Taylor, Chesapeake Colonies

Taylor, Chesapeake Colonies - Chesapeake Colonies 1650-1750...

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Chesapeake Colonies 1650-1750 THERE WAS LITTLE MISTAKING who ruled in England, where an aristocracy and gentry combined noble birth, a classical education, refined manners, extensive lands, and conspicuous wealth. But Virginia and Maryland attracted few aristocrats or gentry, except as occasional governors who soon returned home. Instead, hard-driving merchants and planters of middling origins created the greatest fortunes and claimed the highest offices. As a rule, their education and manners lagged far behind their acquisition of land, servants, and political influence. That lag encouraged grumbling and disobedience by laboring people who refused deference to officials wanting in the gentility and high birth demanded by political tradition. During the seventeenth century, the Chesapeake's leading men lacked the mystique of a traditional ruling class. Competitive, ruthless, avaricious, crude, callous, and insecure, they were very touchy about their origins, qualifications, and conduct. When Richard Crocker accurately but recklessly denounced two Virginia councillors as extortioners, the council put him into the public pillory with his ears nailed to the wooden frame. More commonly, the judges, assemblymen, and councillors sentenced their defamers to a bloody bout at the whipping post followed by a stiff fine paid in many pounds of tobacco. Such brutality silenced overt protest without building public respect for the bullying and blustering leaders. The colonists grudgingly accepted such leaders so long as prosperity prevailed, as it did during the tobacco boom of the 1640s and 1650s. That boom primarily benefited the common planters: former indentured servants who acquired fifty to three hundred acres of land. The ownership of productive land endowed men with the coveted condition of "independence," free at last from the dictates of a master. Their new independence enabled many to acquire their own dependents: wives, children, and servants. In a world where dependence was the norm, independence was an especially cherished and vulnerable status. Dreading a relapse into dependence upon a master, the small planters chronically feared the loss of their land to mounting debts, bad harvests, a poor market, Indian raids, heavy taxes, or corrupt rulers. They had good cause to fear when the mid-century age of opportunity faded during the 1660s and 1670s as tobacco prices fell and good land became scarce. The proportion of landowners constricted as the more successful planters consolidated larger plantations at the expense of smaller, less profitable farms. Newly freed servants had to accept tenancy or move to the frontier where they provoked new conflicts with the Indians. In 1676, Virginia erupted in rebellion when the
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Taylor, Chesapeake Colonies - Chesapeake Colonies 1650-1750...

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