The Cambridge History of American Literature

By William Peterfield Trent; John Erskine et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Historians, 1607-1783

IN these five moneths of my continuance here, wrote John Pory , of Virginia, in 1619, "there have come at one time or another eleven sails of ships into this river; but fraighted more with ignorance, than with any other marchansize." The writer was a Cambridge graduate, a man of good standing in England, and had crossed the Atlantic to find that Virginia was not the Virginia of his dreams. Ten years earlier all the incoming ships brought well-born adventurers to Jamestown; now they held only those who intended to produce tobacco. Henceforth the future of the colony was with those who could clear the forests, establish plantations, and withstand the agues of the mosquito-infested lowlands. The leaves of fate for Virginia were not to be thumbed in a book. They stood broad and strong over the rich bottom-lands, where the summer sun seemed to the onlooker to deck their oily surfaces with a coat of silver. In the days of the gentlemen adventurers nine men wrote about the history of the colony; in the days of the tobacco growers a century could not show as many.

The earliest Virginians were full of enthusiasm and wished to tell the coming generations how the colony of Virginia was founded. Their enterprise was popular in England, and he who wrote about it was sure of readers. The men who planted tobacco were prosaic. They were poor men become rich, or well-born men become materialistic, and it was only after many years that any of the forms of culture appeared among them. One of these forms was literature, but it was ever a plant of spindling growth.

The first historian in Virginia, the first in the British colonies,

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