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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Virginia in 1722

By Hugh Jones (1691–1760)

[Minister of Jamestown, Va., and Chaplain to the Virginia Assembly. The Present State of Virginia. 1724.]

THE HABITS, life, customs, computations, etc., of the Virginians are much the same as about London, which they esteem their home; and for the most part have contemptible notions of England, and wrong sentiments of Bristol and the other outports, which they entertain from seeing and hearing the common dealers, sailors and servants that come from those towns, and the country places in England and Scotland, whose language and manners are strange to them; for the planters and even the native negroes generally talk good English without idiom or tone, and can discourse handsomely upon most common subjects; and conversing with persons belonging to trade and navigation from London, for the most part they are much civilized, and wear the best of clothes according to their station; nay, sometimes too good for their circumstances, being for the generality comely, handsome persons, of good features and fine complexions (if they take care), of good manners and address. The climate makes them bright, and of excellent sense, and sharp in trade; an idiot or deformed native being almost a miracle.

Thus they have good natural notions and will soon learn arts and sciences; but are generally diverted by business or inclination from profound study and prying into the depth of things; being ripe for management of their affairs before they have laid so good a foundation of learning, and had such instructions, and acquired such accomplishments as might be instilled into such good natural capacities. Nevertheless, through their quick apprehension they have a sufficiency of knowledge and fluency of tongue, though their learning for the most part be but superficial.

They are more inclinable to read men by business and conversation than to dive into books, and are for the most part only desirous of learning what is absolutely necessary in the shortest and best method.

Having this knowledge of their capacities and inclination from sufficient experience, I have composed on purpose some short treatises adapted with my best judgment to a course of education for the gentlemen of the plantations: consisting in a short English grammar; an accidence to Christianity; an accidence to the mathematics, especially to arithmetic in all its parts and applications, algebra, geometry, surveying of land and navigation.

These are the most useful branches of learning for them, and such as they willingly and readily master, if taught in a plain and short method, truly applicable to their genius; which I have endeavored to do for the use of them and all others of their temper and parts.

They are not very easily persuaded to the improvement of useful inventions (except a few, such as sawing mills), neither are they great encouragers of manufactures, because of the trouble and certain expense in attempts of this kind, with uncertain prospect of gain; whereas by their staple commodity, tobacco, they are in hopes to get a plentiful provision; nay, often very great estates.

Upon this account they think it folly to take off their hands (or negroes) and employ their care and time about anything that may make them lessen their crop of tobacco.

So that though they are apt to learn, yet they are fond of, and will follow their own ways, humors and notions, being not easily brought to new projects and schemes; so that I question if they would have been imposed upon by the Mississippi or South Sea or any other such monstrous bubbles.

In their computations of time, weights and measures, both of length, superficies and solidity, they strictly adhere to what is legal; not running into precarious customs as they do in England. Thus their quart is the true Winchester; their hundred is 100, not 112, and they survey land by statute measure.

Indeed, what English coin is there is advanced in value, so that a shilling passes for 14d., and a guinea goes by tale for 26s.; but the current money is the Spanish, which in reality is about 15l. per cent. inferior to our English coin, as settled by law: but frequently the value of this varies in respect of sterling bills according to the circumstances of trade; currency and sterling being sometimes at a par; but for the generality 10 per cent. discount is allowed for sterling bills.

As for education, several are sent to England for it; though the Virginians being naturally of good parts (as I have already hinted) neither require nor admire as much learning as we do in Britain; yet more would be sent over, were they not afraid of the small-pox, which most commonly proves fatal to them.

But, indeed, when they come to England, they are generally put to learn to persons that know little of their temper, who keep them drudging on in what is of least use to them, in pedantic methods too tedious for their volatile genius.

For grammar learning, taught after the common roundabout way, is not much beneficial nor delightful to them; so that they are noted to be more apt to spoil their school fellows than improve themselves; because they are imprisoned and enslaved to what they hate and think useless, and have not peculiar management proper for their humor and occasion.

A civil treatment with some liberty, if permitted with discretion, is most proper for them, and they have most need of, and readily take polite and mathematical learning; and in English may be conveyed to them (without going directly to Rome and Athens) all the arts, sciences and learned accomplishments of the ancients and moderns, without the fatigue and expense of another language, for which most of them have little use or necessity, since (without another) they may understand their own speech, and all other things requisite to be learned by them, sooner and better.

Thus the youth might as well be instructed there as here by proper methods, without the expense and danger of coming hither; especially if they make use of the great advantage of the college at Williamsburg, where they may (and many do) imbibe the principles of all human and divine literature, both in English and in the learned languages.

By the happy opportunity of this college may they be advanced to religious and learned education, according to the discipline and doctrine of the established Church of England; in which respect this college may prove of singular service, and be an advantageous and laudable nursery and strong bulwark against the contagious dissensions in Virginia; which is the most ancient and loyal, the most plentiful and flourishing, the most extensive and beneficial colony belonging to the Crown of Great Britain, upon which it is most directly dependent; wherein is established the Church of England, free from faction and sects, being ruled by the laws, customs and constitutions of Great Britain, which it strictly observes, only where the circumstances and occasion of the country by an absolute necessity require some small alterations; which nevertheless must not be contrary (though different from and subservient) to the laws of England.

Though the violence of neither whig nor Tory reigns there, yet have they parties; for the very best administration must expect to meet with some opposition in all places, especially where there is a mixture of people of different countries concerned, whose education and interest may propose to them notions and views different from each other.

Most other plantations, especially they that are granted away to proprietors, are inferior to Virginia; where the seeming interest and humor of the owners often divert them from pursuit of the most proper methods; besides, they cannot have such a right claim to the favor of the Crown, nor demand its best protection, since they may often interfere with its interest; whereas Virginia is esteemed one of the most valuable gems in the Crown of Great Britain.

Thus Virginia, having to itself, with Maryland, the staple commodity of tobacco, has a great advantage of all other plantations on the continent for the encouragement of the Crown; whereas others belonging to gentlemen, or having no peculiar trade, cannot expect such power to advance and improve their interest.

To this add that, Virginia equals, if not exceeds, all others in goodness of climate, soil, health, rivers, plenty and all necessaries and conveniences of life. Besides, she has, among others, these particular advantages of her younger sister Maryland, viz., freedom from Popery and the direction of proprietors; not but that part of Virginia which is between the rivers Potomac and Rappahannock belongs to proprietors, as to the quit rent, yet the government of these counties (called the northern neck) is under the same regulation with the other parts of the country.

If New England be called a receptacle of Dissenters, and an Amsterdam of religion, Pennsylvania the nursery of Quakers, Maryland the retirement of Roman Catholics, North Carolina the refuge of runaways, and South Carolina the delight of buccaneers and pirates, Virginia may be justly esteemed the happy retreat of true Britons and true Churchmen for the most part; neither soaring too high nor drooping too low, consequently should merit the greater esteem and encouragement.

The common planters, leading easy lives, do not much admire labor, or any manly exercise, except horse-racing, nor diversion, except cock-fighting, in which some greatly delight. This easy way of living, and the heat of the summer, make some very lazy, who are then said to be climate-struck.

The saddle horses, though not very large, are hardy, strong and fleet, and will pace naturally and pleasantly at a prodigious rate.

They are such lovers of riding that almost every ordinary person keeps a horse; and I have known some spend the morning in ranging several miles in the woods to find and catch their horses only to ride two or three miles to church, to the court-house, or to a horse race, where they generally appoint to meet upon business, and are more certain of finding those that they want to speak or deal with, than at their home.

No people can entertain their friends with better cheer and welcome; and strangers and travellers are here treated in the most free, plentiful and hospitable manner; so that a few inns or ordinaries on the road are sufficient.

As to the weather, the spring and fall are not unlike those seasons in England, only the air is never long foggy nor very cloudy; but clear, sometimes of a bluish color, occasioned by the thin smoke dispersed in the air from the flames of the woods and leaves, which are fired in hunting, to drive the beasts from their lurking places, or in the spring to burn the old leaves and grass, that there may be the better pasture the next summer.

The months of December, January and February are generally much colder, and June, July, and August are much hotter than in England; though sometimes it is on a sudden very cool in summer and pretty warm in winter, the weather being governed by the winds, which, with sudden storms from the northwest and sometimes from the west and southwest, bring violent gusts or tempests, with thunder, lightning, and rain, very terrible but soon over.

The northwest winds are exquisitely sharp and cold, proceeding from clouds arising from the vast lakes and prodigious snowy mountains that lie to that quarter; but the southerly winds and others are very warm.

The days and nights are there always much nearer the equality of twelve hours than in the latitude of England.

At the sudden changes of the weather from heat to cold, people are apt to take cold, often neglecting to shift their clothes with the weather, which, with abundance of damps and mists from the water, and by eating too plentifully of some delicious fruits, makes the people subject to fevers and agues, which is the country distemper, a severe fit of which (called a seasoning) most expect sometime after their arrival in that climate; but the goodness of God has furnished us with a perfect catholicon for that sickness, viz., “the bark,” which, being taken and repeated in a right manner, seldom fails of a cure, unless the morbific matter comes to a head again from fresh causes and so returns with mastery; upon which recourse must be had to the same specific remedy; besides which there are several ways of cure, but none so universal and sure as that.

Some, for want of timely care, through ignorance or obstinacy, will permit the distemper to lurk about them so long, till at last it has reduced them to an irrecoverable, lingering, ill habit of body, especially if they live meanly, drinking too much water and eating too much salt meat; and this cachexy generally ends their lives with a dropsy, consumption, the jaundice, or some such illness.

Besides this, some are troubled with the dry gripes, proceeding from colds, I suppose, which take away for a long time the use of the limbs of some, especially hard drinkers of rum; some that have lain out in mighty cold weather have been frost-bitten and lost their fingers or toes.

There is no danger of wild beasts in travelling; for the wolves and bears which are up the country never attack any, unless they be first assaulted and hurt; and the wolves of late are much destroyed by virtue of a law which allows good rewards for their heads with the ears on, to prevent imposition and cheating the public; for the ears are cropped when a head is produced.

The bears are also much destroyed by the out-planters, etc., for the sake of their flesh and skins.

As for rattlesnakes, etc., they make off from you, unless you, by carelessness, chance to tread on them; and then their bite is found now not to be mortal, if remedies can be applied in time.

The worst inconvenience in travelling across the country is the circuit that must be taken to head creeks, etc., for the main roads wind along the rising ground between the rivers, though now they much shorten their passage by mending the swamps and building of bridges in several places; and there are established ferries at convenient places over the great rivers; but in them is often much danger from sudden storms, bad boats, or unskilful or wilful ferrymen; especially if one passes in a boat with horses, of which I have great reason to be most sensible by the loss of a dear brother at Chickahominy Ferry, in February, 1723–4.

As for their drink, good springs of excellent water abound everywhere almost, which is very cooling and pleasant in summer, and the general drink of abundance, not so much out of necessity as choice.

Some planters, etc., make good small drink with cakes of persimmons, a kind of plums which grow there in great plenty; but the common small beer is made of molasses, which makes extraordinary brisk good-tasted liquor at a cheap rate, with little trouble in brewing; so that they have it brisk and fresh as they want it in winter and summer. And as they brew, so do they bake daily bread or cakes, eating too much hot and new bread, which cannot be wholesome, though it be pleasanter than what has been baked a day or two.

Some raise barley and make malt there, and others have malt from England, with which those that understand it brew as good beer as in England, at proper seasons of the year; but the common strong malt drink mostly used is Bristol beer, of which is consumed vast quantities there yearly; which, being well brewed and improved by crossing the sea, drinks exceedingly fine and smooth; but malt liquor is not so much regarded as wine, rack, brandy, and rum punch, with drams of rum or brandy for the common sort, when they drink in a hurry.

The common wine comes from Madeira or Fayal, which, moderately drunk, is fittest to cheer the fainting spirits in the heat of summer, and to warm the chilled blood in the bitter colds of winter, and seems most peculiarly adapted for this climate. Besides this, are plentifully drunk with the better sort, of late years, all kinds of French and other European wine, especially claret and port.

Here is likewise used a great deal of chocolate, tea and coffee, which, with several sorts of apparel, they have as cheap or cheaper than in England, because of the debenture of such goods upon their exportation thither. Besides, they are allowed to have wines directly from Madeira, and other commodities are brought from the West Indies and the Continent, which cannot be brought to England without spoiling.

As for grinding corn, etc., they have good mills upon the runs and creeks; besides hand-mills, wind-mills, and the Indian invention of pounding hominy in mortars burned in the stump of a tree, with a log for a pestle hanging at the end of a pole, fixed like the pole of a lave.

Though they are permitted to trade to no parts but Great Britain, except these places, yet have they in many respects better and cheaper commodities than we in England, especially of late years; for the country may be said to be altered and improved in wealth and polite living within these few years, since the beginning of Col. Spotswood’s government, more than in all the scores of years before that, from its first discovery. The country is yearly supplied with vast quantities of goods from Great Britain, chiefly from London, Bristol, Liverpool, Whitehaven, and from Scotland.

The ships that transport these things often call at Ireland to victual, and bring over frequently white servants, which are of three kinds: 1. Such as come upon certain wages by agreement for a certain time. 2. Such as come bound by indenture, commonly called kids, who are usually to serve four or five years. 3. Those convicts or felons that are transported, whose room they had much rather have than their company; for abundance of them do great mischiefs, commit robbery and murder, and spoil servants that were before very good. But they frequently there meet with the end they deserved at home, though indeed some of them prove indifferent good. Their being sent thither to work as slaves for punishment is but a mere notion, for few of them ever lived so well and so easy before, especially if they are good for anything. These are to serve seven, and sometimes fourteen years, and they, and servants by indentures, have an allowance of corn and clothes when they are out of their time, that they may be therewith supported till they can be provided with service or otherwise settled. With these three sorts of servants are they supplied from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among which they that have a mind to it may serve their time with ease and satisfaction to themselves and their masters, especially if they fall into good hands. Except the last sort, for the most part who are loose villains, made tame by Wild and then enslaved by his forward namesake. To prevent too great a stock of which servants and negroes, many attempts and laws have been in vain made.

These, if they forsake their roguery, together with the other kids of the later Jonathan, when they are free, may work day labor, or else rent a small plantation for a trifle almost; or else turn overseers, if they are expert, industrious, and careful, or follow their trade, if they have been brought up to any, especially smiths, carpenters, tailors, sawyers, coopers, bricklayers, etc. The plenty of the country and the good wages given to workfolks occasion very few poor, who are supported by the parish, being such as are lame, sick, or decrepit through age, distempers, accidents or some infirmities; for where there is a numerous family of poor children, the vestry takes care to bind them out apprentices till they are able to maintain themselves by their own labor; by which means they are never tormented with vagrant and vagabond beggars, there being a reward for taking up runaways that are at a small distance from their home, if they are not known or are without a pass from their master, and can give no good account of themselves, especially negroes.

In all convenient places are kept stores or warehouses of all sorts of goods, managed by storekeepers or factors, either for themselves or others in the country or in Great Britain.

This trade is carried on in the fairest and genteelest way of merchandise by a great number of gentlemen of worth and fortune, who, with the commanders of their ships, and several Virginians (who come over through business or curiosity, or often to take possession of estates which every year fall here to some or other of them), make as considerable and handsome a figure, and drive as great and advantageous a trade for the advancement of the public good, as most merchants upon the Royal Exchange.

At the stores in Virginia, the planters, etc., may be supplied with what English commodities they want.

The merchants, factors, or storekeepers in Virginia buy up the tobacco of the planters, either for goods or current Spanish money, or with sterling bills payable in Great Britain….

The tobacco purchased by the factors or storekeepers is sent home to their employers, or consigned to their correspondent merchants in Great Britain.

But most gentlemen, and such as are beforehand in the world, lodge money in their merchant’s hands here, to whom they send their crop of tobacco, or the greatest part of it.

This money is employed according to the planter’s orders, chiefly in sending over yearly such goods, apparel, liquors, etc., as they write for, for the use of themselves, their families, slaves, and plantations; by which means they have every thing at the best hand and the best of its kind.