The History and Present State of Virginia

The History and Present State of Virginia

The History and Present State of Virginia

The History and Present State of Virginia


While in London in 1705, Robert Beverley wrote and published The History and Present State of Virginia, one of the earliest printed English-language histories about North America by an author born there. Like his brother-in-law William Byrd II, Beverley was a scion of Virginia's planter elite, personally ambitious and at odds with royal governors in the colony. As a native-born American--most famously claiming "I am an Indian--he provided English readers with the first thoroughgoing account of the province's past, natural history, Indians, and current politics and society. In this new edition, Susan Scott Parrish situates Beverley and his History in the context of the metropolitan-provincial political and cultural issues of his day and explores the many contradictions embedded in his narrative.

Parrish's introduction and the accompanying annotation, along with a fresh transcription of the 1705 publication and a more comprehensive comparison of emendations in the 1722 edition, will open Beverley's History to new, twenty-first-century readings by students of transatlantic history, colonialism, natural science, literature, and ethnohistory.


Susan Scott Parrish

When Robert Beverley penned his History and Present State of Virginia and had it printed in London in 1705, he was not addressing an audience of fellow colonials. Rather, he was writing to a London audience whom he believed to be badly misinformed on the topic of Virginia. the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had legitimated a suspicion of absolutist executive authority and established a language of legislative rights, “public good and contract.” in strategic moments of his History, Beverley employs a republican rhetoric that emerged from and was pitched for this English postrevolutionary mentality. Beverley meant to enlist his English readers in his own outraged sense that the very absolutism that Englishmen had sent packing off to France in 1688 was alive and well in colonial Virginia. He wanted his audience to know that the central administration of Britain’s territorial empire, tightened in stages by Oliver Cromwell, Charles ii, and still more by William iii, was making English liberties one thing at home and quite another in Virginia. If English absolutism had been vanquished at home, an insidious British rule of Englishmen abroad seemed to Beverley to present a hydra-headed new appearance. Although Beverley intended to write a London exposé of this process, he simultaneously obscured the development of a new racial absolutism particular to colonial settings that was then crystallizing in Virginia. He ignored the role and place of Africans in what had become a slave society and typically substituted a picture of Indian life a hundred years old for contemporary reality.

To perceive his own experience of the world and the reasons he constructed his History the way he did, one must place Beverley within an imperial transatlantic geography rather than a protonationalist American one. To this end, it is most Germane to see Beverley as a colonial member of a generation of British authors who were all working on variants of the same issue: How do we discern and tell the truth about our newly expanded British world? Bundled within this question were a host of others: How does Englishness change when expanded across the Atlantic? How does it change on the colonial frontier as well as in London?

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