As Virginians nourished an increasing contempt for blacks and Indians, they began to raise the status of lower-class whites. The two movements were complementary. The status of poor whites rose not merely in relation to blacks but also in relation to their white superiors. Virginia had always been advertised as a place where the poor would be redeemed from poverty. And during the I630s, I640s, and I650s it may actually have served that purpose, though more met death than success. With the decline in mortality and rise in population the numbers of poor freemen grew too large, and the scruff and scum of England became the rabble of Virginia. But as Indians and Africans began to man the large plantations and the annual increment of freedmen fell off, the economic prospects of the paleface poor began to improve.
This is not to say that poverty disappeared from white Virginia with the introduction of slavery. A class of homeless men continued to drift about the colony, cheating the tax collectors and worrying the authorities. They crop up from time to time in petitions against them from the proper people of different counties. Accomack, which had complained earlier, joined with Lancaster and Gloucester in I699 to request "that a law may be made to punish Vagrant Vagabond and Idle Persons and to assess the Wages of Common Labourers." 1 In 1710 Henrico County proposed a workhouse for them. 2 But the assembly apparently did not consider the problem worth acting on____________________