not consume more than thirty-one days.3 When Dale proceeded to Virginia in 1611, he passed eight weeks on the ocean.4 It took Captain John Martin, in 1615, only five to complete the same course.5 In 1649, it was stated that a period extending from five to six weeks covered the outward voyage, while the return voyage was sometimes made in twenty days.6 Bullock declared in the following year that the length of the outward passage occasionally did not exceed four weeks, and that five weeks was in the great majority of cases the extreme limit.7

The voyage to Virginia, even when the northern route was taken, was subject to many serious dangers. Before the ship had passed out of eastern waters, there was a

1 A True and Sincere Declaration, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 343.

2 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 264; Abstracts of Proceedings of the Virginia Company of London, vol. I, p. 89.

3 Report of Francis Maguel, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 399.

4 Crashaw’s Epistle Dedicatory, Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 614.

5 Brown’s Genesis of the United States, p. 943.

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

7 Bullock’s Virginia, p. 44.


possibility of being attacked by the piratical craft which hovered off the coast of Africa. In 1636, a vessel with many servants on board, who were in the course of transportation from England to the Colony, was intercepted by Moors near the southern shores of the former country and carried to Salle.1 In 1683, the ship in which Daniel Tyler of York was returning to Virginia was captured by the Turks.2 and towards the close of the century, Mathew Page, who had been seized by the Algerians under similar circumstances, was compelled to pay one hundred and four pounds sterling for his release.3 Shipwrecks, in which all the passengers were drowned or were exposed to unexampled trials resulting in death, were not uncommon.4

It is probable that in every instance the voyage was attended by the gravest discomforts for the class of passengers to which servants belonged, and in many cases these discomforts became the most extreme hardships. As the far greater number of vessels sailed from England at but one season of the year, they were generally crowded, and the lack of any sanitary precautions of importance led frequently to pestilence. The owners and masters of the ships were principally bent upon reducing the cost of the voyage, and under the influence of this motive, victualled them so meanly and meagrely that many of the servants, in the course of their conveyance to Virginia, perished from the diseases incident to an unwholesome or insufficient diet.5 The epidemic that swept over the enfeebled Colony after the Indian massacre of 1622 was said to have

1 Domestic Correspondence, Charles I, vol. 332, No. 32, V. In 1679, thirteen ships bound for Virginia were captured by the Algerians. Royal Hist. MSS. Commission. Eleventh Report. Part II. p. 137.

2 Records of York County, vol. 1687-1690. p. 458, Va. State Library.

3 Ibid., vol. 1690-1694, p. 133, Va. State Library.

4 See Colonel Norwood’s voyage to Virginia, Force’s Historical Tracts, vol. III.

5 Public Good without Private Interest, p. 11.


been introduced into Virginia by a vessel on which fevers had broken out in consequence of the decayed meat and beer distributed among the passengers as their daily allowance. Time only enlarged the proportions of the evil. It was found necessary to increase the number of precautions to remove it. Thus in 1626, Governor Yeardley was instructed to examine the charter party of every shipmaster to discover whether he had complied with the condition as to the number of passengers whom he might transport, and also had provided victuals ample in quantity and wholesome in quality.1 Eleven years later, the Governor of the Colony was directed to certify to the Privy Council the names of those who were notoriously delinquent in furnishing food and drink to the passengers in their ships for Virginia. A number of presentments were made in accordance with these orders, and punishments were inflicted.2 These active steps to compel the owners and masters of vessels to provide proper accommodations for their inferior passengers, passengers of means being able to secure whatever was needed to promote their comfort and to protect their health by the payment of large fees,3 had their origin in the suggestion of Governor West. A report was drawn up by this official concerning the great mortality from which the Colony had suffered at various times, in consequence of the introduction of persons who had become diseased during the voyage by the use of unwholesome food.4 The strictest instructions were given

1 Instructions to Yeardley, 1626, McDonald Papers, vol. I, p. 408, § 8, Va. State Library.

2 The presentment of Robert Page, cape merchant of the George, is given in British State Papers, Colonial, vol. IX, No. 44, I, II, III, IV; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1637, p. 187, Va. State Library.

3 See, for circumstances attending the voyage of Miss Fitzhugh, Letters of William Fitzhugh, Jan. 30, 1686-87.

4 Governor West to Lords Commissioners for Plantations, British State [footnote continues on p. 627] Papers, Colonial Papers, vol. IX, No. 7; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1636, p. 150, Va. State Library.


in 1641 to Berkeley to enforce the rules which provided for the poorest servants, during the time they were on board ship, an abundance of wholesome victuals and quarters amply sufficient for their accommodation.1 Twenty years later the same care was shown in ensuring the comfort of the lowest class of passengers. The masters were required to stock their vessels as for a voyage extending over four months; the most indigent servant was to receive a sufficient allowance of food and bedding while on board, and these regulations were renewed from year to year.2

Improper and insufficient fare and overcrowding were not the only evils from which the servants suffered in making the voyage to Virginia. The captains of the vessels had absolute authority over their passengers, and as many of these officers were men of arbitrary and tyrannical temper, the power they possessed was frequently abused. When it became necessary to inflict punishment upon persons who had been guilty of crime on shipboard, it was quite often imposed with extreme barbarity. An instance may be mentioned which furnishes probably a fair illustration of this fact. About the year 1635, a bottle of liquor was stolen on board of a vessel bound for Virginia, and a boy upon whom suspicion fell was arrested and severely whipped for the purpose of forcing him to confess the theft. In the agony of his suffering, he implicated several others in his act. Seizing instantly upon the supposed ringleader, the sailors, by the command of the captain, suspended him by the wrists to a yard-arm

1 Instructions to Berkeley, 1641, McDonald Papers, vol. I, p. 383, Va. State Library.

2 Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 435; vol. II, p. 129.


with a mortar-piece weighing two hundred pounds attached to each leg. The unfortunate man was allowed to hang under these excruciating circumstances until the cries of shame which arose from the surrounding passengers forced the captain to release him.1

In these ocean voyages, the strong superstition prevailing in that age among individuals of all classes, but especially among those who occupied a lower station in life, sometimes exhibited itself in a very revolting light. The larger proportion of passengers, to whatever rank they belonged, had never been at sea before. When great storms arose, as they often did in these voyages, the ships sailing from England when the equinoctial winds had begun to blow, they were often attributed by the ignorant servants and even the representatives of higher classes present to the machinations of witches. If some old woman, shrivelled and bent, with toothless gums and straggling locks, happened to be on board, it was only too easily taken for granted that it was she who had raised the spirit that caused the tempest to roar and the waters to foam and rage. Terror at the moment might prevent the passengers from throwing her into the sea, but woe to her when the waves subsided! There is the record of a summary execution of a hag for this offence in spite of the most earnest and emphatic protest on the part of the captain. It appears from this incident how universal among the passengers was the sentiment in favor of the execution, since even the wishes and commands of the chief officer were disregarded.2

1 British State Papers, Dom. Cor. Chas. I, vol. 271, No. 12; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1635, p. 68, Va. State Library.

2 Public Good without Private Interest, p. 12; Archives of Maryland, Proceedings of Council, 1636-1667, p. 306. The following is a General Court entry for June 7, 1655: “Capt. Barrett to appear at the Admiralty Court to answer the putting to death of Katherine Goody as a witch at sea.” Robinson Transcripts, p. 242.


The charge for the conveyance of servants from England to Virginia remained substantially the same throughout the seventeenth century. During the period of the Company’s administration, it was six pounds sterling or its equivalent to the individual.1 In 1664 when forty years had passed since the revocation of the charter of that corporation, a committee of the Council for Foreign Plantations reported that the cost of transportation by the head was still six pounds sterling.2 An item in the inventory of Mathew Hubbard, recorded in York County, shows that as late as 1670 this continued to be the amount which was paid,3 exclusive of the sum spent in the purchase of clothing and other necessary articles. In 1623, a planter who imported six servants into the Colony was compelled in the case of each to go to the expense of thirteen pounds sterling,4 but this included not only the charge for transportation, but also the cost of clothing, victuals, mechanical tools, and military arms. Another contemporaneous authority estimated the general outlay as high as twenty pounds sterling.5 George Reade, writing in 1640 to his brother in England, requests him to send two servants to Virginia, the charges on whose account he states would

1 Abstracts of Proceedings of Virginia Company of London, vol. I, pp. 28, 172; Works of Capt. John Smith, p. 609.

2 British State Papers, Colonial Entry Book, vol. 92, p. 275.

3 Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, p. 469, Va. State Library. There is an instance preserved in the Records of York County in which the charge for the transportation of thirty-three servants was placed at £5 a head. The shipmaster who conveyed them to Virginia was, however, one of the owners, and for that reason only it is probable the rate was materially reduced. See vol. 1687-1691, p. 248, Va. State Library.

4 British State Papers, Colonial Papers, vol. II, No. 54; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1623, p. 169, Va. State Library.

5 British State Papers, Colonial, vol. III, No. 32; McDonald Papers, vol. I, p. 155, Va. State Library.


be ten pounds sterling to the man. This, however, also covered the expense of bedding and other unusual articles.1

Bullock a quarter of a century later entered minutely into the various items of cost involved in the transportation of a servant to the Colony. In consequence of the fact that the vessels set sail for Virginia at long intervals, it was necessary, according to this writer, to consider the expense of maintaining such a person while he was waiting to embark. In London, this amounted to three pounds sterling for every six weeks of his detention. The charge for transportation alone was five pounds and ten shillings, to which ten shillings and six pence were to be added to cover the fee of the ship surgeon, the expenditure on account of the servant being thus brought to eight pounds twelve shillings and six pence, and this was exclusive of the cost of the apparel and similar necessaries which had to be provided for him under the terms of his indenture, consisting of one cloth and one canvas suit, one waistcoat, one pair of woollen drawers, three shirts, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes, one monmouth cap, three handkerchiefs, four ells of strong canvas, one bed and bolster, two blankets and a rug. The outlay entailed by the purchase of these articles was calculated at three pounds and eight shillings. Bullock asserted that if it had been customary for ships to sail at short intervals from the mother country to Virginia, the expense of importing a servant would not have exceeded four pounds and ten shillings, omitting the charge for clothing.2 In many cases in which persons leaving

1 British State Papers, Colonial, vol. X, No. 66; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1640, p. 98, Va. State Library. An English father, writing in 1660 to his son, who resided in York County, states that every servant whom he sent to Virginia caused him an expense of ten pounds sterling. Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 179, Va. State Library.

2 Bullock’s Virginia, pp. 11, 12, 36.


England granted to the owners of vessels the right to dispose of their labor when the Colony was reached, in return for having furnished them transportation, there was an inclination on the part of these owners to raise the rate extremely high in order to lengthen the terms of service and thus increase the profit of the voyage. So exorbitant were the charges in instances of this kind, amounting not infrequently to four or five times the ordinary fee of the passage, that it became a cause of general complaint, which apparently remained without remedy.1

In the session of 1638-39, the General Assembly adopted the regulation that a tax of six pence per capita should be levied on passengers arriving at Point Comfort, and towards the close of the century this amount was increased to fifteen shillings in the case of servants of alien birth.2 It is an interesting and significant fact that the heavy penalties imposed for forestalling the markets of the Colony in regard to so many articles of merchandise, such, for instance, as liquors, soaps, candles, sugar, fruits, spices, woollen and linen goods, were held not to apply to servants, the persons who had bought them from the merchants being left at liberty to dispose of them in exchange for tobacco at the highest figures they could secure.3 This exception was allowed on the ground that the seasoning of laborers exposed their first owners to serious charges, and hazards which ought to be considered in their subsequent sale. The statute of 1642, however, which required that the masters of ships should not sell any goods on board until their vessels had arrived at Jamestown, at

1 Godwyn’s Negro’s and Indian’s Advocate, p. 171.

2 British State Papers, Colonial, vol. X, No. 11, I; Sainsbury Abstracts for 1638, p. 67; Hening’s Statutes, vol. III, p. 193; Beverley’s History of Virginia, p. 201.

3 Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 245.


which place they were to remain at anchor at least twenty-four hours, expressly included servants in its provisions,1 because to permit the bulk of a cargo to be broken, so far as the personal merchandise on board was concerned, was to encourage its being broken in the case of ordinary goods by furnishing the amplest opportunity for this to be done. This Act of Assembly did not include in its scope either the Eastern Shore or York River. It was afterwards repealed on account of the serious inconvenience which it produced. The merchants were strongly opposed to its continuation because it increased the cost of a voyage to Virginia by prolonging the delay in the discharge of a cargo, and the planters objecting to it because they were indirectly compelled to recoup the traders for this additional expense. In all the abortive laws which were afterwards passed to establish ports, servants were required to be landed in these ports along with ordinary merchandise.2

When a large proportion of servants on board of a ship arriving in Virginia were consigned under indenture to planters named in the bills of lading,3 the vessel either proceeded directly to the landings of these planters,4 or to some general port where it could be conveniently reached by them.5 Special instructions were given to Berkeley in 1611, that no passengers of this class were to be turned ashore until their masters had been informed of their presence and had been allowed ample time to send for them.6

1 Hening’s Statutes, vol. I, p. 246.

2 Ibid., p. 413.

3 An instance of a female servant, consigned to Mr. Thomas Pecke by bill of lading, will be found in the Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 179, Va. State Library.

4 Records of Rappahannock County, vol. 1656-1664, p. 87, Va. State Library.

5 Life of Thomas Hellier, pp. 10, 11.

6 Instructions to Berkeley, 1642, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II, p. 286.


If the whole cargo of such persons were the property of a merchant who owned or had chartered the ship in which they were transported, the captain sailed to those parts of the Colony where the merchant’s factors resided.1 If the vessel was without special consignments, it seems to have been the habit of the planters residing in the neighborhood of the place where she came to anchor, to got on board, and make purchases of servants if they formed a part of the cargo. The most prominent citizens slid not disdain to buy in person in this manner.2

In assigning servants to the planters, the merchant, or the shipmaster acting as the merchant’s attorney, could only dispose of the terms designated in their indentures, which in general had been drawn either at the beginning or at the end of the voyage.3 In the absence of any documentary agreement, they could only be sold for the period laid down by the custom of Virginia. In some cases, a person who had come over to the Colony with a view to settling there permanently, if his impressions were favorable, hired out his laborers for a certain length of time while he inquired into the general conditions prevailing in the country. The only remuneration allowed for their use under these circumstances was their bare support and

1 Records of York County, vol. 1664-1672, pp. 549, 550, Va. State Library; Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1680-1694, orders Aug. 7, 1693.

2 Records of Lancaster County, original vol. 1680-1686, April 8, 1684; Records of Middlesex County, original vol. 1680-1694, orders March 2, 1684; Records of Lower Norfolk County, original vol. 1656-1666, p. 232; Records of York County, vol. 1657-1662, p. 338, Va. State Library.

3 The following reference to the manner in which the servants kept their indenture papers on the ocean voyage is found in the Records of Henrico County, vol. 1688-1697, pp. 262, 263: “After the ships arrived in the Capes . . . several of them (servants) talked of securing their indentures, the men would sowe them in the waistband of their breeches, and this Bridget said she would sowe hers in her stomacher.”


a small quantity of tobacco, but the original owner was frequently benefited further by escaping the expense and inconvenience attending the seasoning to which all who had newly arrived were liable.1 If he found it inadvisable, after a careful examination of the practical advantages which the Colony had to offer, to remain there, he had no difficulty in selling the terms of his servants and thus securing himself against any loss from the expense he had incurred in bringing them to Virginia. It was also in his power to obtain more favorable provisions for them with a second master than were embodied in the agreement between themselves.2

When a servant had bound himself before his departure from England to work for a certain planter in Virginia, he could not escape from the obligation thus assumed by concealing himself until the ship in which he intended to sail had started on its voyage, and subsequently going over to the Colony under covenant to a different person. Whoever was guilty of this form of faithless dealing was punished by being compelled to labor for a period representing the length of both terms, the second master, however, being subordinate to the first in his claim upon the time and energies of the servant. The first term for which the latter was bound by the indenture he had shirked had to be completed before he could carry out his engagements under the second indenture.3

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

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

3 See Lawes of Assembly, 1619, Colonial Records of Virginia, State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874, p. 28. An instance of a person, who had escaped and returned to England, being required, on coming back to the Colony under new indentures, to serve out his first term, will be found in Records of General Court, p. 78.

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