While the small independent farmer was shrinking and the freed servants were withdrawing into the hills to eke out a living, "the wealthier Virginians showed throughout the colonial period a passion for land that frequently led them into the grossest and most unjustifiable fraud." 63 By 1700 land could be had for five shillings per hundred acres, but "there were also irregular practices which enabled influential men to secure land on even easier terms." 64Next Page
Who were these aristocrats? Did they grow up with the country, "develop almost entirely within the colony?" Of did they bring their status with them? Greene leans toward the explanation that the gentry of England and the Cavaliers contributed most of the upper classes in Virginia. He says: 65
After the opening of the English Civil War, Virginia grew more rapidly; for the disappointed Cavaliers began to take refuge across the sea . . . . By 1652, there were perhaps 20,000 people in the province.
This pioneer population was drawn from various classes. From the first there had been a fair proportion of the gentry and this element was strengthened by the coming of the Cavaliers; but there were also traders and a considerable number of workingmen. The latter were usually indentured servants . . . .
Mary Johnston similarly emphasizes the Cavalier influence; she states: 66
Men, women, and children came until to a considerable degree the tone of society rang Cavalier . . . . Now Washingtons appear, with Randolphs, Carys, Skipwiths, Brodnaxes, Tylers, Masons, Madisons, Monroes, and many more. These persons are not without means; they bring with them servants; they are in high favor with Governor and Council; they acquire large tracts of virgin land . . . From being English country gentlemen they turn easily to become Virginia planter.
The aristocracy of Virginia was also descended from the merchants of England, many of whom, according to the rule of "extra" sons, were related to the gentry and even to the nobility, as has been explained above. Wertenbaker 67 traces this connection. But it fell to Bruce to trace down the status of many of the leading Virginia families and to determine the extent to which persons of considerable social rank came to the colony. The following abstract is taken from his thorough study of the social life of Virginia in the seventeenth century: 68
One half of the first voyage and thirty-three out of a company of 120 in the first supply ship were gentlemen. Three-fourths of those who signed the Virginia charter of 1612 were included in the circle of the English gentry. Twenty-five were peers of the realm. Gentlemen continued to come steadily after Smith's departure. Eleven gentlemen came on the Ann and the Bonny Bess in 1624. The following settlers were connected by close ties of blood or marriage with members of the English baronetage: the Wests, Pawletts, Percies, Spelmans, Whitakers, Thorpes, Throckmortons, Dales, Berkeleys, Willoughbys, Fleets, Wyatts, Stracheys, Davisons, Rolfes, Thompsons, Allingtons. The following persons were of or closely related to the nobility or were in very high positions when they migrated to the Old Dominion: Sir John Zouch, Walter Aston, Thomas Booth, William Clairborne, Adam Thoroughgood, Samuel Mathews, Henry Finch, Captain John West, Sir John Harvey, Joseph Noy, Henry Woodhouse, Major Richard Moryson, Lord Cutt, Christopher Calthorpe, George Reade, Richard Kemp, etc., etc. The following families belonged to the squirearchy: the Yeos, Broadhursts, Peachies, Parkes, Evelys, Gibbons [great grandfather of the historian], Corbins, Pages, Beverleys, Harrison, Gookins, Carters, Ashtons, Burwells, the Smiths. Descendants of persons of distinguished profession, who, in most cases trace back to the landed gentry, included: the Fitzhughs, Douthats, Lightfoots, Lomaxes, Mallories, Montagues, Juxons, Sheldons, Singletons, Newmans, and Boltons. All of these persons were of importance in the colony. Royal officers who came to Virginia between 1649 and 1660 were: General Hammond, Colonels Molesworth, Bridger, and Norwood, and Majors Stevens, Brodnax, and Fox. Other Cavaliers are listed as: the Langstons, Bishops, Culpeppers, Harrisons, Sir Thomas Lunsfords, Randolphs, Masons, Washingtons, Honeywoods, Skipwiths, Fowkes, Berkeleys.
There was a close relationship between English merchants and the gentry and nobility. Fourth sons of gentlemen might serve apprenticeships in London. They did not cause thereby to be members of the country gentry. There was no disposition to shut out from genteel gentry those persons belonging to these trade corporations. The Byrds' forebear was a banker; the Blands sprang from a skinner's gild; the Ludwells were mercers. The Fitzhughs traced their ancestry back to both a malster and to the Barony of Ravensworth; the Griffiths and Stanfords were London merchants. Several families were descended from Lord Mayors of London.
Ballagh notes "a greater development of the aristocratic sentiment from the influx of a considerable number of gentlemen just after the civil war in England . . . . " 69
The stories of poor lads who rose to prominence in Virginia, as if they were without social class backgrounds, always need investigating. Patrick Henry, for instance, was cousin to Lord Brougham 70 and to Dolly Madison as well.
One must conclude that there was much social class rigidity in the social classes of Virginia and that the aristocratic families did not emerge from low status to high social rank. These families, however, proved better the theory of America as the land of opportunity than did the poor families, described above. They proved, beyond doubt, that for those who had a head start there were abundant resources available.
63. Ibid., p. 36.
64. Evarts Boutell Greene, The Foundations of American Nationality (New York, 1922) pp. 319 - 320.
65. Ibid., p. 62.
66. Mary Johnston, Pioneers of the South (New Haven, 1918) p. 150.
67. Wertenbaker, op. cit. (24), pp. 24ff.
68. Adapted from Bruce, op. cit. (30), pp. 27 - 29, 31, 32, 35 - 38, 61 - 76, 78, 79, 81 - 97.
69. Ballagh, op. cit., p. 74.
70. Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, Colonial Days and Dames (Philadelphia, 1895) p. 138.