THE society Virginians established during the first fifty years of the colony's existence had been geared to function in the face of heavy mortality. One of its features was the annual arrival of new workers to replenish the dying labor force. The decline of mortality and the increase in population did not stop the flow of immigrants. Until the last two decades of the century the annual arrivals were probably not much under 1,000 a year and in some years much more. New workers were still necessary, because Virginia's increase in population did not solve the labor problem of the planters. When servants became free, they preferred to work for themselves even though that might mean going into partnership for a term with one or more other freedmen. And they had been able to set up for themselves because of the cheap public land that was another feature of Virginia society.
Before the middle of the century, while the heavy death rate continued, the men who survived their terms of servitude and managed to set up households of their own were too few in number to offer serious competition to their former masters or to invite systematic exploitation. As they began to live longer, however, as more became free each year, their very numbers posed a problem for the men who had brought them. If the ex-servants continued as freemen to make tobacco, though they would automatically contribute to the fees and duties levied on the trade, they would be competing with their former masters. By adding to the volume of the crop, they would help to depress the price. If they did not make tobacco but lapsed into an idle, perhaps dissolute life such as many had led in England, they would corrupt the labor force and con