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CHAPTER III The Virginia Yeomanry
 The system of indentured labor differed vitally from negro slavery. The servant usually was bound to his master for a limited period only, and at the expiration of four or five years was a free man, to go where he would and pursue what employment seemed most lucrative. And of tremendous importance to the future of Virginia was the fact that he was of the same race and blood as the rest of the population. There was no inherent reason why he might not take up land, marry and become a part of the social structure of the colony.  
When races of marked physical differences are placed side by side in the same territory, assimilation of one or the other becomes difficult, and an age long repugnance and conflict is apt to result. Perhaps the greatest crime against the southern colonies was not the introduction of slavery, but the introduction of negroes. It was inevitable that eventually slavery would be abolished. But the negro race in America cannot be abolished, it cannot be shipped back to Africa, it cannot well be absorbed into the white population. Today California is struggling to avoid a like problem by excluding the Japanese, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand are closing their doors to Orientals of all kinds.
Thus Virginia, during its century of white immigration, was storing up no perplexing difficulties for the future, was developing slowly but surely into an industrious, democratic, Anglo-Saxon community. Not until the black flood of slaves was turned loose upon her, strangling her peasantry and revolutionizing her industrial and social life, was her future put[39] in pawn. The white servants, so far as they remained in the colony, became bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh, promised her a homogeneous race, a sound economic and political development.
When the alien newcomer to the United States sees from the deck of his steamer the Statue of Liberty and the ragged sky line of lower Manhattan, he feels that the goal of his ambition has been reached, that the land of opportunity lies before him. But to the indentured settler of the Seventeenth century, his arrival in the James or the York was but the beginning of his struggles. Before he could grasp the riches of the New World, he must pay the price of his passage, must work out through arduous years the indenture to which he had affixed his signature.
And these years were filled not only with toil, perhaps with hardship, but with the greatest peril. He might account himself fortunate indeed if during the first twelve months he escaped the so-called Virginia sickness. Tidewater Virginia for the English settlers was a pest-ridden place. The low and marshy ground, the swarming mosquitoes, the hot sun, the unwholesome drinking water combined to produce an unending epidemic of dysentery and malaria. And at frequent intervals, especially in the early years, yellow fever, scurvy and plague swept over the infant colony, leaving behind a ghastly train of suffering and death.[3-1] At one time the mortality among the settlers upon the James ran as high as 75 per cent and for a while it seemed that this attempt of the British nation to secure a foothold upon the American continent must end in failure.[3-2]
But as the years wore on better conditions prevailed. Governor Berkeley testified in 1671, "there is not oft seasoned hands (as we term them) that die now, whereas heretofore not one of five escaped the first year."[3-3] This improvement[40] was brought about by the use of Peruvian bark, a clearer understanding of sanitary matters and the selection of more healthful sites for plantations. At the time when Sir William wrote it is probable that 80 per cent or more of the indentured servants survived the dangers of the tobacco fields, completed their terms of service and, if they remained in the colony, became freedmen with the full rights of Englishmen and Virginians.
In the period from 1660 to 1725 there was, as we shall see, an exodus of poor whites from Virginia. This, however, was chiefly the result of the influx of slaves which marked the end of the century, and it is safe to assume that prior to the Restoration there was no extensive movement from Virginia to other colonies. The servant, upon attaining his freedom, usually remained in the colony and sought to establish himself there.
Although it is impossible to determine accurately the average length of service required by the indentures, there is reason to believe that it did not exceed five years. In cases of controversy between masters and servants who had come in without written contracts as to when their terms should expire, it was at first required by law that the period be fixed at five years if the age was in excess of twenty-one.[3-4] In 1654, however, a new act was passed by the Assembly, making it necessary for those who had no indentures, if over sixteen to serve six years, if less than sixteen until the twenty-fourth year had been reached.[3-5] This was found to work to the disadvantage of the colony by discouraging immigration, and in 1662 the law was changed so that in all doubtful cases the legal term should be five years for persons over sixteen.[3-6] Since the Assembly, which was so largely made up of persons who themselves held servants, would certainly not fix the legal term for a period shorter than that normally provided[41] for in the indentures, we may assume that usually the servant secured his freedom within four or five years after his arrival in the colony.
Thus it is evident that the bulk of the population could not have been, as is so often supposed, made up of large landed proprietors with their servants and slaves. Such a conception takes no account of the annual translation of hundreds of men and women from bondsmen into freedmen. The short duration of the average term of service, together with the fact that the servants were usually still young when freed, made it inevitable that in time the freedmen would outnumber those in service. The size of the annual immigration could in no wise alter this situation, for the greater the influx of servants, the greater would be the resulting graduation into the class of freedmen.
The average number of headrights, as we have seen, was probably not less than 1750 a year. If it is assumed that 1500 of these were servants, five per cent of whom served for life and 20 per cent died before the expiration of their terms, no less than 1125 would remain to become freedmen. While the number of those under indenture remained practically stationary, the size of the freedman class grew larger with the passing of the years.
Placing the average term at five years, then, and the average mortality at twenty per cent, there would be in service at any given time some 6,000 men and women. In fact, Sir William Berkeley, in his famous report of 1671, estimated the number of servants in the colony at this figure.[3-7] On the other hand an annual accession of 1125 to the class of freedmen would in five years amount to 5,625, in ten years to 11,250, in fifteen to 16,875, in twenty to 22,500. At the end of half a century no less than 56,250 persons would have emerged from servitude to become free citizens. Although there is[42] every reason to believe that these figures are substantially correct,[3-8] their accuracy or lack of accuracy in no way affect the principle involved. From its very nature it was impossible that the system of indentured servants should long remain the chief factor in the industrial life of the colony or supply most of the labor.
It is true, of course, that the number of those completing their terms of indenture is not an absolute gauge, at any given date, of the size of the freedman class. To determine this it would be necessary to know the average span of life of the freedman, a thing certainly not worked out at the time and impossible of accomplishment now. We may assume, however, that it was relatively long. The newcomer who had lived through the first terrible year in the tobacco fields had been thoroughly tested, "seasoned" as the planters called it, and was reasonably certain of reaching a mature age. Moreover, the servants were almost universally of very tender years. Seldom indeed would a dealer accept one over twenty-eight, and the average seems to have been between seventeen and twenty-three. The reasons for this are obvious. Not only were young men and women more adaptable to changed conditions, more capable of resisting the Virginia climate, stronger and more vigorous, but they proved more tractable and entered upon the adventure more eagerly.[3-9] These conclusions are fully borne out by an examination of the lists of servants given in Hotten's Emigrants to America. Of the first 159 servants here entered whose ages are attached, the average is twenty-three years.[3-10] And as many of these persons were brought over as skilled artisans to take part in the industrial life which the Company had planned for the colony, it is probable that they were much older than the average servant of later days who came as an agricultural laborer. There is every reason to believe, then, that the average servant[43] was still in his prime when he completed his term, perhaps not more than twenty-six or twenty-seven, with many years of usefulness and vigor before him.
It must also be remembered that the freedman, by a display of energy and capability, might acquire property, marry and rear a family. While the number of indentured servants was strictly limited to those who were brought in from the outside, the class of poor freemen might and did enjoy a natural increase within itself. Thus it was inevitable that with the passing of the years the servants were more and more outnumbered by the growing group of freemen. In 1649, when the population was but 15,000,[3-11] 6,000 servants might well have performed most of the manual labor of the tobacco fields, but in 1670, when the inhabitants numbered 40,000,[3-12] or in 1697 when they were 70,000,[3-13] they would form a comparatively small proportion of the people, so small in fact that most of the work of necessity had to be done by freemen. In other words the picture so often presented, even by historians of established reputation, of a Seventeenth century Virginia in which the land was divided into large plantations owned by rich proprietors and tilled chiefly by indentured servants is entirely erroneous. Such a state of affairs was made impossible by the very nature of the system of indentures itself.
It becomes a matter of prime interest, then, to determine what became of the mass of freedmen, what r?le they played in the social and economic life of the colony. Because the servant who had completed his term was free to follow his own bent, we have no right to assume that he sought at once to establish himself as an independent proprietor. He might seek service with the large planters as a hired laborer, he might become a tenant. In either case the population would have been divided into two classes—the wealthy landowner and those who served him.
We know that at all periods of Virginia history there were a certain number of persons employed as wage earners. The colonial laws and the county records contain many references to them. Payment of wages was not unusual even under the Company, and we are told by George Sandys that hired laborers received one pound of tobacco a day in addition to their food.[3-14] In later years we have from time to time references to wage rates, and in some cases copies of contracts entered into between employer and wage earner. But such cases are comparatively rare, and it is evident that the use of hired labor throughout the colonial period was the exception rather than the rule. In fact it would seem that few save servants newly freed and lacking in the funds necessary for purchasing and equipping little farms of their own ever sought employment upon the large plantations. And even in such cases the contracts were for comparatively short periods, since it often required but a year or two of labor for the freedman to save enough from his wages to make a beginning as an independent proprietor.
When once established, there was no reason, in the days prior to the introduction of slavery, why he should not hold his own in competition with his wealthy neighbor. In the production of tobacco the large plantation, so long as it was cultivated only by expensive white labor, offered no marked advantage over the small. With the cost of land very low, with the means of earning the purchase price so readily in hand, with the conditions for an independent career all so favorable, it was not to be expected that the freedman should content himself permanently with the status of a hired laborer.
Nor was there any reason why he should become a tenant. Had all the fertile land been pre?mpted, as was the case on the banks of the Hudson, the poor man might have been compelled to lease the soil upon which he expended his efforts or[45] do without entirely. But such was not the case. It is true that at the end of the Seventeenth century certain wealthy men got possession of large tracts of unsettled land, but their monopoly was so far from complete that they gladly sold off their holdings in little parcels to the first purchasers who presented themselves. Apparently they made no attempts to establish themselves in a position similar to that of the great landlords of England.
The records afford ample evidence that the leasing of property was by no means unknown in colonial Virginia, but the custom was comparatively rare. Hugh Jones, writing in 1721, declared that the tenant farmers constituted but a small fraction of the population, a fact which he explained by the unusual facilities for acquiring property in fee simple.[3-15] It would have been folly for the tobacco planter to expend his labor upon another man's property, perhaps erecting barns and fences and otherwise improving it, when he could for so small an outlay secure land of his own.
Thus we are led to the conclusion that the average Virginia plantation must have been comparatively small in extent. The development of large estates was narrowly limited by the various factors which made it impossible to secure an adequate labor supply—the restrictions upon the slave trade, the insufficient number of indentured servants and the shortness of their terms, the unwillingness of freedmen and others to work for wages. On the other hand, it would be expected that the servants upon securing their freedom would purchase land of their own, and cover all tidewater Virginia with little farms.
Turning to the various records of the time that deal with the distribution of land—deeds, wills, transfers, tax lists, inventories—we find that these conclusions are fully borne out. All reveal the fact that the average plantation, especially in the Seventeenth century, so far from vieing with the vast estates[46] in existence in certain parts of America, was but a few hundred acres in extent.
The land transfers of Surry county afford an interesting illustration. In thirty-four instances mentioned during the years from 1684 to 1686, for which the exact number of acres is given, the largest is 500 acres, the smallest twenty. The aggregate of all land which changed hands is 6,355 acres, or an average of 187 for each sale. There are eleven transfers of 100 acres or less, twenty-three transfers of 200 or less and only four of more than 300 acres.[3-16] One can find in this no evidence of the fabled barons of colonial Virginia, but only of a well established class of small proprietors.
The York county books for the years from 1696 to 1701 tell the same story. Here we find recorded forty-one transfers and leases. Twenty-two are for 100 acres or less, 33 for 200 acres or less, and four, one for 1,400, one for 1,210, one for 600 and one for 550, are more than 300 acres in extent. The aggregate is 8,153 acres and the average 199.[3-17]
In the Rappahannock county records from 1680 to 1688 of fifteen land transfers taken at random from the books, the largest is 400 while the average is 168 acres.[3-18] Of the forty-eight transfers mentioned in the Essex county books for the years from 1692 to 1695, the largest is 600 acres and the smallest 50. Twenty are for 100 acres or less, 31 for 200 or less and only four for over 300.[3-19]
That conditions not fundamentally different prevailed in the early days of the colony is shown by the census taken of the landowners in 1626. Of the holdings listed no less than 25 were for 50 acres or less, 73 for 100 and most of the others for less than 300 acres. The total number of proprietors listed is 224 and the total acreage 34,472, giving an average for each plantation of 154 acres.[3-20]
It has been assumed by certain writers that the land grants[47] preserved in the Registrar's Office in Richmond tend to contradict this evidence. Although the average patent is by no means large, it is much more extensive than the typical land transfer. In 1638 this average was 423 acres, in 1640 it was 405, in 1642 it was 559, in 1645 it was 333, in 1648 it was 412, in 1650 it was 675. During the entire period from 1634 to 1650 inclusive the size of the average land grant was 446 acres. From 1650 to 1655 the average was 591 acres, from 1655 to 1666 six hundred and seventy-one, from 1666 to 1679 eight hundred and ninety acres, from 1679 to 1689 six hundred and seven acres, from 1689 to 1695 six hundred and one acres, from 1695 to 1700 six hundred and eighty-eight acres.[3-21] In the course of the entire second half of the Seventeenth century the average size of the patent was 674 acres.
Yet these facts have little direct bearing upon the extent of the plantations themselves. The system of granting land, as we have seen, was not based upon the individual needs of the planters, but upon the number of headrights presented to the Government. Obviously it was the question of the most economical method of transporting immigrants which would determine the average size of the grant. If it proved best to bring in servants in small groups, distributed among vessels devoted chiefly to merchandise, the patents would be small; if they came in on immigrant vessels, in numbers ranging from 50 to 200, the patents would be large.
Apparently both methods were in vogue. There are grants recorded varying in size from 50 acres to 10,000 acres.[3-22] Beyond doubt many merchants, finding that their vessels on the western voyage were not fully laden, from time to time took on a few indentured servants. If they furnished accommodation for from ten to twenty immigrants, they could demand, in addition to the sale of the indentures, 500 to 1,000 acres of land. It was a frequent practice, also, for planters in Virginia[48] to send orders to their agents in England to procure and ship one or more servants as need for them arose.[3-23] "Your brother George hath moved you in his letters to send him over some servants the next year," wrote Richard Kemp to Robert Read in 1639.[3-24] Undoubtedly in cases of this kind the servants usually sailed in small parties upon the regular merchant vessels.
On the other hand it would appear that large numbers of persons arrived on strictly immigrant vessels, in which they made the chief if not the only cargo. Some of the best known men in the colony were dealers in servants and reaped from the business very large profits. Of these perhaps the best known in the earlier period was William Claiborne, celebrated for his dispute with the Maryland proprietors over the possession of Kent Island. Peter Ashton was another extensive dealer in servants, at one time receiving 2,550 acres for his headrights, at another 2,000. Isaac Allerton, Lewis Burwell, Giles Brent, Joseph Bridger and many others of like prominence are upon the patent rolls for large grants. The most inveterate dealer in servants, however, was Robert Beverley. This well known planter, so famous for his part in Bacon's Rebellion and in the political contests which grew out of it, is credited with patents aggregating 25,000 or 30,000 acres.[3-25]
Often partnerships were formed for the importation of servants, in which cases the patents were made out jointly. Among the more interesting are patents to Robert Beverley and Henry Hartwell, to Thomas Butt and Thomas Milner, to William Bassett and James Austin, to Thomas Blunt and Richard Washington. When associations of three or more persons were formed for the importation of servants, a not infrequent occurrence, the number of headrights is unusually large and the grants patented in consequence extensive. Thus[49] Edmund Bibbie and others are credited with 3,350 acres, Robert Ambrose and others with 6,000, George Archer and others with 4,000.[3-26]
It is clear, then, that the size of the average patent in the Seventeenth century is not an indication of the extent of the average plantation. If economic conditions were such as to encourage large holdings, extensive farms would appear regardless of the original patents, for the small proprietors would be driven to the wall by their more wealthy rivals and forced to sell out to them. On the other hand, if the large planters found it difficult to secure adequate labor they would of necessity have to break up their estates and dispose of them to the small freeholders. That the latter development and not the former actually took place in Virginia during the Seventeenth century a careful examination of the country records makes most apparent.
Over and over again in the records of various land transfers it is stated that the property in question had belonged originally to a more extensive tract, the patent for which was granted under the headright law. A typical case is that of John Dicks who purchased for 8,500 pounds of tobacco, "all the remaining part of 900 acres gotten by the transporting of 19 persons."[3-27] Similarly we find John Johnson in 1653 selling to Robert Roberts half of 900 acres which he had received by patent.[3-28] In 1693 John Brushood sold to James Grey 200 acres, a part of 5,100 acres originally granted to Mr. Henry Awbrey.[3-29] Such cases could be multiplied indefinitely.
Perhaps the most instructive instance left us of this development is the break up of a tract of land known as Button's Ridge, in Essex country. This property, comprising 3,650 acres, was granted to Thomas Button in the year 1666.[3-30] The original patentee transferred the entire tract to his brother Robert Button, who in turn sold it to John Baker. The latter,[50] finding no doubt that he could not put under cultivation so much land, cut it up into small parcels and sold it off to various planters. Of these transactions we have, most fortunately, a fairly complete record. To Captain William Moseley he sold 200 acres, to John Garnet 600, to Robert Foster 200, to William Smither 200, to William Howlett 200, to Anthony Samuell 300, to William Williams 200. It is probable that he sold also a small holding to Henry Creighton, for we find the latter, in 1695, transferring to William Moseley 100 acres, formerly a part of Button's Ridge.[3-31]
Important as are these gleanings from the county records, we have at our disposal even better and more conclusive evidence that colonial Virginia was divided, not into baronial estates of vast proportions, but into a large number of comparatively small farms. Governor Nicholson's rent roll, which is published as an appendix to this volume, for the early years of the Eighteenth century at least, places the matter beyond doubt. Here we have before us an official inventory of all Virginia save the Northern Neck, giving the name of every proprietor and the number of acres in his possession.
It will be remembered that in the Crown colonies there was a perpetual obligation imposed upon all land when first granted known as the quit-rent. In Virginia this duty amounted to one shilling for every fifty acres, payable in tobacco at the rate of a penny per pound.[3-32] Despite the fact that some 27 per cent of the returns was consumed by the cost of collection, and that there were frequent frauds in disposing of the tobacco, the revenue derived from this source was of considerable importance.[3-33] The amount collected in 1705 was £1,841. 1. 6-3/4. When James Blair, the Virginia Commissary of the Bishop of London, petitioned William and Mary for a fund from the accumulated quit-rents for his proposed college at Williamsburg, some of the British governmental officials objected[51] strenuously. "This sum is perhaps the only ready cash in all the plantations," it was declared, "which happens to be by good husbandry and is a stock for answering any emergency that may happen in Virginia."[3-34]
Throughout the entire Seventeenth century, however, the Governors had experienced great difficulty in collecting this tax. Over and over again they reported in their letters to the Board of Trade that there were large arrears of quit-rents which it was impossible to make the landowners pay.[3-35] The reason for this was obvious enough. In each county the tax collector was the sheriff. Although this officer was appointed by the Governor, he usually had a wholesome respect for the larger proprietors and in consequence was wary of giving offense by holding them to too strict an account of their estates.[3-36] At times the sheriffs themselves were the sufferers by this state of affairs, for they were held responsible for the rents upon all land patented in their counties, for which returns had not been made.
Although the Governors from time to time made rather feeble attempts to remedy the prevailing laxness in this matter, nothing of importance was accomplished before the first administration of Francis Nicholson. The chief executive himself had much need of the good will of the richer inhabitants, and he was not over forward in forcing them to bring in accurate returns. Nicholson, however, who prided himself on his executive ability and who was bent on breaking the power of the clique which centered around the Council of State, exerted himself to the utmost to secure full payment for every acre.
So early as 1690 we find him issuing orders to the sheriffs for the drawing up of an accurate rent roll, through an examination of the patent lists and the records of land transfers.[3-37] May 15, 1691, he took up the matter again, warning the sheriffs[52] that he expected more accurate returns than they had yet made.[3-38] With the appointment of Sir Edmund Andros as Governor, however, interest in the quit-rents lapsed, and not until his removal and the reappointment of Nicholson was the attempt resumed.
In July, 1699, Nicholson wrote the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations that he was doing his best to improve the quit-rents and that the auditor had been ordered to draw up a scheme for securing a more exact list of land holdings.[3-39] But for a while the matter still hung fire. The leading men in the Government were ready enough in making suggestions, but they were extensive landholders themselves and apparently rendered no real assistance. "I have considered those papers given me by your Excellency relating to a perfect rent roll," the auditor, William Byrd I wrote Nicholson, Oct. 21, 1703, "notwithstanding I have, according to your repeated directions used my utmost diligence in giving charge to sheriffs and taking their oaths to rolls, I am sensible there is still very great abuse therein."[3-40]
Despite these discouragements Nicholson persisted and in 1704 succeeded in obtaining the first really accurate rent roll of the colony. These lists have long been missing, and perhaps were destroyed in one of the several fires which have wrought so much havoc with the records of colonial Virginia, but a true copy was made by the clerk, William Robertson, and sent to the Board of Trade. Fortunately the British Government has been more careful of its priceless historical manuscripts than has Virginia, and this copy today reposes in the Public Record Office in London, a veritable treasure trove of information concerning economic and social conditions in the colony.[3-41]
Even a cursory examination of the rent roll is sufficient to dispel the old belief that Virginia at this time was the land[53] of the large proprietor. As one glances down the list of plantations he is struck by the number of little holdings, the complete absence of huge estates, the comparative scarcity even of those that for a newly settled country might be termed extensive. Here and there, especially in the frontier counties is listed a tract of four or five or even ten thousand acres, but such cases are very rare. In Middlesex county there is but one plantation of more than 2,500 acres, in Charles City county the largest holding is 3,130, in Nansemond 2,300, in Norfolk county 3,200, in Princess Anne 3,100, in Elizabeth City county 2,140, in York 2,750, in Essex 3,200.
On the other hand the rolls reveal the existence of thousands of little proprietors, whose holdings of from 50 to 500 acres embraced the larger part of the cultivated soil of the colony. Thus we find that in Nansemond, of 376 farms 26 were of 50 acres or less, 66 were between 50 and 100 acres, 110 between 100 and 200 acres, 88 between 200 and 400 acres, 78 between 400 and 1,000 acres, and only eight over 1,000 acres. In Middlesex county out of 122 holdings eleven were of 50 acres or less, 33 between 50 and 100 acres, 32 between 100 and 200 acres, 25 between 200 and 500 acres, 19 between 500 and 2,500 acres, one of 4,000 acres and one of 5,200 acres. Of the 94 plantations in Charles City county 26 were of 100 acres or less, 21 between 100 and 200 acres, 25 between 200 and 500 acres, 19 between 500 and 2,500 acres and three more than 2,500 acres.[3-42]
Although the average size of the plantations varied considerably in different counties it was everywhere comparatively small, far smaller than the average land grant of the time, far smaller than has been imagined by some of the closest students of the period. For Nansemond the rolls reveal the average holding as 212 acres, for James City county 400, for York 298, for Warwick 308, for Elizabeth City county 255,[54] for Princess Anne 459, for Gloucester 395, for Middlesex 406, for Charles City county 553.[3-43]
In the past few decades much has been written of the social life and customs of the people of colonial Virginia. But except in the able works of Dr. Philip Alexander Bruce little has been said concerning the small planter class, the men who made up the vast bulk of the population, the true Seventeenth century Virginians. We have long and detailed descriptions of the residences of the small group of the well-to-do, their libraries, their furniture, their table ware, their portraits, their clothing, their amusements. The genealogy of the leading families has been worked out with minute care, their histories recorded, some of their leading members idealized by the writers of fiction. The mention of colonial Virginia brings instantly to mind a picture of gay cavaliers, of stately ladies, of baronial estates, of noble manors. And the sturdy, independent class of small farmers who made up a full 90 per cent of the freeholders at the time the rent roll was taken, have been relegated into undeserved obscurity.
It is to be noted that the roll does not include the names of proprietors residing in the Northern Neck, as the peninsula between the Potomac and the Rappahannock is called. This territory, although acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Government at Williamsburg in most matters and sending representatives to the House of Burgesses, paid its quit-rents, not to the Crown but to a proprietor. Nicholson, therefore, was not concerned in their collection and took no steps to list its landholders in his new roll. There is no reason to believe, however, that conditions in that part of the colony were fundamentally different.
Nor can the accuracy of the rent roll be challenged. There existed always the incentive to make false returns, of course, in order to escape the payment of taxes, and not many sheriffs[55] were so diligent as the one in Henrico who unearthed 1,669 acres that had been "concealed."[3-44] Yet it must be remembered that the Governor brought to bear all the pressure at his disposal to make this particular roll accurate, that the sheriffs were his appointees, that they could not lightly defy him in so important a matter. And even though in isolated cases they may have winked at false returns from men of wealth and rank, from the mass of small proprietors they must have insisted upon reports as accurate as the records or actual surveying could make them. No doubt certain uncultivated tracts in the frontier counties were omitted, but with these we are not immediately concerned. For conditions in the older parts of the colony, where the slow evolution of economic factors had been at work for a century, the roll presents unimpeachable evidence that the bulk of the cultivated land was divided into small plantations.
But it still remains to prove that their owners were men of meagre fortunes, men who tilled the soil with their own hands. After all a farm of two or three hundred acres might give scope for large activities, the employment of many servants and slaves, the acquisition of some degree of wealth. Might it not be possible that though the acres of the planter were limited, his estate after all corresponded somewhat with the popular conception?
This leads us to a study of the distribution of servants and slaves among the planters. At the outset we are faced with convincing evidence that at the end of the Seventeenth century the average number for each farm was very small. This is shown by a comparison of the number of plantations listed in the rent roll of 1704 with the estimated number of workers. In the counties for which the sheriffs made returns for Governor Nicholson there were some 5,500 landholders. When to these is added the proprietors of the Northern Neck the[56] number must have approximated 6,500. If at this time the servants numbered 4,000, as seems probable,[3-45] and the slaves 6,000, together they would have averaged but 1.5 workers for each plantation. A decade earlier, when the use of slaves was still comparatively infrequent, the figure must have been still lower.
Fortunately we have even more direct and detailed evidence. Throughout almost all of Virginia colonial history one of the chief methods of raising revenue for the Government was the direct poll tax. This levy was laid, however, not only on every freeman over sixteen years of age, but upon male servants over 14, female servants who worked in the fields, and slaves above 16 of either sex, all of whom were officially termed tithables.[3-46] The tax rolls in which these persons were listed, some of which have been preserved among the county records, throw much light upon social and economic conditions in the colony.
In one district of Surry county we find in the year 1675 that there were 75 taxpayers and only 126 tithables. In other words only 51 persons in this district had this duty paid for them by others, whether parents, guardians or masters. And of the taxpayers, forty-two were liable for themselves alone, having no servants, slaves or dependent sons over 16; fifteen were liable for one other person, eight for two others, and only one, Lieutenant-Colonel Jordan, for so many as seven.[3-47]
In other districts the story is the same. In one there were forty taxpayers, 75 tithables and 25 persons who paid for themselves alone; in another 28 taxpayers, 62 tithables, fifteen who had no servants or slaves; in a third 48 taxpayers, 83 tithables, 28 who paid only for themselves, eleven who paid for two, five who paid for three; in a fourth district 29 taxpayers, 63 tithables, fourteen who had no servants or slaves; in a fifth 25 taxpayers, 45 tithables, 12 who paid only for[57] themselves.[3-48] Thus in Surry county in the year 1675 there were in all 245 taxpayers and 434 tithables. In other words the men who paid their own tax outnumbered all those whose tax was paid for them, whether servants, slaves or relatives, at the ratio of about 4 to 3.
A study of the records of the same county ten years later leads to almost identical results. At that time Surry seems to have been divided into four districts. In the first there were 78 taxpayers, 132 tithables, 30 persons who paid only for themselves; in the second, 63 taxpayers, 133 tithables, 33 persons who paid for themselves alone; in the third there were 38 taxpayers, 74 tithables and 22 persons paying only for themselves; in the fourth 125 taxpayers, 201 tithables and 81 persons having no dependents to pay for. Thus there were 540 tithables in all and 304 taxpayers. In the entire county there were about 122 persons who paid the poll tax for others. The largest holders of servants or slaves were Mr. Robert Randall with seven, Lieutenant-Colonel William Browne with nine, Mr. Robert Canfield with seven, Mr. Arthur Allen with six, Mr. William Edwards with six, Mr. Francis Mason with seven and Mr. Thomas Binns with eight.[3-49]
Here again is proof that the popular conception of the Virginia plantation life of the Seventeenth century is erroneous. Instead of the wealthy planter who surrounded himself with scores of servants and slaves, investigation reveals hundreds of little farmers, many of them trusting entirely to their own exertions for the cultivation of the soil, others having but one or two servants, and a bare handful of well-to-do men each having from five to ten, or in rare cases twenty or thirty, servants and slaves.
A further confirmation of these conclusions is to be had by comparing the number of plantations listed in the rent roll of 1704 with the official returns of tithables for 1702.[3-50] Thus in[58] Nansemond there were 375 plantations and 1,030 tithables, Henrico with 162 plantations had 863 tithables, Middlesex with 122 plantations had 814 tithables, Gloucester with 381 plantations had 2,626, James City with 287 plantations had 1,193, York with 205 plantations had 1,180, Warwick with 122 plantations had 505, Elizabeth City with 116 plantations had 478, Princess Anne with 215 plantations had 727, Surry with 273 plantations had 739, Isle of Wight with 262 plantations had 896, Norfolk with 303 plantations had 693, New Kent with 497 plantations had 1,245, King William with 217 plantations had 803, King and Queen with 403 plantations had 1,848, Essex with 376 plantations had 1,034, Accomac with 392 plantations had 1,041, Northampton with 258 plantations had 693, Charles City and Prince George together with 420 plantations had 1,327.[3-51]
In Nansemond the average number of tithables as compared with the number of plantations was 2.7, in Henrico 5.1, in Middlesex 6.7, in Gloucester 6.9, in James City 4.2, in York 5.7, in Warwick 4.1, in Elizabeth City 4, in Princess Anne 3.4, in Surry 2.7, in Isle of Wight 3.3, in Norfolk 2.3, in New Kent 2.5, in King William 3.7, in King and Queen 4.6, in Essex 2.8, in Accomac 2.6, in Northampton 2.3, in Charles City and Prince George combined 3.1. In all Virginia, with the exclusion of the Northern Neck, there were 19,715 tithables and some 5,500 plantations, an average of 3.6 tithables for each plantation. If we deduct from the tithables all the male freeholders included in the rent roll, there remains only some 14,700 persons south of the Rappahannock to make up the list, not only of servants and slaves, but of professional men, wage earners, artisans and dependent sons of landholders over 16 years of age.
Another invaluable source of information concerning the distribution of servants and slaves is provided by the numerous[59] inventories, deeds, and wills which have been preserved in the records. Thus in Surry during the years from 1671 to 1686 we find listed the estates of fifty-nine persons. Of these no less than fifty-two were apparently without servants or slaves; two, William Rooking and Captain Robert Spencer, had five each; one, Mr. William Chambers, had three; and four, Captain William Corker, John Hoge, Mr. John Goring and Samuel Cornell, had one each.[3-52]
In Elizabeth City of twenty-seven estates recorded during the years from 1684 to 1699 sixteen were without servants or slaves; of twenty-six recorded in York during the period from 1694 to 1697 thirteen had no servants or slaves; of twenty-three recorded in Henrico from 1677 to 1692 fourteen were without servants or slaves.[3-53] It is true that these inventories and wills, since they would usually pertain to persons of advanced age, perhaps do not furnish an absolutely accurate gauge of the average number of servants held by each planter. On the other hand, it is equally probable that a larger proportion of big estates than of the small found their way into the records. At all events it is evident that a goodly proportion of the landholders, perhaps sixty or sixty-five per cent possessed no slaves or indentured servants, and trusted solely to their own exertions for the cultivation of their plantations.
Thus vanishes the fabled picture of Seventeenth century Virginia. In its place we see a colony filled with little farms a few hundred acres in extent, owned and worked by a sturdy class of English farmers. Prior to the slave invasion which marked the close of the Seventeenth century and the opening of the Eighteenth, the most important factor in the life of the Old Dominion was the white yeomanry.

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