American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia

By Edmund S. Morgan | Go to book overview

8
LIVING
WITH DEATH

THE most obvious difference between Virginia and England was the abundance of land and the absence of people. The native population which might have made the two countries radically different was small to begin with and became rapidly smaller under the onslaught of European diseases and weapons. Once the English pushed the remnants out of the way, they had several million acres of fertile tidewater lands available for a mere handful of settlers. The relative abundance of land and the shortage of people would shape Virginian—and American—history for centuries to come. But during the colony's first half century the shortage of people was different in kind from any experienced in Americans' later absorption of the continent. It was not just that the colony was new. It was not just a matter of time, needed to build up the stream of immigrants. It was a matter of death. The rich lands of the tidewater were empty not simply for lack of immigrants but because the men who did come to settle on them died so fast. We have seen that after 1625 the colony grew rapidly. But the growth was achieved in the face of a continuing death rate of appalling proportions.

It is well known that before 1624 Virginia was a death trap for most of those who went there. One reason why the king dissolved the Virginia Company was that it seemed to have sent so many men to their deaths without taking adequate measures to feed and shelter them. It is well known, too, that summer in Virginia was a dangerous time for new arrivals. This was "seasoning" time, and those who survived it were said to be "seasoned" and thus immune to the dangers of future summers. 1 What is not generally known is that either

____________________
1
David Peter de Vries, in New-York Historical Society, Collections, 2nd ser., III (1857), 75; Neill, Virginia Carolorum, 109.

-158-

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American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • American Slavery American Freedom - The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Book I - The Promised Land *
  • 1 - Dreams of Liberation 3
  • 2 - The Lost Colony 25
  • 3 - Idle Indian and Lazy Englishman 44
  • 4 - The Jamestown Fiasco 71
  • 5 - The Persistent Vision 92
  • 6 - Boom 108
  • Book II - A New Deal *
  • 7 - Settling Down 133
  • 8 - Living with Death 158
  • 9 - The Trouble with Tobacco 180
  • 10 - A Golden Fleecing 196
  • Book III - The Volatile Society *
  • 11 - The Losers 215
  • 12 - Discontent 235
  • 13 - Rebellion 250
  • 14 - Status Quo 271
  • Book IV - Slavery and Freedom *
  • 15 - Toward Slavery 295
  • 16 - Toward Racism 316
  • 17 - Toward Populism 338
  • 18 - Toward the Republic 363
  • Footnote Abbreviations 389
  • Appendix - Population Growth in Seventeenth-Century Virginia 395
  • A Note on the Sources 433
  • Index 443
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