Of Time and Nature: A Study of Persistent Values in Colonial Virginia
WHILE READING THE major writers of colonial Virginia -- John Smith, Robert Beverley, William Byrd, and Thomas Jefferson -- I was struck by similarities in the structure of their ideas. Despite changes that had occurred in the colony, each man asked his audience essentially the same question. Why had Virginians -- men and women blessed with such a marvelous environment -- not made better progress in creating a proper society? This query forced Virginians to review their own past, and what they saw disturbed them greatly. People had abused nature, taken its bounty for granted. It was clearly time for a new start. With different values, Virginians could in a very short time correct their mistakes. The message seldom varied, the same diagnosis, the same prescription, all of which suggested that the founders' value system persisted much longer than Early American historians have thought.
If one were to ask where to start a history of colonial Virginia, the answer would appear self-evident: begin at the beginning. In the case of Virginia, however, such common-sense advice provides little assistance, since it begs the question: which beginning? And to this query, there are numerous plausible responses. People have argued that the colony's de-