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American Negro Slavery
The Tobacco Colonies
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell

The purposes of the Virginia Company of London and of the English public which gave it sanction were profit for the investors and aggrandizement for the nation, along with the reduction of pauperism at home and the conversion of the heathen abroad. For income the original promoters looked mainly toward a South Sea passage, gold mines, fisheries, Indian trade, and the production of silk, wine and naval stores. But from the first they were on the alert for unexpected opportunities to be exploited. The following of the line of least resistance led before long to the dominance of tobacco culture, then of the plantation system, and eventually of negro slavery. At the outset, however, these developments were utterly unforeseen. In short, Virginia was launched with varied hopes and vague expectations. The project was on the knees of the gods, which for a time proved a place of extreme discomfort and peril.

The first comers in the spring of 1607, numbering a bare hundred men and no women, were moved by the spirit of adventure. With a cumbrous and oppressive government over them, and with no private ownership of land nor other encouragement for steadygoing thrift, the only chance for personal gain was through a stroke of discovery. No wonder the loss of time and strength in futile excursions. No wonder the disheartening reaction in the malaria-stricken camp of Jamestown.

A second hundred men arriving early in 1608 found but forty of the first alive. The combined forces after lading the ships with "gilded dirt" and cedar logs, were left facing the battle with Indians and disease. The dirt when it reached London proved valueless, and the cedar, of course, worth little. The company that summer sent further recruits including two women and several Poles and Germans to make soap-ashes, glass and pitch--"skilled workmen from foraine parts which may teach and set ours in the way where we may set thousands a work in these such like services."[1] At the same time it instructed the captain of the ship to explore and find either a lump of gold, the South Sea passage, or some of Raleigh's lost colonists, and it sent the officials at Jamestown peremptory notice that unless the £2000 spent on the present supply be met by the proceeds of the ship's return cargo, the settlers need expect no further aid. The shrewd and redoubtable Captain John Smith, now president in the colony, opposed the vain explorings, and sent the council in London a characteristic "rude letter." The ship, said he, kept nearly all the victuals for its crew, while the settlers, "the one halfe sicke, the other little better," had as their diet "a little meale and water, and not sufficient of that." The foreign experts had been set at their assigned labors; but "it were better to give five hundred pound a tun for those grosse commodities in Denmarke than send for them hither till more necessary things be provided. For in over-toyling our weake and unskilfull bodies to satisfie this desire of present profit we can scarce ever recover ourselves from one supply to another.... As yet you must not looke for any profitable returnes."[2]
[Footnote 1: Alexander Brown, The First Republic in America (Boston, 1898), p. 68.]

[Footnote 2: Capt. John Smith, Works, Arber ed. (Birmingham, 1884), pp. 442-445. Smith's book, it should be said, is the sole source for this letter.]
This unwelcome advice while daunting all mercenary promoters gave spur to strong-hearted patriots. The prospect of profits was gone; the hope of an overseas empire survived. The London Company, with a greatly improved charter, appealed to the public through sermons, broadsides, pamphlets, and personal canvassing, with such success that subscriptions to its stock poured in from "lords, knights, gentlemen and others," including the trade guilds and the town corporations. In lieu of cash dividends the company promised that after a period of seven years, during which the settlers were to work on the company's account and any surplus earnings were to be spent on the colony or funded, a dividend in land would be issued. In this the settlers were to be embraced as if instead of emigrating each of them had invested £12 10s. in a share of stock. Several hundred recruits were sent in 1609, and many more in the following years; but from the successive governors at Jamestown came continued reports of disease, famine and prostration, and pleas ever for more men and supplies. The company, bravely keeping up its race with the death rate, met all demands as best it could.

To establish a firmer control, Sir Thomas Dale was sent out in 1611 as high marshal along with Sir Thomas Gates as governor. Both of these were men of military training, and they carried with them a set of stringent regulations quite in keeping with their personal proclivities. These rulers properly regarded their functions as more industrial than political. They for the first time distributed the colonists into a series of settlements up and down the river for farming and live-stock tending; they spurred the willing workers by assigning them three-acre private gardens; and they mercilessly coerced the laggard. They transformed the colony from a distraught camp into a group of severely disciplined farms, owned by the London Company, administered by its officials, and operated partly by its servants, partly by its tenants who paid rent in the form of labor. That is to say, Virginia was put upon a schedule of plantation routine, producing its own food supply and wanting for the beginning of prosperity only a marketable crop. This was promptly supplied through John Rolfe's experiment in 1612 in raising tobacco. The English people were then buying annually some £200,000 worth of that commodity, mainly from the Spanish West Indies, at prices which might be halved or quartered and yet pay the freight and yield substantial earnings; and so rapid was the resort to the staple in Virginia that soon the very market place in Jamestown was planted in it. The government in fact had to safeguard the food supply by forbidding anyone to plant tobacco until he had put two acres in grain.

When the Gates-Dale administration ended, the seven year period from 1609 was on the point of expiry; but the temptation of earnings from tobacco persuaded the authorities to delay the land dividend. Samuel Argall, the new governor, while continuing the stringent discipline, robbed the company for his own profit; and the news of his misdeeds reaching London in 1618 discredited the faction in the company which had supported his régime. The capture of control by the liberal element among the stockholders, led by Edwin Sandys and the Earl of Southampton, was promptly signalized by measures for converting Virginia into a commonwealth. A land distribution was provided on a generous scale, and Sir George Yeardley was dispatched as governor with instructions to call a representative assembly of the people to share in the making of laws. The land warrants were issued at the rate of a hundred acres on each share of stock and a similar amount to each colonist of the time, to be followed in either case by the grant of a second hundred acres upon proof that the first had been improved; and fifty acres additional in reward for the future importation of every laborer.

While the company continued as before to send colonists on its own account, notably craftsmen, indigent London children, and young women to become wives for the bachelor settlers, it now offered special stimulus to its members to supplement its exertions. To this end it provided that groups of its stockholders upon organizing themselves into sub-companies or partnerships might consolidate their several grants into large units called particular plantations; and it ordered that "such captaines or leaders of perticulerr plantations that shall goe there to inhabite by vertue of their graunts and plant themselves, their tenants and servants in Virginia, shall have liberty till a forme of government be here settled for them, associatinge unto them divers of the gravest and discreetes of their companies, to make orders, ordinances and constitutions for the better orderinge and dyrectinge of their servants and buisines, provided they be not repugnant to the lawes of England."[3]
[Footnote 3: Records of the Virginia Company of London, Kingsbury ed. (Washington, 1906), I, 303.]
To embrace this opportunity some fifty grants for particular plantations were taken out during the remaining life of the London Company. Among them were Southampton Hundred and Martin's Hundred, to each of which two or three hundred settlers were sent prior to 1620,[4] and Berkeley Hundred whose records alone are available. The grant for this last was issued in February, 1619, to a missionary enthusiast, George Thorpe, and his partners, whose collective holdings of London Company stock amounted to thirty-five shares. To them was given and promised land in proportion to stock and settlers, together with a bonus of 1500 acres in view of their project for converting the Indians. Their agent in residence was as usual vested with public authority over the dwellers on the domain, limited only by the control of the Virginia government in military matters and in judicial cases on appeal.[5] After delays from bad weather, the initial expedition set sail in September comprising John Woodleaf as captain and thirty-four other men of diverse trades bound to service for terms ranging from three to eight years at varying rates of compensation. Several of these were designated respectively as officers of the guard, keeper of the stores, caretaker of arms and implements, usher of the hall, and clerk of the kitchen. Supplies of provisions and equipment were carried, and instructions in detail for the building of houses, the fencing of land, the keeping of watch, and the observances of religion. Next spring the settlement, which had been planted near the mouth of the Appomattox River, was joined by Thorpe himself, and in the following autumn by William Tracy who had entered the partnership and now carried his own family together with a preacher and some forty servants. Among these were nine women and the two children of a man who had gone over the year before. As giving light upon indented servitude in the period it may be noted that many of those sent to Berkeley Hundred were described as "gentlemen," and that five of them within the first year besought their masters to send them each two indented servants for their use and at their expense. Tracy's vessel however was too small to carry all whom it was desired to send. It was in fact so crowded with plantation supplies that Tracy wrote on the eve of sailing: "I have throw out mani things of my own yet is ye midill and upper extre[m]li pestered so that ouer men will not lie like men and ye mareners hath not rome to stir God is abel in ye gretest weknes to helpe we will trust to marsi for he must help be yond hope." Fair winds appear to have carried the vessel to port, whereupon Tracy and Thorpe jointly took charge of the plantation, displacing Woodleaf whose services had given dissatisfaction. Beyond this point the records are extremely scant; but it may be gathered that the plantation was wrecked and most of its inhabitants, including Thorpe, slain in the great Indian massacre of 1622. The restoration of the enterprise was contemplated in an after year, but eventually the land was sold to other persons.
[Footnote 4: Records of the Virginia Company of London, Kingsbury ed. (Washington, 1906), I, 350.]

[Footnote 5: The records of this enterprise (the Smyth of Nibley papers) have been printed in the New York Public Library Bulletin, III, 160-171, 208-233, 248-258, 276-295.]
The fate of Berkeley Hundred was at the same time the fate of most others of the same sort; and the extinction of the London Company in 1624 ended the granting of patents on that plan. The owners of the few surviving particular plantations, furthermore, found before long that ownership by groups of absentees was poorly suited to the needs of the case, and that the exercise of public jurisdiction was of more trouble than it was worth. The particular plantation system proved accordingly but an episode, yet it furnished a transition, which otherwise might not readily have been found, from Virginia the plantation of the London Company, to Virginia the colony of private plantations and farms. When settlement expanded afresh after the Indians were driven away many private estates gradually arose to follow the industrial routine of those which had been called particular.

The private plantations were hampered in their development by dearth of capital and labor and by the extremely low prices of tobacco which began at the end of the sixteen-twenties as a consequence of overproduction. But by dint of good management and the diversification of their industry the exceptional men led the way to prosperity and the dignity which it carried. Of Captain Samuel Matthews, for example, "an old Planter of above thirty years standing," whose establishment was at Blunt Point on the lower James, it was written in 1648: "He hath a fine house and all things answerable to it; he sowes yeerly store of hempe and flax, and causes it to be spun; he keeps weavers, and hath a tan-house, causes leather to be dressed, hath eight shoemakers employed in this trade, hath forty negroe servants, brings them up to trades in his house: he yeerly sowes abundance of wheat, barley, etc. The wheat he selleth at four shillings the bushell; kills store of beeves, and sells them to victuall the ships when they come thither; hath abundance of kine, a brave dairy, swine great store, and poltery. He married the daughter of Sir Tho. Hinton, and in a word, keeps a good house, lives bravely, and a true lover of Virginia. He is worthy of much honour."[6] Many other planters were thriving more modestly, most of them giving nearly all their attention to the one crop. The tobacco output was of course increasing prodigiously. The export from Virginia in 1619 had amounted to twenty thousand pounds; that from Virginia and Maryland in 1664 aggregated fifty thousand hogsheads of about five hundred pounds each.[7]
[Footnote 6: A Perfect Description of Virginia (London, 1649), reprinted in Peter Force Tracts, vol. II.]

[Footnote 7: Bruce, Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (New York, 1896), I, 391.]
The labor problem was almost wholly that of getting and managing bondsmen. Land in the colony was virtually to be had for the taking; and in general no freemen arriving in the colony would engage for such wages as employers could afford to pay. Workers must be imported. Many in England were willing to come, and more could be persuaded or coerced, if their passage were paid and employment assured. To this end indentured servitude had already been inaugurated by the London Company as a modification of the long used system of apprenticeship. And following that plan, ship captains brought hundreds, then thousands of laborers a year and sold their indentures to the planters either directly or through dealers in such merchandize. The courts took the occasion to lessen the work of the hangman by sentencing convicts to deportation in servitude; the government rid itself of political prisoners during the civil war by the same method; and when servant prices rose the supply was further swelled by the agency of professional kidnappers.

The bondage varied as to its terms, with two years apparently the minimum. The compensation varied also from mere transportation and sustenance to a payment in advance and a stipulation for outfit in clothing, foodstuffs and diverse equipment at the end of service. The quality of redemptioners varied from the very dregs of society to well-to-do apprentice planters; but the general run was doubtless fairly representative of the English working classes. Even the convicts under the terrible laws of that century were far from all being depraved. This labor in all its grades, however, had serious drawbacks. Its first cost was fairly heavy; it was liable to an acclimating fever with a high death rate; its term generally expired not long after its adjustment and training were completed; and no sooner was its service over than it set up for itself, often in tobacco production, to compete with its former employers and depress the price of produce. If the plantation system were to be perpetuated an entirely different labor supply must be had.

"About the last of August came in a Dutch man of warre that sold us twenty negars." Thus wrote John Rolfe in a report of happenings in 1619;[8] and thus, after much antiquarian dispute, the matter seems to stand as to the first bringing of negroes to Virginia. The man-of-war, or more accurately the privateer, had taken them from a captured slaver, and it seems to have sold them to the colonial government itself, which in turn sold them to private settlers. At the beginning of 1625, when a census of the colony was made,[9] the negroes, then increased to twenty-three in a total population of 1232 of which about one-half were white servants, were distributed in seven localities along the James River. In 1630 a second captured cargo was sold in the colony, and from 1635 onward small lots were imported nearly every year.[10] Part of these came from England, part from New Netherland and most of the remainder doubtless from the West Indies. In 1649 Virginia was reckoned to have some three hundred negroes mingled with its fifteen thousand whites.[11] After two decades of a somewhat more rapid importation Governor Berkeley estimated the gross population in 1671 at forty thousand, including six thousand white servants and two thousand negro slaves.[12] Ere this there was also a small number of free negroes. But not until near the end of the century, when the English government had restricted kidnapping, when the Virginia assembly had forbidden the bringing in of convicts, and when the direct trade from Guinea had reached considerable dimensions, did the negroes begin to form the bulk of the Virginia plantation gangs.
[Footnote 8: John Smith Works, Arber ed., p. 541.]

[Footnote 9: Tabulated in the Virginia Magazine, VII, 364-367.]

[Footnote 10: Bruce, Economic History of Virginia, II, 72-77.]

[Footnote 11: A New Description of Virginia (London, 1649).]

[Footnote 12: W.W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, II, 515.]
Thus for two generations the negroes were few, they were employed alongside the white servants, and in many cases were members of their masters' households. They had by far the best opportunity which any of their race had been given in America to learn the white men's ways and to adjust the lines of their bondage into as pleasant places as might be. Their importation was, for the time, on but an experimental scale, and even their legal status was during the early decades indefinite.

The first comers were slaves in the hands of their maritime sellers; but they were not fully slaves in the hands of their Virginian buyers, for there was neither law nor custom then establishing the institution of slavery in the colony. The documents of the times point clearly to a vague tenure. In the county court records prior to 1661 the negroes are called negro servants or merely negroes--never, it appears, definitely slaves. A few were expressly described as servants for terms of years, and others were conceded property rights of a sort incompatible with the institution of slavery as elaborated in later times. Some of the blacks were in fact liberated by the courts as having served out the terms fixed either by their indentures or by the custom of the country. By the middle of the century several had become free landowners, and at least one of them owned a negro servant who went to court for his freedom but was denied it because he could not produce the indenture which he claimed to have possessed. Nevertheless as early as the sixteen-forties the holders of negroes were falling into the custom of considering them, and on occasion selling them along with the issue of the females, as servants for life and perpetuity. The fact that negroes not bound for a term were coming to be appraised as high as £30, while the most valuable white redemptioners were worth not above £15 shows also the tendency toward the crystallization of slavery before any statutory enactments declared its existence.[13]
[Footnote 13: The substance of this paragraph is drawn mainly from the illuminating discussion of J.H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia (Johns Hopkins University Studies, XXXI, no. 3, Baltimore, 1913), pp. 24-35.]
Until after the middle of the century the laws did not discriminate in any way between the races. The tax laws were an index of the situation. The act of 1649, for example, confined the poll tax to male inhabitants of all sorts above sixteen years old. But the act of 1658 added imported female negroes, along with Indian female servants; and this rating of negro women as men for tax purposes was continued thenceforward as a permanent practice. A special act of 1668, indeed, gave sharp assertion to the policy of using taxation as a token of race distinction: "Whereas some doubts have arisen whether negro women set free were still to be accompted tithable according to a former act, it is declared by this grand assembly that negro women, though permitted to enjoy their freedome yet ought not in all respects to be admitted to a full fruition of the exemptions and impunities of the English, and are still liable to the payment of taxes."[14]
[Footnote 14: W.W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, I, 361, 454; II, 267.]
As to slavery itself, the earliest laws giving it mention did not establish the institution but merely recognized it, first indirectly then directly, as in existence by force of custom. The initial act of this series, passed in 1656, promised the Indian tribes that when they sent hostages the Virginians would not "use them as slaves."[15] The next, an act of 1660, removing impediments to trade by the Dutch and other foreigners, contemplated specifically their bringing in of "negro slaves."[16] The third, in the following year, enacted that if any white servants ran away in company with "any negroes who are incapable of making satisfaction by addition of time," the white fugitives must serve for the time of the negroes' absence in addition to suffering the usual penalties on their own score.[17] A negro whose time of service could not be extended must needs have been a servant for life--in other words a slave. Then in 1662 it was enacted that "whereas some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman shall be slave or free, ... all children born in this colony shall be bond or free only according to the condition of the mother."[18] Thus within six years from the first mention of slaves in the Virginia laws, slavery was definitely recognized and established as the hereditary legal status of such negroes and mulattoes as might be held therein. Eighteen years more elapsed before a distinctive police law for slaves was enacted; but from 1680 onward the laws for their control were as definite and for the time being virtually as stringent as those which in the same period were being enacted in Barbados and Jamaica.
[Footnote 15: Ibid., I, 396.]

[Footnote 16: Ibid., 540.]

[Footnote 17: T Hening, II, 26.]

[Footnote 18: Ibid., 170.]
In the first decade or two after the London Company's end the plantation and farm clearings broke the Virginian wilderness only in a narrow line on either bank of the James River from its mouth to near the present site of Richmond, and in a small district on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake. Virtually all the settlers were then raising tobacco, all dwelt at the edge of navigable water, and all were neighbors to the Indians. As further decades passed the similar shores of the parallel rivers to the northward, the York, then the Rappahannock and the Potomac, were occupied in a similar way, though with an increasing predominance of large landholdings. This broadened the colony and gave it a shape conducive to more easy frontier defence. It also led the way to an eventual segregation of industrial pursuits, for the tidewater peninsulas were gradually occupied more or less completely by the planters; while the farmers of less estate, weaned from tobacco by its fall in price, tended to move west and south to new areas on the mainland, where they dwelt in self-sufficing democratic neighborhoods, and formed incidentally a buffer between the plantations on the seaboard and the Indians round about.

With the lapse of years the number of planters increased, partly through the division of estates, partly through the immigration of propertied Englishmen, and partly through the rise of exceptional yeomen to the planting estate. The farmers increased with still greater speed; for the planters in recruiting their gangs of indented laborers were serving constantly as immigration agents and as constantly the redemptioners upon completing their terms were becoming yeomen, marrying and multiplying. Meanwhile the expansion of Maryland was extending an identical régime of planters and farmers from the northern bank of the Potomac round the head of the Chesapeake all the way to the eastern shore settlements of Virginia.

In Maryland the personal proprietorship of Lord Baltimore and his desire to found a Catholic haven had no lasting effect upon the industrial and social development. The geographical conditions were so like those in Virginia and the adoption of her system so obviously the road to success that no other plans were long considered. Even the few variations attempted assimilated themselves more or less promptly to the régime of the older colony. The career of the manor system is typical. The introduction of that medieval régime was authorized by the charter for Maryland and was provided for in turn by the Lord Proprietor's instructions to the governor. Every grant of one thousand, later two thousand acres, was to be made a manor, with its appropriate court to settle differences between lord and tenant, to adjudge civil cases between tenants where the issues involved did not exceed the value of two pounds sterling, and to have cognizance of misdemeanors committed on the manor. The fines and other profits were to go to the manorial lord.

Many of these grants were made, and in a few instances the manorial courts duly held their sessions. For St. Clement's Manor, near the mouth of the Potomac, for example, court records between 1659 and 1672 are extant. John Ryves, steward of Thomas Gerard the proprietor, presided; Richard Foster assisted as the elected bailiff; and the classified freeholders, lease-holders, "essoines" and residents served as the "jury and homages." Characteristic findings were "that Samuell Harris broke the peace with a stick"; that John Mansell illegally entertained strangers; that land lines "are at this present unperfect and very obscure"; that a Cheptico Indian had stolen a shirt from Edward Turner's house, for which he is duly fined "if he can be knowne"; "that the lord of the mannor hath not provided a paire of stocks, pillory and ducking stoole--Ordered that these instruments of justice be provided by the next court by a general contribution throughout the manor"; that certain freeholders had failed to appear, "to do their suit at the lord's court, wherefore they are amerced each man 50l. of tobacco to the lord"; that Joshua Lee had injured "Jno. Hoskins his hoggs by setting his doggs on them and tearing their eares and other hurts, for which he is fined 100l. of tobacco and caske"; "that upon the death of Mr. Robte Sly there is a reliefe due to the lord and that Mr. Gerard Sly is his next heire, who hath sworne fealty accordingly,"[19]
[Footnote 19: John Johnson, Old Maryland Manors (Johns Hopkins University Studies, I, no, 7, Baltimore, 1883), pp. 31-38.]
St. Clement's was probably almost unique in its perseverance as a true manor; and it probably discarded its medieval machinery not long after the end of the existing record. In general, since public land was to be had virtually free in reward for immigration whether in freedom or service, most of the so-called manors doubtless procured neither leaseholders nor essoines nor any other sort of tenants, and those of them which survived as estates found their salvation in becoming private plantations with servant and slave gangs tilling their tobacco fields. In short, the Maryland manors began and ended much as the Virginia particular plantations had done before them. Maryland on the whole assumed the features of her elder sister. Her tobacco was of lower grade, partly because of her long delay in providing public inspection; her people in consequence were generally less prosperous, her plantations fewer in proportion to her farms, and her labor supply more largely of convicts and other white servants and correspondingly less of negroes. But aside from these variations in degree the developments and tendencies in the one were virtually those of the other.

Before the end of the seventeenth century William Fitzhugh of Virginia wrote that his plantations were being worked by "fine crews" of negroes, the majority of whom were natives of the colony. Mrs. Elizabeth Digges owned 108 slaves, John Carter 106, Ralph Wormeley 91, Robert Beverly 42, Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., 40, and various other proprietors proportionate numbers.[20] The conquest of the wilderness was wellnigh complete on tidewater, and the plantation system had reached its full type for the Chesapeake latitudes. Broad forest stretches divided most of the plantations from one another and often separated the several fields on the same estate; but the cause of this was not so much the paucity of population as the character of the land and the prevalent industry. The sandy expanses, and the occasional belts of clay likewise, had but a surface fertility, and the cheapness of land prevented the conservation of the soil. Hence the fields when rapidly exhausted by successive cropping in tobacco were as a rule abandoned to broomsedge and scrub timber while new and still newer grounds were cleared and cropped. Each estate therefore, if its owner expected it to last a lifetime, must comprise an area in forestry much larger than that at any one time in tillage. The great reaches of the bay and the deep tidal rivers, furthermore, afforded such multitudinous places of landing for ocean-going ships that all efforts to modify the wholly rural condition of the tobacco colonies by concentrating settlement were thwarted. It is true that Norfolk and Baltimore grew into consequence during the eighteenth century; but the one throve mainly on the trade of landlocked North Carolina, and the other on that of Pennsylvania. Not until the plantation area had spread well into the piedmont hinterland did Richmond and her sister towns near the falls on the rivers begin to focus Virginia and Maryland trade; and even they had little influence upon life on the tidewater peninsulas.
[Footnote 20: Bruce, Economic History of Virginia, II, 88.]
The third tobacco-producing colony, North Carolina, was the product of secondary colonization. Virginia's expansion happened to send some of her people across the boundary, where upon finding themselves under the jurisdiction of the Lord Proprietors of Carolina they took pains to keep that authority upon a strictly nominal basis. The first comers, about 1660, and most of those who followed, were and continued to be small farmers; but in the course of decades a considerable number of plantations arose in the fertile districts about Albemarle Sound. Nearly everywhere in the lowlands, however, the land was too barren for any distinct prosperity. The settlements were quite isolated, the communications very poor, and the social tone mostly that of the backwoods frontier. An Anglican missionary when describing his own plight there in 1711 discussed the industrial régime about him: "Men are generally of all trades and women the like within their spheres, except some who are the posterity of old planters and have great numbers of slaves who understand most handicraft. Men are generally carpenters, joiners, wheelwrights, coopers, butchers, tanners, shoemakers, tallow-chandlers, watermen and what not; women, soap-makers, starch-makers, dyers, etc. He or she that cannot do all these things, or hath not slaves that can, over and above all the common occupations of both sexes, will have but a bad time of it; for help is not to be had at any rate, every one having business enough of his own. This makes tradesmen turn planters, and these become tradesmen. No society one with another, but all study to live by their own hands, of their own produce; and what they can spare goes for foreign goods. Nay, many live on a slender diet to buy rum, sugar and molasses, with other such like necessaries, which are sold at such a rate that the planter here is but a slave to raise a provision for other colonies, and dare not allow himself to partake of his own creatures, except it be the corn of the country in hominy bread."[21] Some of the farmers and probably all the planters raised tobacco according to the methods prevalent in Virginia. Some also made tar for sale from the abounding pine timber; but with most of the families intercourse with markets must have been at an irreducible minimum.
[Footnote 21: Letter of Rev. John Urmstone, July 7, 1711, to the secretary of the Society for Propagating the Gospel, printed in F.L. Hawks, History of North Carolina (Fayetteville, N.C., 1857, 1858), II, 215, 216.]
Tobacco culture, while requiring severe exertion only at a few crises, involved a long painstaking routine because of the delicacy of the plant and the difficulty of producing leaf of good quality, whether of the original varieties, oronoko and sweet-scented, or of the many others later developed. The seed must be sown in late winter or early spring in a special bed of deep forest mold dressed with wood ashes; and the fields must be broken and laid off by shallow furrows into hills three or four feet apart by the time the seedlings were grown to a finger's length. Then came the first crisis. During or just after an April, May or June rain the young plants must be drawn carefully from their beds, distributed in the fields, and each plant set in its hill. Able-bodied, expert hands could set them at the rate of thousands a day; and every nerve must be strained for the task's completion before the ground became dry enough to endanger the seedlings' lives. Then began a steady repetition of hoeings and plowings, broken by the rush after a rain to replant the hills whose first plants had died or grown twisted. Then came also several operations of special tedium. Each plant at the time of forming its flower bud must be topped at a height to leave a specified number of leaves growing on the stalk, and each stalk must have the suckers growing at the base of the leaf-stems pulled off; and the under side of every leaf must be examined twice at least for the destruction of the horn-worms. These came each year in two successive armies or "gluts," the one when the plants were half grown, the other when they were nearly ready for harvest. When the crop began to turn yellow the stalks must be cut off close to the ground, and after wilting carried to a well ventilated tobacco house and there hung speedily for curing. Each stalk must hang at a proper distance from its neighbor, attached to laths laid in tiers on the joists. There the crop must stay for some months, with the windows open in dry weather and closed in wet. Finally came the striking, sorting and prizing in weather moist enough to make the leaves pliable. Part of the gang would lower the stalks to the floor, where the rest working in trios would strip them, the first stripper taking the culls, the second the bright leaves, the third the remaining ones of dull color. Each would bind his takings into "hands" of about a quarter of a pound each and throw them into assorted piles. In the packing or "prizing" a barefoot man inside the hogshead would lay the bundles in courses, tramping them cautiously but heavily. Then a second hogshead, without a bottom, would be set atop the first and likewise filled, and then perhaps a third, when the whole stack would be put under blocks and levers compressing the contents into the one hogshead at the bottom, which when headed up was ready for market. Oftentimes a crop was not cured enough for prizing until the next crop had been planted. Meanwhile the spare time of the gang was employed in clearing new fields, tending the subsidiary crops, mending fences, and performing many other incidental tasks. With some exaggeration an essayist wrote, "The whole circle of the year is one scene of bustle and toil, in which tobacco claims a constant and chief share."[22]
[Footnote 22: C.W. Gooch, "Prize Essay on Agriculture in Virginia," in the Lynchburg Virginian, July 14, 1833. More detailed is W.W. Bowie, "Prize Essay on the Cultivation and Management of Tobacco," in the U.S. Patent Office Report, 1849-1850, pp. 318-324. E.R. Billings, Tobacco (Hartford, 1875) is a good general treatise.]
The general scale of slaveholdings in the tobacco districts cannot be determined prior to the close of the American Revolution; but the statistics then available may be taken as fairly representative for the eighteenth century at large. A state census taken in certain Virginia counties in 1782-1783[23] permits the following analysis for eight of them selected for their large proportions of slaves. These counties, Amelia, Hanover, Lancaster, Middlesex, New Kent, Richmond, Surry and Warwick, are scattered through the Tidewater and the lower Piedmont. For each one of their citizens, fifteen altogether, who held upwards of one hundred slaves, there were approximately three who had from 50 to 99; seven with from 30 to 49; thirteen with from 20 to 29; forty with from 10 to 19; forty with from 5 to 9; seventy with from 1 to 4; and sixty who had none. In the three chief plantation counties of Maryland, viz. Ann Arundel, Charles, and Prince George, the ratios among the slaveholdings of the several scales, according to the United States census of 1790, were almost identical with those just noted in the selected Virginia counties, but the non-slaveholders were nearly twice as numerous in proportion. In all these Virginia and Maryland counties the average holding ranged between 8.5 and 13 slaves. In the other districts in both commonwealths, where the plantation system was not so dominant, the average slaveholding was smaller, of course, and the non-slaveholders more abounding.
[Footnote 23: Printed in lieu of the missing returns of the first U.S. census, in Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States: Virginia (Washington, 1908).]
The largest slaveholding in Maryland returned in the census of 1790 was that of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, comprising 316 slaves. Among the largest reported in Virginia in 1782-1783 were those of John Tabb, Amelia County, 257; William Allen, Sussex County, 241; George Chewning, 224, and Thomas Nelson, 208, in Hanover County; Wilson N. Gary, Fluvanna County, 200; and George Washington, Fairfax County, 188. Since the great planters occasionally owned several scattered plantations it may be that the censuses reported some of the slaves under the names of the overseers rather than under those of the owners; but that such instances were probably few is indicated by the fact that the holdings of Chewning and Nelson above noted were each listed by the census takers in several parcels, with the names of owners and overseers both given.

The great properties were usually divided, even where the lands lay in single tracts, into several plantations for more convenient operation, each under a separate overseer or in some cases under a slave foreman. If the working squads of even the major proprietors were of but moderate scale, those in the multitude of minor holdings were of course lesser still. On the whole, indeed, slave industry was organized in smaller units by far than most writers, whether of romance or history, would have us believe.


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