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CHAPTER VI The Yeoman in Virginia History
 Perhaps it would have been impossible for the Virginia yeoman to survive the dark days of the Restoration period had it not been for the fact that in the matter of his food supply he was independent of England and her vexatious trade restrictions. He might be in rags, but there was no reason why he should ever feel the pangs of hunger. Seldom in any climate, in any age has food existed in such extraordinary variety and in such lavish abundance.  
Almost every planter, even the poorest, was possessed of cattle. The Perfect Discription states that in 1649 there were in the colony "of Kine, Oxen, Bulls, Calves, twenty thousand, large and good."[6-1] Fifteen years later the number had increased to 100,000.[6-2] Many a little farmer, too poor to afford the help of a servant or a slave, had cattle more than sufficient for his every need. John Splitimber, a planter of meagre means, died in 1677 owning eight cows and one bull.[6-3] John Gray, whose entire personal estate was valued only at 9,340 pounds of tobacco, possessed at his death six cows, six calves, two steers and one heifer.[6-4] The inventory of the goods of Richard Avery, another poor planter, shows three steers, one heifer, three small cattle and one calf.[6-5] The yeoman not only secured from these animals a goodly supply of beef, but milk in abundance from which he made butter and cheese. The steers he used as beasts of burden.
The meat which most frequently appeared upon the table of the poor man was that of swine. The planter marked his hogs and turned them loose in the woods to feed upon roots[102] and acorns. On the other hand, sheep did not multiply in the colony, for the woods were not suited for their maintenance, and those areas which had been cleared of trees could more profitably be utilized for agriculture than for pasture lands. Mutton was a rare delicacy even with the well-to-do.[6-6]
Poultry were exceedingly numerous. At the time of the Company it was stated that the planter who failed to breed one hundred a year was considered a poor manager. The Perfect Discription says that the poultry—"Hens, Turkies, Ducks, Geece"—were without number.[6-7] Moreover, the wild fowls of the inland waterways were so numerous that even the least skilful of huntsmen could readily bring down enough for the needs of his family, and the mallard, the goose, the canvasback appeared regularly in season upon every table.[6-8]
The planter always devoted a part of his land to the production of the grain which was needed for his personal requirements. "They yearly plow and sow many hundred acres of Wheat," it was said, "as good and faire as any in the world."[6-9] At the same time maize grew so readily and its cultivation proved so cheap, that cornbread formed a part of the diet not only of the planters themselves, but of their servants and slaves.
From his garden, an inevitable accompaniment of every plantation, the farmer secured a large variety of vegetables—potatoes, asparagus, carrots, turnips, onions, parsnips, besides such fruits as strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries; from his orchard he had apples, pears, quinces, apricots, peaches.[6-10] Honey was abundant, and there were few householders who did not have hives under the eaves of their outbuildings. One planter, a Mr. George Pelton, is said to have made a profit of £30 from his bees.[6-11] There were also many wild swarms in the woods, which yielded a delicious return to the colonial bee-hunters.[6-12]
It is easy to understand, then, why there were no complaints of hunger even in the days when poverty was almost universal. The Virginia yeoman spread always an abundant table. "He that is lazy and will not work," said the author of New Albion, "needs not fear starving, but may live as an Indian, sometimes Oysters, Cockles, Wilkes, Clams, Scollons two moneths together; sometimes wilde Pease and Vetches, and Long Oates, sometimes Tuckaho, Cuttenoman ground, Nuts, Marhonions, sometimes small nuts, Filbirds, Wallnuts, Pokeberries, ten sorts of Berries, Egs of Foul, small Fish in Coves at low water will teach him to live idly." "It must needs follow then that diet cannot be scarce, since both rivers and woods afford it, and that such plenty of Cattle and Hogs are every where, which yield beef, veal, milk, butter, cheese and other made dishes, porke, bacon and pigs, and that as sweet and savoury meat as the world affords, these with the help of Orchards and Gardens, Oysters, Fish, Fowle and Venison, certainly cannot but be sufficient for a good diet and wholsom accommodation, considering how plentifully they are, and how easie with industry to be had."[6-13]
But the little planter, with the advent of the Navigation Acts, often suffered keenly from a lack of adequate clothing. Again and again the letters of the period state that the poor man was reduced to rags, that he could not protect his family from the winter's cold. There was some manufacture of cloth in the home, but the planter usually trusted to the foreign trader to bring him every article of clothing. He had neither the implements nor the skill to supply his own needs. During the Restoration period, and again at the time of the war of the Spanish Succession, when the price of tobacco fell so very low, many families succeeded in producing enough homespun to supply their most pressing needs.[6-14] But with the return of better conditions they laid aside the loom and the wheel, and resumed their purchase of English cloth.
In normal times the poor planter was comfortably clad. Edward Williams, in Virginia Richly Valued, advised every new immigrant to bring a monmouth cap, a waistcoat, a suit of canvas, with bands, shirts, stockings and shoes.[6-15] The author of New Albion thought that each adventurer should provide himself with canvas or linen clothes, with shoes and a hat.[6-16]
The houses of the small planters were small but comfortable. "Pleasant in their building," says John Hammond, "which although for most part they are but one story besides the loft, and built of wood, yet contrived so delightfully that your ordinary houses in England are not so handsome, for usually the rooms are large, daubed and whitelimed, glazed and flowered, and if not glazed windows, shutters which are made very pritty and convenient."[6-17] The New Description of Virginia, published in 1649, says: "They have Lime in abundance for their houses, store of bricks made, and House and Chimnies built of Brick, and some of Wood high and fair, covered with Shingell for Tyle."[6-18]
In the days of the Company most of the houses seem to have been made of logs, and Butler, in his Virginia Unmasked, declared that they were the "worst in the world," and that the most wretched cottages in England were superior to them.[6-19] But the period of which Butler wrote was exceptional, and before long the growing prosperity of the colony made possible a great improvement in the dwellings of the people. The rough log cabin gave way to the little framed cottage with chimneys at each end.
A residence erected in one of the parishes of the Eastern Shore in 1635 to serve as a parsonage may be accepted as typical of the better class of houses in Virginia at this time. It was made of wood, was forty feet wide, eighteen deep and had a chimney at each end. On either side was an additional[105] apartment, one used as a study, the other as a buttery.[6-20] For the poor man this was far too pretentious, and he had to content himself with a home perhaps thirty by twenty feet, containing at times two or three apartments, at times only one.
But such as it was it gave him ample protection against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Fuel he never lacked. When the frosts of December and January came upon him, he had only to repair to the nearest forest, axe in hand, to supply himself with wood in abundance. In this way, not only would he keep a roaring blaze in his open fireplace, but would widen the space available for the next summer's tobacco crop.
The surroundings of the planter's residence were severely plain. In the yard, which usually was uninclosed, towered a cluster of trees, a survival of the primeval forest. Nearby was the garden, with its flowers and vegetables, the dove-cote, the barn, the hen house, perhaps a milk house or even a detached kitchen. In some cases wells were sunk, but the use of natural springs was more common.[6-21]
Of the plantation itself, only a fraction was under cultivation at one time. Tobacco was exceedingly exhausting to the soil, but the cheapness of land led the planters to neglect the most ordinary precautions to preserve its fertility. They sowed year after year upon the same spot, until the diminishing yield warned them of approaching sterility, and then would desert it to clear a new field. This system made it necessary for them to provide for the future by securing farms far larger in extent than was dictated by their immediate requirements. They had to look forward to the day when their land would become useless, and if they were provident, would purchase ten times more than they could cultivate at any one time. Thomas Whitlock, in his will dated 1659, says: "I give to my son Thomas Whitlock the land I live on, 600 acres, when he is of the age 21, and during his minority to my wife. The[106] land not to be further made use of or by planting or seating than the first deep branch that is commonly rid over, that my son may have some fresh land when he attains to age."[6-22]
One may gain an idea of the condition of the very poorest class of freemen by an examination of the inventory of the estate of Walter Dorch, drawn up in 1684. This man possessed two pairs of woollen cards, and one spinning wheel, valued at 100 pounds of tobacco, one chest at eighty pounds, four old trays at twenty pounds, two runletts at forty pounds, one pail and one skillet at sixty pounds, one bowl at two pounds, one feather bed, two pillows and three old blankets at 120 pounds of tobacco, three glass bottles at twenty pounds, one couch frame at forty pounds, one pair of pot-hooks at forty, 800 tenpenny nails at forty-five, and one old table and one sifter at twenty pounds. In all the estate was valued at 587 pounds of tobacco.[6-23]
John Gray, who died in 1685, left personal property worth 9,340 pounds of tobacco, consisting in part of six cows and six calves, four yearlings, two steers, one heifer, one barrel of corn, one bull, ten hogs and one horse. He had no servants and no slaves.[6-24] In better circumstances was Richard Avery, who seems to have been a tanner by profession. The inventory of his estate, recorded in 1686, includes one horse with bridle and saddle, a cart and a yoke of steers, eight head of cattle, 25 hogs, 118 hides, various kinds of tools, lumber to the value of 400 pounds of tobacco, four pieces of earthenware, four beds with mattresses and covers, poultry to the value of 180 pounds of tobacco, some wheat in the ground and a batch of wearing linen. The entire personal estate was valued at 14,050 pounds of tobacco. It included no servants or slaves.[6-25]
John Splitimber, who is entered as a headright to Thomas Harwood in 1635, is typical of the planter who rose from small beginnings to a state of comparative prosperity. This man, at[107] his death in 1677, possessed eight cows, one bull, four yearlings, four mares, 35 hogs, two horses, two bolsters, a pillow, two blankets, a mattress, two bedsteads, two guns, fifty-six pounds of pewter, two rugs, a table, three chests, one old couch, two iron pots, two kettles, two stilyards, shovel and tongs, two smothering irons, two axes, a few carpenter's tools, a saddle and bridle, four casks, clothing to the value of 1,100 pounds of tobacco, a frying pan, a butter pat, a jar, a looking glass, two milk pans, one table cloth, nine spoons, a churn, a bible. The appraisers placed the total value at 18,277 pounds of tobacco.[6-26] The inventory records no servants or slaves, but it is probable that Splitimber at times made use of indentured labor, as in November 1648 and again in 1652, we find him taking up land due for the transportation of certain persons to the colony.[6-27]
Of similar estate was Christopher Pearson, of York county. His personal property included bedding valued at £7, linen at 18 shillings, pewter at £1.18.0, brass at six shillings, wooden ware at £4.13.6 comprising three chairs and one table, a couch, four old chests, a cask, two ten gallon rundletts, a cheese press, a box of drawers, an old table, three pails, a spinning wheel with cards, two sifting trays, a corn barrel, three bedsteads, four sives, a funnel; iron ware valued at £2.12.0, including three pots, two pot-rocks, a pestal, a frying pan, a looking glass; three cows appraised at £6.5.0, a yearling at ten shillings, a colt at two pounds sterling. The entire estate was valued at £25.19.6.[6-28]
It must not be imagined, however, that Virginia, even in the early years of its settlement, contained no men of wealth or rank. Industry and intelligence bore their inevitable fruit in the little colony, with the result that here and there certain planters acquired an enviable pre-eminence among their fellows. The New Description mentions several such cases.[108] Captain Matthews "hath a fine house," it says, "and all things answerable to it; he sowes yeerly store of Hempe and Flax, and causes it to be spun; he keeps Weavers, and hath a Tanhouse, causes Leather to be dressed, hath eight Shoemakers employed in their trade, hath forty Negro servants, brings them up to Trades in his house. He yeerly sowes abundance of Wheat, Barley, &c. The Wheat he selleth at four shillings the bushell; kills store of Beeves, and sells them to victuall the Ships when they come thither; hath abundance of Kine, a brave Dairy, Swine great store, and Poltery; he married a Daughter of Sir Thomas Hinton, and in a word, keeps a good house, lives bravely, and a true lover of Virginia; he is worthy of much honor."[6-29]
This description is interesting because it shows not only the extent of the holdings of certain planters at this early date, but that their prosperity had the same foundation as that of the more numerous class of wealthy men of the Eighteenth century. In both cases slavery and plantation manufacture would seem to have been the open sesame to success. It is notable that of the very limited number of men in Virginia prior to 1700 who stand out above their fellows in the readiness with which they acquired property, almost all gathered around them a goodly number of negroes.
Among the prominent planters of the first half of the Seventeenth century was George Menefie, famous for his orchard which abounded in apple, pear and cherry trees, and for his garden which yielded all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and flowers; Richard Bennett, a man of large property who had in one year "out of his Orchard as many Apples as he made 20 Butts of Excellent Cider"; Richard Kinsman, who for three or four years in succession secured "forty or fifty Butts of Perry made out of his Orchard, pure and good."[6-30]
In the second half of the century the class of the well-to-do,[109] although somewhat more numerous, was still restricted to a small group of prominent families, many of them connected by marriage. Among the best known men are Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., Thomas Ballard, Robert Severely, Giles Brent, Joseph Bridger, William Byrd I, John Carter, John Custis I, Dudley Digges, William Fitzhugh, Lewis Burwell, Philip Ludwell I, William Moseley, Daniel Parke, Ralph Wormeley, Benjamin Harrison, Edward Hill, Edmund Jennings and Matthew Page. But so few were their numbers that the Governors more than once complained that they could not find men for the Council of State qualified for that post by their wealth and influence.
The depository of power for the Virginia yeomanry was the House of Burgesses. This important body was elected by the votes of the freeholders, and faithfully represented their interests. Here they would bring their grievances, here express their wishes, here defend themselves against injustice, here demand the enactment of legislation favorable to their class. The hope of the people lay always in the Burgesses, Bacon the rebel tells us, "as their Trusts, and Sanctuary to fly to."[6-31] And though the commons usually elected to this body the leading men of each county, men of education and wealth if such were to be found, they held them to a strict accountability for their every action.[6-32] Many of the best known members of the Council of State served their apprenticeship in the Burgesses. But whatever the social status of the Burgess, he felt always that he was the representative of the poor planter, the defender of his interests, and seldom indeed did he betray his trust.[6-33] This no doubt was with him in part a matter of honor, but it also was the result of a consciousness that unless he obeyed the behests of his constituency he would be defeated if he came up for re-election.
The House of Burgesses, even in the days when the colony[110] was but an infant settlement stretching along the banks of the James, did not hesitate to oppose the wishes of the King himself. In 1627 Charles I sent instructions for an election of Burgesses that he might gain the assent of the planters through their representatives to an offer which he made to buy their tobacco.[6-34] Although the Assembly must have realized that its very existence might depend upon its compliance with the King's wishes, it refused to accept his proposal.[6-35] In 1634 Charles again made an offer for the tobacco, but again he encountered stubborn opposition. The Secretary of the colony forwarded a report in which he frankly told the British Government that in his opinion the matter would never go through if it depended upon the yielding of the Assembly.[6-36]
In 1635 the people again showed their independent spirit by ejecting Sir John Harvey from the Government and sending him back to England. It is true that the Council members took the lead in this bold step, but they would hardly have gone to such lengths had they not been supported by the mass of small planters.[6-37] In fact, one of the chief grievances against the Governor was his refusal to send to the King a petition of the Burgesses, which he considered offensive because they had made it "a popular business, by subscribing a multitude of hands thereto." And some days before the actual expulsion Dr. John Pott, Harvey's chief enemy, was going from plantation to plantation, inciting the people to resistance and securing their signatures to a paper demanding a redress of grievances.[6-38]
The attitude of the small planters during the English civil war and Commonwealth period is equally instructive. Certain writers have maintained that the people of Virginia were a unit for the King, that upon the execution of Charles I his son was proclaimed with the unanimous consent of the planters, that the colony became a refuge for English cavaliers,[111] that it surrendered to Parliament only when conquered by an armed expedition and that it restored Charles II as King of Virginia even before he had regained his power in England.
All of this is either misleading or entirely false. It is true that the Assembly proclaimed Charles II King in 1649 and passed laws making it high treason for any person to uphold the legality of the dethronement and execution of his father.[6-39] But this was largely the work of Sir William Berkeley and the small group of well-to-do men who were dependent upon him for their welfare. The very fact that it was felt necessary to threaten with dire punishment all who spread abroad reports "tending to a change of government," shows that there existed a fear that such a change might be effected.[6-40] How many of the small planters were at heart friendly to Parliament it is impossible to say, but the number was large enough to cause Sir William Berkeley such serious misgivings as to his own personal safety that he obtained from the Assembly a guard of ten men to protect him from assassination.[6-41]
Nor can it be said that Virginia was forced into an unwilling submission to Parliament. It is true that an expedition was sent to conquer the colony, which entered the capes, sailed up to the forts at Jamestown and there received the formal surrender of the colony.[6-42] But this surrender was forced upon the Governor as much by the wishes of the people as by the guns of the British fleet. In fact, the expedition had been sent at the request of certain representatives of the Parliamentary faction in Virginia, who made it clear to the Commonwealth leaders that the colony was by no means unanimous for the King, and that it was held to its allegiance only by the authority and firm will of the Governor.[6-43] That the British Council of State expected to receive active assistance from their friends in Virginia is evident, for they gave directions for raising troops there and for appointing officers.[6-44] And[112] there can be no doubt that the imposing military force which had been gathered to defend Jamestown was not called into action chiefly because Berkeley became convinced that it could not be relied upon to fight against the Commonwealth soldiers.
The new regime which was introduced with the articles of surrender made of Virginia virtually a little republic. In England the long cherished hope of the patriots for self-government was disappointed by the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell. But the commons of Virginia reaped the reward which was denied their brothers of the old country. For a period of eight years all power resided in the House of Burgesses. This body, so truly representative of the small planter class, elected the Governor and specified his duties. If his administration proved unsatisfactory they could remove him from office. The Burgesses also chose the members of the Council. Even the appointing of officials was largely theirs, although this function they usually felt it wise to delegate to the Governor.[6-45] In fact, Virginia was governed during this period, the happiest and most prosperous of its early history, by the small proprietor class which constituted the bulk of the population.
Nor is it true that the people voluntarily surrendered this power by acknowledging the authority of Charles II before the actual restoration in England. After the death of Cromwell, when the affairs of the mother country were in chaos and no man knew which faction would secure possession of the government, the Virginia Assembly asked Sir William Berkeley to act again as their chief executive. But it was specifically stipulated that he was to hold his authority, not from Charles, but from themselves alone.[6-46] In this step the people were doubtless actuated by an apprehension that the monarchy might be restored, in which case it would be much to their advantage to have as the chief executive of the colony the former royal Governor; but they expressly[113] stated that they held themselves in readiness to acknowledge the authority of any Government, whatever it might be, which succeeded in establishing itself in England. So far was Sir William from considering himself a royal Governor, that when the King actually regained his throne, he wrote with no little apprehension, begging forgiveness for having accepted a commission from any other source than himself.[6-47]
It was the small farmer class which suffered most from the despotic methods of Berkeley during the Restoration period—the corrupting of the House of Burgesses, the heavy taxes, the usurpation of power in local government, the distribution of lucrative offices—and it was this class which rose in insurrection in 1676. It is notable that in the course of Bacon's Rebellion the great mass of the people turned against the Governor, either approving passively of his expulsion, or actually aiding his enemies. When Sir William appealed for volunteers in Gloucester county while Bacon was upon the Pamunkey expedition, he could hardly muster a man.[6-48] And the forces which eventually he gathered around him seem to have included only a handful of leading citizens, such men as Philip Ludwell, Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., Giles Brent and Robert Beverley, together with a mass of indentured servants and others who had been forced into service. It is this which explains the apparent cowardice of the loyal forces, who almost invariably took to their heels at the first approach of the rebels, for men will not risk their lives for a cause in which their hearts are not enlisted.
And though the small farmers lost their desperate fight, though their leaders died upon the scaffold, though the oppressive Navigation Acts remained in force, though taxes were heavier than ever, though the governors continued to encroach upon their liberties, they were by no means crushed and they continued in their legislative halls the conflict that[114] had gone against them upon the field of battle. But the political struggle too was severe. It was in the decade from 1678 to 1688 that the Stuart monarchs made their second attempt to crush Anglo-Saxon liberty, an attempt fully as dangerous for the colonies as for England. The dissolving of the three Whig Parliaments, and the acceptance of a pension from Louis XIV were followed not only by the execution of liberal leaders and the withdrawal of town charters in the mother country, but by a deliberate attempt to suppress popular government in America. It was not a mere coincidence that the attack upon the Massachusetts charter, the misrule of Nicholson in New York, the oppressions of the proprietor in Maryland and the tyranny of Culpeper and Effingham in Virginia occurred simultaneously. They were all part and parcel of the policy of Charles II and James II.
These attempts met with failure in Virginia because of the stubborn resistance they encountered from the small farmer class and their representatives in the House of Burgesses. The annulling of statutes by proclamation they denounced as illegal; they protested bitterly against the appointment of their clerk by the Governor; they fought long to retain their ancient judicial privileges; they defeated all attempts of the King and his representatives in Virginia to deprive them of the right to initiate legislation and to control taxation. And with the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, which put an end forever to Stuart aggressions, they could feel that their efforts alone had preserved liberty in Virginia, that they might now look forward to long years of happiness and prosperity. The Virginia yeoman reckoned not with slavery, however, and slavery was to prove, in part at least, his undoing.

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