WE have observed that in Virginia was first established a permanent English colony in our country, when, in 1619, Governor Yeardley organized representative government there, and so laid the foundations of a commonwealth. The tribe of gold-seekers had disappeared forever; but the unwholesome influences of a tribe of felons from the prisons of England, which the king had ordered to be sent to Virginia-a hundred in number-was yet felt in the scandal it had brought upon the colony, and in their demoralizing example. Captain Smith declared that they gave Virginia such a bad reputation, "that some did choose to be hanged ere they would go thither, and were."
Another element was introduced into Virginia society in 1619, which had a powerful influence over the destinies, not only of that colony, but of the nation of which it afterward formed a part. Just at sunset, on a hot evening in August, a Dutch trading vessel arrived from the coast of Guinea with a strange cargo of living creatures for sale. They were black men and women who had been stolen from their homes on that coast and destined for slaves. The planters had heard of the capacity of Africans for enduring labor in warm regions, and they purchased twenty of them-fourteen men and six women. They found them to be good workers and very docile. Others were imported; and so was begun the system of negro slavery in our country-a stain which was washed out with blood almost two centuries and a half afterwards, when the servile race numbered about four million.
At about the same time another element was introduced into Virginia society, which exerted a most healthful and beneficent influence over the colony. The wise Sir Edwin Sandys, who had lately been appointed treasurer of the London Company, had, for the purpose of effecting a reform, entered upon a thorough and fearless investigation of the abuses which had attended the colonization of Virginia, and retarded its progress. It was then twelve years since the first emigrants landed at Jamestown. A large amount of money had been spent in sending persons to people the region, and yet there were only about six hundred Europeans there when Sandys entered upon his duties. He pursued his purpose with zeal, and very soon he purged Virginia of its bad name. His reputation for candor and other virtues were so well known, that within the space of one year he persuaded more than twelve hundred emigrants to go to the James River. He had patriotic colleagues in the Board, and they effected a wonderful change in the fortunes of the colony.
The English settlers, more delicate in their tastes and habits than the French and Portuguese, would not marry the Indian women, and very few English women had ventured to cross the Atlantic. Therefore the planters of Virginia had not the comforts and sacred connections of married life. Few of them expected to remain in the colony. Most of them looked for a return to England when they should acquire a competency. They were unsettled, and unfitted for patient industry. The sagacious Sandys clearly perceived their needs and the remedy. He proposed to send over to Virginia one hundred virtuous and attractive young English women from the middle class in society, to become wives for the planters, the cost of the transportation of each to be paid by the husband who should choose her.
The scheme involved a half-social, half-commercial speculation. It was tried and succeeded. Ninety young women of the class named were induced to go to Virginia early in 1620. When they arrived at Jamestown, they were landed from the ship in small boats. The shore was covered by young planters who came to see the disembarkation of the novel and precious cargo. Led by the rector of the parish, these maidens walked in procession to the church, where thanksgivings were offered to their Maker for their preservation from the perils of the sea. The church was crowded; and within the space of a few days, every maiden was wooed and won by the young planters. "Love at first sight" was the rule. Several nuptials occurred in the church at the same time. According to cotemporary witnesses, the seeming indelicacy of the transaction was qualified by the true affection which prevailed among the married couples, most of them being happily mated. The young matrons sent word home for other maidens to come, and sixty more, "young and handsome," arrived at Jamestown the next year. Others followed.
The price of a wife was at first fixed at one hundred and twenty pounds of tobacco, then the currency of the colony. The money value was about ninety dollars. It finally arose to one hundred and fifty dollars. A debt incurred for a wife was regarded as a "confidential" one. It took precedence of all others. To encourage wedding, the Company gave preference to married men in conferring employments. The salutary effects of the scheme and of this policy were soon visible in the colony. HOMES-fire-sides-family altars-the purest and strongest elements in the foundations of a virtuous and prosperous state, were established. Domestic ties so created, promoted personal virtue and habits of thrift. Men no longer talked of returning to England, but called Virginia their home. Emigration rapidly swelled the population, and before the close of 1621, fifty patents had been granted for land, and there were three thousand five hundred inhabitants of European blood in Virginia. Settlements had been already made so remote from the capital as the Falls of the James River, where Richmond now stands. Below there, at what is known as Dutch Gap (so called because Germans were employed to cut a new channel for the river across a narrow isthmus there), a town had been founded which was named Henricopolis, and there a church had been built and a grammar-school established for the education of Indian children. When the school was endowed with money and thousands of acres of land, the dignified title of The University of Henrico was given to it. The church, the college and the town have long ago crumbled into ruins, which no longer attract the eye of the curious or the scrutiny of the antiquary.
The blessings of marriage created the necessity for making provision for the education of children. English Bishops and other philanthropists collected money for the purpose. The colonists bore a share of the burden. Other schools beside that of Henrico were established in which Indian children were also taught. Finally, in the reign of William and Mary, more than seventy years after the emigration of the maidens, a college was established at Williamsburg, the new capital of Virginia, which still flourishes, and yet bears the names of those sovereigns.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I