The poor whites are a people who neglect their shelter, their animals, their health, and their mental development because they have never experienced good housing, good husbandry, or good management. Children grew up in droves without enough land or work to go around; they became steeled to misery; they incoherently excuse themselves by complaining of hard luck.Next Page
Such is a rapid glimpse at a class of families to whom middle class habits and aristocratic manners were and still are foreign. Most of them descend from those driven from the Eastern Shore.
The middle class. There were very few middle class elements among the immigrants to Virginia, but even though few in number, they made their mark upon the life of the colony. If anyone was to do so, they had to, because it was too much to expect that the poor whites would be able to get enough of a foothold to be able to make it good. This is explained in the following excerpt: 60
Yet it must not be forgotten that any immigration of poor freemen, however small, would have a very marked influence upon the formation of the small farmer class. Of the host of servants a certain proportion only, a proportion probably less than fifty percent, could hope even in the most favorable times to become freeholders. If they surveyed the hardships and dangers of the service with their masters, it still remained for them to acquire property and win for themselves a place in the life of the colony. And to accomplish this they must display determination, intelligence, industry and thrift, qualities by no means universal among the classes in England from which the servants were chiefly drawn. But for the free immigrant there need be no period of probation. He might at once purchase his farm, erect his home, secure all necessary tools and put out his crop of tobacco. And whereas the servant usually found it possible to maintain a family only after many years of hard work, perhaps not at all, the free settler often married before leaving England and brought his wife and children with him.
The absence of town life, of course, reduced the number of middle class elements attracted to Virginia, and the power of the slave-owning aristocrats prevented and even decreased the chance of a yeoman class's becoming strong in Virginia. The full explanation of the absence of middle class elements in the later colonial decades is to be found in the small number which arrived; for, although conditions were not favorable to the development of such a class out of the elements arriving, these conditions were not such as could have stopped the drive, power, and wit of the Pilgrims, for instance, or the middle class Scotch-Irish who later proved their metal on the rugged frontier under more adverse conditions.
Above, mention was made of the fact that none of the servants became the founder of any of the FFV's. Almost the same may now be stated with regard to the yeomen. Bruce says: 61
The term "yeoman" appears with little frequency in the early land patents . . . . There were only about 15 persons so designated in the early land patents; these were . . . . None of these names, with the exception of Sibsey became prominent in the social history of the Colony.
Little reference is made in the history of the Virginia Colony even to the existence of a middle class, so effectively did the aristocrats steal the show and the poor whites and blacks fill in the background. As to the existence of a middle class in the detailed biographies in Appendix III than could be deduced from the unusual historical accounts of that period.
The aristocrats of Virginia. Not only did the aristocrats of the Colony of Virginia steal the show; they stole the very land itself, as is shown in the following account: 62
Amid these acts of deception and fraud one deed is conspicuous. Col. Philip Ludwell had brought into the colony forty immigrants and according to a law . . . this entitled him to a grant of two thousand acres of land. After securing the patent, he changed the record with his own hand by adding a cipher each to the forty and two thousand, making them four hundred and twenty thousand respectively . . . so great was his influence that the matter was ignored and his rights were not disputed.
Alexander Spotwood was guilty of a theft even greater than that of Ludwell . . . .
The commonness of fraud of this kind among the Virginia planters of the earlier period does not necessarily stamp them as being conspicuously dishonest. They were subjected to great and unusual temptations.
60. Wertenbaker, op. cit. (28), p. 82.
61. Bruce, op. cit., pp. 120 - 121.
62. Wertenbaker, op. cit. (24), pp. 97 - 99.