History Lecture #6: Origins of Slavery in Virginia and the Origins of Massachusetts’ Liberties

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Mark Peterson

History Lecture #6: Origins of Slavery in Virginia and the Origins of Massachusetts’ Liberties It was not planned by anyone to start importing and enslaving African people into America I. Tobacco’s Demands A. Land and Labour » Tobacco was initially so profitable that it actively discouraged the owners of the land from using that land to grow anything but tobacco, so although the tobacco industry was booming, servants of the land were still starving » ‘Tidewater’, where colonists settled, was occupied by an established Indian population. This also created a conflict over food. » Natives retaliated against the English colonists, killing off a substantial amount of people as well as livestock – contributed to struggle with food as well » Virginian tobacco plantation owners realized that in order to make the most profit, man-labour was required  However, it was difficult to recruit such men because of the stories back in England about how it was hard it was to be living under a tobacco plantation over » Tobacco plantations ate up Virginia’s land as well as labour pool I. The Social Consequences of Tobacco A. Masterless Men as a Labour Pool » Difficult for masterless men to become land owner » Headright system of the colonies: system designed to generate wealth for the land owners » A lot of the places where the colonists settled were named with the word ‘city’ in it: e.g. Elizabeth ‘City’, or James ‘City’  Civilization contracted  Strong idea of what the New World was going to be like: little islands or cities of English settlements set up, surrounded by wilderness/unknown ◊ However, this rarely came true ◊ Problem in America: European plans for what was going to happen didn’t really turn out that way ◊ Headright system that the Europeans created changed the landscape in a way that nobody intended › Virginia saw its servant population (and landlords) spread out in very sparse settlements all across the region as opposed to small groups that were easily governed › Creates conflict between what the land is used for by the Native Americans and by the English – conflict over the different uses of land B. Distorted Sex Ratio » Males were highly desirable in Virginia because of their stronger physical abilities » Because of this, 6:1 male to female ratio » Led to limited reproductive possibilities  Death rate so high  Servant contract prohibited servants from marrying  Meant that landlords had to import even more people » Unusual household structure and authority patterns  Europeans used to hierarchal structure in family  Virtually unheard of anyone to live alone in Early Modern/Medieval Europe ◊ Alone = isolated, difficult to survive as a single individual ◊ Nowadays it is possible because what we need can be provided by large corporations (supermarkets, etc), whereas this was not possible back then. Impossible to clothe and feed and roof oneself if living alone ◊ A group of young men grouped together in a household – had to figure out how to do traditional women jobs and who was in charge as there was no patriarch in the household » Distorted household structure led to a culture of violence, gambling and drink  English men coming to these plantations were very candid about what their lives were going to be (difficult) ◊ Gave up idea of living a long and meaningful life ◊ Gave themselves over to gambling and violence and drink  Gambling became a wildly popular pastime B. Dispersed Settlement » The rivers in Virginia became avenues for the dispersion of settlement » Land is owned by richest of landlords II. Social Changes in Virginia’s Second Generation A. Stability and the Rise of the Common Man » Forces beyond the control of Virginians created change in society » The benefits of falling tobacco prices  High demand for tobacco led to high supply, but as the Virginians sent tobacco home, the industry begins to calm down  Led to landlords thinking that they should use some of their land to grow edible crops so that they could feed themselves without relying on Indian trade  Brought stability to society » Slow stabilization of sex ratios  As the value of the tobacco land starts to be reduced and as the Virginian economy starts to diversify, the demand for men only starts to change and so women began being imported too » Declining death rates  1640s – death rates begin to fall  But it isn’t clear when the Virginians themselves saw the change  Not obvious to the people who are living at the time  People began developing immunities  Food supply getting better and more reliable, less malnutrition  Diseases contracted by being in contact with foreign peoples had ran their course  Population began to stabilize on its own » Government by assembly  Unplanned product of dispersal of population over countryside  Hints of first self-governments emerging  Decisions of Virginian company made by investors  Some of the suffering in the early years was a product of the investors making decisions based on self-interest at the expense of interests of workers on land  Owners of land who were making the most money, who were actually making a profit, were physically moving across the countryside and as time goes by it becomes clear that unless these powerful people have some kind of say in what the government is doing, it’s going to be a disaster  In the 1600s – allowed for counties and for the landlords to contribute to decision-making  Beginnings of primitive version of self-government in America  1622: after devastating assault of Indians on population, Virginia shifts from being a company governed by itself, it was decided that there would be a shift from a company to a crown government  Government became an institution where landlords could have a voice in government strategies ◊ Some sense of co-operation ◊ Stability in society B. New elites assume power » Colonists and landlords first thought that they would find power in Virginia, but this was squelched by the early disasters » Starting in the 1640s, English aristocrats return to Virginia, changing power structure » George Berkeley – first English aristocrat to be appointed governor of Virginia  Has control over land granting powers of Virginia as a whole  Berkeley, and others like him hoping to expand his fortune, could get their hands on the largest and most desirable pieces of land » These men were accustomed to
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