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Title: Agriculture in Virginia, 1607-1699
Author: Carrier, Lyman, 1877-1963
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Agriculture in Virginia, 1607-1699" ***

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Agriculture in Virginia, 1607-1699



Professor of Agriculture, Ferrum Junior College



  Jamestown 350th Anniversary
  Historical Booklet Number 14

Agriculture in Virginia, 1607-1699

Various events in the latter years of the sixteenth century did much
to shape the future destiny of the English nation. With the
destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, England rose from a minor
position in world affairs to one of major importance. One of the
first changes was reflected in her attitude towards trade and
commerce. England was no longer penned up on her "tight little isle,"
and her ships could sail the high seas in comparative safety.
Expansion of her foreign trade seemed the only answer to her
ambitions, but foreign trade required a two way transfer of products.
In order to sell goods, it was necessary to buy in exchange. World
commerce had already become well stabilized among friendly nations
making it difficult for outside businessmen to share in these
established commitments. So England was soon to direct her attentions
toward America.

It was with eyes focused on future trade that the businessmen who
composed the London Company contributed the huge sums that were
required to finance the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia.
Agriculture was not of prime importance. At that time England was
self-sufficient so far as the production of grains and livestock was
concerned. Ordinary farm products would not pay the cost of
transportation across the ocean. Of course, it was expected that the
colonists would eventually produce their own food stuffs; however,
until that stage of development occurred it was expected that the
London Company would supply the needs of the colony direct from

The men of the first expedition were not farmers and took little
interest in farming. A good many came, hoping to share in riches,
that their imagination had created. Fantastic tales about the
Americas had been circulated in Europe during the century following
their discovery. The most authentic of these foreign travel journals
had been translated into English and published around the turn of the
sixteenth century. Reports also of rich prizes, laden with gold,
captured on the Spanish Main by English privateers, had inflamed the
English mind. If the Spaniards could find such vast treasures in
America, why should not the English do the same?

Then too, as the first colony of Virginia lay between 34 and 41
degrees north-latitude, the same approximately as Italy and Spain, it
was expected that the much desired warm weather products enjoyed by
the Mediterranean people, such as oranges, lemons, sugar, and spices
could be produced equally as well in America. Jamestown eventually
contributed great financial benefits to the Mother Country from
agricultural accomplishments. These benefits could not in 1607 be
visualized. To understand the vicissitudes which beset the colonists
in the early years of the settlement, one should be familiar with the
agricultural practices of both the Old World and the New, for it was
by combining the farming wisdom of both sides of the Atlantic into a
new agriculture, that the colony became firmly established.


European agriculture reached a high degree of efficiency two thousand
years ago in the scrub-forest region around the Mediterranean Sea. To
the Greeks that part of the world alone was considered fit for
habitation by human beings. Farming by the Romans was regarded as a
highly respectable and honorable occupation. Some of their most
learned scholars wrote books on husbandry. The Romans have given us
by far the most complete and satisfactory accounts of their
agriculture of any ancient people. During the "Revival of Learning,"
these old masterpieces were rediscovered, constituting the principal
agricultural literature of Europe, prior to the eighteenth century.
Most of the early English books on husbandry were mere translations
of the Roman books on that subject, with a few original observations


The northern or colder parts of Europe were many centuries behind the
Mediterranean nations in agricultural achievement. At the time of the
discovery of America, England and most of the nations of Europe were
controlled by the feudal system. The arable land was owned in large
estates or manors by feudal barons, the actual labor on the farms
being performed by serfs. These farm laborers belonged to the land
and were exchanged with it when there was a change in ownership of
the real estate. Farming was looked upon as necessary to existence,
but not as a business enterprise. Since trade and transportation in
farm products were extremely limited, consumption took place near the
fields of production. It was more economical for a baron to move his
family and retinue of servants to different parts of his domain than
it was to transport the food stuffs to one central habitation. The
possibility of serfs becoming land owners was too remote for


Farming practices in England before the eighteenth century were
largely adaptations from other European countries. The Romans, about
the beginning of the Christian era, took their husbandry to the
British Isles. The Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century, brought in from
the mainland their farm practices. Likewise the Normans in the
eleventh century brought over their methods of tillage. Owing to the
close proximity to France, Flanders and Holland, agricultural
innovations in those countries were not long in gaining attention and
trial by the British farmers. The long hours of sunlight during short
summers, with the opposite conditions prevailing in the winters, have
influenced the development of plant species in all northern
latitudes. Such seasonal conditions have also made necessary a
distinct type of farming. Many crops of the Mediterranean region do
not survive in north European countries. People in the colder regions
also require a different diet than do those living in the warmer
climates. By the seventeenth century an agriculture adapted to
northern Europe had come into general practice. The implements used
in farm work were, by modern standards, very crude and were
customarily made by the local smith. A few hoes and mattocks,
scythes, reaping hooks, spades and wooden plows with iron points and
shares complete the list. The entire supply of tools for an average
sized farm could have been hauled in one load on one of their
two-wheeled carts.


The chief grains of northern Europe were wheat, rye, oats, barley,
and buckwheat. The common grasses, clover and turnips, were raised
for forage. It should be noted that all of these crops were
broad-cast seeded, none required row planting or intertillage.

A few American products had been brought to England prior to the
settlement at Jamestown. They apparently came by the way of Asia.
Maize was first called Turkey wheat. The great American bird was
named Turkey. Thomas Tusser in 1573 in his "Five Hundred Pointes of
Good Husbandrie" enumerates the meats suitable for a Christmas dinner
with the following verse:

    "Beef, mutton and pork.
    Shred pies of the best
    Pig, veal, goose and capon
    And Turkey well drest."

No earlier mention of anything strictly American in English
literature has come to light.


Let us turn now and take a look at the farming accomplishments of the
American Indians. The oft repeated statement that the Indians lived
mainly by hunting and fishing so far as it pertains to the Virginia
tribes is far from the truth.

The bitter struggles between the white men and the Indians during
the colonial period created animosities and prejudices which have
overshadowed the beneficial contributions the red men have made to
civilization. As plant breeders, the American Indians rank with the
most skillful of the world. Take for instance, maize or Indian corn.
There is nothing closely comparable to it known to botanists. It has
been domesticated so long that its wild prototype is unknown. Maize,
now, could not exist anywhere in the world without the aid of man.
The Indians had all the varieties that are now known, such as dent,
flint, sweet, early, late, pop, and other special sorts which are no
longer grown. They had developed varieties that matured all the way
from the tropics to the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

The Indians also practiced a mixed culture such as corn, beans, and
squashes all in the same hill; they had created a large number of
varieties of beans (_Phaseolus genus_): the white, red, black, and
spotted sorts now so commonly grown, and many others.


The Indians were able to clear fields, of several hundred acres in
extent, without the aid of metal tools, using fire as their chief
agent. Trees, too large to be cut with their stone hatchets, were
killed either by building a fire at the base or by girdling the bark.
The trees in dying furnished fire wood for domestic use. Planting
began among the dead trees wherever enough loose dirt could be
scraped together to make a hill for seeding. In the course of time
the fields became entirely free from forest growth. These fields were
cropped in most cases until their fertility was exhausted and then
abandoned. If there was no more available fertile land in the
vicinity, the tribe moved to a new location. The early white settlers
on the Atlantic Coast found many of these abandoned clearings.
Because of their unproductiveness they were called "poisoned fields."

The Indians had only the crudest sorts of farming tools. Near the
coast, sea shells were the most efficient implements they possessed.
The fresh-water clam-shells came next in usefulness. Where these
natural scrapers were not available, pointed sticks, and pieces of
flat rock served the purpose. One writer describing the Illinois
Indians' method of farming says:

     This tillage consists in breaking up just the surface of the
     earth with a sort of wooden instrument, like a little pickaxe,
     which they make by splitting the end of a thick piece of wood,
     that serves for a handle, and putting another piece of wood,
     sharp pointed at one end into the slit. This instrument serves
     them instead of a hoe or spade, for they have no iron tools.


Attention has been called to the fact that all of the field crops of
Great Britain, at the time of the English settlements in America,
were broad-cast seeded. The Indians had developed a far different
cultural treatment for their crops. In their most common method, that
of hill planting, the soil in the intervening spaces was not broken.
The hills, two to four feet apart, were from 12 to 20 or more inches
in diameter. The soil in these hills was all that was stirred or
loosened. All weeds, both in the hills and the intervals between
them, were kept cut or pulled out. Four to six grains of maize and
two or three beans were seeded in each hill, separately spaced.
Squashes and pumpkins were sometimes seeded with the corn and beans.
This mixed seeding is a unique feature of American agriculture.

The Indians were fortunate in not having to contend with many of the
weeds, insects and plant-diseases which now plague farmers and
gardeners. Practically all of these pests, some of quite recent date,
are of Old World origin and have been introduced by white men, into

Birds and small animals gave the Indians more concern than all their
other pests combined. It was customary to build in their gardens
small watch-houses in which the young folks took turns in staying to
scare away crows and other troublesome birds.

The same hills were used year after year and became in time quite
sizable mounds, remains of which have persisted, in some localities,
until modern times. In the southwestern parts of Michigan, the early
settlers found large tracts of ridged land, evidently relics of
Indian agriculture. It is now thought that these areas were corn
fields in which the seeding was made in continuous rows instead of
hills. A French artist in Florida in 1564 pictured the Indians
seeding their crops in rows.

After a few years of failure in their attempts to grow American
crops, the English colonists adopted the Indian method of seeding,
but usually neglected the weeding, and were subjected to ridicule for
their shiftlessness by the painstaking squaws. In using work-animals
for cultivating corn, it was found advantageous to destroy the weeds
by stirring the ground in the intervening spaces.


On the 26th day of April, 1607, three small ships carrying 105
colonists passed between Cape Charles and Cape Henry into Chesapeake
Bay for the purpose of founding a colony in the land called Virginia.
The voyagers took seventeen days to investigate the advantages and
disadvantages of that region for such an undertaking.

First consideration for selecting the site was its possibilities for
defense against a foreign foe, especially the Spaniards, in Florida
and the West Indies. This was no idle fear. Spain and England had for
many years been in conflict. Moreover, Spain claimed all of the
Americas by the right of discovery.

The second most important thing for consideration was adequate harbor
facilities. In both of these particulars, the site selected about
thirty miles up the James River left little to be desired. The
Jamestown peninsula jutted out into the river far enough to give an
unobstructed view for several miles. The character of the land on
either side of the river would have made difficult any attempt at an
overland attack.

The James was sufficiently deep to take care of any ocean going
vessels of that time. The heavily forested surroundings furnished
protection from violent storms. The channel ran near the shore. Ships
could be moored by cables to trees on the land.

From the standpoint of raising food stuffs, the colonists could
hardly have picked a more unfavorable situation. The peninsula was
connected with the shore to the north by a narrow neck of land
"thirty yards over." As this narrow strip of land was usually flooded
during times of high water, the peninsula was for most purposes an
island by which designation it is generally known.

There were about eight hundred and fifty acres of heavily timbered
forest lands on the island and about eight hundred acres of marsh
covered with coarse reedy grasses but there was no cleared land ready
for seeding.

Clearing forest lands even with modern tools and equipment is a slow
laborious process. Cutting down the trees is only a beginning. The
stumps with their interlocking root systems have to be removed. It
takes many years for hardwood stumps to rot to a condition that they
may be easily destroyed. Although the trees on Jamestown Island were
large, they could be cut, and those with straight grained boles rived
into clapboards, or the logs rolled into piles and burned for their
ashes, a product that was in demand in England for use in the
manufacture of soap.

The soil on the Island may not have been very fertile. The fact that
the Indians had never cleared any of the land indicates they did not
consider it of the best quality.


Captain Newport assigned a third of the settlers, or about
thirty-five men, to husbandry. Nothing came from their labors. At one
of their first attempts to plant corn, probably English grain, they
were assaulted by a few venturesome Indians which so discouraged the
settlers, that they made no further efforts to provide crops for food
that season. One of the colonists complained about the difficulties
of preparing land for corn. Another mentions that some made gardens.
The growing season was too far spent when they finally settled at
Jamestown to allow for clearing land for spring-seeded grains.

By mid-summer their food supply was becoming seriously depleted.
Fortunately the Indians remained friendly. Captain John Smith informs
us that in July:

     It pleased God to move the Indians to bring us corn ere it was
     halfe ripe to refresh us and in September they "brought us great
     store both of corne and bread ready made."

They had four acres of ground prepared the following year which they
seeded to "corn" (wheat, barley or peas). No details are given except
that nothing came from their efforts. Two growing seasons had passed
and not a bushel of grain had been produced for their sustenance.


Greater success came from their attempts to raise animals than
attended their efforts to grow crops. A few animals were brought in.
Reverend W. Simmonds states that: "three sowes in eighteene moneths,
increased sixty and odd piggs. And neere 500 chickens brought up
themselves without having any meat given them."

More livestock was evidently brought in the two supplies which
arrived in 1608 as it was reported, at the time Smith left the colony
in the fall of 1609, that they had "six mares and a horse; five or
sixe hundred swine; as many hennes and chickens; some goats some
sheepe." Captain John Smith during his two years with the colony was
remarkably successful in obtaining from the Indians several hundred
bushels of corn and beans in exchange for English manufactured goods.
The fertile bottom lands of the rivers north of the James yielded
bountiful harvests for the Indians as they have since for Virginians.
Glass beads and tinkling bells intrigued the natives. The white man's
clothing was also a source of wonderment. It was Smith's contention
that the white laborers should devote their time to getting out
clapboards, pitch and soap-ashes to ship to England and depend on the
Indians to keep the colony supplied with food. Smith was not a
farmer. He little realized that the Indians' desire for trinkets
would soon be satisfied. Then, too, public opinion in England,
aroused by the Las Casas exposures of Spanish cruelties in the West
Indies would not sanction forced enslavement of the natives. With the
departure of Smith, in October, 1609, the lucrative Indian trade came
to an end. No other member of the colony had the courage, for
sometime, to visit the tribes along the York and Rappahannock rivers
for the exchange of products.


The first experienced English farmer to come to the colony was
William Spence, who arrived on the _Phoenix_, April 20, 1608. He was
variously described as a laborer, gentleman, and ensign. Ralph Hamor
certified to his character as "an honest, valiant, and industrious
man." Spence survived the ordeals of the early years and was a member
of the first House of Burgesses, in 1619. He probably lost his life
in the Indian massacre of 1622. Five persons, names not given, were
killed at that time on the Spence farm. Alexander Brown states that
Ensign Spence is reported lost in 1623 but he may have been living in

It appears from this meager evidence that William Spence lived on his
farm outside of the fortified area. If such were the case, he may
have set a precedent that has had a pronounced influence on the
development of this country. It was the belief of the authorities in
the London Company that the colonists would all live in small
communities for mutual protection and perform their tillage
operations, if any, outside the settlement. These communities,
sometimes under the name of "particular plantations" and sometimes
"hundreds" were necessary in the early days. But from the beginning
there were a few independent plantations, or farms, like that of
William Spence. Mention has been made of the impossibility of a farm
laborer in the Old Country ever attaining land ownership. But, here
in America with its boundless acres, that great boon seemed within
their reach. When allotments of land were finally made to individuals
it was found advantageous for the owner to live on his farm, rather
than to operate it from a remote village. Freedom, independence, and
the importance of the individual, which are characteristics of the
American farmers, came into existence.

The common storehouse for provisions, tried at first in Jamestown,
created friction and illwill and in a few years was abandoned. The
members of the Council were accused of favoritism and self indulgence
in using the food and other products in the storehouse. To have and
to hold a parcel of land and to enjoy the fruits of one's own labors
has been a compelling force in changing a wilderness into a mighty
nation. That force had its inception in the infant colony at


The two years of failure to produce crops was convincing evidence
that English methods of farming were not suited to Virginia
conditions. The colonists were ready to try something else. They
turned to the Indians to learn the secret of their successful farming

A fortunate event occurred in the early spring of 1609. Two young
Indians, by the names of Kemps and Tussore were taken prisoners in
retaliation for the depredations of other Indians. At the time of
their arrest they were described as "the two most exact villaines in
the countrie, that would have betrayed both their king and kindred
for a piece of copper." That this statement was not deserved was
proven later. These two young Indians liked the Englishmen and the
English way of living. It is also stated that while they were
fettered prisoners they "did double taske and taught us how to order
and plant our fields."

Food scarcity became in 1609 a serious problem. The eagerly looked
for supply ships from England did not come. To relieve the tension
"Many were billetted among the salvages, whereby we knewe all their
passages, fields and habitations; how to gather and use their fruits
as well as themselves."

Kemps and Tussore were given their liberty soon after corn planting
time. "But so well they liked our companies they did not desire to
goe from us."

Nothing further is recorded as to the fate of Tussore, sometimes
called Kinsock. Strachey, Secretary of the Colony who was in Virginia
1610-1611, mentions having obtained certain information from

     One Kemps, an Indian, who died the last year of the scurvye at
     Jamestown, after he had dwelt with us almost one whole year,
     much made of by our lord generall and who could speake a pretty
     deale of English, and came orderly to church every day to
     prayers, and observed with us the keeping of the Sabaoth both by
     ceassing from labour and repairing to church.


Dire disaster finally struck the colony. Food supplies were
exhausted. Starvation became a reality. A general drought blanketed
eastern Virginia. The Indians too were on short rations. Smith, the
provider, who had been injured by an explosion of gunpowder, had
returned to England. It was one of the most cruel experiences ever
endured by a group of men. The climax came during the winter of

A few quotations from the records of that period paint the picture in
its most terrible colors. Lord De La Warr who arrived in 1610 just in
time to save the colony from abandonment reported to the London

     Our people, together with the Indians (not to friend), had the
     last winter destroyed and kild up all our hoggs, insomuch as of
     five or six hundred (as it is supposed), there was not above one
     sow, that we can heare of, left alive; not a henn nor a chick in
     the forte (and our horses and mares they had eaten with the







betweene a Ploughman and a


_Wherein is proved plainely that Plowing and_

Setting, is much more profitable and lesse

chargeable, than Plowing and



_He that withdraweth the Corne, the people will curse him: but
blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth Corne._

Imprinted at London by _Felix Kyngston_, dwelling in Pater noster
Rowe, over against the signe of the Checker, 1601.

Photo by Thomas L. Williams]

[Illustration: Indians boiling maple sap below and planting corn

Picture by Lafitau, 1724.]

[Illustration: The earliest picture of Maize.

Copied from Leonhard Fuchs 1542.]

And Reverend William Simmonds states in regard to this same starving
time of the winter of 1609-10:

     as for our hogs, hens, goats, sheepe, horse, or what lived; our
     commanders and officers did daily consume them: some small
     proportions (sometimes) we tasted, till all was devoured.

Thus after three years they had nothing of a material nature to show
for their efforts. Their most valuable achievement had been their
acquired knowledge of the Indians' methods of farming. To make a bad
situation worse the Indians began to make trouble. Lord De La Warr
speaks of their "late injuries and murthering of our men." It was not
until 1611 that real farming got under way at Jamestown. Then corn
planting and fence building began in earnest.


Sir Thomas Dale with "three ships, men, and cattell (100 kine, 200
swine)" arrived in Virginia May 10, 1611. Dale had seen military
service in the Old World and was a severe and strict disciplinarian.
The surviving colonists received a jolt in their manner of living.
From habits of indolence into which they had fallen, owing to the hot
climate and lack of food, after the departure of Captain John Smith,
they were with little ceremony put to work. "His first care therefore
was to imploy all hands in the setting of corne at the two forts at
Kecoughtan, Henry and Charles," wrote Ralph Hamor "and about the end
of May wee had an indifferent crop of good corne." This corn was
planted near what is now Hampton where Strachey says, "so much ground
is there cleared and open; enough with little labour alreddy prepared
to receive corne or make viniards of two or three thowsand acres."
With corn planting completed, two palisaded forts were built for the
protection of a few men left to care for the crops. They made another
planting across Chesapeake Bay on the Virginia Cape. They had learned
the hard way that clearing the heavily timbered land at Jamestown was
hopeless for immediate results. Dale then returned to Jamestown
"where the most companie were, and their daily and usual works,
bowling in the streets." This game was interrupted and the men put to
work felling timber, repairing their houses and providing pointed
pickets for fencing a new town, which Dale proposed to build, eighty
miles above Jamestown.


In August, 1611, Sir Thomas Gates arrived with "six tall ships with
three hundred men, and one hundred kine and other cattel." Gates
thoroughly approved of Dale's plans and policies and let him select
about three hundred of the best workers in the colony to build at
Henrico, now Farrar's Island, at Dutch Gap.

     Within ten or twelve daies he had invironed it with a pale, and
     in honour of our noble Prince _Henry_, called it _Henrico_. The
     next worke he did, was building at each corner of the towne a
     high commanding watch-house, a church, and store-houses: which
     finished, hee began to thinke upon convenient houses for
     himselfe and men, which, with all possible speed hee could, he
     effected to the great content of his companie, and all the

     This towne is situated upon a necke of a plaine rising land,
     three parts invironed with the maine river, the necke of land
     well impaled, makes it like an ile; it hath three streets of
     well framed houses, a handsome church, and the foundation of a
     better laid (to bee built of bricke), besides store-houses,
     watch-houses, and such like. Upon the verge of the river there
     are five houses, within live the honester sort of people, as
     farmers in England, and they keepe continuall centinell for the
     townes securitie.

     About two miles from the towne, into the maine, is another pale,
     neere two miles in length, from river to river, guarded with
     severall commanders, with a good quantitie, of corne-ground
     impailed, sufficiently secured to maintaine more than I suppose
     will come this three yeeres.


The Appomattox Indians, at the time of the Jamestown settlement, were
located on a neck of land lying between the James and Appomattox
Rivers. Dale wanted this land. It was cleared, fertile, and easy to
fence, so we are told:

     About Christmas following in this same year 1611 in regard of
     the injury done us ... without the losse of any except some few
     salvages tooke it and their corne.

This newly acquired land he named New Bermudas and he divided it into
several tracts known as "hundreds." The term hundred was a relic of
the feudal system. It meant a political subdivision smaller than a
county. It appears to have been Dale's intention that these hundreds
or group plantations, often referred to as "particular plantations,"
should include the land that could be worked conveniently by the
farmers from their homes in a village or a town. This plan was not
popular. As has been previously stated the colonial pioneers much
preferred to live on the land they tilled. The term "hundred" lost
its significance.

Ralph Hamor described the operations at New Bermudas in the

     In the nether hundred he [Dale] first began to plant, for there
     is the most corne-ground and with a pale of two miles cut over
     from river to river, whereby we have secured eight English miles
     in compasse.... Rochdale, by a crosse pale wel nigh foure miles
     long, is also planted with houses along the pale, in which
     hundred our hogs and cattell have twentie miles circuit to graze
     in securely.

Outstanding were the accomplishments of this taskmaster, Governor
Dale, in one year, with men many of whom were unaccustomed to manual
labor. While some were engaged in fence building and the construction
of houses, others were employed in getting out clapboards. Still
others were gathering pitch and tar from the pine trees and burning
logs to make soap-ashes. The London Company had incurred heavy
expense in the settlement and was asking for something in return.
Products from the forests were all that were available. It is no
wonder that the colonists complained bitterly about their hardships
in their letters to the folks back home.

It was not Gov. Dale's purpose to develop an agricultural colony.
Surplus from food products would not pay the cost of shipment across
the ocean. His plantings of corn were purely for local consumption.
He limited the number engaged in farming, and to each of those so
engaged, he allotted three acres of corn land. These farmers were not
allowed to devote their entire time to crop-raising. The livestock as
we have seen was allowed to run at large in the fenced ranges. In a
letter dated June 14, 1614, Gov. Dale reported that he had set the
colonists to the task of "husbanding our corne securely, whereof wee
have above five-hundred acres set, and God be praised in more
forwardness than any of the Indians that I have seen or heard of this

When Capt. Argall, as deputy governor superseded Dale in May, 1617,
George Yeardley having been acting governor from April 11, 1616, he
reported that the colony had about four hundred people but not over
200 fit for husbandry and tillage. As for livestock, they had 128
cattle, 88 goats, and a large number of hogs. As to cattle there were
about "fortie bulls and oxen but they wanted men to bring them to
labour and irons for the ploughs and harnesse for the cattell." They
had tried again to grow some small grains.

     Thirtie or fortie acres wee had sowne with one plough, but it
     stood so long on the ground before it was reaped it was most

This was a pitiful showing for the ten years that had elapsed since
Capt. Newport established the colony. It had been a decade of
frustration and heart-breaking disappointments, a decade of gruelling
toil and misery. No blame should be attached to the colonists. They
were thrust into a situation for which they were woefully

Virginia was destined to develop agriculturally. Attempts to suppress
that industry only served to prolong the colony's troubles. There
were no natural resources except the forests in the tidewater region;
no Indian trade of any great value; no gems to be picked up at will;
no minerals to be exploited. When the situation seemed most hopeless,
the culture of a crop new to English farming completely changed their
mental and pecuniary outlook. Despair changed to violent optimism.
John Rolfe is generally credited with having been, in 1612, the first
Virginia planter to engage in the growing of tobacco. Governor Dale
at the time frowned on its culture and ruled that two of each man's
allotment of three acres of land should be seeded to corn. Hence the
change in governorship was a momentous event.


When Sir Thomas Dale left, in 1616, George Yeardley took over the
management of the colony as Acting Governor. He lost no time in
putting an end to the restrictions on tobacco culture. The next year,
1617, saw a remarkable transformation in the colonists' way of life.
Inertia gave way to frantic activity. "The market-place and streets
and all other spare places were set with the crop and the colonie
dispersed all about planting tobacco." Nor is this surprising.
Tobacco alone promised them surcease from poverty and want. Hope for
a bountiful harvest spurred them on as it has spurred farmers in all


Many fantastic tales have been written about the introduction of the
use of tobacco in England. Some of the most authentic historical
items follow: The Spaniards found the natives in the West Indies
using the plant both for chewing and smoking. They took seed to
Europe where its use soon spread to other countries around the
Mediterranean Sea.

The first Englishman to report on the addiction of the American
Indians to the use of tobacco appears to have been John Sparke who
wrote the account of the voyage of Sir John Hawkins who, in the
course of his travels, spent some months, in 1565, with an ill-fated
French colony in Florida. Sparke reported "The Floridians when they
travell, have a kinde of herbe dried, who with a cane and an earthen
cup in the end, with fire, and the dried herbs put together, doe
sucke thorow the cane the smoke thereof, which smoke satisfieth their
hunger, and therewith they live foure or five dayes without meat or
drinke, and this the Frenchmen used for this purpose." It is quite
likely that the sailors under Hawkins command acquired the habit and
took some of the "dried herbs" back to England.

Sir Walter Raleigh is often credited with the introduction of the use
of tobacco in England. While he may not have been responsible for its
introduction, he apparently played an important role in the spread of
the tobacco habit among the English aristocracy. Raleigh's interest
in tobacco was no doubt aroused by the report of his protégé, the
famous sixteenth century mathematician, Thomas Hariot. Hariot spent a
year, June, 1585-June, 1586, with the Raleigh Colony on Roanoke
Island. On his return to England he reported on the Indians' farming
operations in Eastern North Carolina. For tobacco he wrote in part
"We ourselves, during the time we were there, used to sucke it after
their manner, as also since our returne, and have found many rare and
wonderful experiments of the virtues thereof, of which the relation
would require a volume by itselfe: the use of it by so many, of late,
men and women of great calling, as els, and some physicians also, is
sufficient witnesse."

Raleigh later made a voyage to the Island of Trinidad and the Orinoco
River in South America from whence had come the most desirable sorts.
Spain and Portugal monopolized the European tobacco trade with these
mild varieties since the tobacco grown by the Virginia Indians had a
sharp, biting taste. Plantings of these better sorts were made in
England. A violent controversy was soon raging. King James I who
detested Raleigh and all his activities, issued a _Counter Blaste_
against tobacco. This was a most bitter tirade as the following
quotation shows:

     A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to
     the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking
     fume thereof nearest resembling the stygian smoke of the pit
     that is bottomless.

Since the days of King James, millions of words have been written
condemning the use of the "tawny weed."

The opposition of King James to tobacco led to the imposition of
taxes on its import into England: that from Spain and Portugal was 2d
a pound; that from Virginia 6s. 10d. In spite of all this array of
evidence as to the detrimental effects of tobacco on the human body
its consumption has steadily increased and spread over the entire
world. Colossal fortunes have been made in its processing and trade.
No product of the soil with the exception of grains used in the
manufacture of alcoholic beverages has ever returned such bounteous
revenues to the United States government. In the fiscal year ending
June 30, 1954 there was paid into the treasury of the United States,
the gigantic sum of $1,580,299,000 from taxes on various tobacco
products. Of this vast total, Virginia tobacco manufacturers that
year contributed 356,867,000 dollars. Municipal and other local taxes
are not included in these figures.

Tobacco culture in America was a highly profitable enterprise for
England. The colonists produced and sold the raw product. Very little
tobacco is used in the raw state. Before tobacco is ready for the
market it must be processed into the various forms demanded by the
trade. It was estimated that one man engaged in tobacco growing in
Virginia kept three Englishmen employed, that is, sailors engaged in
transportation, processors and tradesmen. The English government also
derived considerable revenue on the surplus tobacco products resold
on the European market.


One of the needs of the colony was a medium of exchange: something
that could be used for money. As the balance of trade was heavily in
favor of the Mother Country, there was no opportunity for an
accumulation of English money in America. So tobacco became
acceptable for goods, services, and the payment of debts. Salaries
were fixed in pounds of tobacco.


The value placed on tobacco in England varied with the supply and
demand. With the introduction of Negroes in 1619, and the greatly
increased immigration from England, the acreage devoted to the
culture of tobacco expanded rapidly. The first serious effects of
over-production occurred in 1630, when the price fell from three
shillings, six pence to one penny a pound. This calamity proved to be
a blessing in disguise. The next year, a boat of "18 tons burden,"
loaded with corn and tobacco disposed of its cargo at Salem,
Massachusetts, then but recently settled. The corn brought six
shillings a bushel. This started a brisk trade and a Dutch ship, in
1632, took 2,000 bushels of corn from Virginia to New England. In
1633, it was estimated that 10,000 bushels of corn from Virginia were
sold in Massachusetts besides a number of beef cattle, goats, and
hogs. In spite of the ruinously low prices which sometimes prevailed,
the amount of tobacco shipped overseas continued to increase. In
1639, 1,500,000 pounds were exported from Virginia alone.


Captain John Smith summarized the condition of the colony in 1629 in
these words:

     Master Hutchins saith, they have 2,000 cattle, and about 5,000
     people; but Master Floud, John Davis, William Emerson, and
     divers others, say about five thousand people, and five thousand
     kine, calves, oxen, and bulls; for goats, hogs, and poultry;
     corne, fish, deere, and many sorts of other wild beasts; and
     fowle in their season, they have so much more than they spend,
     they are able to feed three or foure hundred men more than they

Starving times as a rule were over. Periods of short rations occurred
infrequently and then only in times of disaster such as the aftermath
of the Indian massacre of 1622 or when the planters became so
engrossed in growing tobacco that they neglected to plant maize or
other grains. Each succeeding crop was new wealth, something that had
not existed before. Gradually, harvest after harvest, the colonists
were able to add to their possessions additional tools and equipment.

He was a shiftless man indeed who could not provide ample food for
his own needs. The history of Virginia during colonial times was
intimately connected with the tobacco crop. The general welfare of
the people rose and fell with the value placed on the leaf in


With the over supply of tobacco the English market became extremely
discriminating in regard to the quality of the leaf it would
purchase. The colonial government from time to time resorted to
legislative expedients to prevent the shipment of inferior grades.
Governor Wyatt, in 1621 ordered that "for every head they should
plant but 1,000 plants of tobacco and upon each plant nine leaves."
John Rolfe also stated, in 1619, that, "An industrious man not
otherwaies imploied may well tend foure akers of corne, and 1,000
plants of tobacco." A thousand plants would give each worker about
112 pounds of tobacco a year. In 1628, an inspection law was enacted
and in 1640, it was ordered that all bad tobacco and half the good
should be destroyed.

Governor Berkeley, in 1664, made several ineffectual attempts to form
agreements, with the planters of Maryland and North Carolina, to
restrict the production of tobacco. The planters of each colony were
willing for those of the other to stop planting, or to destroy as
much tobacco as they pleased; but looking to their own selfish
interests they would increase rather than decrease their crop. The
Virginia General Assembly, in 1666, prohibited all culture of tobacco
but the Maryland authorities complained that the law was ignored by
the Virginia planters.

The Virginia colonists developed a keen rivalry among themselves in
efforts to improve the quality of the leaf grown. Reverend John
Clayton, in 1688, says: "For there is not only two distinct sorts of
sweet-scented and Aranoko tobacco but of these be several sorts, much
different, the seeds whereof are known by distinct names, of those
gentlemen most famed for such sort of tobacco, as of prior seed etc."

The Aranoko, probably from the Orinoco river region in South America,
was grown on the heavy clay soils. The product was a strong tobacco
that was most in demand in Germany and other North European
countries. The sweet-scented was grown on the lighter sandy soils and
although the yield was less it brought a better price on the market.
Hugh Jones, in his _Present State of Virginia_, in 1724, mentions one
of the many localities in Virginia which became noted for a
particular variety of tobacco grown there. To quote: "For on York
River in a small tract of land called Digges Neck, which is poorer
than a great deal of other land in the same latitude, by a particular
seed and management, is made the famous crop known by the name of E
Dees, remarkable for its mild taste and fine smell."

Topping the growing tobacco plants was a practice originated by the
colonists. The main purpose was to limit the production to the large
lower leaves and to do away with the small immature leaves at the top
of the stem. The General Assembly often specified the number of
leaves which could be left; the number, varying with the value placed
on the leaf in England, ranged usually from six to nine.

Tobacco is a soil exhausting crop. The Jamestown planters soon
learned that continuous crops of tobacco, on the same land, soon
reduced both the quantity and quality of the leaf. The only resource
left to the tobacco farmers was to clear new fields. The more
well-to-do planters began to seek favorable locations of uncleared
land. The depleted fields were abandoned and the task of restoring
their productivity was usually left to nature. Much of the best
tobacco soils of Virginia have been cropped and then allowed to go
back to brush and tress and again cleared several times. Finding the
remains of old tobacco rows out in dense woods is not an uncommon
experience. This exhaustion of tobacco lands had a beneficial
influence on the agricultural development of Virginia. By the time
the fields were abandoned, most of the stumps had decayed and the
soil could be prepared for seeding to other crops with plow and
harrows. It was found that these depleted fields were still capable
of producing satisfactory crops of grain. Many of the colonists who
were not financially able to clear new grounds could often buy or
rent these abandoned fields for a nominal price.


While tobacco played a very important part in building a prosperous
colony at Jamestown, there were several other staples that also
contributed to this result. Of prime importance should be rated maize
or Indian Corn. Maize saved the colony from starvation on several
occasions. Maize became an export commodity to the New England and
West Indian colonies when the price for tobacco fell below the cost
of transportation to Europe. Maize aided the colonists in the
production of valuable livestock products. This crop has done more to
promote the wealth and welfare of this country than all the natural
resources, water-power, and forests put together. In order to
increase the production of grain in 1623, the General Assembly
ordered: "For the encouragement of men to plant store of corne, the
prise shall not be stinted but it shall be free for every man to sell
it as deere as he can." This law had a wholesome effect. It so
increased the production of maize that seven years later as has
already been noted, the colonists had a surplus of this product to
export to New England. This is perhaps the first law passed in
America for the direct benefit of the producers. It stands out in
strong contrast to some legislative enactments. There were many other
grain laws put on the statute books but the majority of them either
fixed the maximum price for which the grain could be sold or else
prohibited its exportation. The authorities in England were
continually clamoring for products to supplement the tobacco exports.

Until 1685, each succeeding Governor as he sailed to Virginia was
instructed to "use every means in his power to encourage the
production of silk, wine, hemp, flax, pitch and potashes." The reason
for finally omitting this clause is interesting. The King was
concerned about the revenue the government was deriving from tobacco
and did not wish for the colonists to engage in any enterprise that
might diminish the volume of leaf that was coming to England. The
omission of this clause marked a new era in the relation of the
colony to the Mother Country. During the sixty years the clause was
in force, several Governors, notably Wyatt, Harvey and Berkeley, had
tried to comply with the wishes of the authorities in England, with
extremely meager results to show for their efforts.


There is very little justification for including silk culture as an
enterprise in the agricultural history of the Jamestown Colony. It
was one product that was usually placed first in recommendations of
the authorities who sponsored the settlement of Virginia.

In keeping with the improved status of the social and economic life
of England, in the latter years of the sixteenth century, came a
desire for finer and more lustrous fabrics in their articles of
dress. Serges and tweeds, woven from the fleeces of their
coarse-wooled sheep, no longer satisfied the fastidious tastes of the
ruling aristocracy. Even calicos from far-away Calcutta were esteemed
fit for royal inaugural gowns. Silk was the last word in luxurious

Silkworms had been reared in the Orient from ancient times. These
moths had been domesticated for so many years they had become fully
dependent on human aid for existence. They could crawl but could not
fly. While silk brought fabulous prices on the world's market there
were numerous reasons why its culture never succeeded in America. The
handling of the creeping, crawling, ill-smelling worms was
objectionable to anyone not accustomed from childhood to the task.
Old people and young girls who were the ones employed in rearing
silkworms in the Orient received the equivalent of a few cents a day
for their labor. Such cheap help was not available in Virginia.
Perhaps, the most serious objection of all was the lack of a suitable
food supply for the worms. A silkworm from the time it hatches from
the egg till it spins its cocoon devours a mass of green forage.
Leaves of the mulberry tree are its favorite diet. In fact, without a
supply of mulberry trees, successful silk culture is out of the
question. Growing a crop of trees had to precede the rearing of
worms. This took several years. Nevertheless, the directions of the
London Company urged in season and out that the colonists should
produce silk.

Governor Wyatt, in 1621, was instructed: "Not to permit any, but the
council and heads of hundreds, to wear gold in the clothes, or to
wear silk till they make it themselves." Nothing came from this
order. In 1656, the agitation for silk became so intense, the General
Assembly was forced to take action. First, an experienced silk
grower, an Armenian by the name of George, was sent to the colony,
and the General Assembly was ordered to give him four thousand pounds
of tobacco to keep him in the country. Another law, passed that year,
ordered that each planter set out ten mulberry trees for each one
hundred acres of land he owned. These trees were to be fenced, to
protect them from horses and cattle, and to be kept weeded. This law
was repealed, two years later, as it "seems rather troublesome and
burthensome than any waies advantageous to the country." The law was
re-enacted in 1661 but given a three years delay as it was impossible
to get mulberry trees. The General Assembly, in 1657, voted a bounty
of 5000 pounds of tobacco to any planter producing 100 pounds of
wound silk. There were no claimants. Two years later, the bounty was
increased to 10,000 pounds of tobacco and the amount of silk required
was reduced to 50 pounds. Again the results were negative. Then a
bounty of fifty pounds of tobacco for each pound of silk was ordered.
The effects from all these orders are summed up in an act of the
General Assembly in 1663 which reads:

     George, the Armenian, having proved the making of ten pounds of
     wound silk, it is ordered there be paid him for his
     encouragement in the levy according to act.

It is assumed that George received 500 pounds of tobacco. What became
of the silk is not recorded. A few years later the price per pound of
wound silk was fixed by the General Assembly at 20 shillings or two
hundred pounds of tobacco.


Two plants, the culture of which was strongly urged by the English
authorities, were hemp and flax. In this case, greater success was
realized than occurred with most of the demands that came from across
the ocean. It had been ordered in 1658, by the General Assembly:
"That what person or persons, soever, shall at any time hereafter
make, in this colonie, so much silke, flax, hopps or any other staple
commodities (except tobacco) as is worth two hundred pounds sterling,
or English wheate to the value of five hundred pounds stirling in one
yeare, and exporte the same or cause the same to be exported, or
shall first make two tunne of wine raized out of a vineyard made in
this collonie, shall have given him by this country, for an
encouragement, ten thousand pounds of Virginia tobacco."

Apparently no one qualified for the bounty on flax for, in 1661,
provision was made for importing some flax seed from England. No
price was fixed, in 1666, on "flax by reason of the uncertainty of
the quality." In 1682, bounties were offered: "For every peck of flax
seeds, four and twentie pounds of tobacco, and for every peck of hemp
seed twenty pounds of tobacco." Bounties were also offered for hemp
and flax woven into cloth. It was also ordered that every tithable
person should produce one pound of dressed hemp and one pound of
dressed flax or two pounds of either annually. From that time on
considerable hemp and flax were raised in Virginia, but most of the
crop was used at home. Linen cloth was highly prized. There was also
a demand for cordage made of hemp fibers for ships.


As already noted, the initial attempts of the colonists to grow the
grains with which they had been accustomed in England came to naught.
They were familiar with wheat, rye, barley and oats. To make
satisfactory yields, these grains had to be broadcasted on well
prepared seed beds. Newly cleared forests left the soil full of
stumps and roots. The wooden plows of those days were useless on
these newly cleared lands. Preparation of the soil, for tobacco or
maize, could be accomplished with a hand hoe or shovel. These plants
required space in which to develop their full growth. A tobacco plant
could be set or a hill of corn planted wherever a little loose dirt
could be found. Some English grains were seeded in the cleared land
near Hampton and Newport News but these old fields, abandoned by the
Indians, were also near to exhaustion. An "indifferent crop" was

In 1627, Abraham Piersey had 200 acres each in wheat and barley.
From these crops he was able to furnish food daily to sixty persons.
How much of this seeding was on land that had been abandoned for
tobacco, or was old Indian fields, is not stated. When DeVries
visited Virginia in 1643, he found the planters putting down, in
English grain, lands which had been exhausted by successive crops of
tobacco. The General Assembly had ruled in 1639, that corn (probably
wheat and maize) could be exported whenever the price fell below
twelve shillings a bushel. Large exports of this valuable cereal were
then being made to the near-by colonies of Maryland, Manhattan,
Carolina and the West Indies.

It was estimated by Edward Williams, in 1650, that two able-bodied
laborers could seed sixty acres in wheat in the course of one season
and reap the grain when it was ripe. The yield from such an area had
a market value of four hundred and eighty pounds sterling. It was
reported that these fields which no longer produced the best grades
of tobacco were better for wheat than newly cleared land. As these
exhausted fields could be rented or purchased at moderate cost
compared with prime tobacco new ground, many poorly financed
colonists were able to get a start towards prosperity without
resorting to the almost universal practice of growing tobacco.


As already shown, the domestic animals brought to the Colony, in the
first few years of its settlement, were turned out in the woods to
fend for themselves. The original breeding stocks were of ordinary
quality and the lack of care given them contributed to their
inferiority. Predatory animals such as wolves, bears, panthers and
wild cats exacted a heavy annual toll of young animals.

Until Governor Dale constructed his miles of picket fences there was
nothing to keep the animals from wandering up into the highlands
where the colonists did not dare to venture. In spite of the
handicaps all classes of domestic animals increased in numbers when
not slaughtered for food. This was especially true of swine.


1 _Hoscyamin Perimianus._ Tabaco or Henbane of Peru.

2 _Sana Sancta Indorum._ Tabaco of Trinidada.

Two varieties of tobacco as pictured by Gerard in 1597. The seeds of
these two varieties were taken to Virginia by the Jamestown

[Illustration: Photo by Thomas L. Williams

Trenching Implements, Seventeenth Century]

[Illustration: Thomas L. Williams, Photo

Seventeenth Century Plows]


Hogs contributed more to the material welfare of the Jamestown Colony
than historians have generally recognized. Hogs have many advantages
over other breeds of livestock. They multiply much faster than any
other domestic animal except poultry. They make faster gains and
double the weight for the food consumed than do cattle, sheep or
goats. When slaughtered, hogs dress out about 75 percent edible meat,
as compared with 55 to 60 percent for cattle. When given wide open
range in humid climates such as prevailed in the Tidewater, they do
fairly well without other feed than what they can find for

In summer, at Jamestown, they obtained most of their living in the
numerous fresh-water swamps. Tuckahoe, a flag-like swamp plant, with
an enormous root system, was their favorite hot weather forage. The
roots of tuckahoe, often as large as a man's arm, contain a
crystalline acid that burns the mouth of a human being like fire.
After a few trials, hogs seem to relish it. While tuckahoe is not a
fattening feed, hogs eating it make satisfactory gains in weight.

In the fall when the acorns and nuts ripened, the hogs put on weight
at a rapid pace. The woods were stocked with oak, hickory, chestnut,
beech, chinquapin, and persimmon trees and shrubs, the fruits of
which were all grouped under the general term _mast_. There is one
difference between pork produced from grain-fed hogs and those
fattened on mast. The lard of the latter group melts at a temperature
of about ten degrees below that of those fed corn. To the connoisseur
of well cured hams and bacon this low melting point is not a
detriment but a distinct improvement.

The colonists adapted the Indian practice of using smoke to aid in
the curing of meat. The natives built platforms of poles supported by
posts about six feet from the ground. The meat to be cured was salted
and spread on these poles. A small fire was built underneath to
furnish the smoke. This arrangement was called by the Taino Indians,
a _barbacoa_ from which we get the English equivalent, _barbecue_.

By 1636, hogs, sheep and goats had increased in such numbers that
ships coming to Jamestown could supply their needs for meat from the
colony's surplus. This was advantageous to shipmasters and furnished
a market for a product of a growing industry in the colony. Prior to
that time ships coming to America from Europe had to take on food
stuffs for the round trip.

Another benefit accrued to the colony. The combined curing process of
salt and smoke imparts a delicious flavor to hams and bacon that has
never been excelled by any other method. This applies especially to
meat from hogs fattened on mast or peanuts.

Virginia hams and bacon soon became noted for their excellence all
over the world. The fame of these products has never waned.
Unfortunately, most hotels and restaurants in the United State now
use the term "Virginia ham" on their menus to designate this sort of
meat regardless of its origin or cure. New England ships, plying a
coastwise traffic with the Caribbean countries, frequently stopped in
Jamestown for cargoes of salted meats. This trade was especially
desirable during times when the price of tobacco fell to ruinous
levels. Most of the hogs ran wild. Some planters marked their animals
by ear-cuts, and then could claim an entire drove, if they had a
number of their branded hogs in it.


Neat animals were kept near Jamestown in the early years, but they,
like the swine, had to gather their own living. A few were trained
for draft purposes. In new grounds where stumps and roots prevail,
oxen are more useful than horses. They do not get in a panic when
obstacles interfere. Then too, they can be slaughtered for beef when
they become too old for work. During the period under study, cattle,
in Virginia, often brought good prices. Many were purchased by the
New England colonists as it was cheaper to buy animals, in America,
than to go to the expense and loss of animals by shipping them across
the ocean.

There was a market for oxen in the Caribbean region, where they were
used for power, in the sugar mills.

In the first thirty years, some of the cattle went wild in the back
country, but many of the cows were kept in the vicinity of the
Jamestown headquarters. While not notable as dairy cows, they
produced enough milk so that Virginia gained a reputation among ship
crews for its excellent butter and cheese. In 1649 it was estimated
that there were twenty thousand cattle in the Colony.


Flocks of goats and sheep became noticeable to visitors about the
middle of the century. Many were brought to Virginia. In the early
years the numbers killed by wolves made them unprofitable. Heavy
bounties paid for wolf heads eventually reduced the depredations of
this predator until sheep and goats were fairly safe. As producers of
meat and wool for clothing sheep contributed to the general welfare
of the colony. By 1649, the number of sheep was estimated at three
thousand; and of goats at five thousand.


Of all the domestic animals brought from England to Jamestown in the
early days of the settlement, the most expensive to transport and the
most useless after they arrived in Virginia were horses. The estimate
of the number in the Colony in 1649 is 200. There was no purpose for
them to serve. The fragile wooden plows of the seventeenth century
were of no use among the stumps and roots in newly cleared forest
lands. Horses were of no value for transportation as there were no
roads through the forests or bridges over the rivers. They were of
little use as beasts of burden as there were few burdens to carry. A
horse was no match for an able-bodied man on Indian trails through
timbered country. As late as 1671, the Batts and Fallam expedition,
consisting of five white men and seven Indians, who were the
discoverers of New River, had horses for the white men when they left
Petersburg. All of these animals were dead before they reached the

The colonists did all they could afford to do with the horses brought
to them and that was to turn them loose to shift for themselves. In a
very few years there was a band of wild horses roaming the woods in
the back country. Eventually these wild horses provided a great deal
of recreation for the younger planters. Capturing and breaking to the
saddle wild horses became a popular sport. As soon as a horse was
caught and accustomed to a rider the most natural thing was to try it
for speed.

Horse-racing began with local contests but developed into a major
sport. King Charles II is credited with having imported Turk and
Arabian horses to England. Some of this blooded stock may have been
shipped to Jamestown. At any rate Virginia saddle-horses at an early
date began to attract attention because of their speed.

Two other colonies, Rhode Island and New York were famous for their
fast horses. Racing became an inter-colonial sport. The first regular
race course was the New Market on Hempstead Plains, Long Island.
There the fleetest horses of Long Island were brought together to
settle all arguments by actual trial. This famous race course was
described in 1670 by a contemporary, Daniel Denton: "Toward the
middle of Long Island lyeth a plain sixteen miles long and four
broad, upon which plain grows very fine grass, that makes exceeding
good hay, and is very good pasture for sheep or other cattel; where
you shall find neither stick nor stone to hinder the horse heels or
endanger them in their races, and once a year the best horses in the
island are brought hither to try their swiftness, and the swiftest
rewarded with a silver cup, two being annually procured for that

Horse-racing became of economic importance to these colonies. The
sugar planters, in the Caribbean region, also became interested in
this "sport of kings" and sent agents to buy the fastest horses they
could find. High prices were sometimes paid for prize winning

Governor Francis Nicholson in 1690, "gave prizes to those that should
excell in riding, running, wrestling and cudgeling." Of these sports,
riding became by far the most popular. Interest in horse-racing,
fox-chasing, steeple-chasing, and riding tournaments has never
entirely died out in Virginia.


A great deal has been written about the events that occurred during
the ninety-two years that elapsed, from the settlement of the colony
on Jamestown Island, and the change of capital site to Williamsburg.
Judging from the recorded observations of visitors during that
period, no great difference in the general appearance of the
landscape had taken place. It still looked very much like a
wilderness. Much forest land had been cleared, farmed for a few
years, and then turned back to nature. The mammoth trees with scanty
undergrowth, that the firstcomers found, had been replaced with a
luxuriant second or third growth. If the top-soil is not eroded away
a new forest can be produced in Virginia in thirty or forty years.

One of the most noticeable improvements was in the dwelling houses.
Substantial brick and frame buildings had replaced the hurriedly
constructed shacks of the early days.

The accumulated wealth from the surplus products resulting from their
farming activities was reflected in their flocks and herds of horses,
cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and poultry. Dire famine no longer
stared them in face. Through insistence that only the best quality
products should be shipped abroad, favorable trade relations had been
established in the commerce of the world.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of all was the creation of the farm
home where a family could own, in fee simple, the land they tilled,
live in peace, and enjoy the fruits of their own labor.


1. Beverley, Robert. _History of Virginia_ ... Reprinted from the
author's 2nd. rev. ed., London, 1722. Richmond, Virginia, 1855.

2. Brown, Alexander. _The Genesis of the United States._ Boston and
New York, 1890. 2 Vols.

3. Bruce, P. A. _Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth
Century._ New York, 1895. 2 Vols.

4. Bullock, William. _Virginia Impartially Examined_ ... London,

5. Campbell, Charles. _History of the Colony and Ancient Dominion of
Virginia_ ... Philadelphia, 1860.

6. Clayton, Rev. John. _A letter_ ... May 12, 1688. _Giving an
Account of Several Observables in Virginia_ ... Reprint in Force,
Peter. Tracts ... Washington, 1836-46. Vol. 3.

7. Devries, David Peterson. _Voyages from Holland to America._ New
York, 1853.

8. Force, Peter. _Tracts and Other Papers_, Relating Principally to
the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies of North
America. Washington. 4 Vols.

Gray, Lewis C. History of Agriculture in the Southern United States
to 1860. Washington, D. C. 2 Vols.

9. Hakluyt, Richard. _Collection of Early Voyages, Travels and
Discoveries of the English Nation._ London, 1809-12. 5 Vols. Also
Edinburgh, 1885-90. 16 Vols.

10. Hamor, Ralph. _A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia_
... London, 1615. Albany, J. Munsell, 1860.

11. Hariot, Thomas. _Narrative of the First English Plantation of
Virginia._ London, 1588. Reproduced after DeBry's illustrated edition
printed in Frankfort in 1590, the illustrations having been designed
in Virginia in 1585 by John White. London, B. Quaritch, 1893.

12. Hening, W. W. _Virginia Statutes at Large_, 1619-1792. 13 Vols.

13. Jefferson, Thomas. _Notes on the State of Virginia._.Richmond, J.
W. Randolph, 1853.

14. Purchas, Samuel. _Purchas his Pilgrims._ London, 1626. 5 Vols.

15. Smith, Captain John. _Works._ Edited by Arber, 1884. Also
Edinburgh 1910. 2 Vols.

16. Spotswood, Alexander. _Official Letters_, 1710-1722. Ed. by R. A.
Brock. Virginia Historical Society Collections. Richmond, 1882-85. 2

17. Strachey, William. _The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia
Britannia_ ... London. Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1849.

18. Swem, E. G. _Virginia Historical Index._ Roanoke, Virginia.
1934-36. 2 Vols.

19. _Virginia Company of London. Abstract of the Proceedings of the
Company_ ... 1619-1624. By Conway Robinson. Edited by R. A. Brock.
Virginia Historical Society, 1888-89.

20. _Virginia Truly Valued._ In Force's Tracts, Vol. 3.



This is an extract from Markham's _Farewell to Husbandry, or the
Enriching of all Sorts of barren and Steril grounds in our Kingdome_,
a well-known book on farming as carried on in England in the early
years of the 17th century; it is presented here in order to show what
the daily tasks of a farmer were at that time, and what might be
expected, according to this standard, of a settler coming to
Virginia. The author, Gervase Markham, issued several editions of the
work. This extract is from the fourth edition, printed in 1638, of
which a title-page is reproduced in this booklet, from the copy in
the William and Mary College Library. Markham's book has an
additional interest, for the reason that in the supplies sent by ship
_Supply_ in 1620 to Berkeley Hundred, a copy of the current edition
was included.

     Having thus generally runne over (in a short computation) the
     labours of the husbandman, I will now briefly as I can, goe over
     the particular daies labours of a farmer or plowman, shewing the
     particular expence of every houre of the day, from his first
     rising, till his going to bed, as thus for example: We will
     suppose it to be after Christmas, and about plow-day (which is
     the first letting out of the plough) and at what time men either
     begin to fallow, or to break up pease earth, which is to lie to
     bait, according to the custome of the country; at this time the
     plough-man shall rise before foure of the clocke in the morning,
     and after thankes given to God for his rest, and the successe of
     his labours he shall go into his stable, or beaste-house, and
     first he shall fodder his cattell, then cleanse the house, and
     make the booths cleane, rub downe the cattell, and cleanse their
     skins of all filth, then he shall curry his horses, rub them
     with clothes and wisps, and make both them and the stable as
     cleane as may be, then he shall water both his oxen and horses,
     and housing them againe, give them more fodder, and to his horse
     by all meanes provender, as chaffe and dry pease or beanes, or
     oat-hulls, pease or beanes or cleane oates, or clean garbage
     (which is the hinder ends of any kinde of graine but rye) with
     the straw chop'd small amongst it, according as the ability of
     the husbandman is. And whilst they are eating their meat, he
     shall make ready his collars, hames, treats, halters, mullens,
     and plough-geares, seeing everything fit, and in his due place,
     and to these labours I will also allow full two houres, that is,
     from foure of the clocke till sixe, then hee shall come in to
     breakfast, and to that I allow him halfe an houre; and then
     another halfe houre to the gearing and yoaking of his cattell,
     so that at seven of the clocke hee may set forward to his
     labour, and then he shall plow from seven of the clock in the
     morning, till betwixt two and three in the afternoone, then he
     shall unyoke, and bring home his cattell, and having rubb'd
     them, drest them, and cleansed away all durt and filth, he shall
     fodder them, and give them meate, then shall the servants goe in
     to their dinner, which allowed halfe an houre; it will then be
     towards foure of the clocke, at what time hee shall goe to his
     cattell againe, and rubbing them downe, and cleansing their
     stalls, give them more fodder, which done, he shall go into the
     barnes, and provide and make ready fodder of all kinds for the
     next day, whether it be hay, straw, or blend fodder, according
     to the ability of the husbandman: this being done, and carried
     into the stable, oxe-house, or other convenient place, he shall
     then goe water his cattell, and give them more meate, and to his
     horse provender, as before shewed; and by this time it will draw
     past sixe of the clocke, at which time he shall come in to
     supper, and after supper, he shall either by the fire side, mend
     shooes both for himselfe and their family, or beat and knock
     hemp, or flaxe, or picke and stampe apples, or crabs for cider
     or verdjuce, or else grind malt on the quernes, picke candle
     rushes, or do some husbandly office within dores, till it be
     full eight a clocke: then shall he take his lanthorne and
     candle, and goe to his cattell, and having cleansed the stalls
     and plankes, litter them downe, looke that they be safely tied,
     and then fodder and give them meate for all night, then giving
     God thankes for benefits received that day, let him and the
     whole household goe to their rest till the next morning.



Farewell to



The Enriching of all sorts of Barren and Steril grounds in our
Kingdome, to be as fruitfull in all manner of Graine, Pulse, and
Grasse, as the best grounds whatsoever.

Together with the annoyances, and preservation of all Graine and
Seed, from one yeare to many yeares.

As also a Husbandly computation of men and Cattels daily labours,
their expeences, charges, and utmost profits.

The fourth time, revised, corrected, and amended, together with many
new Additions, and cheape experiments:

For the bettering of arable Pasture, and wooddy Grounds. Of making
good all grounds againe, spoiled with overflowing of salt water by
Sea-breaches: as also, the Enriching of the Hop-garden; and many
other things never published before.

_LONDON_, Printed by EDVVARD GRIFFIN for IOHN HARISON, at the signe
of the golden Vnicorne in Pater-noster-row. 1638.

Photo by Thomas L. Williams]

     Now it may be intended, that there may be in the houshold more
     servants than one; and so you will demand of mee, what the rest
     of the servants shall be imployed in before and after the time
     of plowing: to this I answer, that they may either goe into the
     barne and thrash, fill or empty the maltfat, load and unload the
     kilne, or any other good and necessary work that is about the
     yard, and after they come from plowing, some may goe into the
     barne and thrash, some hedge, ditch, stop gaps in broken fences,
     dig in the orchard or garden, or any other out-worke which is
     needfull to be done, and which about the husbandman is never
     wanting, especially one must have a care every night to looke to
     the mending or sharpening of the plough-irons, and the repairing
     of the plough and plough-geares, if any be out of order, for to
     deferre them till the morrow, were the losse of a daies worke,
     and an ill point of husbandry.



In the early years at Jamestown, much grain was shipped from England
for the use of the colonists. The extract, which follows, is from
Markham's _Farewell to Husbandry_, 4th edition, 1638. The term "corn"
as used by Markham does not mean maize (Indian corn), but wheat,
barley, rye, or oats.

     And first for transportation of graine by sea, it is two waies
     to be done, as either in great quantities for trade and the
     victuallyng of other nations, or in smaller quantity for
     victualling the men in the ship, prepared for a long and tedious

     For the transporting of graine for trade in great quantities, it
     is to be intended the voyage is seldom long, but from neighbor
     to neighbor, and therefore commonly they make close decks in the
     ships to receive the graine, faire and even boorded, yet if such
     decks be matted and lined both under and on each side, it is
     much the better, and this matting would be strong and thinne;
     there bee some which make the decks only of mats, and sure it is
     sweet, but not so strong as the boord, therefore the best way of
     transportation is to have strong boorded deckes well matted, and
     then spreading the corne of a reasonable thicknesse, to cover it
     with matting againe, and then to lay corne on it againe, and
     then mats againe, that betweene every reasonable thicknesse of
     graine a mat may lie, the profit whereof is, that when the corne
     with his owne heate and the working of the sea shall beginne to
     sweate, which sweat for want of aire to drie it up, would turne
     to putrifaction, then the mats thus lying betweene, will not
     only exhale and sucke up the sweate, but also keep the corne so
     coole and dry, that no imperfection shall come unto it: and here
     is to be noted, that these mats should rather be made of dry
     white bents, than of flagges and bulrush, for the bent is a
     firme, dry, crispe thing, and will not relent or sweat of it
     selfe, but the flag or bulrush is a spungy and soft substance
     which is never empty of his own and other moystures.

     Now for transporting of graine, for victualls for the ship,
     which is in much smaller quantity, because it is best for the
     private use of a few within the ship; the only best and safest
     way, is, to take salt-fish barrells, or any caske in which any
     salt-fish hath beene piled, as cod, herrings, salmon, sprats, or
     any other powdred [_i.e._, _salted_] fish; and whilest the
     vessels are sweet, you shall calke them both, within and
     without, plaster [and] daubing them all over; then into them put
     your graine of what kinde soever it be, and head them up close,
     and then stow them in such convenient dry place of the ship, as
     you shall thinke fit; and questionlesse, if beliefe may be given
     to the worthiest authors, which hath writ in this kinde, you may
     thus keepe your graine sweet, sound and in full perfection from
     one yeere to an hundred and twenty yeers; but certainly daily
     experience shows us, that all kind of graine thus put up and
     kept, will remaine sound and sweet, three, foure, and as some
     say, seven yeeres, for so far hath lately been try'd; and what
     here I speake of [on] ship-boord, the like may be done in any
     town of war or garrison, whether besieged, or not besieged, or
     in any other place, where any necessity shall compell; the
     proofe of this manner of piling or putting up of graine, serveth
     as well for land as sea.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Agriculture in Virginia, 1607-1699" ***

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