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Liberty, Slavery, and Tyranny (Part 1)


WE LEFT the colony at Jamestown emerging from thick darkness and much tribulation toward the light. Some distance was still to be traversed before full light and easement were attained; but fortune, upon the whole, was kinder to Virginia than to most of the other settlements; and though clouds gathered darkly now and then, and storms threatened, and here and there a bolt fell, yet deliverance came beyond expectation. Something Virginia suffered from royal governors, something from the Indians, something too from the imprudence and wrong-headedness of her own people. But her story is full of stirring and instructive passages. It tells how a community chiefly of aristocratic constitution and sympathies, whose loyalty to the English throne was deep and ardent, and whose type of life was patrician, nevertheless were won insensibly and inevitably to espouse the principles of democracy. It shows how, with honest men, a king may be loved, and the system which he stands for reverenced and defended, while yet the lovers and apologists choose and maintain a wholly different system for themselves. The House of Stuart had none but friends in Virginia; when the son of Charles the First was a fugitive, Virginia offered him. a home; and the follies and frailties of his father, and the grotesque chicaneries of his grandfather, could not alienate the colonists' affection. Yet, from the moment their Great Charter was given them, they never ceased to defend the liberties which it bestowed against every kingly effort to curtail or destroy them; and on at least one occasion they fairly usurped the royal prerogative. They presented, in short, the striking anomaly of a people acknowledging a monarch and at the same time claiming the fullest measure of political liberty till then enjoyed by any community in modern history. They themselves perceived no inconsistency in their attitude; but to us it is patent, and its meaning is that the sentiment of a tradition may be cherished and survive long after intelligence and experience have caused the thing itself to be consigned to the rubbish heap of the past.

So long as Sir Thomas Smythe occupied the president's chair of the London Company, there could be no hope of substantial prosperity for the Jamestown emigrants. He was a selfish and conceited satrap, incapable of enlightened thought or beneficent action, who knew no other way to magnify his own importance than by suffocating the rights and insulting the selfrespect of others. He had a protege in Argall, a disorderly ruffian who was made Deputy Governor of the colony in 1617. His administration was that of a freebooter; but the feeble and dwindling colony had neither power nor spirit to do more than send a complaint to London. Lord Delaware had in the meantime sailed for Virginia, but died on the trip; Argall was, however, dismissed, and Sir George Yeardley substituted for him -a man of gracious manners and generous nature, but somewhat lacking in the force and firmness that should build up a state. He had behind him the best men in the company if not in all England: Sir Edward Sandys, the Earl of Southampton, and Nicolas Ferrar. Smythe had had resignation forced upon him, and with him the evil influences in the management retired to the background. Sandys was triumphantly elected Governor and Treasurer, with Ferrar as corporation counsel; Southampton was a powerful supporter. They were all young men, all royalists, and all unselfishly devoted to the cause of human liberty and welfare. Virginia never had better or more urgent friends.

Yeardley, on his arrival, found distress and discouragement, and hardly one man remaining in the place of twenty. The colonists had been robbed both by process of law and without; they had been killed and had died of disease; they had deserted and been deported; they had been denied lands of their own, or the benefit of their own labor; and they had been permitted no part in the management of their own affairs. The rumor of these injuries and disabilities had got abroad, and no recruits for the colony had been obtainable; the Indians were ill-disposed, and the houses poor and few. Women too were lamentably scanty, and the people had no root in the country, and no thought but to leave it. Like the emigrants to the Klondike gold fields in our own day they had designed only to better their fortunes and then depart. The former hope was gone; the latter was all that was left.

Yeardley's business in the premises was agreeable and congenial; he had a letter from the company providing for the abatement of past evils and abuses, and the establishment of justice, security, and happiness. He sent messengers far and wide, summoning a general meeting to hear his news and confer together for the common weal.

Hardly venturing to believe that any good thing could be in store for them, the burgesses and others assembled, and crowded into the .place of meeting. Twenty-two delegates from the eleven plantations were there, clad in their dingy and dilapidated raiment, and wide-brimmed hats; most of them with swords at their sides, and some with rusty muskets in their hands. Their cheeks were lank and their faces sunburned; their bearing was listless, yet marked with some touch of curiosity and expectation. There were among them some well-filled brows and strong features, announcing men of ability and thoughtfulness, though they had lacked the opportunity and the cue for action. Their long days on the plantations, and their uneasy nights in the summer heats, had given them abundant leisure to think over their grievances and misfortunes, and to dream of possible reforms and innovations. But of what profit was it? Their governors had no thought but to fill their own pockets, the council was powerless or treacherous, and everything was slipping away.

It was in the depths of summer-the 30th of July, 1619. More than a year was yet to pass before the Mayflower would enter the wintry shelter of Plymouth harbor. In the latitude of Jamestown the temperature was almost tropical at this season, and exhausting to body and spirit. The room in which they met, in the Governor's house in Jamestown, was hardly spacious enough for their accommodation: four unadorned walls, with a ceiling that could be touched by an upraised hand. It had none of the aspect of a hall of legislature, much less of one in which was to take place an event so large and memorable as the birth of liberty in a new world. But the delegates thronged in, and were greeted at their entrance by Yeardley, who stood at a table near the upper end of the room, with a secretary beside him and a clergyman of the Church of England on his other hand. The colonists looked at his urbane and conciliating countenance, and glanced at the document he held in his hand, and wondered what -would be the issue. Nothing of moment, doubtless; still, they could scarcely be much worse off, than they were; and the new Governor certainly had the air of having something important to communicate. They took their places, leaning against the walls, or standing with their hands clasped over the muzzles of their muskets, or supporting one foot upon a bench; and the gaze of all was concentrated on the Governor. As he opened the' paper, a silence fell upon the Assembly.

Such, we may imagine, were the surroundings and circumstances of this famous gathering, the transactions of which fill so bright a page in the annals of the early colonies. The Governor asked the clergyman for a blessing, and when the prayer was done suggested the choosing of a chairman, or speaker. The choice- fell upon John Pory, a member of the former council. Then the Governor read his letter from the company in London.

The letter, in few words, opened the door to every reform which could make the colony free, prosperous and happy, and declared all past wrongs at an end. It merely outlined the scope of the improvements, leaving it to the colonists themselves to fill in the details. "Those cruel laws were abrogated, and they were to b( governed by those free laws under which his Majesty's subjects in England lived." An annual grand assembly consisting of the governor and council and two burgesses from each plantation, chosen by the people, was to be held; and at these assemblies they were to frame whatever laws they deemed proper for their welfare These concessions were of the more value and effect because they were advocated in England by men who had only the good of the colony at heart, and possesses power to enforce their will.

It seemed almost too good to be true: it was like the sun rising after the long arctic night. Those sad face; flushed, and the moody eyes kindled. The burgesses straightened their backs and lifted their heads; they looked at one another, and felt that they were once more men. There was a murmur of joy and congratulationlation; and thanks were uttered to God, and to the company, for what had been done. And forthwith the, set to work with life and energy, and with a judgment and foresight which were hardly to have been looked for in legislators so untried, to construct the platform of enactments upon which the commonwealth of Virginia was henceforth to stand.

From the body of the delegates two committees were selected to devise the new laws and provisions, whip the Governor and the rest reviewed the laws already ii existence, to determine what part of them, if any, was suitable for continuance. Among the articles agree( upon were regulations relating to distribution and tenure of land, which replaced all former patents and privileges, and set all holders on an equal footing: the recognition of the Church of England as governing the mode of worship in Virginia, with a good salary for clergymen and an injunction that all and sundry were to appear at church every Sunday, and bring their weapons with them-thus insuring heaven a fair hearing, while at the same time making provision against the insecurity of carnal things. The wives of the planters as well as their husbands were capacitatedtiown land, because, in a new world, a woman might turn out to be as efficient as the man. This sounds almost prophetic; but it was probably intended to operate on the cultivation of the silkworm. Plantations of the mulberry had been ordered, and culture of the cocoon was an industry fitting to the gentler sex, who were the more likely to succeed in it on account of their known partiality for the product. On the other hand, excess in apparel was kept within bounds by a tax. The printing of vines was also ordered; but as a matter of fact the manufacture of neither wine nor silk was destined to succeed in the colony; tobacco and cotton were to be its staples, but the latter had not at this epoch been attempted. Order and propriety among the colonists were assured by penalties on gaming, drunkenness, and sloth; and the better to guard against the proverbial wiles of Satan, a university was sketched out, and direction was given that such children of the heathen as showed indications of latent talent should be caught, tamed, and instructed, and employed as missionaries among their tribes. Finally a fixed price of three shillings for the best quality of tobacco and eighteen pence for inferior brands was appointed; thus giving the colony a currency which had the double merit of being a sound medium for traffic, and an agreeable consolation and incense when the labors of the day were past.

It was a good day's work; and the Assembly dissolved with the conviction that their time had never before been passed to such advantage. Yeardley, knowing the disposition of the managers in London, opposed no objection to the immediate practical enforcement of the new enactments; and indeed Sandys, when he had an opportunity of examining the digest, expressed the opinion that it bad been "well and judiciously formed." The colonists, for their part, dismissed all anxieties and shadows from their minds, and fell to putting in crops and putting up dwellings as men will who have a stake in their country, and feel that they can live in it. Their confidence was not misplaced: within a year from this time the number of the colonists had been more than doubled, and all troubles seemed at an end.

So long, however, as James I disgraced the throne of England popular liberties could never be quite sure of immunity; and during the five or six years that he still had to live, he did his best to disturb the felicity of his Virginian subjects. He was unable to do anything very serious, and what he did do was in contravention of law. He got Sandys out of the presidency; but Southampton was immediately put in his place; he tried to get away the patent which he himself had issued, and finally did so; but the colony kept its laws and its freedom, though the Throne thenceforward appointed the governors. He put a heavy tax on tobacco, which he professed to regard as an invention of the enemy; and lie countenanced an attempt by Lord Warwick, in be half of Argall, to continue martial law in the colony instead of allowing trial by jury; but in this he was defeated. He sent out two commissioners to Virginia to discover pretexts for harassing it, and took the matte out of the hands of Parliament; but the Virginian. maintained themselves until death stepped in and put a final stop to his Majesty's industry, and Charles 7 came to the throne.

The climate of Virginia does not predispose to exertion; yet farming involves hard physical work; and beyond anything else, the wealth of Virginia was derived from farming. Manufactures had not come ii view, and were discouraged or forbidden by English decree. But, as we saw in the early days of James town, the settlers there were unusued to work, and averse from it; although, under the stimulus of Captain John Smith, they did learn how to chop down trees. After the colony became popular, and populous the emigrants continued to be in a large measure of social class to whom manual labor is unattractive. A country in which laborers are indispensable, and whicl is inhabited by persons disinclined to labor, would seen to-stand no good chance of achieving prosperity. How then, is the early prosperity of Virginia to be explained? The charter did not make men work.

It was due to the employment of slave labor. Slave. in the Seventeenth Century were easily acquired, and were of several varieties. At one time there were more white slaves than black. White captives were often sold into slavery; and there was also a regular trade in indentured slaves, or servants, sent from England. These were to work out their freedom by a certain number of years of labor for their purchaser. Convicts from the prisons were also utilized as slaves. In the same year that the Virginia charter bestowed political freedom upon the colonists, a Dutch ship landed a batch of slaves from the Guinea coast, where the Dutch had a footing. Their were strong fellows, and the ardor of the climate suited them better than that of the regions farther north. Negroes soon came to be in demand therefore; they did not die in captivity as the Indians were apt to do, and a regular trade in them was presently established. A negro fetched in the market more than twice as much as either a red or a white man, and repaid the investment. There was no general sentiment against traffic in human beings, and it was not settled that negroes were human exactly. Slavery at all events had been the normal condition of Guinea negroes from the earliest times, and they undoubtedly were worse treated by their African than by their European and American owners. They were born slaves, or at least in slavery. There had of course been enlightened humanitarians as far back as the Greek and. Roman eras, who had opined that the principle of slavery was wrong; and such men were talking still; but ordinary people regarded their deliverances as being in the nature of a counsel of perfection, which was not intended to be observed in practice. There are fashions in humanitarianism as in other matters, and multitudes who denounced slavery in the first half of this Nineteenth Century, were in no respect better practical moralists than were the Virginians two hundred years before. But the time had to come, in the course of human events, when negro slavery was to cease in America; and those whose business interests, or sentimental prejudices, were opposed to it, added the chorus of their disapproval to the inscrutable movements of a Power above all prejudices. Negro slavery, as an overt institution, is no more in these States; but he would be a bold or a blind man who should maintain that slavery, both black and white, has no existence among us to-day. Meanwhile the Seventeenth Century planters of Virginia bought and sold their human chattels with an untroubled conscience; and the latter, comprehending even less of the ethics of the question than their masters did, were reasonably happy. They were not aware that human nature was being insulted and degraded in their persons: they were transported by no moral indignation. When they were flogged, they suffered, but when their bodies stopped smarting, no pain rankled in their minds. They were treated like animals, and became like them. They had no anxieties; they looked neither forward nor backward; their physical necessities were provided for. White slavery gradually disappeared, but the feeling prevailed that slavery was what negroes were intended for. The planters, after a few generations, came to feel a sort of affection for their bondsmen who had been born on the estates and handed down from father to son. Self-interest, as well as natural kindliness, rendered deliberate cruelties rare. The negroes, on the other hand, often loved their masters, and would grieve to leave them. The evils of slavery were not on the surface, but were subtle, latent, and far more malignant than was even recently realized. The Abolitionists thought the trouble was over when the Proclamation of Emancipation was signed. "We can put on our coats and go home now," said Garrison; and Wendell Phillips said: "I know of no man to-day who can fold his arms and look forward to his future with more confidence than the negro." We shall have occasion to investigate the intelligence of these forecasts by and by. But there is something striking in the fact that that country which claims to be the freest and most highly civilized in the world should be the last to give up "the peculiar institution." How can devotion to liberty coexist in the mind with advocacy of servitude? This, too, is a subject to which we must revert hereafter. At the period we are now treating there were more white than black slaves, and the princely estates of later times had not been thought of. Indeed, in spite of their marriage to liberty, the colonists did not yet feel truly at home. Marriage of a more concrete kind was needed for that.

This defect was understood in England, and the company took means to remedy it. A number of desirable and blameless young women were enlisted to go out to the colony and console the bachelors there. The plan was discreetly carried out; the acquisition of the young ladies was not made too easy, so that neither was their self-respect wounded nor were the bachelors allowed to feel that beauty and virtue in female form were commonplace commodities. The romance and difficulty of the situation were fairly well preserved. There stood the possible bride; but she was available only with her own consent and. approval; and before entering the matrimonial estate, the bridegroom elect must pay all charges-so many pounds of tobacco. And how many pounds of tobacco was a good wife worth? From one point of view, more than was ever grown in Virginia; but the sentimental aspect of the transaction had to be left. out of. consideration, or the enterprise would have come to an untimely conclusion. From one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds of the weed was the average commercial figure; it paid expenses and gave the agents .a commission; for the rest, the profit was all the colonist's. Many a happy home was founded in this way, and, so far as we know, there were no divorces and no scandals. But it must not be forgotten that, although tobacco was paid for the wife, there was still enough left to fill a. quiet pipe by the conjugal fireside. They were the first Christian firesides where this soothing goddess had presided: no wonder they were peaceful!

Charles I was a young man, with a large responsibility on his shoulders; and two leading convictions in his mind. The first was that he ought to be the absolute head of the nation; Parliament might take counsel with him, but should not control him when it came to action. The same notion had prevailed with James I, and was to be the immediate occasion of the downfall of James II; as for Charles II, his long experience of hollow-oak trees, and secret chambers in the houses of loyalists, had taught him the limitations of the kingly prerogative before he began his reign; and the severed head of his father clinched the lesson. But the Stuarts, as a family, were disinclined to believe that the way to inherit the earth was by meekness, and none of them believed it so little as the first Charles.

The second conviction be entertained was that he must have revenues, and that they should be large and promptly paid. His whole pathetic career-tragic seems too strong a word for it, though it ended in death-was a mingled story of nobility, falsehood, gallantry, and treachery, conditioned by his blind pursuit of these two objects, money and power.

Upon general principles, then, it was to be expected that Charles would be the enemy of Virginian liberties. But it happened that money was his more pressing need at the time his attention first was turned on the colony; he saw that revenues were to be gained from them; he knew that the chanter recently given to. them had immensely increased their productiveness; and as to his prerogative, he had not as yet felt the resistance which his Parliament had in store for him, and was therefore not jealous of the political privileges of a remote settlement-one, too, which seemed to be in the hands of loyal gentlemen. "Their liberties harm me not," was his thought, "and they appear to be favorable to the success of the tobacco crop; the tobacco monopoly can put money in my purse; therefore let the liberties remain. Should these planters ever presume to go too far, it will always be in my power to stop them." Thus it came about that tobacco, after procuring the Virginians loving wives, was also the means of securing the favor of their King. But they, naturally, ascribed the sunshine of his smile to some innate merit in themselves, and their gratitude made them his enthusiastic supporters as long as he lived. They mourned his death, and opened their arms to all royalist refugees from the power of Cromwell. When Cromwell sent over a man-of-war, however, they accepted the situation. Virginia had by that time grown to so considerable an importance that they could adopt a somewhat conservative attitude toward the affairs even of the mother country.

The ten years following Charles's accession were a period of peace and growth in the colony; of great increase in population and in production, and of a steady ripening of political liberties. But the conditions under which this development went on were different from those which existed in New England and in New York. The Puritans were actuated by religious ideals, the Dutch by commercial projects chiefly; but the Virginia planters were neither religious enthusiasts nor tradesmen. Their tendency was not to huddle together in towns and close communities, but to spread out over the broad and fertile miles of their new country, and live each in a little principality of his own, with his slaves and dependents around him. They modeled their lives upon those of the landed gentry in England; and when their crops were gathered, they did not go down to the wharfs and haggle over their disposal, but handed them over to agents, who took all trouble off their hands, and after deducting commissions and charges made over to them the net profits. This left the planters leisure to apply themselves to liberal pursuits; they maintained a dignified and generous hospitality, and studied the art of government. A race of gallant gentlemen grew up, well educated, and consciously superior to the rest of the population, who had very limited educational facilities, and but little of that spirit of equality and independence which characterized the northern colonies. Towns and cities came slowly; the plantation system was more natural and agreeable under the circumstances. Orthodoxy in religion was the rule; and though at first there was a tendency to eschew narrowness and bigotry, yet gradually the church became hostile to dissenters, and Puritans and Quakers were as unwelcome in Virginia as were the latter in Massachusetts, or Episcopalians anywhere in New England. All this seems incompatible with democracy; and probably it might in time have grown into a liberal monarchical system. The slave, were not regarded as having any rights, political, ox personal; their masters exercised over them the power of life and death, as well as all lesser powers. The bulk of the white population was not oppressed, and was able to get a living, for Virginia was "the best poor man's country in the world"; there was little or none of the discontent that embarrassed the New Amsterdam Patroons; the charter gave them representation, and their manhood was not undermined. Had Virginia been an island, or otherwise isolated, and free from any external interference, we can imagine that the planters might at last have found it expedient to choose a king from among their number, who would have found a nobility and a proletariat ready made.

But Virginia was not isolated. She was loyal to the 'Stuarts because they did not bring to bear upon her the severities which they inflicted upon their English subjects; but when she became a royal colony, and had to put up with corrupt and despotic favorites of the monarch, who could do what they pleased and were responsible to nobody but the monarch who had made them governor, loyalty began to cool. Moreover, men whose ability and advanced opinions made them distasteful to the English kings, fled to the colonies, and to Virginia among the rest, and sowed the seeds of revolt. Calamity makes strange bedfellows: the planters liked outside oppression as little as did the common people, and could not but make common cause with them. The distance between the two was diminished. Social equality there could hardly be; but political and theoretic equality could be acknowledged. The English monarchy made the American republic; spurred its indolence, and united its parts. Man left to himself is lax and indifferent; from first to last it is the pressure of wrong that molds him into the form of right. George I gave the victory to the Americans in the Revolution as much as Washington did. And before George's time the colonies had been keyed up to the struggle by years of injustice and outrage. And this injustice and outrage seemed the more intolerable because they had been preceded by a period of comparative liberality. It needs powerful pressure to transform English gentlemen with loyalist traditions and sympathies into a democracy; but it can be done, and the English kings were the men to do it.

Until the period of unequivocal tyranny arrived, the chief shadow upon the colony was cast by its relations with the Indians. Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas, and chief over tribes whose domains extended over thousands of square miles, kept friendship with the whites till his death in 1.618. His brother, Opechankano, professed to inherit the friendship along with the chieftainship; but the relations between the red men and the colonists had never been too cordial, and the latter, measuring their muskets and breastplates against the stone arrows and deerskin shirts of the savages, fell into the error of despising them. The Indians, for their part, stood in some awe of firearms, which they had never held in their own hands, and the penalty for selling which to them had been made capital years before. But they had their own methods of dealing with foes; and since neither side had ever formally come to blows, they had received no object lesson to warn them to keep hands off. Opechankano was intelligent and farseeing; he perceived that the whites were increasing in numbers, and that if they were not checked betimes they would finally overrun the country. But he did not see so far as his brother, who had known that the final domination of the English could not be prevented, and had therefore adopted the policy of conciliating them as the best. Opechankano, therefore, quietly planned the extermination of the settlers; the familiar terms on which the white and red men stood played into his hands. Indians were in the habit of visiting the white settlements and mingling with the people. Orders for concerted action were secretly circulated among the savages, who were to hold themselves ready for the signal.

It might, after all, never have been given but for an unlooked for incident. A noisy and troublesome Indian, who imagined that bullets could not kill him, fell into a quarrel with a settler and slew him, and was himself shot while attempting to escape from arrest "Sooner shall the heavens fall," devoutly exclaims Opechankano when informed of this mishap, "than will break the peace of Powhatan." But the Waitir tribes knew that the time had come.

On the morning of March 22, 1622, the settlers arose as usual to the labors of the day; some of them to (their hoes and spades and went out into the field; others busied themselves about their houses. Number of Indians were about, but this excited no remark or suspicion; they were not formidable; a dog con' frighten them; a child could hold them in check. Indians strolled into the cabins and sat at the breakfast tables. No one gave them a second thought. No one looked over his shoulder when an Indian pass behind him.

But miles up the country from Jamestown lived settler who kept an Indian boy, whom he instructes and who made himself useful about the place; and all the Indians in Virginia that day he was the on one whose heart relented. His brother had lain with him the night before, and had given him the word: he was to kill the settler and his family the next morning. The boy seemed to assent, and the other went 4 his way. The boy lay till dawn, his savage min divided between fear of the great chief and compssion for the white man who had been kind to him al taught him. In the early morning he arose and stood beside his benefactor's bed. The man slept: one blow and he would be dead. But the boy did not strik he wakened him and told him of the horror that was about to befall.

Continue to Chapter 5 Part 2