Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 17101775
[From “The Present State of Virginia.” 1724.]
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….
Some planters, etc., make good small drinks 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, brick-layers, 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.