The Evolution of 17th Century Virginia
As Colonial Virginia entered into the 17th century, it was a land marked with opportunity to make a new and also, most importantly, profitable life in the New World. (Cutter Lecture) When the century began, however, it was not the citizens as a whole hoping to make a profit from this new land but rather a small group of greedy landowners profiting off of the work of their indentured servants. (CL) Sure the indentured servants were given a chance to fulfill their contract and one day become free to pursue their own dreams, but the likelihood of this in the beginning was next to none due to harsh living conditions. (CL) According to Richard Frethorne in 1623, "nor is there nothing to be gotten here but sickness and death. ("Experiences of an Indentured Servant," The Way We Lived, 36) However, with improvements in conditions for the servants throughout the years the number fulfilling their servitude increased. (CL) It is at this juncture in history when conflict arose as to what do with the labor system in the future of the European colonies. (CL) While there are somewhat varying viewpoints as to why this shift happened the result is one that all people are familiar with, slavery. With this backdrop in place it will be obvious as to what life was like in the 17th century European colonies and what happened to shift society into a completely new era by the late 17th century and thereafter.
Stepping into the 17th century in Virginia, it was likely to find a widely dispersed society of predominantly white men. (CL) In control were rich men who had brought with them indentured servants who had signed a contract before leaving England to work for six or seven years; after this time they could become free to own their own land. (CL) Many of the poor British people were eager to take advantage of this situation because of the great numbers of poor people who could not find work or land in Great Britain. (CL) These indentured servants were not only white but also black and regardless of race they were treated equally poor by their masters on the large plantation. (CL) Although it was unlikely for an indentured servant to survive the time of their contract due to malnutrition or poor housing, of those that did, a black man was equally qualified to attain land as a white man. (CL) One black man, Anthony Johnson, even owned indentured servants of his own. (CL) As the situation was in the early to mid 1600's the large gap in society existed not amongst black and white people, but rather between the rich and the poor. (CL) There was in fact a feeling of commonality or perhaps camaraderie between the poor at this point in history regardless of race because they were united by a common experience.
Now, as the 1670's and 1680's came along, indentured servants were beginning to live longer lives. (CL) According to Professor Cutter this new class of potential landowners was unable to get land because the...