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Thus in the end the slave was far cheaper. The price of a servant depended largely upon the cost of his pa.s.sage across the ocean. We find that William Matthews, having three years and nine months to serve, was rated in the inventory of his master, John Thomas, at 12.[7-35] A servant of Robert Leightenhouse, having two years to serve, was put at 9;[7-36] while on the other hand we find another listed in the estate of Colonel Francis Epes, also having two years to serve, at only 5.[7-37] A white lad under indenture for seven years to Mr. Ralph Graves was valued at 10.[7-38] On the whole it would seem that the price of a st.u.r.dy man servant varied from 2 to 4 for each year of his service. On the other hand a vigorous slave could be had at from 18 to 30. a.s.suming that he gave his master twenty-five years of service, the cost for each year would be but one pound sterling. There could be no doubt, then, that in the mere matter of cost he was much cheaper than the indentured white man.
It is true that the negro was none too efficient as a laborer. Born in savagery, unacquainted with the English tongue, knowing little of agriculture, it was a matter of some difficulty for him to accustom himself to his task in the tobacco fields. Yet when his lesson had been learned, when a few years of experience had taught him what his master expected him to do, the slave showed himself quite adequate to the requirements of the one staple crop. The culture of tobacco is not essentially difficult, especially when pursued in the unscientific manner of the colonial period. It required many, but not skilled hands.
The slave, untutored and unintelligent, proved inadequate to the industrial needs of the northern colonies. The niceties of shipbuilding were beyond his capacities, he was not needed as a fisherman, he was not a good sailor, he was useless in the system of intensive agriculture in vogue north of Maryland. But in the tobacco field he would do. He could not at first tend so many plants as his white rival, he could not produce tobacco of such fine quality, but what he lacked in efficiency he more than made up for in cheapness.
The African seems to have withstood remarkably well the diseases indigenous to eastern Virginia. There are occasional reports of epidemics among the slaves, but usually they were fairly immune both to malaria and dysentery. A census taken in 1714, when there were perhaps 15,000 negroes in the colony, records burials for sixty-two slaves only.[7-39] The births of slaves for the same year totalled 253.[7-40]
These figures indicate not only the excellent physical condition in which these black workers were kept by their masters, but the rapidity with which they were multiplying. The low death rate is in part explained by the fact that only strong men and women were transported to the colonies, but it is none the less clearly indicative of the ease with which the African accustomed himself to the climate of tidewater Virginia.
As a rule the negro was more docile than the white servant, especially if the latter happened to be from the ruder elements of English society.
He was not so apt to resist his master or to run away to the mountains.
Yet plots among the blacks were not unknown. In 1710 a conspiracy was discovered among the slaves of Surry and James City counties which was to have been put into execution on Easter day. The negroes planned to rise simultaneously, destroy any who stood in their way, and make good their escape out of the colony. Among the chief conspirators were Jamy, belonging to Mr. John Broadnax, Mr. Samuel Thompson's Peter, Tom and Cato of Mr. William Edwards, Great Jack and Little Jack of Mr. John Edwards, and Will belonging to Mr. Henry Hart. "Two or three of these were tried this general court," wrote Colonel Jennings, "found guilty and will be executed. And I hope their fate will strike such a terror in the other Negroes as will keep them from forming such designs for the future."[7-41] The lesson did not prove lasting, however, for in 1730 a number of slaves from Norfolk and Princess Anne counties a.s.sembled while the whites were at church, and chose officers to command them in a bold stroke for freedom. As in the previous attempt they were discovered, many arrested and several of the ringleaders executed.[7-42]
Neither the merchants nor the planters seem to have been conscious of any wrong in the seizure and sale of negroes. They regarded the native Africans as hardly human, mere savages that were no more deserving of consideration than oxen or horses. And as it was right and proper to hitch the ox or the horse to the plow, so it was equally legitimate to put the negro to work in the fields of sugar cane or tobacco. Whatever hardships he had to endure upon the voyage to America or by reason of his enforced labor, they considered amply compensated by his conversion to Christianity.
It is true that the colony of Virginia early in the Eighteenth century imposed a heavy duty upon the importation of slaves, but it did so neither from any consciousness of wrong in slavery itself or a perception of the social problems which were to grow out of it. At the time the price of tobacco was declining rapidly and many planters were losing money. Feeling that their misfortunes arose from overproduction, which in turn was the result of the recent purchases of negroes, the colonial legislators decided to check the trade. "The great number of negroes imported here and solely employed in making tobacco," wrote Governor Spotswood in 1711, "hath produced for some years past an increase in tobacco far disproportionate to the consumption of it ...
and consequently lowered the price of it."[7-43] "The people of Virginia will not now be so fond of purchasing negroes as of late," declared President Jennings of the Virginia Council in 1708, "being sensibly convinced of their error, which has in a manner ruined the credit of the country."[7-44]
During the years from 1680 to 1700 slaves arrived in the colony in increasing numbers. In 1681 William Fitzhugh, in a letter to Ralph Wormeley, refers to the fact that several slave ships were expected that year in the York river.[7-45] At this period, for the first time in Virginia history, we find negroes in large numbers entered as headrights upon the patent rolls. In 1693 Captain John Storey received a grant of land for the importation of 79 negroes, in 1694 Robert Beverley brought in seventy, in 1695 William Randolph twenty-five.[7-46] Before the end of the century it is probable that the slaves in Virginia numbered nearly 6,000, and had already become more important to the economic life of the colony than the indentured servants.[7-47]
The chief purchasers at this time were men of large estates. The advantages of slave labor were manifest to planters of the type of William Byrd or William Fitzhugh, men who had built up fortunes by their business ability. It is but natural that they should have turned early from the indentured servant to stock their plantations with the cheaper and more remunerative African workers.
As the English secured a stronger hold upon the African trade slaves arrived in ever increasing numbers. During the years from 1699 to 1708 no less than 6,843 came in, a number perhaps exceeding the entire importations of the Seventeenth century.[7-48] In the summer of 1705 alone 1,800 negroes arrived.[7-49] With what rapidity the black man was taking the place of the indentured servant and the poor freeman as the chief laborer of the colony is shown by the fact that in 1708, in a total t.i.thable list of 30,000, no less than 12,000 were slaves.
President Jennings at the same time reported that the number of servants was inconsiderable.[7-50] "Before the year 1680 what negroes came to Virginia were usually from Barbadoes," Jennings told the Board of Trade in 1708. "Between 1680 and 1698 the negro trade become more frequent, tho not in any proportion to what it hath been of late, during which the African Company have sent several ships and others by their licence having bought their slaves of the Company brought them here for sale, among which lately Alderman Jeffreys and Sir Jeffry Jeffreys were princ.i.p.ally concerned."[7-51]
The wars of Charles XII, however, which proved disastrous to the Baltic trade, and the War of the Spanish Succession which cut off exports of tobacco to France and Spain, caused a serious decline in prices and made it impossible for the planters to continue the large purchases of slaves. This fact, together with the duty which had been imposed with the express purpose of keeping them out, reduced the importations to a minimum during the years from 1710 to 1718.[7-52] But with the reopening of the tobacco market and the return of prosperity to Virginia, the black stream set in again with redoubled force. In 1730, out of a total population of 114,000, no less than 30,000 were negroes.[7-53] In other words the slaves, who in 1670 had const.i.tuted but five per cent of the people, now comprised twenty-six per cent. Slavery, from being an insignificant factor in the economic life of the colony, had become the very foundation upon which it was established.
As we have seen it was not slavery but the protracted acc.u.mulation of surplus stocks of tobacco in England which had broken the long continued deadlock of the tobacco trade during the Restoration period and caused the overflow into continental markets. That the labor of blacks at first played no essential part in the movement is evident from the fact that in 1682 when it first became p.r.o.nounced, the slave population of Virginia and Maryland was still insignificant. But that the trade not only continued after the glut in England had been cleared up, but increased with startling rapidity, was unquestionably the result of more universal use of negroes in the years immediately preceding the War of the Spanish Succession. Slavery so cheapened the cost of production that it was now quite possible for those who used them to pay the half penny a pound duty on reexported tobacco in England, and still undersell all rivals in the European market. Before many years had pa.s.sed the tobacco trade, with all that it meant both to England and to the colonies, rested almost entirely upon the labor of the savage black man so recently brought from the African wilds.
That this fact was fully understood at the time is attested by various persons interested in the colony and the trade. In 1728 Francis Fane, in protesting against the imposition of a new tax in Virginia on the importation of slaves declared "that Laying a Duty on Negroes can only tend to make them scarcer and dearer, the two things that for the good of our Trade and for the Benefit of Virginia ought chiefly to be guarded against, since it is well known that the cheepness of Virginia tobacco in European Marketts is the true Cause of the great Consumption thereof in Europe, and one would have therefore Expected rather to have seen an Act allowing a premium on the Importation of Negroes to have Encouraged the bringing them in, than an Act laying so large a Duty to discourage their Importation."[7-54] Similarly Colonel Spencer wrote to the Board of Trade. "The low price of tobacco requires it should be made as cheap as possible. The Blacks can make it cheaper than Whites, so I conceive it is for his Majesty's interest full as much as the Country's or rather much more, to have Blacks as cheap as possible in Virginia."[7-55]
It is evident, then, that the opening of the European market and the vast expansion of the tobacco trade, while bringing prosperity to the larger planters, was no great boon to the man who tilled his fields with his own hands. It a.s.sured him a ready sale for his crop, it is true, but at prices so low as to leave him a very narrow margin of profit. The new era which was opening, the so-called golden era of Virginia history, was not for him. Virginia in the Eighteenth century was to be the land of the slave holder, not of the little planter.
BENEATH THE BLACK TIDE
The importation of slaves in large numbers reacted almost immediately upon the migration of whites to Virginia. As we have seen, the stream of indentured servants that poured across the Atlantic remained remarkably constant throughout almost all of the Seventeenth century. The larger planters were always in need of laborers, and they looked to the surplus population of England to supply them. But with the coming of the blacks all was changed. The Virginians saw in the slave ships which now so frequently entered their rivers the solution of all their problems. And so the influx of white men and women from the mother country dwindled and almost died out, while in its place came a still greater stream from the coast of Africa.
At the time of Bacon's Rebellion the annual importation of servants was between 1,500 and 2,000. The headrights for 1674 show 1931 names.[8-1]
Seven years later the whites were still arriving in large numbers, the rolls for 1682 having 1,565 names. As the century drew to a close, however, the effect of the slave trade upon white immigration is reflected in the dwindling number of headrights. The change that was taking place is ill.u.s.trated by a patent of 13,500 acres to Ralph Wormleley for the transportation of 249 persons, 149 of whom were white and 100 black.[8-2] Yet so late as 1704 the servants were still coming in appreciable numbers. In 1708 however, the number of servants at work in the colony had dwindled away almost entirely.[8-3] In 1715 the names of white persons listed as headrights was but ninety-one; in 1718 but 101.[8-4] In other words, the first great migration of Englishmen to continental America, a migration extending over a century and comprising from 100,000 to 150,000 men, women and children, had practically come to an end.
English statesmen at the time looked upon this event as an unalloyed blessing. The day had pa.s.sed when they felt that there existed a surplus of labor at home and that the country was in need of blood letting. The proper policy was to keep Englishmen in England, to devote their energies to local industries and so strengthen the economic and military sinews of the nation. And if unemployment existed, it was the correct policy to bring work to the idle rather than send the idle out of the country in quest of work.[8-5] And the colonies were to be utilized, no longer as outlets for the population, but as a means to the upbuilding of local industry. They were to supply a market for English goods, keep employed English mariners and furnish the tobacco and sugar which when re-exported weighed so heavily in the balance of trade. And since these great staple crops could be produced by the work of slaves, it was thought highly advantageous for all concerned that the negro should replace the white servant in both the tobacco and the sugar fields. The planters would profit by the lowered cost of production, English industry would gain by the increased volume of traffic, the Crown revenues would be enhanced and English laborers would be kept at home.[8-6]
Apparently the deeper significance of this great movement was entirely lost upon the British economists and ministers. They had no conception of the advantage of having their colonies inhabited by one race alone and that race their own. From the first their vision was too restricted to embrace the idea of a new and greater Britain in its fullest sense.
They could not bring themselves to look upon the soil of Virginia and Maryland as a part of the soil of an extended England, upon the Virginians and Marylanders as Englishmen, enjoying privileges equal to their own. They could not realize the strength that would come from such an empire as this, the mighty future it would insure to the Anglo-Saxon race.
Their conception was different. The British empire must consist of two distinct parts--mother country and colonies. And in any clash of interest between the two, the former must prevail. It was not their intent that the colonies should be purposely sacrificed, that they should be made to pay tribute to a tyrannical parent. In fact, they earnestly desired that the plantations should prosper, for when they languished English industry suffered. But in their eyes the colonies existed primarily for the benefit of England. England had given them birth, had defended them, had nurtured them; she was amply justified, therefore, in subordinating them to her own industrial needs.
Thus they viewed the subst.i.tution of the importation of slaves to the tobacco colonies for the importation of white men purely from an English, not an Anglo-Saxon, point of view. Had it been a question of bringing thousands of negroes to England itself to drive the white laborers from the fields, they would have interposed an emphatic veto.
But with the structure of colonial life they were not greatly concerned.
In 1693, when James Blair secured from the King and Queen a gift for his new college at Williamsburg, Attorney-General Seymour objected vigorously, stating that there was not the least occasion for such an inst.i.tution in Virginia. Blair reminded him that the chief purpose of the college was to educate young men for the ministry and begged him to consider that the people of the colony had souls to be saved as well as the people of England. "Souls! d.a.m.n your souls," snapped the Attorney-General, "make tobacco."[8-7] It would be unfair to say that the British Government took just the same view of the colonists as did Seymour, but there can be no doubt that their chief concern in the plantations was centered upon the size of their exports to England and of their purchases of English goods. And as the slaves could make more tobacco than the indentured servants, it became the settled policy of the Crown to encourage the African trade in every possible way.
The influx of slaves not only put almost a complete end to the importation of white servants, but it reacted disastrously upon the Virginia yeomanry. In this respect we find a close parallel with the experience of ancient Rome with slave labor. In the third and second centuries before Christ the glory of the republic lay in its peasantry.
The self-reliant, st.u.r.dy, liberty-loving yeoman formed the backbone of the conquering legion and added to the life of the republic that rugged strength that made it so irresistible. "To say that a citizen is a good farmer is to reach the extreme limit of praise," said Cato. Some of the ablest of the early Roman generals were recruited from the small farmer cla.s.s. Fabius Maximus, the Dictator, in need of money, sent his son to Rome to sell his sole possession, a little farm of seven jugera.
Regulus, while in Africa, asked that he be recalled from his command because the hired man he had left to cultivate his fields had fled with all his farm implements, and he feared his wife and children would starve.[8-8]
This vigorous peasantry was destroyed by the importation of hordes of slaves and the purchase of cheap foreign grain. So long as the wars of Rome were limited to Italy the number of slaves was comparatively small, but as her armies swept over the Mediterranean countries one after another and even subdued the wild Gauls and Britains, an unending stream of captives poured into the city and filled to overflowing the slave markets. Cicero, during his short campaign against the Parthians wrote to Atticus that the sale of his prisoners had netted no less than 12,000,000 sestercias. In Epirus 100,000 men were captured; 60,000 Cimbries and 100,000 Germans graced the triumph of Marius; Caesar is said to have taken in Gaul another 100,000 prisoners. Soon the slave became the cheapest of commodities, and he who possessed even the most extensive lands could readily supply himself with the labor requisite for their cultivation.
Thus thrown into compet.i.tion with slave labor the peasant proprietor found it impossible to sustain himself. The grain which he produced with his own hands had to compete in the same market with that made by slaves. It must, therefore, sell for the same price, a price so low that it did not suffice to feed and clothe him and his family. So he was forced to give up his little estate, an estate perhaps handed down to him by generations of farmers, and migrate to the city of Rome, to swell the idle and plebeian population. And once there he demanded bread, a demand which the authorities dared not refuse. So the public treasury laid out the funds for the purchase of wheat from all parts of the world, from Spain, from Africa, from Sicily, wheat which was given away or sold for a song. This in turn reacted unfavorably upon the peasants who still clung to the soil in a desperate effort to wring from it a bare subsistence, and accelerated the movement to the city.
Thus Italy was transformed from the land of the little farmer into the land of big estates cultivated by slaves. A sad development surely, a development which had much to do with the decay and final overthrow of the mighty structure of the Roman Empire. In former times, t.i.tus Livius tells us, "there was a mult.i.tude of free men in this country where today we can hardly find a handful of soldiers, and which would be a wilderness were it not for our slaves." "The plough is everywhere bereft of honor," wrote Virgil, while Lucian bewailed the departed peasants whose places were taken by fettered slaves.[8-9]
The importation of slaves to Virginia had somewhat similar results.
While not destroying entirely the little farmer cla.s.s, it exerted a baleful influence upon it, driving many families out of the colony, making the rich man richer, reducing the poor man to dire poverty.
Against this unfortunate development the Virginia yeoman was helpless.
Instinctively he must have felt that the slave was his enemy, and the hatred and rivalry which even today exists between the negro and the lowest cla.s.s of whites, the so-called "poor white trash," dates back to the Seventeenth century.
The emigration of poor persons, usually servants just freed, from Virginia to neighboring colonies was well under way even at the time of Bacon's Rebellion. In 1677 complaint was made of "the inconvenience which arose from the neighborhood of Maryland and North Carolina," in that Virginia was daily deprived of its inhabitants by the removal of poor men hither. Runaway servants were welcomed in both places, it was a.s.serted, while the debtor was accorded protection against prosecution.[8-10] This early emigration was caused, of course, not by the importation of slaves, for that movement had not yet a.s.sumed important proportions, but by the evil consequences of the Navigation Acts. The Virginia yeoman moved on to other colonies because he found it impossible to maintain himself at the current price of tobacco.
The continuance of the movement, for it persisted for a full half century, must be ascribed to the compet.i.tion of negro labor. Like the Roman peasant, the Virginia yeoman, to an extent at least, found it impossible to maintain himself in the face of slave compet.i.tion. The servant, upon the expiration of his term, no longer staked off his little farm and settled down to a life of usefulness and industry. The poor planter who had not yet fully established himself, sold or deserted his fields and moved away in search of better opportunities and higher returns.
This migration was not the first of its kind in the English colonies, for the movement of Ma.s.sachusetts congregations into the valley of the Connecticut antedated it by several decades. Yet it furnishes an interesting ill.u.s.tration of the lack of permanency in American life, of the facility with which populations urged on by economic pressure of one kind or another change localities. The great movement westward over the Appalachian range which followed the War of 1812, the pilgrimages of homesteaders to the northwest and the Pacific coast, find their precedent in the exodus of these poor families from the tobacco fields of Virginia.
In the last decade of the Seventeenth century the migration a.s.sumed such large proportions that the Board of Trade became alarmed and directed Francis Nicholson to enquire into its cause in order that steps might be taken to stop it. The emigrant stream that directed itself northward did not halt in eastern Maryland, for conditions there differed little from those in Virginia itself. The settlers went on to the unoccupied lands in the western part of the colony, or made their way into Delaware or Pennsylvania. "The reason why inhabitants leave this province," wrote Nicholson, while Governor of Maryland, "is, I think, the encouragement which they receive from the Carolinas, the Jerseys, and above all from Pennsylvania, which is so nigh that it is easy to remove thither. There handicraft tradesmen have encouragement when they endeavor to set up woolen manufactures."[8-11]
Although this explanation does not go to the root of the matter, it was in part correct. The northern colonies held out far greater opportunities for the poor man than the slave choked fields of tidewater Maryland and Virginia. The industries of Pennsylvania and Delaware and the Jerseys demanded a certain degree of skill and yielded in return a very fair living. In other words, the poor settlers in Virginia, finding that tobacco culture was now based upon the cheap labor of African slaves, moved away to other localities where intelligence still brought an adequate reward.
The Maryland House of Delegates, when asked to give their opinion in this matter, thought that it was a desire to escape the payment of debts which made some of the "meaner inhabitants" seek shelter in Delaware Bay and the Carolinas. They came nearer the real cause when they added that the low price paid by the merchants for tobacco obliged many to leave.[8-12] Nicholson was not satisfied with this answer. "They will not directly own," he wrote, "that setting up manufactures and handicraft-trades in Pennsylvania, the large tracts of land held by some persons here and the encouragement given to illegal traders are the causes that make people leave this province. They would have it that they wish to avoid the persecution of their creditors, which causes them to shelter themselves among the inhabitants of the Lower Counties of Delaware Bay and of Carolina. The low price of tobacco has obliged many of the planters to try their fortune elsewhere, and the currency of money in Pennsylvania, which here is not, draws them to that province from this."[8-13]
In Virginia the difficulty of securing desirable land because of the large tracts patented by rich planters was usually a.s.signed as the reason for the migration of poor families. This view of the matter was taken by Edward Randolph, the man who had won the undying hatred of the people of Ma.s.sachusetts by his attempts to enforce the Navigation Acts there and by his attacks upon their charter. In 1696 Randolph did Virginia the honor of a visit, and although encountering there none of the opposition which had so angered him in New England, he sent to the Board of Trade a memorial concerning the colony, criticising the government severely. "It should be inquired into," he said, "how it comes to pa.s.s that the colony (the first English settlement on the continent of America, begun above 80 years ago) is not better inhabited, considering what vast numbers of servants and others have yearly been transported thither.... The chief and only reason is the Inhabitants and Planters have been and at this time are discouraged and hindered from planting tobacco in that colony, and servants are not so willing to go there as formerly, because the members of the Council and others, who make an interest in the Government, have from time to time procured grants of very large Tracts of land, so that there has not for many years been any waste land to be taken up by those who bring with them servants, or by such Servants, who have served their time faithfully with their Masters, but it is taken up and ingrossed beforehand, whereby they are forced to hyer and pay a yearly rent for some of those Lands, or go to the utmost bounds of the Colony for Land, exposed to danger and often times proves the Occasion of Warr with the Indians."[8-14]
For their large holdings the wealthy men paid not one penny of quit rents, Randolph said, and failed to comply with the regulations for seating new lands. The law demanded that upon receipt of a patent one must build a house upon the ground, improve and plant the soil and keep a good stock of cattle or hogs. But in their frontier holdings the wealthy men merely erected a little bark hut and turned two or three hogs into the woods by it. Or else they would clear one acre of land and plant a little Indian corn for one year, trusting that this evasion would square them with the letter of the law. By such means, Randolph adds, vast tracts were held, all of which had been procured on easy terms and much by means of false certificates of rights. "Which drives away the inhabitants and servants, brought up only to planting, to seek their fortunes in Carolina or other places."[8-15]
Randolph suggested that the evil might be remedied by requiring a strict survey of lands in every county, by demanding all arrears of quit rents, by giving strict orders that in the future no grant should exceed 500 acres. These measures, he believed, would cause 100,000 acres to revert to the Crown, and "invite home those who for want of Land left Virginia." It would encourage other persons to come from neighboring colonies to take up holdings and "mightily increase the number of Planters." This would augment the production of tobacco by many thousands of hogsheads, stimulate trade and industry in England, and aid his Majesty's revenue.
The Board of Trade was deeply impressed. They wrote to Governor Andros explaining to him the substance of Randolph's report and asking what steps should be taken to remedy the evils he had pointed out. "But this seeming to us a matter of very great consequence," they added, "we have not been willing to meddle in it without your advice, which we now desire you to give fully and plainly." But Andros knew full well that it was no easy matter to make the large landowners disgorge. The thing had been attempted by Nicholson several years earlier, when suit was inst.i.tuted against Colonel Lawrence Smith for arrears of quit rents upon tracts of land which had never been under cultivation.[8-16] But before the case came to trial Nicholson had been recalled and it was afterward compounded for a nominal sum. The proceedings had caused great resentment among the powerful clique which centered around the Council of State, and Andros was reluctant to reopen the matter. He knew of no frauds in granting patents of land, he wrote the Board, and could suggest no remedy for what was past, "being a matter of Property." He agreed, however, that to limit the size of future patents would tend to "the more regular planting and thicker seating of the frontier lands."[8-17]
Consequently when Francis Nicholson was commissioned as Governor in 1698, he received strict instructions to advise with the Council and the a.s.sembly upon this matter and to report back to the Board.[8-18] That nothing was accomplished, however, may clearly be inferred from a letter of a certain George Larkin written December 22, 1701. "There is no encouragement for anyone to come to the Plantation," he declared, "most of the land lying at all convenient being taken up. Some have 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 acres, the greater part of which is unimployed."[8-19]
Two years later Nicholson himself wrote that certain recent grants were for ten or twenty thousand acres each, so that privileged persons had engrossed all the good land in those parts, by which means they kept others from settling it or else made them pay for it.[8-20]
Despite all the concern which this matter created, it is doubtful whether it was to any appreciable extent responsible for the continued emigration of poor families. The mere granting of patents for large tracts of land could not of itself fix the economic structure of the colony, could not, if all other conditions were favorable, prevent the establishment of small freeholds. Rather than have their fields lie idle while the poor men who should have been cultivating them trooped out of the colony, the rich would gladly have sold them in small parcels at nominal prices. In the first half century after the settlement at Jamestown, as we have seen, such a breakup of extensive holdings into little farms actually occurred. Had similar conditions prevailed in the later period a like development would have followed. But in 1630 or 1650, when slaves were seldom employed and when tobacco was high, the poor man's toil yielded a return so large that he could well afford to purchase a little farm and make himself independent. In 1680 or 1700, in the face of the compet.i.tion of slave labor, he was almost helpless. Even had he found a bit of unoccupied ground to which he could secure a t.i.tle, he could not make it yield enough to sustain him and his family.[8-21]
In 1728 Governor Gooch wrote the Board of Trade that the former belief that large holdings of frontier land had been an impediment to settlement was entirely erroneous. It was his opinion, in fact, that extensive grants made it to the interest of the owners to bring in settlers and so populate the country. In confirmation of this he pointed to the fact that Spotsylvania country, where many large patents had been issued, had filled up more rapidly than Brunswick, where they had been restricted in size.[8-22]
In the first decade of the new century the emigration out of the tobacco colonies continued without abatement. With another disastrous decline in the price of tobacco following the outbreak of the wars of Charles XII and Louis XIV, so many families moved over the border that the Board of Trade, once more becoming seriously alarmed, questioned the Council as to the causes of the evil and what steps should be taken to remedy it.
In their reply the Councillors repeated the old arguments, declaring that the lack of land in Virginia and the immunity of debtors from prosecution in the proprietory colonies were responsible for the movement. But they touched the heart of the matter in their further statement that the great stream of negroes that was pouring into the colony had so increased the size of the tobacco crop that prices had declined and the poor found it difficult to subsist. Not only "servants just free go to North Carolina," they wrote, "but old planters whose farms are worn out."[8-23]