What I Learned From A 1910 History Book About The Virginia Colony

When it comes to vintage books, Goodwill is my go-to source. I recently purchased a handful of early 20th century books and will be posting excerpts, from time to time, from them.

Today’s excerpts are from a 1910 textbook and its interpretation of the Virginia Colony.

My primary interest in the Virginia Colony is genealogical — the Claywells lived in the Colony and most likely passed through Jamestown in the 1650s. But my other interest is a better understanding of my country’s inception. (Two great books on this subject are Albion’s Seed and American Nations)

As this 1910 high school textbook, used by the board of education in Beavercreek Township, Ohio points out, most of the residents of the Virginia Colony were not living in the ‘land of the free.’

Here are excerpts from the book.

The Leading Facts of American History by D.H. Montgomery:

Under the topic heading: Government of the Virginia Colonies

“Many additional instructions were given, among them were four which required:

  1. That the colonists should establish the Church of England as the only form of worship.
  2. That for five years no land should be granted to any settler, but all were to deposit the products of their labor in the Company’s warehouses, from which they would receive necessary supplies of provisions and clothing.
  3. The colonists were expected to carefully explore all the rivers near them to see if they could find a short and easy way by which vessels might get to the Pacific Ocean.
  4. The colonists were ordered to take pickaxes with them to dig for precious metals.”

Under the topic heading: Conditions of the Colony

At home (England) many of them (colonists) had the power to vote and to take part in making the laws by which they were governed; in the Virginia forests they could do neither…. Next, they owned no land, and the work of their hands did not belong to them. In this last respect they were worse off than the poorest day laborer they had left behind.

Under the topic heading: White Apprentices or Servants.

This subject is of interest to me since Peter Clavell, my direct lineage, was an indentured servant. In 1619, black slaves were introduced to the Virginia Colony, but along side the slaves were white servants, like Peter. Servants like Peter enjoyed considerably more freedom than slaves, and were able to ‘purchase’ their freedom through work (usually seven years). Who were these indentured servants? According to the textbook:

“These apprentices came from different classes:

  1. Some of them were enterprising young men who wanted to get a start in America, but, having no money to pay their passage, bound themselves to work for the London Company, provided they could bring them over.
  2. Some were poor children, picked up in the streets of London and sent over to Virginia to get homes.
  3. Others were young men who were kidnapped at night by gangs of scoundrels who shipped them off as ‘servants’ to America.
  4. At a later day, when wars and insurrections broke out in England, many prisoners taken in battle were sent over here and sold to planters.
  5. Finally, the King sent some convicts to Virginia. Again, England judges opened the jails from time to time and sent over batches of criminals, some of who had done nothing worse, perhaps, than steal a loaf of bread to keep from starving.”
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