Virginia’s People, And, Your Ancestors

Let’s define some of the words that describe Virginia’s early People, who became your ancestors:

  1. Adventurers:  a legal term for stockholders in the joint stock companies that brought the first Virginia settlers to America.  These men (and a woman or two) remained in England and Wales.  They underwrote the expenses and thus, had a vested interest in the success of the enterprises.
  2. Planters:  a legal term for the men who planted the settlements in The Plantations as the colony of Virginia was originally called.  These men came to Virginia, at least for a time.  Some were sons of or relatives of the Adventurers.  Those who arrived before 1616, were sometimes called “ancient planters.”  100+ planters are listed in the Introduction to Nell M. Nugent’s Cavaliers and Pioneers, Volume I.  William Thorndale, whom you already know from his careful research with William Dollarhide on Map Guide to the US Federal Censuses, 1790-1920, has created an Early Virginia Database (before 1625). When he completes his research, the original 105 settlers and those who followed them will be documented and connected to their origins in the British Isles.  See also Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers:  A Biographical Dictionary, 1607-1635 by Martha W. McCartney.  Baltimore MD:  Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007.
  3. Political Prisoners.  The Virginia plantations and later the Colony of Virginia received thousands of political prisoners from the British Isles.  First, Irish prisoners taken by Cromwell to be sold as slaves. Second, Scottish Covenanters, protestants who had accepted the Presbyterian Church by covenant.  Third, Englishmen who had supported Cromwell were transported to Virginia after the restoration of Charles II.  Then Protestant supporters of the defeated Duke of Monmouth, from Southwestern England.  These political dissidents usually became indentured servants:  serving 4 years if age 20, 5 years from age 12-20, and 7 years if under 12 years of age.  It is estimated that up to 70% of the people of Virginia were at one time indentured servants.
  4. Apprentices.  Children were indentured as apprentices to learn a trade, to learn to read, write, and cipher.  Orphans, children kidnapped and sold as indentures, children from correctional homes, and children who ran the streets of London were transported and indentured before colonial courts. Some of these children are identified in Peter Wilson Coldham’s Child Apprentices in America from Christ’s Hospital, London, 1617-1778.
  5. Convicts.  Parliament sent more than 4,500 convicts to Virginia between 1655-1699.  And some 138 shiploads arrived between 1748-1775.  English convicts were often given the choice of punishment, which included disfigurement, and being sent to the Americas.  These included men, women, and children.  Peter Wilson Coldham’s The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776, 4 vols. and The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1775, 2 vols. documents these convicts by name from English jails and courts.     
  6. Brides.  Women were scarce in Virginia and many of those who came with the original settlers died from disease and Indian attack.  So shiploads of brides were imported to provide wives for the settlers.  Of the 500+ who came before 1624, only 36 survived.  See “Wives for Virginia, 1621,” William and Mary Quarterly (Jan 1991).  [We’ll discuss these brides in greater detail in a future blog complete with what records and sources are available to document them.] 
  7. Blacks.  In 1625, there were 23 Africans in Virginia.  By 1680, there were some forty slave factories along the coasts of Africa to buy and sell slaves.  The English Royal African Company had a monopoly to supply slaves to begin with, but eventually the trade was opened to all trading companies.  Slavery was recognized as legal in Virginia after 1670.  About 15% died of the Blacks on the voyage.  For “free people of color” and Indians see “Free Persons of Color” and “all other free persons,” Virginia Blog, 1 Dec 2008.

Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Stay tuned for other ethnic and national groups of people who came to Virginia and made it one of the truly cosmopolitan states in America.  Remember, that in the beginning all was Virginia.  And the person who has a full Virginia pedigree (and I have three clients who do), has a varied and truly amazing lineage!

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