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VIRGINIA and New England were the original forces of American society, and shaped its development. This arose from natural causes. Both races were vigorous offshoots of the same English stock, arrived first in point of time, and impressed their characteristics on the younger societies springing up around them. Each was dominant in its section. New England controlled the North from the Atlantic to the Lakes, and Virginia the South, to the Mississippi.
This supremacy of the old centres was a marked feature of early American history, but it was not to continue. Other races, attracted by the rich soil of the Continent, made settlements along the seaboard. These sent out colonies in turn, and the interior was gradually occupied by new communities developing under new conditions. The character of these later settlements was modified by many circumstances by distance from the parent stems, their surroundings, the changed habits of living, and the steady intermingling of diverse nationalities. Now, a vast immigration has made America the most multiform of societies. But the impetus of the first forces is not spent. The characteristics of the original races are woven into the texture of the nation, and are ineradicable.
To understand the history of the country it is therefore necessary to study the Virginia and New England of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the case of New England this study has been prosecuted with enthusiasm ; in the case of Virginia it has been very much neglected. The result is that the great proportions of the Puritan character have been fully appreciated, and that little is known of the Virginians. The men themselves have never been painted, for among the many histories of Virginia it is impossible to find a history of the Virginia people. And yet this history is essential, if for no other reason than that some of the greatest events in the annals of the country are incomprehensible without it. Accepting the general theory of the character of the race, these events are contrary to experience, and spring from causes which ought not to have produced them. The Virginians have been described as “ aristocrats and slaves of church and king;” but the aristocrats were among the first to proclaim that “all men are created equal ;” the bigots overthrew their church; and the slaves of the king first cast off his authority, declared Virginia an independent Commonwealth, and were foremost in establishing a republic.
To unravel these apparent contradictions it is necessary to understand the people, and to do so we must go close to them and study the men of every class: the ruffled planter in his great manor house or rolling in his coach, the small landholder in his plain dwelling, the parish minister exhorting in his pulpit, the “ New Light” preacher declaiming in the fields, the rough waterman of the Chesapeake, the hunter of the Blue Ridge, and beneath all, at the base of the social pyramid, the in
dented servant and the African slave. To have a just conception of the characters of these men we must see them in their daily lives going about their occupations among their friends and neighbors. The fancied dig. nity of history must be lost sight of. The student must come in contact with the actual Virginians ; discover their habits and prejudices; how they dressed and amused themselves on the race-course or at the cockfight; see them at church in their high-backed pews, while the parson reads his homily, or listen to them discussing the last act of Parliament at the County Court. If this study is conscientiously pursued, the Virginians of the past will cease to be wooden figures; they will become flesh and blood, and we shall understand the men and what they performed.
The work before the reader attempts to draw an outline of the people, and to present a succinct narrative of the events of their history. For the portrait of the Virginians, the general histories afford little assistance. The material, and above all, the coloring must be looked for elsewhere — in the writings of the first adventurers, which are the relations of eye-witnesses or contemporaries ; in forgotten pamphlets, family papers, the curious laws passed by the Burgesses, and in those traditions of the people which preserve the memory of events in the absence of written records. It appeared to the writer that this was the true material of history, and that he ought not to go to the modern works as long as it existed. The likeness of the Virginians is only to be found in these remote sources; and the writer has patiently studied the dusty archives, and endeavored to extract their meaning, with no other object than to ascertain the truth, and to represent the men and events in their true colors.
The history of Virginia may be divided into three periods — the Plantation, the Colony, and the Commonwealth. These periods present society under three different aspects.
In the first, which extends from the landing at Jamestown to the grant of free government, we see a little body of Englishmen buried in the American wilderness, leading hard and perilous lives, in hourly dread of the savages, home-sick, nearly starved, torn by dissensions, and more than once on the point of sailing back to England. In the second, or Colonial period, reaching to the Revolution, we have the gradual formation of a stable and vigorous society, the long struggle against royal encroachments, the armed rebellion against the Crown, and all the turmoil of an age which originated the principle that the right of the citizen is paramount to the will of the king. What follows is the serene and picturesque Virginia of the eighteenth century, when society at last reposes, class distinctions are firmly established, and the whole social fabric seenis built up in opposition to the theory of republicanism. Nevertheless that theory lies at the very foundation of the Virginia character. For five generations the people have stubbornly resisted the king ; now they will wrench themselves abruptly out of the ruts of prescription, and sum up their whole political philosophy in the words of their Bill of Rights, " That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inalienable rights, namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” When the issue is presented whether the country is to fight or submit, the kinglovers and aristocrats will instruct their delegates to propose the Declaration, and the Commonwealth and
the Revolution will begin together. This third period embraces the events of the Revolutionary struggle, the adoption of the Federal Constitution, the occurrences of the post-Revolutionary epoch, and the gradual transformation of society into what is summed up in the term modern Virginia.
The original authorities are full and curious, especially for the periods of the Plantation and Colony. The chief of these authorities are,
1. For the Plantation :
1. “A True Relation of Virginia," by Captain John Smith, 1608, the first work written by an Englishman in America.
2. “A Discourse of the Plantation of the Southern Colony of Virginia,” by George Percy, one of the original adventurers, which gives the fullest account of the fatal epidemic of 1607.
3. “The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles,” a compilation of the various narratives by the first settlers up to 1624, edited by Captain John Smith.
4. “ A True Repertory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knt., upon and from the Islands of the Bermudas, his coming to Virginia, and the estate of that Colony then and afterwards, under the Government of the Lord de la Warre,” by William Strachey, Secretary of the Colony, who was wrecked in the Sea Venture, and wrote his narrative in Virginia in 1610.
5. “ The History of Virginia Britannia,” by the same writer, after his return to Eugland.
6. " A True Discourse of the present Estate of Virginia till the 18 of June, 1614,” by Raphe Hamor, who