Virginian social classes in the period from 1650 to 1725. Virginia was not settled by strong contingents of middle class elements, as was the Bay. At first, in fact, there was a shortage of social, even of political and economic, leadership. This situation was gradually remedied. Bruce shows this in the following excerpt: 37Next Page
But from 1619 . . . down to 1700, perhaps not a period of twelve months went by that this [gentry] class did not receive additions by the arrival from England of men of equal social standing, who were in a position to acquire, by patent or purchase, estates, large or small, according to the means at their command. And these men became at once as much a part of this class from a social point of view as if they had been born in the Colony in the same walk of life . . . . It was in this century that there emigrated from England the Armisteads, Banisters, Bassets, Blands, Bollings, Bacons, Brents, Beverleys, Burwells, Byrds, Carys, Corbins, Carters, Clairbornes, Curtises, Fauntleroys, Fitzhughs, Harrisons, Lees, Lightfoots, Ludwells, Masons, Pages, Peytons, Randolphs, Robinsons, Scarboroughs, Spencers, Taylors, Thoroughgoods, Washingtons, and Wormeleys . . . .
By the time these families had acquired their estates, by patent or purchase, more of the Eastern Shore was taken up, reserved, and monopolized. Before 1700 a great dislocation of the common white population in this area was taking place. These commoners were being driven, like cattle before a fire, into the hills and across the border. In one manner or another they were nearly all caught in the dragnet of misfortune.
According to the Rent Rolls of 1704 - 1705, there were 450 families in Virginia (apart from the Northern Neck, held largely by a few families, including the Washingtons, Lees, Spencers, and Carters) with farms of more than one thousand acres; 750 families owned farms of from five hundred to one thousand acres, and 2693 owned acreages of from one hundred to five hundred. Definitely in the class of small independents were 1411 families who lived on their own small tracts of less than one hundred acres. 38
But the free population, by the turn of the century, could not possibly have been less than 20,000 families. Servants, who made up the great majority of the white immigrants, were becoming freedmen as early as 1671 at the rate of one thousand per year. 39 Out of these 20,000 families, or more, only 4854 are accounted for among the owners of land (town life had not developed greatly at this times). One is forced to conclude that thousands were depressed below the level of land ownership, in a colony of abundant land, or they had migrated to parts unknown to the land title office. They had become squatters.
White men gave way to black. "For a full half century the tobacco colonies were subjected to a double movement, the influx of African slaves, and the flight before them of poor whites." 40 Of those who remained, nearly all sank into a state of poverty and misery.
In contrast, at that time, the prosperous planter was master of all he surveyed. His great dwelling was comfortable, "its great hall hung with tapestry, its chambers provided with all kinds of furniture . . . . " 41
Of the displacement of the little man, the Beards say: "Under the system of extensive and wasteful cultivation by slave labor, the rich coastal plain was quickly occupied, forcing small farmers in search of homes to flock into the upland regions." 42 It was a similar displacement to that described by Benjamin Franklin in the memorable work said to have been the source of Malthus' inspiration to write on population. Franklin wrote: "The blacks . . . have greatly diminished the whites there; the poor are by this means deprived of employment, while a few families acquire vast estates" 43
The small independent farmer, perhaps a former servant or his descendent, after the passage of the navigation acts, "often suffered keenly for a lack of adequate clothing . . . could not protect his family from the winter's cold." 44
37. Bruce, op. cit., pp. 11 - 12.
38. Ibid., pp. 98 - 105.
39. Wertenbaker, op. cit. (28), p. 41.
40. Wertenbaker, op. cit (5), p. 305.
41. Ibid., p. 315.
42. Beard and Beard, op. cit., p. 87.
43. Benjamin Franklin, "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.," The Magazine of History, extra numbers 61 - 64, vol. XVI (Tarrytown, 1918, first printed in Boston, 1755) pp. 220 - 221.
44. Wertenbaker, op. cit. (28), p. 103.