Meanwhile, back in Virginia, Americans (native) were being cleared off their own lands to make space for the newly-emerging Grandees!
Who the fuck were they? Members of a new aristocracy post-1630, most often younger sons of English gentry with loads of dosh & networks. They came to replace what they called “ancient planters”, to position themselves as the engines of Virginian economy.
These became the roots of a “new aristocracy” of the mid-1600s. Big planters such as Presidents Lee, Maddison & Washington (the first ones) were concentrated along the necks of land between the four rivers of Tidewater. This meant that tens of thousands of acres suddenly became personal fiefdoms. Each was a self-sufficient colony with a wharf, tobacco warehouse, forge and villages of dormitories & dwellings. The centrepieces were planter’s mansions aka. Big House, for example Bacon’s Castle – see the featured image above. Long-time governor of Virginia William Berkeley (served from 1642-52 & 1660-76) was the archetype of this new breed of planters.
Because of these Grandees, tobacco production exploded exponentially. In the 1620s production was about 400lb per slave; by the 1690s this had gone up to 1900lb per slave! Don’t be fooled into thinking this was due to better equipment or anything benign like that, ’cause in the 1660s there were 700 slaves & 150 ploughs between them. So where did this increase in productivity come from?
The Governor’s Council was the topmost body in Tidewater. Its members had shitloads of privileges, like tax exemption and gold braid on their clothes. General Robert Lee (Confederate leader in American civil war, descendant of grandee Richard Lee) was encouraged to try out his luck in America. He was brought over by the abovementioned Berkeley, who then claimed a 50-acre headright on him. During the English civil war Lee went on a mission to Europe and returned with provisions and 38 men & women he’d managed to indenture himself! On arrival he claimed a 1900-acre headright on himself, and became a magistrate, burgess, Governor’s Council member, colonel of the militia AND Secretary of State!!!
Many future generations claim he was singularly generous, giving away lots of his land. Check his will (p.196 of the book) to see how true that was.
But ignore him. The most powerful and successful dynasty in Tidewater was run by a Colonel John Carter. He arrived in 1649, took some land on the Potomac & Rappahannock peninsulas, became a colonel of the militia & Governor’s Council member, made a plantation in Corotoman, landed 80 slaves AND claimed headright for an extra 4000 acres!!!
Not to mention he punished slaves harshly. One killed 3 hogs and was made to serve an extra 6 years, another ran away for 22 days and was made to serve an extra 15 months!
Then his son Robert came along and dominated all over again; he got 300,000 acres!!! Cruelty seemed to run in the Carters’ blood, as did retaining slaves past their indenture period. His servant Mary Harrison had to beg him to see her children again. The book (p.197) shows her pretty pathetic sounding letter she wrote to him.
However, slaves didn’t like it. In March 1662 planters’ reputations got so bad* the House of Burgesses actually decided to do something. They ordered masters to give good clothes, housing & food (and ‘reasonable’ corrections when necessary) to slaves, and slaves were allowed to complain!!!
* see pp.198-99 for 2 scandals
Of course abuse continued regardless. And the slaves were getting ready to do something about it…
Back to Part 12
On to Part 14