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Review: Forced Founders

991 words - 4 pages

In Woody Holton's Forced Founders, that most revered segment of the revolutionary generation, the elitist gentry class of Virginia, comes across very much as a group of self-serving reactionaries, rather then the idealized revolutionaries of the great patriotic myth of popular history. He sets about disassembling a central portion of the myth created by earlier generations of Consensus historians, by asserting that rather then gallantly leading the charge for independence, Virginia's elitist gentry resorted to independence as their last and only means of saving their elite ruling status, their economic futures, and even their very lives many feared. While this is very much an example of revisionist history, Holton has not so much rewritten history, as he has provided the back story of the complexity and diversity of the Virginia colony on the eve of the American Revolution. For while the book's title may insinuate otherwise, lowly groups like slaves and Indians discussed here are afforded only the status of “founders” by pressing those traditionally thought of in this role to take the plunge for independence. Still the papers and correspondence of the iconic figureheads of the revolutionary generation like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison make up the bulk of primary sources.
The author portrays the essence of the desperation felt by a great many Virginians at this time in the circumstances of one Jacob Hite, who resorted to staging a raid and jailbreak to keep his confiscated property in the form of horses and slaves from being auctioned off by the sheriff to satisfy his debts in the “Introduction”. From there the volume is broken into for logical divisions which follow good chronological order, with a concluding “Epilogue” included in the final section.
Holton continues, depicting the context of the times in the region, showing how Virginia's gentleman class built their opulent society, with its rather complex economy based largely on credit with English and Scottish merchants, which had come crashing down along with the price of tobacco in recent years, leaving a great many in embarrassing economic circumstances. Complicating matters further were the obsessive restrictions placed on colonial trade and shipping by royal and Parliamentary decrees, which were in effect turning all of the colonists into little more sharecroppers, permanently tied by debt to the company store. Further adding to their miseries was the British land and Indian policies, which were prohibiting westward expansion when the burgeoning populations along the Atlantic seaboard desperately needed room to grow. Worse yet and further complicating the debt situation was the fact many of the gentry class had vested themselves in land speculation deals that instead of returning handsome profits, remained utterly worthless because of the royal prohibition of White encroachment in Kentucky and other western lands. At the same time the complex web of interdependent relationships...

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