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CHAPTER II The Indian Weed
 History is baffling in its complexity. The human mind instinctively strives for simplicity, endeavors to reproduce all things to set rules, to discover the basic principles upon which all action is based. And in various lines of research much success has attended these efforts. We know the laws underlying the movements of the planets, of various chemical reactions, of plant and animal life. It is inevitable, then, that attempts should be made to accomplish similar results in history, to master the vast multitude of facts which crowd its pages, many of them seemingly unrelated, and show that after all they obey certain fundamental laws. Despite the vaunted freedom of the human will, it is maintained, mankind like the planets or the chemical agents, cannot escape the operation of definite forces to which it is subjected. And if these forces are studied and understood, to some extent at least, the course of future events may be predicted.  
Thus it may be accepted as practically established that in any country and with any people a condition of continued disorder and anarchy must be succeeded by one of despotism. History records, we believe, no exception to this rule, while there are many instances which tend to confirm it. The absolute rule of the Caesars followed the anarchy of the later Roman republic, the Oliverian Protectorate succeeded the British civil wars, the first French Empire the Reign of Terror, the Bolshevik despotism the collapse of the old regime in Russia. Such will always be the case, we are told, because mankind turns instinctively to any form of government in quest of[22] protection from anarchy, and the easiest form of government to establish and operate is despotism.
Not content with generalizations of this kind, however, certain historians have undertaken to reduce all human action to some one great fundamental principle. The Freudian view emphasizes the influence of sex; Buckle maintains that the effect of climate is all-powerful. In recent years many students, while not agreeing that the solution of the problem is quite so simple, yet believe that underlying all social development will be found economic forces of one kind or another, that in commerce and industry and agriculture lies the key to every event of moment in the history of mankind. Often these forces have been obscured and misunderstood, but close study will always reveal them. It is folly to waste time, they say, as writers have so long done, in setting forth the adventures of this great man or that, in dwelling upon the details of political struggles or recounting the horrors of war. All these are but surface indications of the deeper movements underneath, movements in every case brought about by economic developments.
But this interpretation of history is by no means universally accepted. While admitting readily that the conditions surrounding the production and exchange of useful commodities have affected profoundly the course of events, many historians deny that they give the key to every important movement. We must study also the progress of human thought, of religion, of politics, or our conception of history will be warped and imperfect. How is it possible to explain the French religious wars of the Sixteenth century by the theory of economic causes? In what way does it account for the rebellion of Virginia and North Carolina and Maryland against the British government in 1775? How can one deny that the assassination of Abraham Lincoln affected profoundly the course of American history?
These efforts to simplify the meaning of human events have often led to error, have stressed certain events too strongly, have minimized others. The complexity of history is self-evident; we must for the present at least content ourselves with complex interpretations of it. If there be any great underlying principles which explain all, they have yet to be discovered.
Thus it would be folly in the study of colonial Virginia to blind ourselves to the importance of various non-economic factors, the love of freedom which the settlers brought with them from England, their affection for the mother country, the influence of the Anglican church. Yet it is obvious that we cannot understand the colony, its social structure, its history, its development unless we have a clear insight into the economic forces which operated upon it. These Englishmen, finding themselves in a new country, surrounded by conditions fundamentally different from those to which they had been accustomed, worked out a new and unique society, were themselves moulded into something different.
And in colonial Virginia history there is a key, which though it may not explain all, opens the door to much that is fundamental. This key is tobacco. The old saying that the story of Virginia is but the story of tobacco is by no means a gross exaggeration. It was this Indian plant, so despised by many of the best and ablest men of the time, which determined the character of the life of the colony and shaped its destinies for two and a half centuries. Tobacco was the chief factor in bringing final and complete failure to the attempts to produce useful raw materials, it was largely instrumental in moulding the social classes and the political structure of the colony, it was almost entirely responsible for the system of labor, it even exerted a powerful influence upon religion and morals. In a word, one can understand almost nothing of Virginia, its infancy,[24] its development, its days of misfortune, its era of prosperity, its peculiar civilization, the nature of its relations to England, unless one knows the history of tobacco.
As though they had a prophetic vision of its future importance, the Virginia Indians revered the plant. To them it was an especial gift direct from the Great Spirit, and as such was endowed with unusual properties for doing good. When the fields of maize were dried and parched for lack of rain they powdered the tobacco and cast it to the winds that the evil genii might be propitiated; their priests on great occasions fed it to the sacrificial fires; when the usual catch of fish failed it was scattered over the water.[2-1] Smoking was considered a token of friendship and peace. When the white men first visited the native villages they soon found that to reject the proffered pipe was to offend their savage hosts and incur their hostility.
It was John Rolfe, celebrated as the husband of Pocahontas, who first experimented with the native leaf. This gentleman was himself fond of smoking, but he found the Virginia tobacco as it came from the hands of the savages, decidedly inferior to that of the West Indies. The leaf itself was small, and although the flavor was weak it was biting to the tongue.[2-2] Rolfe's efforts proved entirely successful. In 1614, two years after his first attempt, he had obtained a product which Ralph Hamor declared to be as "strong, sweet and pleasant as any under the sun."[2-3]
Thus, early in its history, Virginia had found a commodity for which she was pre?minently suited, in the production of which she could compete successfully with any country in the world. And for her tobacco she had a ready market. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the habit of smoking had spread rapidly among the upper classes of English, until at the end of the sixteenth century, it was almost universal. When[25] James I ascended the throne, although feeling a strong aversion to tobacco, he was forced to take up its use in order not to appear conspicuous among his courtiers, for the dictates of custom seem to have been as strong three hundred years ago as at present.[2-4] At the time that Rolfe was making his experiments England was spending yearly for the Spanish product many thousands of pounds.
It is not surprising, then, that the colonists turned eagerly to tobacco culture. The news that Rolfe's little crop had been pronounced in England to be of excellent quality spread rapidly from settlement to settlement, bringing with it new hope and determination. Immediately tobacco absorbed the thoughts of all, became the one topic of conversation, and every available patch of land was seized upon for its cultivation. The fortified areas within the palisades were crowded with tobacco plants, while even the streets of Jamestown were utilized by the eager planters.[2-5] In 1617 the George set sail for England laden with 20,000 pounds of Virginia leaf, the first of the vast fleet of tobacco ships which for centuries were to pass through the capes of the Chesapeake bound for Europe.[2-6] By 1627, the tobacco exports amounted to no less than half a million pounds.[2-7]
The London Company, together with the host of patriotic Englishmen who had placed such great hopes in the colony, were much disappointed at this unexpected turn of events. They had sought in the New World those "solid commodities" which they realized were fundamental to the prosperity of their country, commodities upon which English industrial life was founded. And they had found only the Indian weed—tobacco. This plant not only contributed nothing to the wealth of the kingdom, it was felt, but was positively injurious to those who indulged in its use. Surely, declared one writer, men "grow mad and crazed in the brain in that they would[26] adventure to suck the smoke of a weed." James I thought there could be no baser and more harmful corruption, while Charles I expressed himself with equal emphasis. So late as 1631 the latter protested against the growing use of tobacco, which he termed "an evil habit of late tymes."[2-8]
Yet England soon learned to welcome the colonial tobacco as far better than no product at all. Hitherto the leaf in use had been raised in the Spanish colonies, and England's annual tobacco bill was becoming larger and larger. It seemed calamitous that British industry should be drained of good and useful commodities in exchange for a plant the consumption of which was harmful rather than beneficial. It was at least some satisfaction to know, then, that England could substitute for the Spanish leaf the growth of their own colonies. Apparently it was only later, however, that there came a full realization of the opportunity afforded for enriching England and building up her merchant marine by exporting tobacco to foreign countries. For the present they accepted this one product of their experiment in colonial expansion, reluctantly and with keen disappointment, as the best that could be obtained.
Yet it was obvious to the London Company that tobacco held out the only prospect, not only of securing a profit from their venture, but of bringing to Virginia some measure of prosperity. The first consignment of leaf which came from the colony sold for no less than 5s. 3d. a pound, a price which promised a rich return to the planters on the James and their backers in England.[2-9] And they much preferred to have a prosperous colony, even when prosperity was founded on tobacco, than a weak, impoverished settlement, which would be a drain upon their personal resources and of no value to the nation. Thus they accepted the inevitable, gave what encouragement they could to the new product, and sought to[27] use it as a means for building up the British empire in America. When once England had established herself firmly in the New World, it would be time enough to return to the attempt to secure from the colony ship-stores, potash, iron and silk.
With the overthrow of the Company, however, the Crown made repeated efforts to direct the energies of Virginia away from the all-absorbing cultivation of tobacco. In 1636 Charles I wrote to the Governor and Council bidding them moderate the excessive quantities of the plant laid out each year and to endeavor to produce some other staple commodities.[2-10] "The King cannot but take notice," he reiterated the next year, "how little that colony hath advanced in Staple commodities fit for their own subsistence and clothing," and he warned the planters to emulate the Barbados and Caribee Islands, where a beginning had been made in cotton, wool and other useful things.[2-11] But the colonists paid no heed to these repeated warnings. The King's commands were no more effective in establishing new industries than had been the first attempts of the Company. Virginia was not prepared to compete with the workers of Europe in their own chosen fields, and persisted, had to persist, in the production of the one commodity for which she possessed unsurpassed natural advantages.
It is remarkable how universally the plant was cultivated by all classes of Virginians throughout the colonial period. It was difficult to find skilled artisans in any line of work, since those who had pursued in England the various trades usually deserted them, when they landed in the colony, in order to turn to the raising of tobacco. And the few who continued to pursue their old vocations usually rented or purchased a small tract of land and devoted a part of their time to its cultivation. Blacksmiths, carpenters, shipwrights,[28] coopers all raised their little tobacco crop and sold it to the British merchants,[2-12] while even the poor minister sought to make ends meet by planting his glebe with Orinoco or Sweetscented. The Governor himself was not free from the all-prevailing custom, and frequently was the possessor of a farm where his servants and slaves, like those of other gentlemen in the colony, were kept busy tending the tobacco crop.
It is doubtful whether the members of the London Company, even Sir Edwin Sandys himself, ever attempted to visualize the social structure which would develop in the Virginia they were planning. If so, they unquestionably pictured a state of affairs very different from that which the future held in store. They took it for granted that Virginia would to a large extent be a duplicate of England. In the forests of the New World would grow up towns and villages, centers of industry and centers of trade. The population would be divided into various classes—well-to-do proprietors boasting of the title of gentleman; professional men, lawyers, physicians, ministers; skilled artisans of all kinds; day laborers.
We catch a glimpse of the Virginia of their minds from a Broadside issued in 1610, appealing for volunteers for service in the colony.[2-13] We can see the shipwrights at work in the busy yards of thriving ports; the smelters caring for their iron and copper furnaces; the "minerall-men" digging out the ore; saltmakers evaporating the brackish waters for their useful product; vine-dressers tending their abundant crops of grapes and coopers turning out the hogsheads in which to store the wine which came from the presses; bricklayers and carpenters fashioning substantial houses; fishermen bringing in the plentiful yield of the day and dressers preparing the fish for foreign shipment; joiners, smiths, gardeners, bakers, gun-founders, ploughwrights, brewers, sawyers, fowlers, each plying his trade in the New Brittania.
But how different was the reality. Virginia became, not an industrial, but a distinctly agricultural community. For more than a century it could boast not a single town worthy of the name.[2-14] It was but a series of plantations, not large in extent, but stretching out for miles along the banks of the rivers and creeks, all devoted to the raising of tobacco. The population of the colony was but the aggregate of the population of the plantation—the owner, the wage earners, the indentured servant, a few slaves. Virginia in the Seventeenth century, despite the design of its founders, developed a life of its own, a life not only unlike that of England, but unique and distinct.
Immigration, like everything else in the colony, was shaped by the needs of tobacco. For its successful production the plant does not require skilled labor or intensive cultivation. The barbarous natives of Africa, who later in the century were imported in such large numbers, eventually proved quite adequate to the task. But it does require the service of many hands. For decades after Rolfe's discovery had opened a new vista of prosperity for Virginia, fertile land was so cheap that a person even of moderate means might readily purchase an extensive plantation,[2-15] but it would be of little service to him unless he could find hands for clearing away the forests, breaking the soil, tending and curing the plants.
Of the three requirements of production—natural resources, capital and labor—the fertile soil furnished the first in abundance, the second could readily be secured, but the last remained for a full century the one great problem of the planters. From the days of Sir George Yeardley to those of Nicholson and Andros there was a persistent and eager demand for workers. Of this there can be no better evidence than the remarkably high wages which prevailed in the colony, especially in the years prior to the Restoration. In fact, it is probable that the laborer received for his services four or five times the[30] amount he could earn in England. Even during the time of the London Company we find George Sandys writing to a friend in London to procure indentured servants for the colony as the wages demanded were intolerable. A day's work brought, in addition to food, a pound of tobacco valued at one shilling, while in England the unskilled worker considered himself fortunate if he could earn so much in a week.[2-16]
In his efforts to solve this acute problem the planter found little hope in the aborigines. The Spaniards, it is true, had made use of the Indians to till their fields or work in the gold and silver mines, but the Pamunkey and the Powhatan were cast in a different mold from the Aztec and the Peruvian. To hunt them out of their native lairs and bind them to arduous and ignominious servitude was hardly to be thought of. Their spirit was too proud to be thus broken, the safe refuge of the woods too near at hand. One might as well have attempted to hitch lions and tigers to the plough shaft, as to place these wild children of the forest at the handles. At times it proved practicable to make use of Indian children for servants, and there are numerous instances on record in which they are found in the homes of the planters.[2-17] But this, of course, could be of little service in solving the pressing labor problem, in clearing new ground or tilling the idle fields. The Virginia landowner was forced to turn elsewhere for his helpers.
In 1619 a Dutch privateer put into the James river and disembarked twenty Africans who were sold to the settlers as slaves. This event, so full of evil portent for the future of Virginia, might well have afforded a natural and satisfactory solution of the labor problem. Slaves had long been used in the Spanish colonies, proving quite competent to do the work of tending the tobacco plants, and bringing handsome returns to their masters. But it was impossible at this time for England to supply her plantations with this type[31] of labor. The slave trade was in the hands of the Dutch, who had fortified themselves on the African coast and jealously excluded other nations. Thus while the demand for negro slaves remained active in the colony, they increased in numbers very slowly. The muster of 1624-25 shows only 22.[2-18] During the following half century there was a small influx of negroes, but their numbers were still too small to affect seriously the economic life of the colony.[2-19]
The settlers were thus forced to look to England itself to supply them with hands for their tobacco fields. They knew that in the mother country were many thousands of indigent persons who would welcome an opportunity to better their lot by migrating to the New World. And the English statesmen, feeling that there was need for blood letting, welcomed an opportunity to divert the surplus population to the new colony in America.[2-20] The decline in English foreign trade and the stagnation of home industry had brought unemployment and suffering to every class of workers. Wages were so low that the most industrious could not maintain themselves in comfort, while to provide against want in case of sickness or old age was hardly to be thought of. Every parish, every town swarmed with persons stricken with abject poverty. In some parts of the country no less than 30 per cent of the population were dependent in part upon charity for their daily bread, while many were driven into vagabondage and crime, becoming an element of danger rather than of strength to the nation.[2-21] It seemed to the planters that the mother country constituted an abundant reservoir of labor, a reservoir already overflowing and capable of supplying indefinitely their every need.
The only drawback was the long and expensive voyage across the Atlantic. The fare, even for the poorest and most crowded accommodations, was no less than six pounds sterling,[32] a sum far beyond the means of the thriftiest laborer.[2-22] Obviously some scheme had to be evolved to overcome this difficulty before Virginia could make use of English labor. And so the planters turned to the simple expedient of advancing the passage money to the immigrant and of placing him under strict legal bonds to work it out after reaching the colony.
This system, around which the economic life of Virginia centered for a full century, proved satisfactory to all concerned. The credit advanced to the immigrant made it possible for him to earn his ocean fare, not in England where labor was cheap, but in America where it was dear. In other words, he was enabled without delay to enjoy the full benefits of selling his services in the best market. The necessity for placing him under a stringent contract or indenture is evident. Had this not been done the immigrant, upon finding himself in Virginia, might have refused to carry out his part of the bargain. But the indenture was in no sense a mark of servitude or slavery. It simply made it obligatory for the newcomer, under pain of severe penalties, to work out his passage money, and until that was accomplished to surrender a part of the personal liberty so dear to every Englishman.
It is erroneous to suppose that most of the servants were degenerates or criminals. It is true that the English Government from time to time sought to lessen the expense of providing for convicted felons by sending some of them to the colonies, among them on rare occasions a few decidedly objectionable characters. More than once the Virginians protested vigorously against this policy as dangerous to the peace and prosperity of the colony.[2-23] By far the larger part of these penal immigrants, however, were but harmless paupers, driven perhaps to theft or some other petty offense by cold and hunger. Often they were sentenced to deportation by merciful[33] judges in order that they might not feel the full weight of the harsh laws of that day.[2-24]
And of the small number of real criminals who came in, few indeed made any lasting imprint upon the social fabric of the colony. Many served for life and so had no opportunity of marrying and rearing families to perpetuate their degenerate traits. Those who escaped fled from the confines of settled Virginia to the mountains or to the backwoods of North Carolina. Many others succumbed to the epidemics which proved so deadly to the newcomers from England. In fact the criminal servant was but a passing incident in the life and development of England's greatest and most promising colony.[2-25]
An appreciable proportion of the so-called criminal laborers were no more than political prisoners taken in the rebellions of the Seventeenth century. These men frequently represented the sturdiest and most patriotic elements in the kingdom and were a source of strength rather than of weakness to the colony. When Drogheda was captured by Cromwell's stern Puritan troops in 1649, some of the unfortunate rebels escaped the firing squad only to be sent to America to serve in the sugar or tobacco fields. Just how many of these Irishmen fell to the share of Virginia it is impossible to say, but the number rises well into the hundreds, and the patent books of the period are full of headrights of undoubted Irish origin.[2-26]
When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 it became the turn of the Puritans to suffer, and many non-conformists and former Oliverian soldiers were sent to Virginia. In fact so many old Commonwealth men were serving in the tobacco fields in 1663 that they felt strong enough to plot, not only for their own freedom, but for the overthrow of the colonial government.[2-27] In 1678, after the suppression of the Scottish Covenanters by the Highland Host, a new batch of prisoners were sent to the plantations.[2-28] Seven years later[34] many of Monmouth's followers taken at Sedgemour, who were fortunate enough to escape the fury of Jeffreys and Kirk, were forced to work in the plantations.
But the bulk of the servants were neither criminals nor political prisoners, but poor persons seeking to better their condition in the land of promise across the Atlantic. They constituted the vanguard of that vast stream of immigrants which for three centuries Europe has poured upon our shores. The indentured servant differed in no essential from the poor Ulsterite or German who followed him in the Eighteenth century, or the Irishman, the Italian or the Slav in the Nineteenth. Like them he found too severe the struggle for existence at home, like them he sought to reach a land where labor, the only commodity he had to sell, would bring the highest return. The fact that his passage was paid for him and that he was bound by contract to work it out after reaching America, in no wise differentiates him from the newcomers of later days. In 1671 Sir William Berkeley reported to the Board of Trade that the colony contained "6,000 Christian servants for a short tyme," who had come with the "hope of bettering their condition in a Growing Country."[2-29]
Virginia is fortunate in having preserved a record of this, the first great migration to the English colonies, which in some respects is remarkably complete. In fact, the names of fully three-fourths of all the persons who came to the colony, whether as freemen or servants during the first century of its existence, are on record at the Land Office at Richmond, and at all times available to the student of history. In the early days of the settlement a law was passed designed to stimulate immigration, by which the Government pledged itself to grant fifty acres of land to any person who would pay the passage from Europe to Virginia of a new settler. Thus if one brought over ten indentured servants he would be entitled to[35] 500 acres of land, if he brought 100, he could demand 5,000 acres. But the headright, as it was called, was not restricted to servants; if one came over as a freeman, paying his own passage, he was entitled to the fifty acres. Should he bring also his family, he could demand an additional fifty acres for his wife and fifty for each child or other member of the household.[2-30]
When the Government issued a grant for land under this law, the planter was required to record with the clerk of the county court the names of all persons for whose transportation the claim was made. Some of these lists have been lost, especially for the period from 1655 to 1666, but most of them remain, constituting an inexhaustible storehouse of information concerning the colony and the people who came to its shores.[2-31] How the papers escaped destruction during the fire which did so much damage in the Secretary's office at the time of Andros, it is impossible to say. The explanation is to be found perhaps in the fact that copies of the records were kept, not only at Williamsburg, but in the several counties, so that in case of loss by fire new entries could be made.
Immigration to Virginia continued in unabated volume throughout the Seventeenth century. The needs of the tobacco plantations were unceasing, and year after year the surplus population of England poured across the Atlantic in response. An examination of the list of headrights shows that the annual influx was between 1500 and 2000. Even during the Civil War and Commonwealth periods this average seems to have been maintained with surprising consistency. Apparently the only limit which could be set upon it was the available space on board the merchant fleet which each year left England for the Chesapeake bay. Thus in the year ending May 1635 we find that 2000 landed in the colony,[2-32] while in 1674 and again in 1682 the same average was maintained.[2-33][36] At times the numbers dropped to 1200 or 1300, but this was the exception rather than the rule. All in all, considerably more than 100,000 persons migrated to the colony in the years that elapsed between the first settlement at Jamestown and the end of the century.[2-34]
This great movement, which far surpassed in magnitude any other English migration of the century, fixed for all time the character of the white population of tidewater Virginia. The vast bulk of the settlers were English. An examination of the headright lists shows here and there an Irish or a Scotch name, and on very rare occasions one of French or Italian origin, but in normal periods fully 95 per cent were unmistakably Anglo-Saxon. In fact, such names as Dixon, Bennett, Anderson, Adams, Greene, Brooke, Brown, Cooper, Gibson, Hall, Harris, King, Jackson, Long, Martin, Miller, Newton, Philips, Richards, Turner, White, appear with monotonous repetition. Except in the years 1655 and 1656, after the Drogheda tragedy when one sees such names as O'Lanny, O'Leaby, O'Mally, and Machoone, or in 1679 when there was a sprinkling of Scottish names, the entire list is distinctly English.
It must not be supposed that immigration to Virginia in the Seventeenth century was restricted to indentured servants. Some of the settlers were freemen, paying their own passage and establishing themselves as proprietors immediately after arriving in the colony. But the conditions which attracted them were the same as those which brought over the servants. In both cases it was tobacco, the rich returns which it promised and the urgent need it had of labor, which impelled them to leave their homes in England to seek their fortunes in the strange land beyond the seas.
Having seen the character of the immigration to Virginia, it remains to determine what was the fate of the settler after he[37] reached the colony, what r?le lay before him in its social and economic life. Would he remain permanently in the status of a servant, entering into a new agreement with his master after the expiration of the old? Would he eventually become a day laborer, working for wages upon the estates of the wealthy? Would he become a tenant? Could he hope to become a freeholder, making of Virginia, like Rome in the early days of the republic, the land of the small proprietor?

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